Friday, June 22, 2012

Sharing the Sweet Life

Before I had Clark, I would dream of the children I would have. In these daydreams, my fictitious children listened to and honored my requests, shared my loves and dislikes, and were quintessential mini-me’s. Now that my son has been here for six weeks, however, those daydreams have changed. I still think would be wonderful if he loved books and the ocean. And, it would be just fine with me if he disliked cats too. His father would be elated if he grew to be loyal to the White Sox and loathe the Cubs, but what if he didn’t?

What if he would rather build things with his hands than sit and read a novel? Or what would it be like to spend our time in Florida touring the Everglades instead of sunning ourselves on the beach? Maybe one of the greatest pets of my life would have been overlooked if it weren’t for my son’s affinity for felines. And maybe, just maybe my husband would find something to like about the North side.

I guess what I’m getting at is that parenthood does change you. But for me, it’s been in ways I never imagined. When our little bundle of wonder entered our lives, I thought I would want him to be just like us, but surprisingly, that’s not what I found myself wanting. Instead, once he came into this world, all I wanted was for him to be himself. What I love sharing with him already is who he is. His personality is shining even now and I love the anticipation of all that he will become and the life we’ll have as he shares who he is with us. 

This post is also a guest post over at Reverie...go show my dear friend Sarah some love!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Breastfeeding Journey

I've waited about a month to write this post. It's one that I felt I needed to write for myself as much as anyone else. Before we even considered trying to get pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my children. There was no question in my mind. However, I quickly learned that in mothering our plans are not always possible and we have to make compromises. This is my breastfeeding journey.

I've always been small chested. Most people I tell this to are surprised because I typically don't look small chested. My only response to that is that I buy good bras...good padded bras. Most of my life I've hated my breasts. When I was younger I felt robbed of the ability to wear low cut tops and cute bathing suits without throwing a pair of "chicken cutlets" in the front. For this reason, I've always wanted to get a boob job, but decided it would be best to wait until after I had children so that I could nurse my sweet babes. In my mind, my petite breasts' only saving grace was the fact that size had no impact on breastfeeding. 

As my pregnancy with Clark progressed, I became concerned about my breasts. They weren't growing. One of the perks of pregnancy in my mind was that I would actually feel like I had a chest to be proud of. Apparently that wasn't going to happen. I talked to my midwife and asked her if there was a reason to worry that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed. She assured me that size had no impact on breastfeeding, and I would be fine. Plus, much of the growth that occurs in breasts happens right before and after delivery. As my due date approached, my chest stayed the same. I became more and more concerned that I wouldn't be able to provide for my son. Friends and family reassured me that I needed to trust my body, that things would work out. 

After an amazing natural, drug-free birth, I was able to nurse my son in the delivery room. He latched on like a champ. The fears that I had subsided. I continued nursing him in the hospital (looking back, it wasn't on a regular schedule--I'm not sure whose fault that was, mine or the nurses'). We went home the night after he was born. I nursed him and while he wasn't staying on for long, he was latching. Sunday night, our second night home, Clark screamed most of the night. We couldn't do anything to assuage him. The next morning, I made a pediatrician's appointment, desperate to find out what was wrong with our sweet boy. I also made an appointment with the lactation consultant at my midwife's office.

At the doctor's office Clark began screaming again. The nurse asked if we wanted to give him a bottle. I told her I did NOT want to give him formula. Our doctor came in and said she wanted to try giving Clark a half ounce of formula. She wanted to see if he was hungry or if there was something medically wrong with him. At that point I lost it. Through sobs I explained that I had spent ten months of pregnancy refraining from any drugs, chemicals, etc. I had given up caffeine, lunch meat, tuna, you name it. No part of me wanted to give my baby chemicals. Our doctor, who was also incredibly pregnant, compassionately explained that she understood. What she said next helped me get to the point that I agreed to give him the formula. She asked me if an induction had been part of my birth plan. (I'm certain she knew the answer to the question before she asked it. After all, from the other questions she had asked about my labor, delivery, vaccines, etc., it was clear that we--or at least I--was one of those hippy dippy Dr. Sears devotees.) I told her that an induction had definitely not been a part of our birth plan. She continued, "But when it was what was best for your baby, you did it. Sometimes we need to change our plans for what is best for our babies." I saw her point and agreed to give Clark the formula. I sobbed that I couldn't be the one to do it as I handed him to Michael. Clark chugged the half ounce of formula and was instantly "our son" again. He was quite and content. I cried even more when I realized that I was not able to give him what he needed. Our pediatrician recommended we supplement with 1/2-1 ounce after each nursing session. 

After Clark's appointment, we headed to the lactation consultant. During our hour and a half appointment, she watched me nurse. Clark was still latching, but she agreed that we should supplement until we were sure my milk had come in. We came up with a game plan to help with lactation. There were two supplements I would take around the clock. For each feeding, I would nurse--ideally for 15 minutes on each side, bottle feed, and pump for a minimum of ten minutes. We would check back with her on Wednesday. 

With the new routine, feedings took a minimum of one hour. Clark was eating every two hours, so that one hour when I wasn't feeding him was spent sterilizing bottles and breast pump parts, eating, or sleeping if I could. On Wednesday (Day 5), I talked to our lactation consultant again. She wanted me to pump for forty minutes (Clark would just get a bottle) and send her a picture of what I was able to get. After pumping, I had about a 1/2 tsp. of milk--from both breasts! She got the picture and called me. Based on the picture, it didn't look good. Most women's milk "comes in" by day 3 or 5. At the latest, it could come in by day 7 or 8. She asked me if I was willing to go on medication to promote lactation. I practically screamed, "Yes!" She gave me two medications to research. I was supposed to call her back after Mike and I made a decision. 

After researching the drugs while Michael ran errands, I called my sister-in-law/best friend, Becky, in hysterical tears. One of the medications was FDA approved to promote lactation, but the side effect was severe depression. The other medication, which did NOT have FDA approval for lactation, had side effects of seizures and cardiac episodes. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want anyone (myself included) to think I hadn't tried my best to nurse my son, but given my family's medical history, the side effects of each drug were terrifying. Becky said what I needed to hear, "If it were me, I wouldn't take either of them." Becky had a hard time at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey. Most women would have given up if faced with her situation, but she persevered and sixteen months later, she is still nursing my nephew. She believes in breastfeeding and she would tell me if she thought I was giving up without a fight. She ended our conversation by telling me that "Breastfeeding does not define you as a mother."

Mike echoed her recommendation when he got home saying, "I'm sure Clark would rather have a bottle and a mom who is there than one who is depressed or dead." I told our lactation consultant I wouldn't be going on medication. She told me to keep doing what I was doing, but that it was likely my milk wouldn't ever fully come in. I spent the rest of that first week making my peace with the fact that once again my breasts had failed me and talking to my mom and other good friends, Chrisanne and Jenn. Separately they each told me what Becky had earlier in the week. My definition as a mother did not come from my ability to exclusively breastfeed.

By the next week (Day 9), nothing had really changed. I stopped pumping and started nursing Clark after his bottle. (He got very frustrated at the breast when he was hungry, but latched on and would nurse for 15+ minutes after a bottle.) I decided I would not allow this change in plans to rob me of the precious first month with my son. I decided to be thankful that he transitioned so well between breast and bottle and that I had researched the best bottles for that purpose. Most importantly, I decided to not drive myself crazy. I would nurse Clark for as long as I could. I looked at our nursing sessions as being emotionally beneficial instead of nutritionally beneficial. I've come to cherish the fact that my son still wants to nurse! 

One month later, things are essentially the same. I have noticed that my supply has increased some. The other day I pumped out of curiosity to see how much I was producing and I actually got an ounce! While this is awesome because it means Clark is still getting some antibodies and nutritional benefits from our nursing sessions, there's no way I could ever exclusively breastfeed him. He typically wants to nurse before going to sleep. It calms him down and comforts him, and I am so thankful for those times.

The whole experience has taught me valuable lessons. The first is that not all women who give their babies formula choose to do so. Along the same lines, if they do make that choice, it doesn't make them horrible mothers. Motherhood, I've discovered, is really a series of voluntary or involuntary choices made because we believe those choices are what's best for our children and  they aide in our own general survival. We may look back on those choices later and wish we had chosen differently, but in the moment, we do what we believe is best for our families.

I've also discovered that there are very few resources for women who truly want to breastfeed but can't. In fact, they're almost impossible to find. Most sources (La Leche League included) assert that the inability to breastfeed only applies to 1% of women. I think that's absolute crap. I personally know at least three women who have suffered through something similar to what I have. Before I had my child, I was one of those bitches who just thought women weren't "trying" hard enough. When it happened to me, I had a new perspective. It's sad that so many women fight this battle alone and are made to feel inadequate and like lesser mothers. The best article I did find in support of women in my position acknowledges several of these facts. (It also felt like this woman reached inside my heart and put all my feelings into words.) I guess pro-breastfeeding groups are trying to remove any excuses from women who can  breastfeed and choose not to, but what they fail to see is that there is a large group of women with beliefs like theirs who are made to feel like pariahs. For those of us in that group, there's nothing we can do to change our circumstances, but we are told that our situations are essentially a result of our own selfishness or weakness. It's another instance of "Mommy Wars" and it's sickening that we tear one another down in this way.

I still struggle with feeding Clark in public, afraid that others will assume formula was my first choice. I dread being asked "Are you breastfeeding?" because my answer is anything but simple. I don't allow myself to think too much about the facts and statistics about formula I could practically recite before my son was born. I try not to focus on the pain of the fact that my body failed me. I work to move past feeling like less of a woman, and I focus on what the women in my life have told me. I am not defined as a mother by how I feed my child, but rather by how I love him, protect him, and raise him. Thank God for that. 

What was your breastfeeding journey like? Did you ever have guilt associated with feeding your child? How did you react/overcome it?