Friday, March 11, 2016

To Boob, or Not To Boob: That Is None Of Your Damn Business

[... Continued from F You and the Placenta-Fueled Kombucha Wagon You Rode In On.]

My personal relationship with breastfeeding was rather tumultuous. B.K. (Before Kids), I was already resistant to the the aggressive guerrilla warfare of the Breast is Best movement. When I got pregnant, I thought to myself, "If it works, great. If it doesn't, no biggie." Then, my son was born. We didn't get meaningful skin-on-skin time right away because they briefly whisked him off to the NICU for reasons I honestly can't even remember (and this is why I really should have written down my "birth story!") Then we were literally in, like, a closet, and doctors and residents and nurses and nurses-in-training and possibly janitors wearing scrubs (?) were parading in and out of my room every half-hour to manhandle various and sundry lady bits and it just wasn't the calm, nurturing environment I had hoped for.

It became apparent pretty early on that my god-given vehicles of earthly sustenance were lemons. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that I have had two breast augmentation surgeries (judge away). However, one helpful lactation consultant informed me that my breastsesses were "defective" to begin with. If it hadn't been so physically and emotionally painful, the scenes from those early days would've been comedic. A nurse and a lactation consultant telling Daddy Mack to "squeeze it like this!" Literally six hands "on deck" while I angled the tiny mouth of my screeching, red-faced son to my nipple. It was a non-starter.

The hospital sent us home with formula and this weird syringe thingy but I had already internalized the "Breast is Best [and you are a failure as a woman and a mother if you can't make it work]" mantra. Dammit if I wasn't going to feed this child the way little baby infant Jesus intended. We had a private and pricey lactation consultant come to the house every day for a week. I rented an industrial-strength pump from the hospital. I pumped after every (unsuccessful) feeding, and between feedings too. I popped fenugreek like a junkie on oxycontin, and walked around smelling like IHOP for weeks. I don't know what, if anything, he was getting from my "love-sacs" but neither of us was feelin' the love. And there just wasn't much to give. I remember, once, I got almost two ounces of milk, and I was ELATED. Never before had I had such a bountiful breast-harvest. I was SO PROUD of my little milk-makers!

I remember that sad little container of watery, pale-blue milk sitting in the fridge. At this point, I had no idea that other people were stockpiling milk by the freezer-full, theirs yellow and creamy like half-n-half and mine more like fat-free.

In my defense, Jack didn't like any food. We tried everything. Boob. Weird syringe thing. Seventeen different types of bottles guaranteed to feel like "the real deal." Nada. He HATED eating, and usually spit it up shortly thereafter. We took him to the doctor who tossed some vague diagnoses our way: "tongue tie," "reflux," "colic" (a.k.a. your baby cries non-stop for four hours and there's really no medical explanation or solution).

In retrospect, I was clearly suffering from a case of the "baby blues" and I'm sure it was pretty obvious to everyone around me. My husband was probably trying to salvage my sanity as he encouraged me to go to a yoga class with my BFF while he and my mother-in-law watched Jackson Jay. I jumped at the opportunity to escape the den of my inadequacy.

I was readying myself to leave the house, trying to find pants that fit and sadly discovering that I hadn't lost 40 pounds upon delivery. My in-laws had just come back from Babies R Us with the latest arsenal of baby bottles to try. I was summarizing for my MIL the trials and tribulations we'd been through with respect to feeding in the short life of this small, hangry child. I gave her the litany of instructions necessary for my 45 minute absence. I asked her to exhaust my paltry little shot glass of milk before turning to formula. She said, sort of offhand, "Maybe it's your milk that's making him sick?"

I know she didn't say it to be hurtful. But the rage-heat rose from my toes to the tippy top of my skull in 4.3 seconds. Hot fiery pokers stabbed me in the chest. I was SO UPSET. It's one of the few instances in my life where, when I think about it, I can still FEEL the fire in me. This moment was symbolic of my failure at the most elemental level. This is literally what my body was MADE FOR, growing and sustaining a tiny human being, and I sucked at it.

I was actually objectively surprised at the tenacity with which I held onto this damn breastfeeding thing. It was like I was hovering outside myself, looking down, shaking my head and thinking, c'mon woman, let it go already, time to read the writing on the wall. I gave up not long after that, but not without a substantial helping of guilt and regret. It didn't help that days after I "quit," Similac recalled five million containers of formula because it was infested with beetle bits. I mean, seriously??? Those crazy ass breastfeeding Nazis weren't even wrong when they said formula was poison. I continued to kick myself, thinking "Maybe if I'd tried this? Maybe if I'd done that? *They* say anyone can do it. Hell, even women who weren't pregnant can create a milk supply, what is wrong with me?" "Well," I thought, "maybe next time."

Sorry baby. No superfood for you.
Fast forward to "next time." I had done my research. I ordered a "Supplemental Nursing System," which is this kooky contraption where you basically strap a bag of formula around your neck with this tiny tube attached to it, and then you tape the tube to your nipple, and then you have to wrangle the boob AND the tube into the hungry baby's miniscule mouth to feed. "Bring it on!" I thought.

Miss Colby Jean popped out and took right to the boob. In fact, she would happily hang out there for hours. And hours. And hours. No fighting. No crying. Well, no crying for her. It hurt ME like hell. I would sit there, gritting my teeth, tears running down my face. My nipples soon cracked and bled. I kept asking my friends, is it supposed to hurt THIS BAD??? But SHE was happy, and despite the searing pain, I was so excited that it seemed to be working this time.

Then I took her in for her one-week weigh-in and she had lost more than 10% of her body weight. The pediatrician sent me to a lactation consultant, whose reaction was, "Holy Mary Mother of God, what have you done to yourself?!?" My boobs were angry and bloody and raw. One nipple had been clamped and gnawed and cracked to the point where the sticky-outy-part was dangling halfway off. She confirmed that I had something called mammary gland hypoplasia, which basically means you don't have enough mammary tissue to produce milk. She also said the baby was "tongue-tied" and "lip-tied," but I later asked the pediatrician about getting that fixed and he said "That is not an actual thing." The consultant gave me some tips, but said that supplementing with formula was a necessity. She told me to stop on the way home for nipple shields, nipple cones, nipple cream, and a variety of other ministrations to try to nurse my not-so-fun bags back to the land of the living.

I gave it the ol' college try, but it never became easy or "natural." I gazed in awe at my friends whose babies effortlessly latched on, who could carry on a conversation, make eye contact, or move more than a millimeter while simultaneously feeding their child. It was always a struggle for me. I dreaded it, but still felt thankful that she didn't host a flat-out hunger strike like her big brother had. And it got to the point where I could do it without crying in pain, so that was a plus. Still, the more alert she got, the less compliant she became, and she did NOT like that damn plastic tube.

I wasn't ready to give up yet, though. Again, logically, I knew that I was going to somewhat ridiculous lengths for very little benefit. But when you're being assaulted with stuff like this, your judgment gets a little screwy:

To answer your question: No. Apparently, I am not.
Seven weeks in, I was pretty proud of myself because this was a week longer than I had lasted with Jack. I planned to keep it up until I went back to work at 12 weeks, but didn't hold any illusions that it would last any longer than that. My BFF Claire had her second baby a month before Colby was born. For Mother's Day, we decided to go to Vegas for 24 hours. Mothers of the Year, I know ;) We brought our pumps so we could "pump and dump," though mine was really just for show, as I never broke the 2 oz. high water mark from back in the Jack days. Claire pumped shortly after we arrived, and she produced like 12 ounces of milk. I was blown away. "Wait wait wait! Is THAT how boobs are SUPPOSED to work???"

I decided I was done right then and there, and only felt 43% guilty about it. I didn't have some painful weaning process because I wasn't really producing anything, anyway. I had been going through all of this rigmarole - the over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder-boob-tube-thingy, the latch battles, pumping literally drops of milk, the fact that I had no hours in the day to spend with my original baby... and for what? An ounce of milk at most? And any nominal benefit was probably outweighed by the fact that she was consuming quadruple that in the toxic jet fuel that is formula. So, that was it. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

A week later, at Colby's two-month appointment, the pediatrician asked me if I was still breastfeeding (in a way that indicated there was only right answer). I lied and said yes. We had already been through a lot with that baby chile. She was born with a medical issue and they wanted a definitive diagnosis right away. She was poked and pricked and prodded from the moment she was born. Watching a nurse try, unsuccessfully, seven times to catheterize your infant isn't for the faint of heart. She's fine, now, and I know from our brief stints in the PICU and NICU that it could be so, so, SO much worse. We are very lucky. But I just didn't want this guy to think I wasn't doing everything I could for my poor, sickly baby.

A few months later, I brought her in for her six-month check-up. In the intervening time period, there had been a scary trip in an ambulance and a hospital stay. It was a minor miracle that she was doing so well despite a rough start. She was enormous - off the charts, and so healthy. The doctor was ecstatic. I was eating up his praise, as though the "luck of the gods" was my own, personal achievement. He then said, "You're still nursing her, right?" I came clean and told him no. His demeanor flipped on a dime. His face made me think about lying again and adding "Not exclusively." But I'm a pretty bad liar and figured he'd see right through me. He did, anyway. I anxiously started listing my excuses - work, life, toddler, supply problems due to a physiological defect... He put up his hand as if to say "Stop." I did. He said "We both know if you really wanted to do it, you could do it."

I should have told this self-righteous prick (who, PS, HAS NEVER PERSONALLY BREAST-FED A BABY BECAUSE HE DOESN'T HAVE ANY GODDAMN BREASTS), to kindly fuck off. I should have grabbed my happy, healthy, ginormous, formula-fed baby and walked out of that office then and there. But I didn't. I looked up, to keep the tears from spilling out of my eyes. I looked down, in shame.

The moral of the story is, fuck that guy.

Bottom line: I believe we're all doing the best we can with what we have, and that is enough.

A different kind of "Supplemental Nursing System," consisting of mimosa and a crazy straw.
Like I said, Mother of the Year, baby!
This post by Ashley at Pink Sky Serendipity was kind of the impetus for getting my own story down.

I also loved "My Struggle With Breastfeeding," by Ramblin' Mama:

"All I’m saying is that people choose not to breastfeed for a multitude of reasons. And of all the moms I know, not a single one of them stopped nursing out of convenience or vanity.... I’ve learned that life is too short and too precious to feel guilty about things we cannot change. All we can do is keep trying, keep learning, and give ourselves credit for all the things we get right along the way."

And in case you need some scholarly literature to mitigate your mommy guilt:

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