“Hey, Mama, how was your day?” Glenda, my angel, the night nurse asked a few hours after my late-afternoon meltdown. I had fully recovered by this time and sat watching television, wearing a new gown and robe selected for my hospital stay. She returned my beloved baby boy to my arms, newly bathed and sweet smelling. “Oh, don’t ask—my day was awful, just awful,” I told her. “What happened?” she inquired, and I shared with her the day’s events, my encounters with both Nurse Ratchet and the lactation Nazi.
She sat on the bed next to me while I nursed Ben, listened attentively, and then reassured, “There’s nothing wrong with giving your baby formula—your milk will likely arrive soon. It usually takes a few days after delivery for mature milk to come in. In the meantime, get some rest. Life will be much harder once you get home. By the way, I fed my four babies with formula, and they all turned out just fine. My twins are on their way to college, both with scholarships. You’d be surprised by how many women can’t breastfeed or decide not to breastfeed exclusively or don’t breastfeed at all. It doesn’t mean they’re bad mothers. It’s a very personal issue, and you will know what’s right for you and your baby.”
The next morning reinforcements arrived, a new–and-improved lactation consultant chirped cheerfully, “Hi, I’m Gina—how’s nursing going for you?” I decided not to share the previous nursing episode, opting instead for a fresh start, a clean slate. If she did know, she didn’t indicate. I confided, “I’m just not sure if the baby is getting anything from me. Ben has lost too much weight, and I have been advised to supplement with formula.” “Well, let’s start pumping and see what’s going on,” she resounded.
Yikes, it looked like a torture device! She removed the breast pump from the box, the pump recommended by the hospital’s nursing class weeks earlier as one of the best. She carefully explained how the machine functioned and hooked me up to the double-pump—what a sight! After about thirty minutes, my suspicion was confirmed—not much was going on in the region below the chin.
I’ll give lactation consultants credit for being dedicated to their cause, though I personally think they need to lighten up—a lot. The fact that I had pumped for nearly thirty minutes and had extracted only a few drops of breast milk in total did not deter her. She only warned, “We will not give this to the baby in a bottle.” Well, how the heck is he going to get it? I wondered. I soon found out.
It took Gina and a second lactation consultant nearly thirty-minutes to rig-up the next contraption. In an effort to prevent Ben from being introduced to a bottle nipple, a small tube ran across my shoulder and chest from a test tube of the extracted breast milk, which was clipped to my sleeve. The idea was that Ben would suck the breast milk from the strategically placed tube, thinking he was nursing. Of course, in reality the arrangement caused him to constantly lose his nursing latch, and if I didn’t carefully monitor, he might suck the tube down his throat, which he promptly did.
“See how easy this is?” Gina remarked as Ben began to cry, “Now you just continue this method using your pumped breast milk and the formula supplement until your milk comes in.” She reiterated, “We do not want to introduce the baby to a bottle or he will have “nipple confusion” and refuse the breast because a bottle is easier.” I felt a bit less than optimistic about tube feeding but was willing to give it a try. At least she understood my baby needed formula.
Glenda came by again that night, “How was your day? Looks like you’ll be going home tomorrow.” Thank God. I shared my adventures in breast pumping and tube feeding. She shook her head in disapproval, “Breast milk supply is based on demand. You don’t want your body to think you have twins to feed—you can pump too often. My advice is to forgo the breast pump until your milk arrives. Give Mother Nature a chance to work this out naturally.” While I appreciated her candor, I felt more confused than ever. Was anyone in this hospital on the same page?
Once home, after nearly six days in the hospital, my milk never did “arrive” as expected. I actually did try to use the tube-feeding method at home, but without my entourage of lactation consultants, I gave up in frustration. Ben couldn’t latch properly with the tube in place, and it was ridiculously complicated. No matter how I tried, I simply wasn’t able to give him what he needed, and somewhere along the way, I began to believe my caregivers, that if I didn’t breastfeed my baby, I was not a good mother. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy were overwhelming; in this regard, I felt like a failure.
I shared my sorrow with my OB/GYN at my six-week post-partum appointment. She only offered me a prescription to increase milk production, but she warned that lethargy was a likely side-effect. I didn’t fill the prescription; I knew I couldn’t feel any more exhausted and cope. Ben’s pediatrician was the only doctor who supported both bottle feeding and/or breastfeeding. In his words, as long as Ben was growing and I was feeling okay, he supported me, whatever my decision.
“Wow, Benjamin is a big boy! He scores in the ninety-seven percentile for height and weight and is hitting a few of his developmental milestones early. Congratulations, Mom!” he exclaimed at Ben’s nine-month wellness visit. I felt such pride … and relief.
Now I wonder what all the fuss was about—Ben is thriving, and we share a close and loving relationship. I’m no less of a mother because I could not breastfeed my son. However, it seems most, not all, of the medical professionals I encountered would disagree with me.
Looking back now, I feel sad, and even angry, that my first six-weeks at home with my baby were so stressful, most of it self-induced because of the pressure I felt to breastfeed. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally during that time, and it wasn’t until I packed-up the breast pump six weeks later that I began to feel like myself again and began to enjoy my baby boy to the fullest. I wish my OB/GYN, the hospital nurses, and the lactation consultants had presented breast feeding and bottle feeding as viable options, without judgment or their own agendas at the forefront. So much of my grief was unnecessary, and I wouldn’t wish the same on any new mother.
Part 1 | Part 2