My breasts are in mourning. Actually, almost my whole body is. After weeks of intense discernment regarding my daughter's "milk acquisition skills" I have decided to let go of this desire, this plan to breastfeed; it's a decision that has been nothing short of excruciating to make. I have milk. I have nipples. I have a beloved and brilliant baby girl. But somehow, we cannot make all of these blessed things work together to create a space of nourishment and mutual satisfaction. In fact, it's almost been the opposite: frustration, tears, seeming torture; ultimately resulting in a release of this expectation of myself (and the world?) to feed my child from my body.
The nipple shield was nothing short of a gift and curse to my nursing experience. I constantly wondered if my daughter would authentically latch on this man-made device. After a week of the SNS method, delivered solely by Daddy Francois, we resorted to introducing a bottle, as Baby Marguerite was still not quite getting the taste or sense of the silicone nipple without any milk coming through it. For nourishment's sake, sanity's sake, our collective well-being, a home-health care worker and lactation specialist advised on day 6 of Maggie's life to introduce a bottle to her. "Play around with bottle nipples," she said, "and continue to provide the breast to her as an option."
We followed the lactation consultant's advice, encouraged that our brilliant baby took quickly to a third form of nutrition via a "Nuk" nippled bottle, and hopeful that my milk would eventually sustain her via the old fashioned delivery method.
But enter CONFUSION! Enter frustration! Enter torture! As my "duct work" took its time, never fully flooding my breasts with the "milk and honey" promise land that I had believed would be undeniable for her. While Marguerite slowly gained her birth weight back by formula and pumped breast milk, we attempted to follow our lactation consultant's advice at each feeding.
Eight to fourteen times a day during the next two weeks, I would:
1. Acknowledge my baby girl's hunger cues.
2. Express milk from my nipple.
2. Introduce my bare nipple.
3. If baby didn't latch to bare nipple, I would introduce nipple-sheilded nipple.
4. If she still didn't latch, I would introduce Nuk-Nipple bottle with milk. I would get her to start sucking.
5. After a short period of satisfying suckling, I would remove the nuk-nippled bottle from her mouth, holding the silicone nipple shield carefully in place, and slip this into her mouth for her to continue suckling. (In the meantime: I'd pray that she remained calm, didn't scream, didn't feel like I was constantly tricking her or that I was destroying my chances to ever truly get my baby girl to trust me.)
6. If she still didn't latch, then I'd just give her the bottle and feed her until she was satisfied. (Register time here for these six steps: Anywhere from twenty five minutes to an hour and half.)
7. Then I would pump if she hadn't fed directly from me, so I would have something for her next meal, and continue to produce milk for when she did latch to my nipple shield and or hopefully, eventually, nipple. (Because she was going to latch eventually, right?!)
It just got to be too much. One in every seven feedings, the "Mexican Hat dance switcheroo" worked, and Maggie latched onto the nipple shield. When this happened, all was right in the world. World peace was possible. Maggie and I came up with solutions to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We had dreams about the West Bank and Gaza Strip that included white doves and fully honored people of all nations and races and religions and creeds. We were happy and calm and felt aligned with all that was right in the Universe.
When it didn't work, we both cried. I felt worse, like I was a failed mom and teacher, and that I was slowly, but surely, destroying any and all trust that I might have built with my new born daughter, as I tricked her with these inconsistent, alternating methods of possible milk acquisition.
The hope and promise of latching could have killed me. I'm telling you, it was so amazing when it did occur! Marguerite's brilliant little face nuzzled next to my skin, her red lips pursed around my own body part, and her tiny cheeks and throat working to reveal her slurping and swallowing. She was being fed! I was at the source of her satisfaction! We were doing as God and Nature intended!
But when it didn't work, every six of seven attempts, there were voices re-enforcing the tiny failed fact of my body and ability learned during labor: not all things I hope for and desire naturally are possible. (As my cervix had failed to ever dilate so that I might deliver my daughter from my body vaginally, perhaps my ability to breast feed was going the same way?) Undoing these voices of doubt takes a lot of work! Especially when reason and data proves that your hope may be false. As a woman of faith, I work in these small margins of possibility; I longed with all of my being to continue trying to breastfeed! However as a woman of practicality -- and a deep need for sleep -- I had to weigh reality and options for my daughter and I to move forward both as happy humans.
In the end, it was weighing Marguerite's need to master three different nipple skills that completed my discernment around breastfeeding: In order to feel successful and for this endeavor to be sustainable, Ms. Maggie would need to be able to move from latching on a Nuk nipple every time to a nipple-shielded nipple to my bare nipple. The sheer fact that I couldn't get a 100% success on a shift to the nipple shield from the bottle, was staggering. Facing my daughter's screams and outpouring rage and frustration as she watched me pull a working bottle from her mouth to insert a siliconed nipple, on 90% of these attempts, was enough to secure my decision. Yes, I wanted to breast feed -- but did she?
In the quietest of spaces, when I took this and other prayerful, beseeching questions to God, I heard one thing resoundingly:
There are many ways to nourish your daughter Melissa. Your food will not be literal, but something that shall sustain her in another life-long way.
I must trust this. Maggie and I join the ranks of children and their moms who provide nourishment via bottles. We are choosing happiness, finding it as we experience calm and hope in the spaces of other possible tasks and goals we will eventually conquer.
She is being fed. I am in love and finding lessons in letting go.