Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Breastfeeding Blues: Love and Letting Go

Note: The following contains anatomy-specific-discussion and descriptions of breastfeeding. Perhaps not for all readers.

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.

Oh. Blessed be.

I sit to type this, and she cries. She knows the sorrow as well.

It's a tradeoff we have to make. Sanity, calm, a bit of the known, vs. insanity, anxiety, and a complete rollercoaster ride of daily, hourly emotions. In the end, it's not that hard to choose this route, but Good God, have the past 28 days been DIFFICULT!

My milk didn't come in initially. Not unlike many women who have c-sections, I waited six days after Marguerite's birth before I found myself with any fluids that might resemble substantial nourishment coming from my breasts. In those first days after her birth, we waited. I admit: I doubted a bit. I watched as my little girl lost more than ten percent of her body weight. I feared. We both cried. (Me, probably a lot more than she.) My husband stood by, as calmly and positively as possible, with his commitment to us both. The blessing and brilliance of Maggie's first week with us was that her dad might be a main provider of nutrition via this "SNS" method: whereby a small tube was taped to his finger, and our little girl sucked formula from the tip of his middle digit. (This was in lieu of a bottle, which we were trying to avoid for the sheer fact of "nipple confusion.")

But alas! Another detail that gave us a challenge, besides my lack-luster-milk-producing-breasts, was the fact that I had relatively flat nipples. Introduced by the lactation expert in the hospital as a solution to said "flat nipples" was a brilliant invention known as a "nipple shield." Cone-shaped silicone with a wide brim around the protruding false nipple, it was something I came to refer to as a "Mexican hat." All that lead up to its use, I affectionately referred to as the "Mexican Hat dance." Oh, blessed be!

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.


Anonymous said...

Bravo Melissa on making it through this thicket with such courage and honesty. Thank you for sharing the "lesson in letting go." I can certainly use it! Drink on, sweet Marguerite!
-- Judy M.

Wilhelmina said...

You did good mom. I was not able to get pregnant without meds, was not able to give birth without an epidural (thanks to stopping dilating), but have been able to nurse. 1 out of 3. I felt a little like less of a woman, but hey, I have healthy kids here. You'll get over the disappointment. Just revel in what you have done. Formed her in your womb. That's pretty major.

And really, how great that her dad can be part of feeding her. My kids wouldn't take bottles. I was held hostage by my bra straps. There is a + and - to everything.

CR said...

Melissa, I know what a difficult decision you just made. It is one, that torments many mom's. I know that it was very distressing for me, when I couldn't breast feed our son, because he was a preemie. I really didn't have a choice, because in that era, We didn't even get to touch him. I also know that the two of you will overcome this little hiccup. You can still solve the world problems together with the bottle.

Blessings and much love to you both.

Sr. Rafael said...

Oh, Melissa,
What a mystery! My heart goes out to you all.
Love and peace
Sr. Rafael

JT said...

I love you
I love your writing
I love your dedication to your daughter and to what you think is best for both of you
You are a star
And you deserve to rest from this tireless effort

Peace be with you!

Sr. Jill Underdahl, CSJ said...

Melissa, hello
Thank you for sharing what I can pray with and for you.

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." May you deepen your trust and confidence in this profound knowing.

I believe in the many ways you will nurture your daughter in word and story—you will teach her how hold tension and questions like no other person I know. She will learn how to trust and love, give and receive in humble generosity.

Blessed are you and Blessed is the fruit of your womb!

In peace,

EMES said...

awww melissa and marguerite what a ride...prayers of support your way. this transition is graced filled and growing filled and at times not easy...but all worth the while.

MBI said...

I cry for you Melissa because I know how you feel. I thank you for making the valiant effort and for knowing when the best thing for Maggie is to stop. I hope you will continue to pump as breastmilk, however fed, is very wonderful for her. But, if this does not work either, she will be like me and you and a whole host of children who managed without their mothers milk as they grew - and grew healthy and well. All will be fine.

Love to you at this time of acceptance.

Sarah G said...

Probably the most important lesson I have found in my small journey into parenthood is that NOTHING will go the way you think it will - continually it surprises me. I mean, EVERY day. Letting go is a hard lesson, but one best learned early on so that you all can enjoy each other - I still struggle EVERY day with it. It is hard to not have control. It is also beautiful. Enjoy Maggie and all the surprises she may bring you - asked for or not! The beautiful part of having children is that they are not like you - they are their own beings with their own little minds. Right now, Maggie's mind simply is focused on FOOD. For you to get it to her any way you can is satisfying her need. Your reflection shows that you are an awesome mother - as in teaching, parenting is all about reflection. Again, I think back to teaching and a little quote, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results."

I mean, really, what do any of us REALLY know about parenting? Each child needs something different and we get to experiment to figure out what it is.

Love, and more love coming at you! I also NEED to eat, I mean, meet that yummy baby of yours!

Aunt Peg said...

Awwww! What frustration and effort! I had many of the same problems and Mark was never as satisfied as when he got to go completely to the bottle. I attempted all of this for six weeks, and without an electric breast pump, and experiencing stabbing pain when he did nurse on one breast. But, you tried! It isn't for everyone.

Isn't it great to know that Maggie is a tenacious little person who will complain if she doesn't get food.?


Aunt Peg

Betty Lou said...

Well expressed, Melissa. Pardon the pun.

There is sweetness and life holding her and giving her "the bottle". Carry on, good mama.

It was so good to meet Marguerite! She is beautiful and well-loved.

Betty Lou

Emily said...

Its a gift that you share this experience. I hope you find time to find some other blogs or websites on the topic of mothering infants and share this widely!

I'm sorry for your sadness and frustration, tho. Love you!

Barb said...

Wow Melissa! What an ordeal for you and Maggie. The most important thing, is that she is being fed. She doesn't care if it is formula, breast milk or a combination of both. It should be a nourishing time for her and a relaxed bonding time for both of you. Good for you that you kept trying as long as you did. Pumping and feeding her breastmilk from a bottle would take twice as much time. I've known a few women that have done it, but it sounds exhausting.

Personally, I think the nipple shields were invented by someone who has never breastfed a baby. And I wonder about the lactation specialists... Do they really have experience with breast feeding or do they just take a class?

Maggie will be growing and becoming more aware of her surroundings all the time. I don't think she will have any trust issues with you because of this time. Babies are pretty easygoing and trusting. She knows who her Mom is and that this has been a learning experience for both of you.

Take care, Love,

Tiffany said...

Hi Melissa,

I'm so sorry. I know how you feel because I couldn't breastfeed either of my kids. My milk never came in with my son because of the trauma to my body after giving birth - lots of bleeding, tearing and stitches. With my daughter, she was jaundiced and I had to supplement with formula, which she preferred. I cried a lot during those times, especially with R. because it was the first time going through those emotions. The blessing in it? My husband was able to feed his children with bottles and help at night...
And, today, seven years later, it is a faint memory. It teaches us that these beings are not of us, they are their own and we don't have control over it - that only becomes more apparent as they grow older - also very painful!
Love to you,

Julie said...

Sorry to hear of your nursing blues - I certainly had them many times over 3 kids. Each was their own director in how that process played out. You can only do what you works. did the nipple shields, but found that just holding the end of the nipple out achieved the same effect and did it much quicker. I pumped for months while Kathleen drank from a shot glass - she never would take a bottle. She lapped it up like a cat until she could drink it down. Sigh... All part of the process of living. :) Peace to you in mind and spirit. Julie

Olga said...

Beautiful, Melissa!!!
I laughed, I cried….I enjoyed reading this story; but best of all, it brought me into the space where I felt like I was right there with you in this. I am there with you –in Prayer and Spirit.
My prayers and love to you and MaggieJ
“Auntie Olga”

P.s. Sometimes, ‘Love and Letting go’ go together :-)

Jodi said...

Awesome Mel! I loved reading about this!! My boys were all bottle fed and we turned out fine so no worries! I appreciate the struggle and do not consider it a failure. You're an awesome mommy!!!!!!

Love to you and Marguerite!

Coey said...

Dear Melissa... your sharing this is a blessing... and I hope, a bit of relief and confirmation for you.

"There are many ways to nourish your daughter Melissa. Your food will not be literal,"



Margaret said...

Hi Melissa,

I know MANY children who have been very happily nourished with bottles--and grew up to very wonderful adults!!

Thinking of you all,

Joanne said...


I hear your hard emotional decision. I was there many years ago. There was not or I did not find all the options that you have tried but the end was the same. The bottle was the way by dear boy was going to be fed. Once I let go life became calm. Our relationship and trust between mother and child settled into peace and I could relax to enjoy this new child. So could the rest of the family. I soon found it was not about where the milk came from, and how he got it but what as the interaction between us. Eye to eye, body to body enjoying a quiet moment to feed and communicate with love.

Let go and enjoy a growing child. She loves you because you are there to talk to her, hold her and smile with her, to share the world with her.
Thinking of you as you move forward.



NoMi Momí said...

Melissa -

I relate to this funny (and painful) story regarding your breastfeeding experience! It is by far one of the most disppointing feelings to not have this aspect of motherhood work out - but you are not alone. It was awful because, Alex's bilicount kept going up, it was clear he was not getting enough to eat. When I pumped, I got an once out of each breast. So I started mixing breastmilk and formula. Saw a lactation consultant, tried the tube of formula wrapped around my nipple. For me, I had a retained placenta (unknown to me until, I came down with a significant fever a few weeks after birth). After recovering from that, I finally had an answer for why, I never swelled with milk. Started to feel like a failure...after three months of pumping 12 times a day - my husband looked at me and all my misery and said - "just consider your breast false advertising, and move on...I laughed so hard I cried. At month four, I got tired of pumping so much for so little, missing time with Alex, so I tossed out my breast pump, along with "the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" and let it be...

I am so much happier now, having accepted the way things are...and I have a healthy 11 month old who I cannot stop kissing!