Of course I planned to breastfeed my firstborn baby. That's what all good Mommies do. And breastfeed I did, until she was well under her 10 lb. 4 oz. birthweight at her one-month check up. Well, that just wouldn't do. I rallied my troops, determined to sit around my home unclothed from the waist up and hook myself up to a milk machine to encourage more flow.
This happened to occur about the time we were due to take Annie on her first roadtrip, so I dutifully packed up the breast pump and headed to Ohio. I don't remember exactly where it all fell apart, but I think it was shortly after that weekend trip to Ohio that I abandoned breastfeeding all together, feeling at once relieved and humiliated that my baby seemed only to be satiated after a bottle full of formula.
Round 2. That came when Charlie was born. I was ready this time. This boy would be a breast man. I'd had such a beautiful, New Age-y birth experience (even if you do count the 40 hours that led up to the actual birth), a beautiful breastfeeding experience was sure to follow. Then he turned dangerously jaundiced just a day or so after we arrived home, which earned him a 5-day stay in the NICU, where breastfeeding was forbidden because it was (allegedly) contributing to the extraordinarily high levels of bilirubin in his blood.
When he was discharged from the NICU, I rented an industrial-strength behemoth of a breast pump. This was not the rinky dink one-horned pump I'd used when I was trying to make Annie a breast-fed baby. This was a Cadillac of a lactation machine. Unfortunately, it did not come 100% guaranteed.
He was sleepy, too tired to care to eat. So I stripped him naked, hoping the breeze would keep him awak to eat. I held him to my breast and then the other and back to the first for what seemed like ages. And still he wailed. And lost weight. But I was not going to wave the white flag that easily. I called the lactation consultant from the NICU. She was so nice, so encouraging. She was pretty sure a supplemental nursing system (SNS) was the cure to this ailing situation.
To paraphrase Ouiser Boudreaux from Steel Magnolias, the SNS is a boil on the boob of humanity. You hang a flask of formula or breastmilk from your neck. A tube leads over to one of your breasts, where you tape it down. When you try to get the baby to latch, you shove the tube in his mouth at the same time. Just typing this is giving me PTBFS -- post-traumatic breastfeeding syndrome. One night, after Charlie and I sat up watching 6 back-to-back episodes of the Brady Bunch on Nick at Night, trying to get him to take 2 ounces of liquid gold from the plastic flask, I had had enough. I just couldn't keep up.
So I called the lactation consultant and told her as much. That's ok, she said. She had a bottle that would do the trick. It would train his suck and we'd be in breastfeeding euphoria in no time. "Great," I said. "Leave the bottle at the desk and I'll swing by to pick it up."
That's when she told me she'd have to teach me how to use this bottle. Now, I don't claim to be brilliant, but I am a college-educated woman. The idea of having to be taught how to use some new-fangled bottle was more than I could manage. As it was, I was beginning to resent my baby every time he cried out of hunger. I feared "mealtime" and was ready to call it quits. So I abandoned the "breast is best" dream and dove headlong in to postpartum depression, only in part because I considered myself a failed mother.
Ever the optimist and suitably medicated, when Robbie came along, I was all set to give it another college try. I had the lactation consultant on speed dial. I had the mammoth breast pump rented and all set up. I had laid in a large supply of Mother's Milk Tea and fenugreek and some prescription whose name escapes me now.
We brought Robbie home on a snowy Sunday. On Monday, Charlie was singing into one horn of the breast pump.
"Charlie!" Annie, all of 6 years old, yelled. "THAT is not a microphone! THAT is a BOOB sucker!"
By Thursday, I was on the phone with the lactation consultant. Fussy baby. No real feelings of let-down. Not a whole lot of wet diapers. "How long should I pump on each side?" I asked.
"Well, until you feel empty," she said. "Probably 4-5 minutes per side."
"I just pumped 20 minutes on one side and got 1/2 an ounce." To which she replied, "I'll bring some samples of formula today." We decided that I am one of those women who truly is incapable of breastfeeding. It seemed like such a crisis of identity then. Now, it's just a story I tell on a blog I share.
I'm not really interested in a historic review of where I went wrong. I tell the story because it was such a guilt-laden experience that I call still recall it with so little nudging. And I tell it because I have 3 terrific, healthy children. Three kids who today, still don't care if I feed them from a pizza box or from a casserole made in my very own oven.