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Monday, March 10, 2014

My kids were bottle-fed and lived to tell about it

I read a blog post today called "You're not a bad mom." The author used her little corner of the internet to call a truce between the breast- and bottle-feeding moms and to tell her own story. While my "babies" are 17, 14 and 11, I was instantly transported back to the newborn days when I, too, felt betrayed by my own breasts. The short story is that I breastfed every one of my babies until they were good and dehydrated.

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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.


Average Parent said...

oh my gosh, I can totally relate. I was incapable of breast feeding. It didn't matter how hard I tried. In my postpartum insanity, I would sit for AN HOUR and pump one 4 ounce bottle while my baby lounged in the swing. I tried miserably for 3 months, while he lost weight and we battled thrush, mastitis and resentment. Finally, my OB sat me down and said, "It's OK." He was on formula the next day. I didn't even try with my second...knowing that the only way we were going to bond was if he was on the bottle.

Dan said...

Amy, this was so funny, (actually hilarious!) real, and descriptive. No matter how many years, these thoughts and feelings never leave a mom. My experience was a little uptight with David, only 6 weeks, but I got in the groove with the other "earth-moms" as I describe them, in La Leche League with Erin, and then no big deal with Leanne. BUT, the vivid memory and all the angst we have - is etched in memory. Almost 40 years ago, I can remember so much - like yesterday. Thanks for the walk down MY memory lane in yours!

kimybeee said...

I was the complete opposite. Neither of my children ever took a bottle. Jeff was hospitalized for three days when Jonathan was still an infant and my mom kept Jonathan and brought him to the hospital a couple times a day to nurse. He lived to turn 18 last week.

I tried to pump, never with anything motorized though. I was incapable of pumping. But the good news was nobody could take my babies away because they couldn't feed them lol.

I used to have the snobby attitude about people not breast feeding and as I got older I realized that it just doesn't happen for some people. But I do have a huge pet peeve! Teen moms that won't try because they are embarrassed. They didn't have any trouble shucking their clothes in sometimes weird places to have sex and they are ashamed to feed their own baby!!! I think they should be required by law to breast feed if physically possible for at least six weeks!!!

Beth Zimmerman said...

Add infertility to that mix, so I only had one chance to try, and it's the story of my journey in breastfeeding! Also complicated by the fact that I had inverted nipples. You know how embarrassing it it is when the girls stand up and salute on a cold day? Multiply that by a thousand and you have the humiliation of the whole world knowing something is not quite right with your breasts because you have to wear some ungainly piece of hard plastic designed to encourage the nipples to come out of their retreat whenever you are not taping a tube of formula to your non functioning breasts! And my precious baby boy, who also wound up with severe jaundice, had a domed palate. So even if my nipples had advanced ... He couldn't have connected! Pediatrician finally sat me down and told me that I had tried as hard as humanly possible and when my son walked down thei aisle at his wedding ... He wouldn't care whether he'd been fed by breast or bottle. He'd just be grateful for life and a mom who loved him! Everything about the experience sucked except the baby!