I remember there was a free local class being held near my house on the topic of breastfeeding. Mike and I had planned to go, but at the last minute we changed our minds in lieu of a burger and malt from Fuddruckers. Mike left the decision completely up to me, which was an awesome idea because everyone knows a pregnant woman can make clear, thoughtful, non-biased decisions when it comes to food.
Oh, how I wish I could take that burger and malt back. I should have gone.
After delivery, Eli latched "beautifully" - at least that's what the nurses told me. I was happy, I mean something seemed to be happening down there, that was good, right? Over the next couple days in the hospital, I diligently nursed, feeding him what felt like ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT, but it seemed to be going well. The nurses kept checking in on me and telling me I was doing great. Sweet, so glad I had that burger and malt instead of going to a silly breastfeeding class. I'm like a breastfeeding prodigy. I love breastfeeding. I was MADE to breastfeed. I am the world's best breastfeeder!
Fast forward a few weeks. Nursing is painful, but everyone says it's painful for the first four, six, maybe even eight weeks. Week four, I find myself wondering, "what is everyone's definition of painful?" Because my toes absolutely curl every time this kid fusses for food and it's not getting any better. Sometimes it feels like I don't have enough milk for him when he wants to eat every 20 minutes in the evening - Eli gets mad, I get mad, Mike just gets confused. Other times, I feel like I have too much milk for him and he comes off choking and sputtering. He gets frustrated, I get frustrated, Mike still just gets confused.
I cry at least three times a week because I'm so exhausted from being Eli's only source of food and it hurts like the dickens. I visit the lactation consultant who tells me I have a heavy let down and Eli has to bite harder than normal to slow the flow. She gives me some tips to slow it myself and I try them at home to no avail.
Week five I start to pump for the night feedings just to give myself a break and have a longer time in between nursing sessions to heal. Pumping hurts, but in a different and less painful way than breastfeeding. Week seven I land a nasty bout of Mastitis on both sides. I am not a very good breastfeeder. It is not a natural thing for me to breastfeed. I want to quit breastfeeding. I hate breastfeeding.
The weeks pass and we start to get Eli on a schedule. Our goal is to eventually get him eating four times a day and sleeping 12 hours a night, hopefully around 12 or 13 weeks old. We settle into a (painful) routine of me nursing during the day, bottle feeding at night. Slowly, the night feedings are eliminated, so I slow my pumping in the night as the milk isn't needed any more, being careful to not wean too quickly so I don't compromise my supply. By this time I've read every article on Kelly Mom, all the BabyCenter forums and searched hundreds of blogs for other breastfeeding stories. I know a lot about breastfeeding, but I'm still not very good at it.
At 13 weeks, Eli sleeps through the night and he's now on the schedule we were hoping for. Around the same time, he begins to refuse to nurse, he only wants the bottle. We fight, me wanting him so badly to nurse, to be a good mom, one that loves breastfeeding and has a beautiful, bonding experience each time with her child. Eli just wants the bottle. I research more, learn it's often a phase kids go through around three months old. Every mom's strategy is different, so I'm confused as to what I should do. I can't bring myself to let him go hungry, so I bottle feed him each time he refuses to nurse. I begin to pump almost exclusively but still try to attempt nursing Eli when I can - when we're home and we can work out our issues alone, with no watching or listening in. I'm sad, embarrassed and hurt that my son won't nurse from me. I am the world's worst breastfeeder. I want to quit breastfeeding. I was not made to breastfeed. I am a breastfeeding failure.
I was "blessed" with an oversupply when Eli was first born - I was able to store at least bag a day in the freezer, while still meeting his needs. As Eli refuses to nurse, I don't realize that I push the limits on how often and when I pump. I'm so caught up in working with him to nurse, sometimes I go five or six hours between pumping sessions or when i don't have time, I "just take the top off" by pumping only four or five ounces at a time, not the eight or 10 that I really need. I figure I'll just "make up for it later."
I don't notice it, but my supply begins to drop. (There are other reasons that I believe contributed, but I think these are the main ones.) Soon, I'm only able to pump four ounces at a time, except for the morning when I'm still able to pump 12 ounces, since I haven't pumped all night. Eli begins being willing to nurse again, but only in the morning when I have the most milk and my flow is the fastest. The rest of the day he gets frustrated and cries until I give him a bottle. I'm worried, because I don't have enough milk to meet his needs. It's not much of a shortage, but enough that I have to dip into my freezer stash about once or twice a week to make up for the difference. I didn't value my supply until I began to lose it.
I begin taking herbal supplements, Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle, and drinking Mother's Milk Tea. Everyone says you'll begin to notice a difference in two or three days. I don't notice a difference after two or three weeks. The supplement bottles are empty and I've drank all the tea. I try a new strategy called "power pumping." Essentially pumping on and off every 10 minutes, I do this for up to 2.5 hours at a time - particularly in the evening, while watching a movie or hanging with Mike. Our schedule doesn't allow for me to do it all the time, but I do it as often as I can. It's painful, but I'm determined.
I have about 20 bags of stored milk left, I figure I can still exclusively feed Eli with breast milk until he's about six or seven months old if things continue as they are. I tell myself that's okay. That I've made it pretty far and I should be proud of myself.
I have my milk stored in the deep freezer in our basement. When Mike is emptying the dehumidifier that sits right next to it, he notices that the freezer is not turned on. We haven't been in it for about a week and a half and there's an electrical shortage in the outlet it was plugged into. When he looks in, everything is melted to room temperature - including my milk.
I don't cry. I thought I would, but I figure it's just status quo by now.
At this point, I've been power pumping for about three weeks and somehow, miraculously, I begin to notice a difference. All I needed was to produce an additional four to six ounces a day and it happens. Now I cry.
That was last week. Eli now nurses every morning and is bottle fed the rest of the day. We've found a compromise that seems to work for both of us. Pumping and bottle feeding is hard work and takes a lot of time, particularly because I'm attached to the pump about four hours a day to keep my supply up (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less). I've often asked myself if it's worth it, and I've wanted to quit more times than I can count. But I'm stubborn.
As a stay-at-home mom, I view feeding Eli as part of my job, and with only one child, I have lots of time to make breastfeeding work. In every job, there are parts you don't like and parts you do. I don't actually like pumping, and I'm only now starting to enjoy our morning nursing sessions, but I view it as more a matter of fact, rather than a choice.
For the record, I do not believe there is ANYTHING wrong with formula at all. (I mean, I was a formula baby and look how amazing I am!) My choice to breastfeed and pump simply comes down to the fact that it's FREE. I know there are great health benefits to breastfeeding and for me that's a plus, not the main selling point. Again, I'm a stay-at-home mom to one - I have the time and I'd like to save us money where I can - but I don't think that's the answer for all moms. Breast is NOT ALWAYS best for everyone.
If there's one thing I've learned it's that I'm not the only one with a crazy breastfeeding story. Every mom has their own story - they're all different, but in the same way they're all full of roadblocks, difficult decisions and compromises. With all the awareness about breastfeeding these days, it's hard not to feel like a failure when it's not working as easily as all the marketing materials say it will. But when I'm thinking clearly, I know I'm not a failure, however I feed Eli.
I only wish I had been thinking clearly when it came to that breastfeeding class - I really do wish I would have gone and skipped that burger and malt - although I suppose in the end, it may not have changed anything anyway - except maybe my waistline.