Sunday, August 3, 2008

[Guest Post] Success or Failure: A Mom Who Couldn't Breastfeed Honors World Breastfeeding Week

Attachment Living wishes to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week by welcoming guest bloggers to talk about their breastfeeding experiences. Today's post comes to you by way of E:

August 1 began World Breastfeeding Week. We all know breast is best, and we recognize the value of the breastfeeding relationship. Even formula cans remind us that breast milk is best. But what about when it doesn't work?

I wanted to breastfeed. I planned for it. I looked forward to it. I bought the books, went to La Leche League, and met with a wonderful lactation consultant before my daughter was born all in hopes of circumventing the issues that can come from PCOS and hypothyroidism. I took the appropriate medications and learned about the ways to increase supply. I went in with an attitude focused on success.

And then my daughter was born. She was put to the breast quickly. She had a beautiful latch without much work. We had great support once we were out of the hospital. We were doing all the right things. And we worked so hard. But there wasn't milk. Not enough. We battled with the low supply, doing all the right things, staying skin to skin, breastfeeding as often as possible, pumping after, using the SNS, taking the herbs and the drugs. It still wasn't enough. We had to supplement...and we're so very lucky to have wonderful milk donors, but it just isn't the same. When feeding my daughter became more of a battle than a joy, I had to make some tough decisions. When one or both of us ended up in tears every time, when she started to refuse to latch, we switched to pumping and bottles.

And all the breastfeeding advocacy around me is so hard to deal with. Well meaning people who provide their suggestions for increasing milk supply..."have you tried?" Yes. All of it. And probably some things you haven't thought of. I want to embrace this week, celebrate it, honor it and it hurts too much. I've cried more tears than I want to count over the World Breastfeeding Week stuff I've seen.

I went to a party with my daughter not long ago, and when I was offered a seat someone asked if I would need the chair that was better for nursing. I cried inside as I explained our breastfeeding challenges. I've started to avoid gatherings where the default assumption is that mothers are breastfeeding-the local AP groups, for example. I wanted to be one of those mothers who celebrated the looks they got for nursing in public, and instead, I mourn what I don't have. I have the so called convenience of bottles-I need to pack them in our bag when we go out, find a place to warm the milk she drinks, deal with the extra gas, the uncertainty about whether she's getting the right nutrients for her needs right now. And I know in my heart that I am judged harshly for the way I feed my daughter.

Like many of us, I try and incorporate the eight principles of attachment parenting in my life. I read the page that says "Feed with Love and Respect." How can I feed with love and respect when the act of feeding my daughter causes me to cry over what I can't do for her? How can I honor myself and the nurturing loving role that I am supposed to play in this part of her life when what I feel overwhelmed with failure. And then I look at her, I cuddle her, I watch her sweet face as she dozes off in my arms and I'm reminded deeply of how much I love her, and that in the end that love overwhelms everything.

I know whatever I've given my daughter is good for her. I know that every bit of milk she gets from me is good for her, and I know that the milk she's gotten is far more than some other babies get. But I will forever carry sadness and guilt about not being able to provide the most basic thing that a mother is supposed to provide for her baby.

Celebrate World Breastfeeding Week. Enjoy and cherish the nurturing and loving breastfeeding relationship you have. Share extra breast milk if you can-there are wonderful networks of mothers in need, both through formal and informal means. As a recipient of donated milk, it means more to me than I could ever express, and I honor and celebrate the success and joy and love that you've found in nursing your own children. I wish I could do the same for myself, and for the relationship I have with my daughter.

I hope that in your travels you remember there are mothers like me who would love to have what you do. I hope that someone, somewhere out there remembers to honor and respect the mothers like me who have really and truly done it all, who eye you nursing your children and envy what you have. I will never have the beautiful nursing relationship that I dreamed of with my daughter, the sweet nursing moments that you don't remember but that I wish for. I will work hard to make up for it in other ways. I will work towards a loving and respectful relationship with her, and despite my mother's reminders that "She'll never thank you for that" one day I will tell her that I tried very hard to breastfeed her and I will share the story of her milk Mamas, and make sure she knows how much she is loved.

In her pre-motherhood days, E worked as a social worker, with a focus on public health topics like sexual health. Now she is learning to navigate the new and crazy world of motherhood as a guide to her daughter, Nacho, born in April 2008. Check out her new blog, Evolution of Mom.


rachel said...

thank you for sharing this story! i feel like i've looked into the eyes of many demons in my breastfeeding relationships with my children, and it is not easy (SO painful!) when it doesn't work.

quitecontrary1977 said...

i feel like breast-feeding advocates have gone too far . i am breastfeeding my daughter, but i am totally supportive of people who can't breastfeed or even choose not to. of course it's best. there have been studies to prove that, but I was never breastfed a drop..and i've never been sick. i have no allergies. and i have never been fat.i was always an "a" student in highschool and college. so as far as physical development goes, i question how much of a difference it makes. it does make for a strong bond, which is why i'm glad my mom did not breastfeed. she's so attached to me as it is! you sound like the best mom in the world. truly caring, and that will be far more influential in your child's life than whether she breast fed or not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. I could sense the great emotion as I read it. It is obvious you care deeply about your daughter are willing to do what it takes to give her the world. Your determination is admirable.

We have a great breastfeeding relationship, but it is definitely not the norm around here. Instead of advocacy and offers for chairs, dirty looks are more likely.

It's good to get another perspective from time to time and reminds me not to be quick to judge, as one can never know the full details of the situation at first glance.

holli jo said...

This post made me cry because I relate so well. My son was born this August, and though I don't have any medical conditions myself, my son had jaundice, didn't latch properly, and never sucked hard enough to bring in my milk supply.

By the time I realized what was going on, it was too late. I've pumped, I've taken herbs, I've offered the breast as often as possible. I attend lactation classes every week.

But I still only produce enough for about 1/4 ounce per feeding. It's hard. I don't know of any milk donors, so I use formula, but I do breastfeed and offer him what little I have.

Thank you for sharing your story. Best to you.