Thank you to everyone who has volunteered to guest post for me these next couple of weeks, I’m excited to have Eden guest posting for us today. You’ll find her bio and social media/blog links at the end of this post. After reading Eden’s first email I was very much looking forward to having her guest blog, unlike myself, she had a very difficult journey trying to breastfeed. Her story is one I’ve heard from other mom’s, but you just don’t hear these stories enough. I will forever and foremost say that breast is best, but it’s not the only way. I’m so proud of Eden for trying as hard as she did and seeking out help, she was courageous and brave… I don’t know if I could have been as strong as she was!
No one prepares you. No one warns you. No one tells you not to get attached to your breastfeeding story.
In prenatal classes, you’re advised to focus on a healthy baby, not your birth story. But there’s no such caveat for breastfeeding. All you hear with breastfeeding is “breast milk is best.” Do whatever it takes to breastfeed for at least six months, twelve months if you can. If you suffer from allergies, it’s drilled into that the best chances your child has for avoiding allergies is to be breastfed.
Then, it happens. For you, breastfeeding doesn’t come easily. You’re a member of a group no one wants to admit membership in. Worse, you’re one of the small percentage of women whose milk supply is not enough to sustain your baby. Because no one talks publicly about issues with breastfeeding, you’re left to fend for yourself in silence. What little assistance is out there focuses on what you’re doing wrong. You’re not drinking enough water. You have insufficient nutrition. You need to relax. There’s something wrong with you.
I was one of the women whose milk supply was not enough to sustain my daughter. I’d originally given up hopes of breastfeeding when I couldn’t find a correctly sized, supportive nursing bra. Months of fruitless searching had me in tears every time someone mentioned breastfeeding. “The breast is best,” echoed in my head; before my daughter was even born, I was going to be a horrible mother. My husband and I had agreed that if I couldn’t find a nursing bra, we’d go the formula route. Then, things started looking up! I finally found K cup nursing bras in England. I started buying into the romantic notion of breastfeeding – a child nuzzling peacefully while getting nourishment followed by contented cuddles. I thought I could do this.
My milk didn’t come in while we were in the hospital. We were worried; we took advantage of the lactation consultants on staff and had them visit daily to help us figure out what was wrong. In the hospital when our first lactation consultant showed me how to assist my daughter in latching, it hurt. The latching didn’t hurt; the compression of the breast and the hand expression of the milk did. This pain was despite taking pain medications to recover from my C-section. “No pain, no gain;” I continued to push through. I started double pumping in the hospital in an attempt to increase my supply. After my daughter had finished, I’d pump and then we’d spoon-feed her what little milk I’d produced.
With each breastfeeding session I tried mindfulness techniques, forgetting previous sessions and focusing on relaxing and enjoying the bonding experience with my daughter. When I no longer needed pain medications for my C-section a few weeks later, I would discover that breastfeeding reduced me to tears. The only way I could breastfeed was by taking ibuprofen a half hour before a session as recommended. (The entire time I was downing ibuprofen I kept shaking my head in disbelief that mild pain relievers were recommended and that I’d be living on them for the next six months to a year.)
On our first night at home, I was faced with our first breastfeeding challenge. The breast pump that we rented wasn’t able to double pump as efficiently as the breast pump I’d used in the hospital. To get the same yield I saw in the hospital, I had to pump each breast serially. I was worried that I ‘d not have enough milk. While I was on a waiting list for the better pump, I took matters into my own hands and at 4:00AM purchased the better pump ($1,400). According to Amazon, the pump would arrive in 3 to 5 days. Worst case, I’d have the pump in a week, still before I could rent the pump. (Unfortunately, the pump wouldn’t arrive on time. Luckily, another center in the city had a pump available that I was able to rent.)
My second breastfeeding challenge came up over the weekend; my breast milk had a pink tinge. I called an after hours lactation hotline. The nurse reassured me that I’d probably broken a capillary, but that it wasn’t harmful to the baby. (I’d learn in a week that the initial nipple shield the lactation consultant had given me was too small and that I’d lacerated my nipple.) I continued breastfeeding and pumping.
Our second visit to the pediatrician we met with bad news: my daughter had not returned to her birth weight. Off to another lactation consultant we went. Now I was guzzling Mother’s Milk Tea and popping Fenugreek pills. (It’s a good thing I love maple syrup because I smelled like a maple syrup farm.) By this point, breastfeeding was anything but an enjoyable bonding experience. I had to wake up my daughter to eat rather than have her lead. Every three hours I’d wake up a peaceful babe, and after a feeding followed by pumping along with my husband would spend the next two hours trying to calm a pterodactyl.
Two weeks after we left the hospital, it had become excruciatingly painful to breastfeed from the right breast. I realized I needed help and found a postpartum doula specializing in breastfeeding education. A simple position switch (from football hold to cross-cradle hold) eliminated most of the discomfort. It looked as if I was finally in the clear.
Within less than a day, it became painful to breastfeed from the left breast. I was at my wits end; it didn’t seem that I could ever get ahead. I thought I had a clogged duct (it was actually mastitis and an abscess). I tried to break up the clog. I made an appointment with a lactation consultant. Bad news. I had mastitis and my daughter was not transferring milk efficiently. Every three hours – after each breastfeeding session – I needed to double pump. I pumped. I measured the output and compared the volume to previous days. The volume was still down. I consulted the lactation consultant again; I needed to pump more frequently, every two hours.
For four weeks, I tried to breastfeed. For four weeks, I practiced every mindfulness technique I had learned in our birthing classes. For four weeks, I bit my tongue and tried to choke back tears while I pumped to try to increase my supply. “No pain, no gain.” Pushing through the discomfort became my mission. All my waking hours were spent either breastfeeding or pumping so that I could breastfeed later. I dreaded hearing my daughter moving in her crib; it signaled meant more pain. I dreaded what the scale would say after we breastfed; it screamed failure.
For me, there was no bonding during breastfeeding. While my daughter fed, I bit my tongue and kept counting to ten again and again. Handing my daughter to my husband, my mom, or our postpartum doula, was an emotional rush. I felt guilty and alone.
All said and done, my husband and I spent thousands of dollars getting help trying to breastfeed. Luckily, we had the money saved so we could see multiple lactation specialists and hire a postpartum doula specializing in breastfeeding education and support. Not everyone has the luxury of help.
When I finally began talking about my challenges, I was astonished to find other women who had publicly claimed to exclusively breastfed their babies had not. They, too, had challenges and supplemented with, or exclusively used, formula. All asked me to keep their secret. I was disgusted. Not with them, but with today’s environment that reduces women to lying about how easily breastfeeding came to them.
Feeding your baby formula ostracizes you. In mommy’s groups, the other mothers start sitting further away from you. You’re not invited to play dates. Some of the mothers (including some who privately were not breastfeeding) chastised mothers who picked up bottles of formula, not even checking whether or not the mother could breastfeed. Mothers of adopted children weren’t spared the snide comments; no one asked first to find out why someone wasn’t breastfeeding. Instead, lines were drawn. The thinking being that the woman feeding her baby formula must be a bad mother, she’s not breastfeeding and everyone knows, “the breast is best.” After trying a few mommy’s groups and online forums, I withdrew. I didn’t need the additional guilt; I heaped enough of it on myself.
I’m sharing my breastfeeding story today because I don’t want other mothers to feel alone. My breastfeeding story isn’t the one I dreamed of. It was hard to let go of my vision of what breastfeeding with my daughter should be like. Harder was dealing with the feelings that for three weeks of her life I’d rather have been anywhere other than near her.
My daughter is almost two years old and my breastfeeding story still makes me emotional. There are constant reminders that my decision is second best. I worry whether or not I have affected her IQ. I fret whether she will develop allergies (we had her tested to assuage my fears that she had developed a milk allergy).
As a society and as mothers, we need to support all mothers regardless of their choices—without asking first for the backstory. We need to do better. Rather than not talk about the potential problems some women face with breastfeeding, we need to cover them. We can’t be afraid that knowing about mastitis will steer mothers towards bottlefeeding. We need to tell mothers not to get attached to their breastfeeding story. Like with labor, our goals with what we do should be a healthy mother and a healthy baby.
Eden Hensley is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the The Road to The Good Life, a blog about appreciating and enhancing your life by being grateful for the “haves” instead of lingering on the “wants”. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, 21 month old daughter, and a Maine Coon cat. On The Road to The Good Life, she shares thoughts on home, food, family and fashion. You’ll find personal stores about her life and family weaved in with real-life, achievable entertaining tips, recipes and fashion inspiration. Follow Eden via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to learn more!