I almost didn’t buy a pump. I had this silly notion that after such a challenging pregnancy, postpartum would be a breeze, that Scarlett would latch onto my breast, no problem, and suck, suck, suck until her heart’s desire.
This is what I wanted. To breastfeed my baby. But this was not my reality.
My therapist and I are working on accepting reality for what it is instead of trying to change it or mourning for “what could have been”, but I have to tell you, there is something about breastfeeding – this biological need (at least for me) – that insists on a mourning period – grief.
Scarlett was born three weeks early, and when she was born, she was born with low glucose and a low body temperature so they fed her a bottle of formula immediately. I was OK with this. It was necessary. My baby needed glucose, food – a jump-start after her arrival. But this meant that she needed supplementation while breastfeeding – more on that in a bit.
When she was put to my breast, she did latch, and she suck, suck, sucked until her heart’s desire, but I thought – is it supposed to feel like this? My little girl, a vampire on my breast? – more on that in a bit.
I began pumping in the hospital so that we could supplement her feeds with breast-milk instead of formula. The nurse had me pumping at the highest, deepest speed, and it worked – I was producing. So here is what we needed to do: Tino would have to fill a vial with my breast-milk that was connected to a tube, and then he would have to bend over and feed that tube between my nipple and Scarlett’s mouth and we would work to get her to latch to both so that she received the supplementation while still latched onto my breast.
When we got home from the hospital, my nipples were cracked and raw and Tino’s back was on the fritz. We were gearing up for her late night feed when I looked at him and thought – if Tino’s back goes out, we’re screwed (I had a C-Section and was not very mobile), so we called it – we would feed her from a bottle, and feed her my pumped milk until my nipples healed and she no longer needed supplementation.
Well, our little darling had a tongue-tie, which is fairly common in newborns, which made her my little vampire, sucking until my nipples were raw. So…we got her tongue-tie fixed.
Now, friends, my breasts are small – like, really small – and when my milk came in, they were so engorged that I no longer had a nipple. I was also over-producing (the lactation consultant thinks my body became confused when pumping at such a high speed in the hospital, that it believed it needed to feed twins), so when Scarlett’s tongue-tie was fixed, she could no longer latch because I had no nipple to latch to. We tried self-expressing or pumping before a feed to try and get my breasts to soften, but even after fifteen minutes of pumping, there was no softening these hard rocks. So we tried a nipple shield. My little darling would rip that thing off of me and hurl it, or chew on it instead of feed. All the while losing her shit because – she was HUNGRY.
So…pumping and bottle feeding it was. All while still trying to get her to latch. And then I got mastitis.
Fuck mastitis. It is evil. No one talks about this crap. No one spills the beans on how challenging breastfeeding can actually be. And if they do, or have – I missed the memo. Mastitis knocks you on your little behind with a fever and flu-like symptoms. I was put on antibiotics, but after a week, my mastitis still hadn’t cleared. We tried new antibiotics and a few days later, I began to feel better.
So many challenges.
But all of these challenges aren’t what kicked breastfeeding to the curb for me. I was willing to try, to keep working, so that Scarlett could have the best possible start to her life.
Here it is:
Before pregnancy, people called me Gumby. It was a fun party trick – me, turning my hands all of the way around, my elbow bent at an odd angle (it booked me a gig once in a music video in Chicago). On my resume, under “special skills”, I would list: can turn hand all of the way around. But during pregnancy? All of those loose limbs? Add in the relaxin hormone? And I was a puppet on a string with no puppeteer.
In third trimester, the relaxin hit, and my pubic bone felt as though someone was literally pulling it apart. I was diagnosed with SPD – Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction – where you lose stability in your pubic bone. Hello, marionettes! Then, my thumbs began to dislocate. I would pull the blanket over me at night, and, bam!, dislocation of the thumb. I hoped these things would end once I gave birth to Scarlett, but they didn’t.
I would try and manipulate Scarlett to breastfeed and my thumbs would dislocate. I would try and pick her up, but would have no stability in my pelvis, and my thumbs would dislocate. I learned that as long as I was producing milk, I would produce relaxin. So, now came the choice, do I breastfeed my baby (pumping now, as I couldn’t manipulate her to feed with my bunked hands), and continue to have instability in my joints, or do we switch to formula and let my joints stiffen back up. As a family, Tino and I decided to wean Scarlett from breast-milk and transition her to formula.
I understood it was a necessity – to pick up my child without the real fear of dropping her, of my thumbs or my pelvis giving out, but as my milk dried up, I would weep, and weep and weep and weep, for the loss of this biological need in me, of my failure – my body’s failure – to perform in the way in which I wanted it to. I so desperately wanted it to. And as Scarlett switched to formula, and began having gas, and tummy troubles, I would blame myself, this tricky body. I would shame myself – I didn’t try hard enough, let’s try again. And my husband would become furious as I desperately pushed Scarlett to my breast to latch, even though my milk was almost gone, and she latched, and I thought – we can do this! – and then my thumbs would give out.
Breastfeeding was not in the cards for us.
And intellectually I know that a fed baby is best. A loved baby is best. Being able to care for my baby, to pick her up, is best. But still…I grieved (am still grieving) because I wanted this, to breastfeed, and I couldn’t.
When I wasn’t a mother and my friends who were new mothers came to me with their troubles breastfeeding, and their sadness, or frustration at the challenges, I would say to them, “Give yourself a break. You’re doing the best that you can. Take the pressure off of yourself.”
How ignorant I was of their plight.
Now I know.
Breastfeeding is hard. It is painful. It is work. But it is rewarding, to be able to feed your child from your own body. It is wonderful, to feel her connected to you in such an intimate sense. But now I must let it go, move on, release my shame and grief, because none of that helps Scarlett, none of that is good for Scarlett, and this is simply a lesson in parenthood, to let go of the things that we cannot control – to adapt.
It is true: a fed baby is best; a loved baby is best; a cared for baby is best.
And Scarlett is all of these things.