I went into my birthing experience with relatively few expectations. My husband and I took a few classes and I read a few books on natural childbirth. I had every intention of having an un-medicated birth. However, as a nurse, I knew anything was possible when it came to childbirth and I didn’t want to be disappointed with the outcome, whatever it may be. I allowed myself to have some “preferences” when it came to my birth, but I also knew not to be hard on myself if it didn’t turn out as planned.
After a night of observation in the hospital, I went home to try and get some rest. After a couple of hours, I woke to my husband and to my surprise, my mom, who flew in that morning from California. Apparently my husband had let her know early that morning what was going on. It was such a relief to have her there to support me, even though it was still undetermined whether I was in true labor or not. I had no idea what labor looked or felt like. I was still having frequent and regular contractions, they were getting stronger, but I couldn’t be sure if they were strong enough to dilate my cervix. So, I walked the house. Drank water. Took a shower. Took a bath. Repeat. Finally, my mom suggested going for a walk outside. When I couldn’t make it to the neighbor’s driveway, I could tell my mom was convinced I was in more than just latent labor. I remained convinced I wasn’t in true labor, as much pain as I may have been in. I insisted on staying home, laboring in and out of the tub for hours. Finally, my husband and mom convinced me to go into the hospital once again. When I checked in, I was dilated to a six, and it was time to have a baby! Our nurse was confident we would be having a baby by midnight. I dilated to a nine quite quickly, but my body was unable to relax enough to dilate that last centimeter. I labored in the tub, took several walks, tried several different positions and bounced on the exercise balls. The contractions and pressure only got more intense. I had been laboring for over 40 hours without sleep, and I was past the point of exhaustion. At that point, I felt content with the decision to have an epidural.
After a few more hours of rest, my body finally relaxed enough and it was time to push. Even though I had hoped to have an un-medicated birth, my experience of having a vaginal birth with an epidural far exceeded my expectations. I was completely pain-free and could relax and enjoy each moment. I watched as we could see her tiny little brown curls, pushing with the support of a wonderful nurse, my OB, and of course my partner in crime, my husband, and my mother. I really cannot put into words holding my sweet girl outside of my body for the first time. I knew what it was like to carry her on the inside, and I loved her deeply. Yet holding her in my arms and kissing her sweet face was another level of love.
As a disclaimer, I was not breastfed. I was adopted at birth by two wonderful parents, who brought me home from the hospital with overflowing joy and love. I was raised being told I was their gift from God, and I never felt for one moment that I was anything less. I was bottle-fed with formula from birth. I’ve been blessed with good health which I’m sure is in large part due to the loving and nurturing home I was raised in. I had no pressure from my family to breastfeed; my desire came strictly from my own maternal desire. However, my mother was an amazingly strong supporter in my desire to breastfeed. She held my hand every step of the way, without judgment in whichever decision I ultimately made. My husband also supported me every step of the way, never challenging the decision I made, as hard as they may have been.
Breastfeeding is portrayed as natural and beautiful, and often as something that should also come naturally and beautifully to mothers and their newborn babies. Unfortunately, breastfeeding does not come naturally for everyone. And unfortunately, my daughter and I fell in that category. Within an hour of my daughter’s birth, I attempted to breastfeed her. She opened her mouth wide when I placed her to my breast. She could place her tiny little mouth over my nipple and make a few little suckling motions, then she would stop and release. We continued this for about an hour. I had no idea what normal breastfeeding looked like, so I figured we were on the right track. I asked the nurse after awhile if I should keep trying, and she said to stop and try again in a couple hours. So, every two hours around the clock, I would spend half of an hour to an hour trying to breastfeed her. This went on for about 24 hours until I finally asked a nurse to observe us breastfeeding. She had an uncoordinated suck and wasn’t transferring any colostrum. I ended up learning how to pump in the hospital and finger feed our daughter with a feeding tube. She was already loosing too much weight, so it was necessary to ensure she was getting the nutrition and hydration she needed to thrive.
At the lactation appointment with my 2-day-old daughter, who we named Savannah, we continued to work on her latch. Her weight had dropped even more, so I agreed to supplement her with formula until my milk came in. She was so hungry when it was offered; she ravenously drank it down. I knew giving her formula to keep her energy up and prevent further weight loss was the right thing to do. I didn’t and still do not have any regrets about that decision. Within 24 hours, my milk came in and I was able to pump and give her my expressed breast milk with finger feedings. I was still offered the breast every 2 hours around the clock. She was never a very hungry baby, almost always requiring being waked for feeds, day and night. Several more lactation appointments came and went. I went as far as to hire a highly recommended lactation consultant from Seattle to come to my home. Savannah went to Seattle Children’s to have a posterior tongue tie procedure done at two weeks of age. Still, she lacked the coordination to latch onto my breast.
With each day, I became more and more heartbroken. I could see my hopes of having a breastfeeding relationship with my daughter slip away. I produced enough breastmilk for twins, pumping a minimum of eight times per day, and often more. However, being connected to the pump was not satisfying for me. It brought me no gratification whatsoever. I came to have somewhat of an aversion to my pump; it was a reminder each time I connected myself to it that I was not a good enough mother to be able to directly breastfeed my very own daughter. It was a reminder to me that I had failed in my ability to breastfeed my child.
With each passing day, my sadness grew deeper and I started considering the decision to formula feed my child. I knew I could continue to exclusively pump breastmilk for Savannah, but it simply wasn’t an emotionally healthy option for me. I continued to offer the breast with each feeding, though she screamed and refused to even attempt to latch. I had a wealth of support from family and friends to stop pumping and offer formula. I knew in my heart she would thrive, and I knew in my heart I would love her just the same. Yet some part of me wasn’t ready to be done with breastfeeding, so I persevered.
Around one month of age, Savannah was able to transfer milk successfully for onefeeding. I was elated! I thought we were on the right track, and that my determination had paid off. Yet after our one successful feeding, we continued to fail, and fail again. Back at square one, I continued to pump and offer my breastmilk via bottle after offering the breast. It was a struggle to juggle attempting breastfeeding, feeding her milk in a bottle, pumping breastmilk, and leaving her at two weeks of age to go back to graduate school. Her arrival had been somewhat unplanned, though not at all unwanted. I consider quitting school on multiple occasions, though I knew it was the right decision for our family to persevere. I can’t deny that there were days I just cried. And looking back, I can still feel the sting of how painful those first few months were. Postpartum is something nobody really prepares you for, and when it is complicated by impossible circumstances, you rely on the support of those around you to get by. I really can’t imagine how I could’ve managed without my husband and mom in those early months.
Another month went by, and I was still in the same predicament, though this time I was seriously considering making the switch to formula feeding. I had gotten through a full two months with pumping and feeding her my breastmilk, which essentially was a milestone. I told myself I could feel good about what I had accomplished, and I needed to move on. Truly, all that mattered was that she had a full, happy belly and a happy mommy. I knew that. It just didn’t change the fact that I felt like a failure each time I fed her a bottle of formula. I had wanted to breastfeed her so badly. I had one successful feeding in two months, and had tried endlessly on our latch. I can remember at least two times I completely stopped pumping for days, only to change my mind and try to breastfeed once again. It was an endless cycle and I just couldn’t bring myself to stop trying. Nothing changed the fact that deep down, some maternal part of me needed to breastfeed.
I had a break from school and took a vacation by myself to see my parents in California. I brought my pump, and I brought formula. Though I never admitted it, I knew this trip was going to make or break our breastfeeding relationship. I pulled my two and a half month old into bed with me every night, and at each cry, I brought her to the breast. All day long, I offered the breast. I still made sure she was fed, but I also made sure she had opportunity to latch and breastfeed if she desired. She started to breastfeed for short periods, maybe one or two minutes at most. I had no idea if she was breastfeeding properly, if she was transferring milk, or if she was merely comfort nursing. I obsessively counted her wet diapers, wondering if she was truly transferring milk successfully. I had a few meltdowns along the way. I can remember crumbling into my mother’s arms, sobbing, desperately asking why I was unable to breastfeed my own child. I was completely unprepared and unwilling to face the heartbreak of being unable to directly breastfeed my daughter.