Friday, January 24, 2014

Life as a Non-Breastfeeding Mom

I never imagined anything for my baby except breastfeeding. I was going to do everything in my power to help him breastfeed, and I was devoted to learning plenty about it beforehand. I read books, articles, took classes, talked to friends/family, and so on.

I knew going into it that not every child is born to nurse and I knew there was a possibility it wouldn't work out, but certainly not because I lacked the desire or knowledge about it.

I was determined.

And it totally did NOT work out.

It was incredibly disappointing. But we did everything we could.

Here's a brief background in case you're reading this and aren't familiar with our story:

My son was born at 38 weeks and 2 days gestation. He was a healthy 7 lbs 3 oz. After I was moved to the c-section recovery room, the nurses helped get him latched on. He got some milk, but he was really agitated.

Being a new mom, that's a bit flustering because you hope and kind of expect that they'll either latch or be a bit fussy or struggle a bit. I wasn't certain but he seemed a bit more than just fussy. He was fighting against it with every ounce of his being, and the nurse kept trying. I was so exhausted and drugged/out of it that at one point I remember just laying back and throwing my arms off the side because I was exasperated with the nurse.

His breathing didn't seem right to me and I asked the nurses about it a few times. He didn't want to eat at all. He seemed so exhausted to me and the way his chest moved in while breathing... I just didn't feel right about it in my gut. The nurses kept indicating babies just breathe differently than us. I trusted the one nurse a lot, but that still bothers me to this day. Regardless, she did a great job and was initially a good advocate for trying to fight the c-section. I doubted myself, as most first-time moms do, so I stopped pushing. Thankfully the nurses also stopped pushing with nursing because they could see he was agitated. Once bundled up against my chest, he was fine. So we laid there until it was time to be moved up to the mother & baby unit.

Once we were up there, I don't remember much. I remember making the nurses laugh but I don't remember what I said. Or maybe I laughed at something they said - I just remember something was funny. I remember the ones from downstairs leaving and my new nurse taking over. She was amazing and I'll always be incredibly grateful for her {Kirsten}. Right away Tim & I mentioned the concern over his breathing. The nurse took a look, assessed the situation, went through some things with us, and went to talk to someone about our baby's condition.

Tim brought our friend Monica in {she was supposed to be there for the birth} while the nurse was away. Elijah was taken to the nursery to be checked over thoroughly. I insisted that Tim go along. Minutes went by as Monica and I waited. Anxiously. It was a lot longer than I expected. She encouraged me that since it was so late {I think it was about 11:45 pm, yikes! I had no idea!!} to go ahead and bring our families in. We'd hoped to have everyone together and introduce Elijah to them at once with all his stats and name. But Monica was right, so she brought them in before leaving and I gave them the info. Minutes later the doctor finally came in and explained to us what was going on with Elijah, 45 minutes after he'd been taken to the nursery to be examined.

Elijah had fluid in his lungs {likely from my water bag still being intact with the c-section, and not getting the vacuum effect that vaginal delivery has on ridding the chance baby will be born with too much fluid} and he was having trouble breathing, so he was taken to the NICU for monitoring and stabilizing.

When they tried to remove the fluid with needles and later {24 hours or so later} took an X-Ray to confirm the fluid was gone, they discovered he also had holes in his lungs {likely torn when he took his first breath upon entering the world}. As a result, he was in the NICU for 11 very unexpected, traumatic days {and yet, with his condition, he was released earlier than they'd expected!}. [[For more on that story, go here.]]

*All the details surrounding what happened are a bit of a guess. There's no way to prove or know for sure how or why the fluid and holes got there. We don't know if he was in fact 38 weeks or if they were off by 2 weeks and perhaps he wasn't fully developed. We don't think that's the case, but there's no way to know for certain. We in no way blame anybody for what happened. It was all part of a necessary process, and disappointing as it was, it's our story. We trust God above all else and we know it's a part of his perfect plan.*

As a result of all of this, Elijah had to be fed for a couple of days through a feeding tube that gave him instant gratification. Then, gratefully, one of his new acute-care nurses* thought to have it changed so that the food was slowly administered to him through the feeding tube over a 20-minute period.
{*Up until his chest tubes were in, he was in the back of the unit where there's less care needed / they prioritize based on the child's needs so in acute-care the baby has a nurse's full attention but in the less care section most nurses cover 2-3 babies and aren't always with each baby though they still monitor the other ones from whichever child's bay they are in.}

It wasn't until he'd been there about a week that he was finally able to take a bottle.

Meanwhile, I got soooo stressed out that I ended up back in the hospital 8 days after his birth for 2 more days with high blood pressure {also technically a result of post-partum pre-eclampsia, which no one ever told me was a thing. It is!}. At this point, he'd just come off the chest tubes a couple days prior, which meant after 24 hours off those he could try bottle-feeding and thankfully he took well to that.

I remember the first moment I saw Elijah in the NICU and with all the conflicting emotions and trauma of that initial visit/situation, I couldn't help but notice something little and green in his mouth. I started to tell them to remove the pacifier, but he was in pain and having trouble, and I just couldn't make them do it. It broke my heart, knowing that was the #1 rule of breastfeeding - no bottles or pacifiers until at least a couple weeks after breastfeeding has been well established.

Well, there went that.

BUT, given the situation and all that came over those 11 days, I'm glad he had the pacifier. It really helped soothe him.

I pumped since day one, we watched the clock whenever we were visiting him in the NICU to make sure I was pumping at the right times, Tim would lovingly get up to help in the middle of the night until I could gather it all together better on my own, once we were in the Home Away from Home {able to stay at the hospital for free but without the help of nurses} Tim would get up in the night to lovingly take the pumped milk to his son two floors down in the NICU, and we checked in regularly with the nurses to make sure he was getting the pumped milk mixed in with his formula whenever I didn't get enough for his needs.

I took burpcloths with me that smelled like him to help my milk production and I tried thinking of him every time I was pumping, but I never produced a bunch. I kept thinking once he latched on, my body would catch up, but it didn't. By the time he got to try latching, I think my body was already in no-way-is-this-gonna-happen mode. Stress. Postpartum health issues. Severe diet restrictions.

I had a great pregnancy, despite being high risk and constantly tested. Despite having high blood pressure prior to pregnancy, it really wasn't altogether too bad during pregnancy {some doc visits it was as high as 154/90 but I was monitored closely with meds and it never went higher than that, and usually it was closer to the 120/80 borderline}. I really, truly had loved being pregnant and I hoped & prayed for the best after delivery.

Absolutely nothing about Elijah's birth or weeks after were what we wanted.

Even so, I fought and tried and tried HARD to be able to nurse my baby. He latched on at the hospital just enough to feel like we could do this. Once we were both home, it got tougher. He would sometimes latch and sometimes just want the bottle because it was faster for his eagerness. He's always been an eager eater {I blame the feeding tube!}. And he was never patient enough to latch well each time and wait for the food to come, often getting really agitated and it was so stressful for all of us. So he was supplemented with formula as needed. He had to be, and I don't regret that. He was used to the bottle already and he needed food.

I pumped constantly for 5 weeks {including the times he'd latch on because he never got fully enough}, I took natural vitamin supplements meant to increase milk production, and we went to lactation consultations. There was one time I specifically recall us being frustrated at home because he'd latch for 10-15 minutes but then totally fall asleep and just want to snuggle with me. It was sweet but also exasperating!! I wanted so badly to be able to naturally feed my son. Then we went to the lactation meeting and he did super, AND I was able to pump out more than ever before.

So we decided to make our environment more closely match that at the lactation consultant's. We changed the pump location to baby's room and we modified how I was sitting {more upright with a pillow nestled behind me}. With the help of Tim and family over those couple weeks, we really did seem to make good progress.

As a result of my high blood pressure, I was put on a strict diet. I watched my water closely and didn't have caffeine. But the low-salt, low-sugar, heart-healthy diet, as good as it was for me, also made it hard to make sure I was getting enough calories. We did our best though. But eventually, things started plummeting.

With the help of our amazing lactation consultant, we had to make the really hard decision. I was getting nothing in the pump anymore and he was entirely formula-fed. And I was completely maxed and stressed out. But still, I cried and cried and cried. I painfully agonized over it.

It was still a very hard decision and one we both wrestled with. We wanted the very best for our son, but it just wasn't working. I was ready to give up about a week before we did, but hubby helped encourage me to keep trying. He knew we'd both struggle with guilt later if we didn't try everything in our power or exhausted every resource before giving up.

He was right, but I can't tell you the relief that poured over me that Wednesday afternoon on week 5 when we decided to stop as we spoke on the phone with the lactation consultant. The next day we handed back in the hospital-grade pump we'd been renting from the hospital {recommended for NICU babies}, got a final weigh-in, and recapped it all with the lactation consultant who was super encouraging about us having done our best & how we had tried everything. When we left the hospital that day, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me.

It was so hard, but so good too. The stress and pressure of that was making it so hard for me to enjoy my baby.

Think about that. I couldn't even enjoy my baby at that point - it was all just too much. I'm glad we fought for it as hard as we did, but at the end of the day, it wasn't working and I needed to be able to relax and enjoy my little boy!

The reality I had to learn is, formula-fed babies turn out just fine too. We did nothing wrong, and we gave it our ALL before we gave up. I agree breastfeeding is best, but sometimes it just doesn't work out.

And that is OKAY!!

I'm here to tell you, if you've tried, then let it go. Doing your best is all you can do, rid yourself of the mommy guilt after that.

Though the advertising and marketing out there is correct - breastfeeding IS best - it can also have a detrimental effect on people like me. There are a lot of misunderstandings out there about breastfeeding. Those women who see it as an inconvenience they don't have time for or who don't want to deal with it because it sounds awful/painful/etc, they need these ads and they need to know it's not about them. But for those of us who try and have a really hard time having to give up, all of this can be really depressing and harmful for us.

Even the packaging of the formula says breastfeeding is best for your baby.

The questions when you go to the doctor. Daycare. Babysitter. Random conversations. All well-meaning or needed but I always feel a slight stab to the chest like I'm not one of those "good moms" who breastfeeds.

I'm not saying that they're judging me in these particular situations, but it's still hard not to feel a twinge of guilt and shame and remorse. We sure tried, but I'm not going to over-explain myself every single time I get asked. It just is what it is.

But it's hard.

I do struggle still with my own mommy guilt when I see the other moms at daycare bringing in their bottles of breastmilk. Or when I'm making my baby's bottle in the mall and I see a woman watching me pour the formula into the water. Yes I know her gaze might have just wandered or perhaps she recalls having been me once, but still... avert your gaze if you feel remotely inclined to do that. We just feel like we're being judged like "why on earth is that woman giving her baby formula when he should have breastmilk?!"

Seriously people, I know. I tried. I tried my very hardest.

It's just really sad because we all need support, love, encouragement, prayer, hearty laughter, and a decent amount of caffeine so really survive the challenges of motherhood.

So my hope is that by sharing my story, I've helped give an additional perspective to moms. 

For those of you who also tried and weren't able to nurse your baby: Give it your ALL and then if it doesn't work, let it go. Relax, you tried.

Grace, peace, and all my best moms!


Mia Love said...

I have nominated you for the Liebster Award over on my blog at:

Your blog is amazing and I really enjoy visiting whenever there is a new post to read!


georgia b. said...

oh... i'm sorry you didn't have that opportunity, because i understand your deep desire to nurse. i know you know my great love for that aspect of mamahood. it was my favorite part of being a new mom. and it is one of the smaller individual aspects i grieve most of not being able to take anysia home from the hospital.

i'm glad you can look at it the way you do, and come to peace with it, but also encourage other moms to do the same.