I have been wanting to write about this for a very long time. Let me just give a disclosure that this is my very own, personal experience. It is what happened to ME. Everyone is different, every experience is different, every mother and every baby is different. This is me and my story. Whew, glad I got that out of the way.
Let me begin with the beginning, well, sort of. So when I found out I was pregnant, the internet became my best friend because I was totally clueless about babies. During those nine months, I searched every topic I could think of. 3am google serches after getting up to pee was the normal life for me. Breastfeeding was one of those many subjects. There was so much information about breastfeeding! So many products, whether to choose an manual or machine pump, if your insurance covers it, different bottles, how to hold the baby when you are feeding, creams, bra pads, what to eat to increase your supply, etc. It was truly an abundance of information. After countless sleepless nights researching, I was 100% sure my baby was going to be breast feed for at least a year, I was going to be eating the best quality foods and him and I were going to bond like no other before. Everything would be natural, wonderful, and go smoothly. Well, for me, that’s not exactly the way my breastfeeding journey went.
I had my son after a twenty four hour, intense labor. My water broke Thursday at 9:00am and I had him on Friday at 9:08am. During the last three hours it was straight pushing, non stop. I also developed a fever which was dangerous for both myself and the baby. I was exhausted. I was on I don’t know what medications and I had an epidural. Let’s say, I was a hot mess, as I’m sure many other new mothers are. As a precaution, they sent my newborn baby to the NICU. I remember vaguely after a while they came in with him in a little glass box and told me I needed to feed him ASAP. I had no clue you are supposed to start right then and there! Can I relax for a minute? No, not really was their answer. It was surreal and very hazy. I remember when the nurses and lactation consultant came in, I had visitors in the room. At that point it didn’t really matter. Out came my boob and everyone in the room watched as they tried to get my newborn baby to latch. The problem was, he just wouldn’t. I didn’t think much of it, I knew we were both tired from twenty four hours of labor and thought that everything would work itself out.
A couple days passed and we were finally home. I was determined to be a milk making machine. Dairy cows were going to have nothing on me. Through my late night researching, I saw many mothers had freezer bags of milk and were even giving them away because they produced so much! I started using a breast pump and noticed I could barely get a half ounce. I pumped and pumped and I couldn’t even fill up a bottle. I was starting to worry. I decided to make use of all the free samples of newborn formula and was thinking maybe my body is just getting into this milk thing a little slower than normal. I made all the cookies, drank all the teas, nothing seemed to help.
Weeks went by and I decided to supplement my breast milk with formula. I could only make one small bottle a day, which wasn’t enough. I started to feel like a failure. At this point I had returned back to work. I would pump before leaving for work, at 10am, at lunchtime, at 3pm, and again when I got home. Each session was about 20 minutes long. My nipples were extremely raw and tender after all that pumping! The entire day and I could only fill one 2 ounce tiny bottle of milk?! Really boobs? Come on! We were supposed to be a team here! Everything was supposed to be perfect and I was supposed to be this great, amazing mother who would only gave her child breast milk! I tried latching him on to me every single chance I got, every single day, in all kinds of positions, even with a nipple shield, and he just simply didn’t want to. He would spit my nipple out and would only latch on to that green pacifier nipple they gave us to take home from the hospital. I started hating that pacifier. I started feeling resentment, guilt and an overwhelming sense of failure.
I called several lactation consultant offices, joined online groups and spoke with many over the phone. After many talks, I saw that each one was telling me about tips and tricks that I had already tried over and over again. I was still failing. At that point, I then decided to call my doctor and told him about my situation. He said he could put me on medication as a one time solution. I was warned that if this didn’t work, I would be out of luck and would just have to throw in the breastfeeding towel. Hearing that from my doctor gave me knots in my stomach, but I agreed and got the medication.
The medication worked great!! All the sudden I was filling 5 ounce bottles on each breast, each time! I was so happy!! I had a two week supply of medication, so I thought by the end of it, this medicine would somehow regulate me and I would be on my way! Except….it didn’t regulate me. When the pills ran out, so did my milk. I began feeling an overwhelming sense of depression. At the time, my husband didn’t understand what exactly was going on with me. The constant pumping was draining me emotionally, physically and psychologically. I would pump all day and couldn’t even get an ounce for the entire day. I felt like a horrible mom. A complete failure. I don’t think he understood the magnitude of the overwhelming sense of not feeling like a woman, as silly as that sounds. But there I was, without pills, with a baby that would have drops of breast milk instead of a full bottle, no freezer stock of supply….nothing.
(Picture of the last pump session, after 45 minutes.)
After 4 months of trying relentlessly, I gave up. I cried and cried and cried many nights over it. It wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t my plan. I went back to my doctor and he gave me words of encouragement that still replay in my mind to this day. “Fed is best. Many women don’t even go 3 months because of reasons from A-Z. You are not a failure. The fact that you were even willing to take pills and pump until your nipples were chapped and raw shows me your dedication to your baby. You are doing good and honestly, I can never, ever tell a difference between a formula fed baby and a breastfed baby when they walk in or medically.”
Those words have stuck with me since I left his office a little over a year ago. Sometimes, breastfeeding doesn’t work out for mothers, for whatever reason. I felt like I had to do a walk of breast milk shame for not being able to feed my son the way I wanted to. In my opinion, there are not enough women that talk about this openly, or to even admit this. We are shunned because we can’t produce, we have to listen to other people always chanting “breast is best, breast is best! Have you made the cookies, drank the tea, stood upside down and crossed your legs?” Well, maybe not the last part, but that’s how it felt. Yes, I have tried everything, and no it didn’t help.
So there you go, if you find this article at 3am crying because you can’t produce enough milk, don’t worry mama. Just feed your child. They will survive. They will grow up into strong, healthy, happy human beings breast milk or not. Don’t let it get to you, you are still an amazing mother, milk or not. It doesn’t determine who you are.