By Rachel Crum
I Breastfed Both My Babies...Until I Didn't: My breast and bottle feeding journeys
I never thought that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed. Everyone I knew was breastfeeding, except for one friend who hadn't been able to produce enough milk, and it wasn't something talked about in my Bradley Birthing class. I learned all about how to breastfeed, but nothing about what to do when breastfeeding was not working. I did, however, have a bunch of friends who had meant to have natural vaginal births, and wound up having c-sections, so I was much more concerned about how birth would go, and all the possible complications, than about everything that would come afterwards.
As it turned out, birth was easy for me, or, at least, easy in the sense that we had no complications, and I've now given birth vaginally twice with no meds and no interventions. The second time, I gave birth to a 10lb 3oz baby pretty simply. Everyone was amazed, and to be honest, I was amazed that my body could do one thing so naturally and simply, but couldn't manage the other: breastfeeding.
I'm thankful that I was able to give birth naturally, especially since I wasn't able to continue nursing either of my girls, and it serves as a constant reminder to me that not everything is as it seems, and just because one thing comes naturally, doesn't mean everything will.
With my first daughter, I experienced just about everything in the book. Pain while latching, bleeding, crying because I was feeding my daughter blood, crying because I couldn't stand the thought of feeding her again. I got clogs, a low grade fever, possible mastitis that wasn't ever diagnosed because my OB wouldn't see me, antibiotics, and middle of the night feverish, achy feedings. Finally, my nipple literally split open, and I had a lactation nurse come visit me, and give me things to try to heal it while I pumped for the next few weeks. Weeks and weeks went by and I wasn't healing, but pumping had created an oversupply so I was constantly fighting off clogs while in the midst of warming milk, feeding baby, pumping, washing bottles and pump parts. It was exhausting and nothing seemed like it was getting fixed or figured out. One side of me continued to be split open and oozing, and I couldn't wear a shirt or real bra, because it hurt so much. I missed my best friend's wedding in Canada thinking about traveling with the pain, and the pumping, and everything made me sob with panic.
Eventually, my OB suggested I try cutting way back on pumping to allow myself to heal, and I did and it worked! But I was discouraged that I had lost most of my supply. I finally remembered the lactation nurse had told me it seemed like my daughter had a lip tie, something my husband and I had never heard of, but in researching it, it turned out my daughter had all the symptoms. My husband still thought it was basically bogus, but in a last ditch effort to figure things out, we went to see someone about a revision.
Here's something I don't talk about much. At our appointment, the really nice doctor who did lip and tongue tie revisions for a living, walked us through everything, and finally, seeing all of my turmoil about doing the procedure and causing my baby pain, sat us down and asked me, "Do you want to keep breastfeeding?" And in 2.5 months of my baby's life, no one had asked me that, and I cried and told him "No." I wanted to sleep and maybe enjoy my baby's life, and not keeping trying and trying to figure something out that was sapping all my time and energy and worry and research. And he told me it was ok if I wanted to quit and my baby would turn out ok with formula, and even though I feel like most moms would be horrified that he said this, it was the first time someone gave me the freedom to just quit. To say, This isn't working and I hate it, and I want to try again next time.
So that's what I did. I gave up trying, and I slowly quit pumping, and for the first time, I relaxed enough to enjoy my newborn. It was so freeing.
But I wasn't totally free. I would always have a niggling feeling of guilt in the back of my mind. The question, "What if?" rattling around in there. I kept wondering. So when I was pregnant with my second child, I made a plan. I was prepared. I had all the equipment, phone number of a lactation consultant I had told about my history, and the conviction that I was going to try for two weeks before giving up. And as it turned out, plan and all, nothing worked. I saw a lactation consultant, we had my daughter's lip tie lasered, it still hurt, I was still crying, and I still split open. Except this time, I had a two year old to take care of, a husband back at work, and a move a few weeks away. So I quit again.
It's been over a year now, and I still feel a small amount of guilt, but I also feel peace. It's all mixed together. I feel frustrated that I couldn't fix it, and frustrated because by nature, I'm not a quitter, but I know both times I made a decision that allowed me to move forward and actually be a mom to my kids. It got me out of the crazy researching, buying all the products, trying every method mode and let me enjoy my baby (and spend some time with my toddler and pack my house). It was never an easy decision and I cried both times I stopped, but I have to trust that each time, I made the best decision I could, in the midst of the pain and the hormones and the anxiety. Each time is a new exercise in trustingthe Lord with my babies and my body.