Well, here we are, almost at Emerson’s first birthday, and I’m just now getting around to finally writing & publishing this blog post. I’ve been meaning to, and wanting to, since about February, but just never actually did it. I figured I’d finally push myself this past week by writing little bits at a time when I could, and get it posted before she actually turns one. So here we go…
Also, this is not my “daily journal” post for today, but this topic has become important for me to talk about and share. If you’re not into this topic, come back tonight for my regular scheduled programming. I’m hoping one day it becomes less of a “shameful” thing when Mommy’s like me can’t or don’t exclusively breastfeed, so here’s my story…
When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding. But of course before you try, you don’t really know how it’s going to go. So my plan was to give it a whirl, and just kinda see how it worked out once she arrived. And that’s what I told people whenever they asked – that I was at least going to give it a try. And other than that, I hadn’t really thought about it much, nor did I really have more specific feelings or ideas.
But then I had a super rough labor & delivery (if you haven’t read it yet, go check out parts one, two, and three of the birth story), and that created a difficult start to the whole breastfeeding journey… As I briefly mentioned in part three, my breast milk didn’t come in right away. In fact, it took TEN DAYS for my milk to come in. Apparently, stressful, traumatic labor and/or c-sections can cause issues with milk. And I had a traumatic labor that led to an unplanned c-section.
During the first few days, Emerson rapidly lost weight, and went from 7 lbs 2 oz at birth, to 6 lbs 6 oz in just a few days. This caused issues with her poops, and also her bilirubin levels, and she got a little jaundiced. She just wasn’t getting enough milk. So, on day three of Emerson’s life, we had to go ahead and start using formula for her. But even that wasn’t easy – TMH is super pushy about breastfeeding, and not always in a good way. So I think that created more issues on the matter for me early on.
And honestly, I was OK with that, at the time. I knew she needed milk to eat, to live, so we willingly fed her formula out of this teeny-tiny little rubber cup the hospital gave us. They then brought in a hospital-grade pump, and instructed me on how to use it. They said every time she ate, I should pump, to try to stimulate my milk into production. So I did, but nothing happened. So I increased the power a bit, but still nothing happened.
I kept trying this the whole week we were in the hospital, but never produced more than a couple squirts. We tried the manual pump, we tried hand-expressing, we had nurses & lactation consultants come by constantly to help with latch & positions & whatever else, but things just weren’t going well. I was frustrated of course, but figured I maybe just needed time.
So after eight days, we were finally discharged to go home. My parents went by Walmart for us, and picked up a giant tub of the fancy Similac formula powder. We learned how to mix it, and continued bottle-feeding her with that. And all the time I was just steady pumping away. We tried getting Emmie to latch first, and then pump. We tried pumping first, and then getting her to latch. But she always got so frustrated, because nothing was coming out of me. I spent a LOT of time hooked up to the insurance-provided breast pump, just hoping & praying it would stimulate enough to finally get things flowing.
I also spent a lot of time crying over it. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to breastfeed my baby, until I couldn’t do it. And then I felt like a failure that couldn’t provided the one thing my newborn needed. Breastfeeding is supposed to be natural to a new mom, right? That’s what I thought at least. That’s what most “literature” leads you to believe. But guess what? IT’S NOT EASY for everyone. I remember going to the pediatrician for Emerson’s first check-up (which is normally on day 4 or 5, but for us was on day 8 since we were in the hospital for so long), and just breaking down in the office when talking with the nurse practitioner. At that point, I thought I was OK with not being able to breastfeed, but it turned out I wasn’t. I was upset, and wished that I could just do this one thing for my baby girl.
But then she told me something that screamed out at me – something that helped tremendously, and eventually became my motto… FED IS BEST. So many people out there love to chant the phrase of “Breast is Best,” and will literally shame and belittle mothers that don’t breastfeed their child. But you know what’s actually best? Just being able to feed them, that’s what’s best. Amen, right?! (I’ve actually read heartbreaking stories about dehydrated, starving babies, because the mother was too brainwashed with “breast is best” and they refused to formula-feed.) And this phrase stuck with me. It really impacted the way I viewed our current predicament, and helped me out.
And just a side note while we’re speaking of “mom-shaming,” I was ashamed in the very beginning to even post photos of bottles or bottle-feeding, because of what other people might think. I wanted to give off the perception that I was able to exclusively breastfeed my baby. How crazy is that? And why? Why did it matter? Who were these people I was afraid of, and why? And why did I let them have any influence over how I took care of my baby? So I’m including some of those bottle-feeding photos in this post that never saw the light of day, now that I’m more confident in my mothering, and our story in general…
Anyways, back to the story… And then eventually, TEN DAYS after my baby was born, I finally started producing milk! Hallelujah! We can be done with formula now, and only use breast milk, right?! Wrong. Unfortunately, even once I finally got my milk, I was like, an ultra-super-low producer. I could sit and pump for 20-30 minutes, and only produce about 1/2 an ounce to 1 ounce per breast. Womp womp womp. So my milk was finally in, but I wasn’t make near enough to actually sustain my baby. So we continued using formula, and were essentially supplementing the formula with the little amount of breast milk I pumped.
So we got into a schedule finally – breastfeeding first thing in the morning, formula bottles & pumping sessions during the day, and then breastfeeding again a couple times at night. We continued this schedule once my two-month maternity leave ended & Emerson started daycare. When I went back to work, I would shut my office door, and dutifully pumped three times a day, for 15 minutes each time. And I would bring home about 4 ounces total each day. (Talk about awkward! I printed a sign for my door that said in huge letters: STOP! DO NOT ENTER! And I’m assuming since everyone probably knew, or at least guessed, what I was doing, it was never actually a problem, but it was still awkward.)
And that schedule continued for another two months. But I just really started to feel like it was more of a burden, than a blessing, and I certainly wasn’t getting the joy out of it that other new mommy’s felt. Pumping felt like too much a chore. Like it was more trouble than it was worth. Basically, I wasn’t digging it. That’s hard to admit even now, roughly 8 months later – but I didn’t love breastfeeding. I had been so upset in the beginning when I couldn’t do it, so then I felt guilty about wanting to quit. So I kept on trucking… (Photo below was how we spent our anniversary lunch break on 10/5/17, but I didn’t feel comfortable sharing the formula photo at the time.)
And then in late October, I caused mastitis (clogged milk duct), when I didn’t pump or breastfeed for like nine hours on the day of our trunk-or-treat event at church. My thought was kind of, “I don’t even produce that much milk, so it can’t be that big of a deal if I skip pumping, right?!” Also wrong. It still matters, even if you only produce a tiny bit. And so I spent the next three days pumping, heating, icing & massaging like a mad woman, trying to get that to go away. Lemme tell ya, it wasn’t fun.
After that, I decided to wean myself off of pumping at work. And so I did, and that went pretty well actually. So by mid-November, I was breastfeeding Emerson once in the morning, and twice after work (around 6pm & 10pm), and feeding formula bottles for all other feedings. And then on November 17th, my poor baby was admitted to the hospital with RSV. Because of the craziness and chaos that surrounded that afternoon/evening (we were admitted right around 5pm), plus the fact she wasn’t eating hardly anything, nor keeping it down, we didn’t breastfeed that night. And so that morning became (kind of on accident), the last time I breastfed my baby girl, when she was about 4.5 months old. (There’s more to the RSV story, but it’s irrelevant to the breastfeeding journey, so I’ll share that another time maybe. And as you can see in the collage below, she was still her sweet, happy self, even with an IV in her arm.)
Since then, I’ve honestly had hardly any regret about “quitting” so early. Most mothers have a “goal” to make it to the baby’s first birthday, or whatever else. And even though I never had a specific goal like that, I do wish it would have worked out so that we could have continued longer. But that just wasn’t in the cards for us. And that’s OK. I don’t know why my body didn’t produce more milk (I tried all the things), but that’s just me, and that’s just what happened. And guess what? Emerson is almost one, and has been living on formula alone (not including food, I just mean in terms of milk) for more than half of her life, and she’s just as smart and healthy and perfect as any breastfed baby out there. (By the way, we also tried a few different “generic equivalents” to Similac, and I think the Parent’s Choice from Walmart was the best, and best value for your money.) And I’m proud of how hard we tried! And I’m glad for the little bit of time it “worked.”
I do plan to have another baby (not any time soon), and I do plan to try breastfeeding again. I have no idea if it will be in the cards or not the second time around. But I do know my baby will be fine either way, because fed is best.
P.S. – If any of you ladies out there want to share your story, I’d love to hear about it. I’ve become very interested and active in supporting other formula-feeding mommy’s (in real life, and in a Facebook group I’m a part of), and would love to chat with you too!