Growing up, my house was open to any and all who needed a safe place. My mom was the head of her local Le Leche League, so new moms and breastfeeding veterans were always at our house, and I was exposed to all kinds of baby-rearing and breastfeeding techniques. I didn’t know when I would become a mom, but I thought one thing was for sure, I would be breastfeeding for as long as possible.
Years later, my soon-to-be-husband and I decided that we would pursue domestic adoption as a way to grow our family, and to provide an option to those who felt they couldn’t raise their child but didn’t want to abort. We had dreams of having eight children—and thanks to years of LLL exposure—I knew I could breastfeed our adopted children as well. In my mind, it was all set!
Nine years of being home study approved for domestic adoption resulted in no adoptions into our family. It took six pregnancies to conceive our son, who was born 10 weeks early. During my pregnancy, my breasts grew seven sizes larger, and I would find out seven years later that the rapid growth resulted in permanent nerve damage. Needless to say, things had not gone as I had envisioned.
My son’s teeny head, along with my HH boobs, and a lactation department that was closed for two days with no flanges big enough for my breasts, resulted in an inability to breastfeed as I had hoped. Tried as I might with the pump and small flanges, I couldn’t even produce colostrum, as it was all bloody and unusable. My son remained in the NICU and I went home with a brand new, hospital grade double pump. For three weeks, I pumped every two hours away from him. Then during visits, I would hold him near me for as long as possible, then move to another room for more pumping, giving the NICU every precious drop.
We came home with instructions, including holding him upright as much as possible due to hernias and tummy troubles. Because of his 3-pound size, he would need to eat every 1-2 hours until the doctor said otherwise, which ended up being over six months. So, I strapped on my son and got into our groove. Every 1-2 hours, through the night (and often watching America’s Funniest Video re-runs), I would try to teach him how to latch/suck, then I would double pump, then I would bottle feed, then I would burp, then I would sterilize, then I would supplement with formula, then I would burp…and look at that! It was time to start all over again.
On top of that, my son couldn’t make white blood cells and they thought he had leukemia. We couldn’t leave the house and we also weren’t allowed visitors, except for the nurse who came 3 times a week to take blood draws the first month. For a few months after that, we were only allowed to leave the house to go to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh twice a week for blood draws. To say we had a lot of bonding time is an understatement!
After over 6 months of feeding every 1-2 hours, I realized that my dreams of being some super breastfeeding rock star wasn’t in the cards for me. We were now allowed to leave the house, which we did only did once a day because my son got carsick each and every time. I still tried pumping 3-4 times a day, giving him what I had via bottle.
There were so many times where I would be out with other moms, and I was the only one who bottle-fed my child. While they were mostly supportive, random strangers felt the need to yell at me and judge me for not doing what was best for my son, for not trying hard enough, for quitting too soon. I’d cry for days. I’d try cluster-pumping every hour for 72 hours, I was taking 30 pills per day of fenugreek. I have Celiac Disease and was taking whatever gluten free milk-producing product on the market, and even many non-FDA approved supplements from Canada (gasp!).
I had LLL experts, and a great team of lactation consultants from the hospital. I was part of a new mom’s group, who paired us with veteran moms. There was no reason for me to fail.
To this day, I still cry at my failure. Even learning years later that my breasts had permanent nerve damage and the surgeon thinks it’s a miracle I produced any milk at all, my brain feels better, but not my heart.
There’s what we plan, and there’s what happens, and sometimes they are worlds apart. Moms need anything and anyone to support them in any way. There is no room for Judgey McJudgersons, only kindness.
Thank you Millybutton,