Saturday, October 22, 2011

Why I Didn't Breastfeed My Baby

Over the last 2 years or so since I've had the internet (yes, I lived my whole life without it!), I've read every excuse under the sun for why people didn't breastfeed their babies.  I've read sad stories of moms who could have done so much better if given a little support.  I've also personally known mothers who have said outright that they didn't want to breastfeed their baby because they "just wanted [their own] body back", and they went into detail about how they hated being pregnant...  And then there was one, Rebecca, who boasted about how her boobs would be "perky" because her daughters had been given formula, and that those who breastfed were "jealous" of her.

It's hard not to want to shake someone who says that they "don't give a shit what anyone says" (meaning every Health Organization EVER), because "formula is just as good".

Before I knew better, there was a time that I too used formula.  I'll tell you why.

Once upon a time I had twins.  They were born at 30 weeks, and were very small and weak when they were born.  My son was less than 4 lbs, my daughter was less than 3 lbs.  My son was born with severe AOP (apnea of prematurity), and bradycardias, and was fitted with a CPAP (which was referred to as an "Aladin" in the NICU).  My daughter was born after 5 minutes without oxygen, and was immediately given a breathing tube that went in her nose and down to her lungs.  Immediately after their birth they were both taken away to the NICU.  They brought my daughter back in so I could see that she was alive, and then I didn't see them again for five hours. I was ready and able to see them, and refused to sleep until they let me, but they were "doing rounds", and I wasn't allowed to be in there until they were done.

After being taken back to my room after having them, I started pumping.  For the first 24 hours they got only IV vitamins and minerals, and then after that they got the tiny bit of colostrum I was able to pump.  Every 3 hours around the clock I pumped.  I stayed in the hospital for 3 days...a day longer than needed, but the Dr. on during that time said he would write that I needed "observation" so I could stay an extra I'd have access to my twins.  Going home without them was surreal.  Not what I had imagined. Nothing was the way I thought it would be.  Leaving them there, fighting for their lives in the NICU was NOT part of my birth plan.

This was the actual sign outside the NICU my twins stayed in.
When I went home I took with me a hospital-grade pump.  And again, every 3 hours around the clock I pumped them my special milk.  We visited every single day, and I took it with me.  They were fed it through their NG tubes, and at the time it was all I could really do for them.

When they were 32 weeks (gestational age), 2 weeks actual age, I was allowed to start trying to put them to breast.  I'll never forget that first time.  My daughter had been doing sucking actions when I held her, and finally after harassing the nurses for a week, I was allowed to see if she could suck.  The nurse that helped me was amazing.  I mean, she was a wonderful blessing in my life...I wish I could have seen her more often.  She put up a screen so I could try nursing them right there at their incubators, and she helped me get them both on at the same time.  It was crazy...two very floppy babies, both trying to nurse.  Neither of them gained anything from it...they hadn't taken any milk.  But at least they tried.  They were still too small, and hadn't learned to suck, swallow, and breathe at the same time.

5 weeks old.
I kept trying.  I was determined to breastfeed those babies.  I had wanted to even before they were born early, and because I knew my milk was specially made for my preemies, I was even MORE determined.  I was unstoppable.

Then I met my match.  Her name was Erin, and she was a nurse in the NICU.  During one of her shifts she was caring for my twins, and one other baby.  I asked her if I could take one of them into the nursing room and put them on my boob.  She snapped.  She told me that I was "wasting the nurses time trying to breastfeed".  She told me that I was "wasting the babies' valuable calories trying to breastfeed for 45 minutes, and they never took more than 1cc of milk."  She said that unless I wanted them to stay in the hospital for even longer, I had to "accept" that I wasn't going to be able to breastfeed them, and that I needed to "focus on pumping".  Then she handed me my son and told me to GO.

I just stood there with my mouth open.  I took my son and just wanted to cry.  We went into the nursing room, and I remember saying to him "you have to really nurse well, buddy.  You need to take more milk than you've ever taken, or I'm not going to get to do this anymore."  He took 2ccs.  My daughter took none.

After that I did what I was told.  I focused on pumping.  When they wanted to introduce a bottle, I did it.  It was a step up from their NGHaberman" bottle.

For 6 weeks they were in the NICU, and then the NPCU (progressive care unit), before they were moved into the "Care By Parent" unit of the NICU.  I got to live there with them in the hospital, and do 95% of their care for the last 16 days of their stay.  There I would pump around the clock, and feed them in their special bottles, and when the nurses were busy, I would try to put them on my boob.  I was sneaking, trying to prove them wrong.  I knew if we went home on bottles, they'd end up on formula.  Pumping every 3 hours and feeding them for 45 mins. each was exhausting.  I knew I couldn't keep it up.

This was the pump I used.  We had a love/hate relationship.  LOL
This pump was my constant companion.
All around me I saw moms being encouraged to breastfeed.  I saw babies taking 100ccs of breast milk in 20 mins., and the most my twins ever took was about 10ccs.  (And that was an accomplishment!)  Never was I really encouraged to breastfeed them.  They said I lived too far away...that I couldn't put enough time in, so I'd never be successful.

Two days before I left the hospital, I started taking Domperidone to increase my supply since there was only the EXACT amount they were taking in every feed being produced.  If that kept up, there was no way I was going to be able to make enough milk for the two of them.

We took them home at 8 1/2 weeks, after 58 days in the hospital.  Before we left the nurse in the CBP unit told me that if something happened and I was only able to make enough milk for one, that it had to be my son who got it.  He was the sicker, weaker twin...even though he was bigger.  It had always been that way, and she said he would benefit the most from my milk.

They were both still using the Haberman bottles when they were discharged, but we didn't use them at home.  I would just let them suck, pull the bottle out of their mouth to let them breathe and swallow, then put it back in.  It was normal for every feeding to take 45 mins.  I was still pumping, around the clock.  One of the lactation consultants there lived around the corner from us, and brought me a breastfeeding scale.  She said that I might never get them to gain weight, but if I wanted to try, she wanted me to know how much they were taking.  Michelle Carr was her name, and she is the only reason this story has any good in it.

For the first two weeks I worked on getting my son more on the boob, and less on the bottle.  By the time he was 12 weeks old, he could nurse at every feed and gain weight!  It took a lot of work, especially since I had no help, and my husband was working 14 hour days.  But we worked together, and he turned out to be a fantastic nurser!  I kept pumping for my daughter, and tried at least once daily to get her to nurse.

By the time I could completely focus on my daughter's breastfeeding they were about 14 weeks actual age, 4 weeks corrected.  I hadn't wanted to move onto her until my son was well established.  I thought at the time that what I was doing was the best plan of action.  Well I guess I was wrong.  By that time she was terrified of my boob.  I honestly can't say I blame her.  My boob was twice the size of her head!  The only time I could get her to actually take the boob was in the middle of the night when she was still asleep and her eyes were closed so she couldn't see it coming.  She couldn't latch properly, so it literally felt like there were razors inside of her mouth, cutting at my nipple.  I was at a loss.

I called the hospital and asked to speak to the LC that was on.  It was not Michelle.  The woman I spoke to told me that there was "no reason she shouldn't be able to nurse properly and gain weight."  She told me to go 24 hours ONLY offering her the boob, and see if when forced, she would gain weight.  She reminded me at that time that because she was a micro-preemie, that she would need to be re-admitted into the hospital again if she went two full days without gaining weight.  Then wished me luck and said goodbye.

I thought she had to know what she was talking about.  This was her JOB.  She did this every single day.  She had to know better than I did...I was new at this and only got my son breastfeeding by a stroke of luck.  So I took out all bottles, and tried putting my little girl on my boob every time she was hungry.  She didn't gain one ounce...nothing.  After 24 hours she lost a full pound.  I was horrified.  All that kept going through my mind was that she would have to go back into the hospital, and even now, almost 3 1/2 years later, that brings me to tears.  I can't even explain just how traumatizing the NICU was...that will be another post.  I don't even like thinking about it.  But the thought of my daughter having to go back to the hospital...the thought that if she went back that it was because I had failed her...I couldn't do it.  There was no way that she was going to go back there.  I couldn't let it happen.  So I did what I had to do to keep her home, and I pumped and fed her my milk in a bottle.  Defeated.

By the time the twins were a week away from being 4 months actual age, my son was very literally taking every single drop of milk I had in my breasts.  I literally could not pump or squeeze a single drop of milk out of my boob after he was done.  There was nothing there.  Nothing.  Even taking Domperidone, there was NOTHING left.  I had to put my daughter on prescription preemie formula.  That was one of the lowest moments I had ever experienced in my life.  I didn't put her on formula because I wanted to.  I did it because I had to.  I had to give my son my milk because he was sicker and weaker, and I had to feed her something!  It cost $99 a case for 6 half-sized cans.  My husband's health insurance didn't cover it, and we were never able to write it off.  She had it from 4 months old until 11 months.  My husband wasn't very impressed at the cost of the formula, so on top of knowing I had failed her, I also got to listen to him bitch about the price of the formula.  He never directed his anger toward me, but he didn't need to.  I knew that the only reason she was on it was because of me.  It was my fault.

I ended up breastfeeding my son until he was 22 months old...two months into my next pregnancy.  I had to wean him because it was considered a no-sex, high-risk pregnancy.  After two previous premature labors, we didn't want to risk it.  The Dr. said I could continue to breastfeed, but he wouldn't recommend it.  He said that it would be in my baby's best interest to stop, just to be safe.  And I was TORN.  I wanted so badly to keep going until he was two...but he was so close.  In the end I stopped.  I had to fight for this new baby in the same way I would fight for my twins.  I would do whatever it took to make sure that my baby had the best chance.  Even if I ended up feeling like a failure once again, in the end.  As I saw it then (and still do), my feelings don't matter, really.  Not when I have to choose between them and my kids.  I knew that my son would be okay if I stopped, and I couldn't guarantee that the baby would be okay if I kept going.  So I told him that boobie was all gone.  He never cried about it, but for the first two days he would come over and want it, and I would tell him it was all gone, and just hold him.  It was like he knew I couldn't handle any tears from him about it.  He has always been such a kind and loving little boy...  Again, I can't get too much more into it because it makes me want to cry.

When my new baby was born, I had her on my boob within a few minutes.  She didn't latch exactly right and I didn't even care.  She was getting milk, and that's all that mattered to me.  By the end of the first week my nipples were so sore they were bleeding.  She had literally sucked the skin from the top half of both my nipples.  (They'll never look the same!)  I had to use one boob per feed, just to give the other one a little break.  I got through it.  There was NOTHING that was going to stop me.  I didn't give a shit about how much it hurt.  I didn't care.  I was GOING to be successful this time.  NO MATTER WHAT.  I knew she had a tongue-tie, but so did my son.  I couldn't explain what the problem was, but I figured out how to nurse her without her ingesting any more of my breast tissue.

She's 11 months old now.  Only about a month and a half ago I read something that came up on my wall about lip ties.  That little girl has the most severe lip tie there is!  I had never heard of it before, so had no idea that it could happen, obviously.  That was the major difference between her and my son.  After seeing that, I checked my older daughter's mouth.  Sure enough, she too has a lip tie!!!!!  She also has a very deep palate at the top of her mouth, and a tongue tie.  I'm no longer surprised that I had problems breastfeeding her.  But knowing why it "probably" happened isn't going to change the fact that it DID happen.  I have to live with the knowledge that my precious and funny and sweet girl didn't get the same as her brother and sister.  And that's on me.

This is the baby's lip tie.

So, it's been hard for me to figure out how to write this post and get it out the way I want to get it out.  Because it kills me to hear excuses that mothers make.  I HATE excuses.  There are facts, and there are REASONS, but excuses are something people make up when they know they didn't do what they should have done.  I've heard them all.  And sometimes I want to shake people for stopping when they were doing well, because they had other priorities...but I don't want to mix them up with the women who didn't breastfeed at all, or for as long as they wanted to, for real legitimate reasons.  Sometimes they get mixed together and it's hard to distinguish them from one another.  But there are definitely two distinct groups, and I don't want to focus on the moms who chose to stop breastfeeding.  It puts me in a bad mood.

The fact is that breast milk is specially designed for each individual baby, and it's a baby's right to have it.  People say "breast is best", but in reality, when you stop beating around the bush, the truth is that "formula is NOT best".  Breastfeeding is "normal".  Formula feeding is "abnormal".  Breastfeeding provides your baby with immunities.  Formula does not

I would never say that breastfeeding moms are better moms.  Sometimes that's not the case at all.  Sometimes a mother gives her baby formula for medical reasons.  Sometimes she gives it to her baby because she doesn't see any other option.  Sometimes giving that baby formula is tearing her heart apart, but she does it because it's all she CAN do.  And you just can't know a persons reasons when you see them check "I didn't breastfeed, I used formula" on a Facebook poll.  What I think is that breastfeeding moms know that breast milk is the best choice for an infant, that she's had some support along the way, and that she's probably overcome some obstacles too.  It's not that often I hear of moms who just instinctively knew how to properly latch and feed their newborn.  The truth is that it's a learning process, just like anything else to do with raising children.  Sometimes it takes a failure to make that mother say that it will NEVER happen again.  Sometimes knowing that they're spending their lives carrying around regret is enough to push moms farther than they've ever been pushed before, and in the end they walk out victorious because they were determined, though hell or high water, they were never going to let themselves have to carry another regret with them through their lives.

My baby girl will be breastfed to a minimum of two years, and hopefully long after that.  I am one of those mothers, and I will never ever carry the regret of unsuccessful breastfeeding with me again.  I will never allow it to happen, because having to explain to my older daughter why she was never breastfed is something I dread, something that hurts my soul to think about.

I had a friend send me an email with a link to a story that had me in tears.  There were just so many similarities between the story I read, and my own.  THIS IS THAT STORY.  (I literally had to stop reading three times to take some time to pull myself together.)

On my personal Facebook page I posted a poll for my own friends, just to see where my own friends stood on breastfeeding.  Below are the results of that poll.

Still Breastfeeding: 23%
No breastfeeding, just formula:  4%
Pumped Milk, no breastfeeding:  1.5%
Less than 6 weeks:  .75% (1 vote)
More than 6 weeks, less than 6 months:  5%
More than 6 months, less than a year:  3%
1 year:  5%
More than a year:  13%
More than 2 years:  8%
More than 3 years:  12%
5 years+ : .75 % (1 vote)

Now, that doesn't add up to 100%, but I'm not going to count "not long enough" votes.  I was looking for a time-frame, not trying to make people feel bad.  (And some of those people checked more than one option, so I just did the math based on 132 votes.)

I really wanted to try to word it so that no one felt like they had to justify their reasons to me.  Of course there are people who felt they needed to explain themselves to me...and that's kind of upsetting.  Many of them haven't breastfed in 20+ years, and they are STILL carrying around the feelings that they didn't do enough.  I'm not sure who's standards they're trying to meet...  And it made me feel like more than anything, breastfeeding has become a contest.  Who can go the longest...and if you aren't the winner, you need to justify why you didn't go as long as someone else.  I breastfed my son for 22 months, and I'm by no means the "winner", but the moms that didn't breastfeed as long as I did felt like they needed to explain themselves to me...why they couldn't go as long as I did.  It made me sad!  I think every single drop of breast milk counts.  I think that we need to climb down off of our high-horse and stop making this a competition.  I think that we need to understand that what we know today is different than what we knew a generation ago, and I'm sure our kids will know more than we do.  Of course babies should have breast milk.  I don't think that's even something that needs to be least it shouldn't have to be.  But maybe if we had less women feeling like they're superior because they breastfed for X amount of time, other women who may have used formula would attempt breastfeeding.  I can't even imagine how scary it is to look at the numbers and think that if you don't make it that far, someone is going to tell you that you didn't try hard enough.

So, the point I'm trying to make is that sometimes things don't work out the way we want them to when we're raising our children.  Sometimes we do what we have to do, or at least what we think we have to do, to get them through.  And sometimes we end up carrying around some regret because of the choices we've made for them.  I wish things were different when it came to breastfeeding my older daughter.  I wish I could go back in time and change it.  I wish that in the very least I could have known about milk donors, so she could have gotten breast milk, even if it wasn't my own.  I wish she could have lived her whole life without ever having formula.  But I can't go back and change things now.  So, it's a cross I bare, and I'm going to have to know that she was given less than the very best.  It makes me sad, and because of my regret I will never ever let it happen again.  Seeing her in her incubator in that operating room was the second my life changed forever, and she has been nothing short of a pleasure to raise.  She is the sweetest, most wonderful, funniest little girl I've ever known in my life, and I love her with all of my heart.  She deserved better.  But I can't change the past.  So all I can do is make sure that for the rest of her life I never ever let her get anything less than the very best ever again.

A very sweet friend of mine (the one who sent me the link) said something that really hit home for me.  Sometimes breastfeeding "excuses" are not at all "excuses".  They are real barriers that women could not least not at that time.

And so I'm going to ask something of anyone who's made it this far into this very long post.  If you see a mother feeding her infant formula, instead of shooting her that glare that breastfeeding mothers seem to feel entitled to give, instead remember that you do not know her story.  You don't know if she had support.  You don't know if that baby she's feeding was born early and out of fear, she fed it formula.  You don't know if she was given bad advice from a doctor she thought she could trust.  You can't tell by looking at someone if they are taking anti-seizure medications that are not safe for her infant.  You just don't know.  So please, please don't assume that she's more concerned with going out and partying than breastfeeding, or that she cares more about the "perky-ness" of her breasts than she does about giving her baby her breast milk.  Instead, perhaps when you know of a friend who is going to be having a baby, offer to help her breastfeed.  Offer her some information, and give her the support that she needs.  Sometimes all we need is one person on our side, helping us through it.  Sometimes our own lack of knowledge and experience can be what drags us down, and if we had someone who did have some real experience helping us out and cheering us on, we could succeed too.  Because no one wants to carry around regret.  And no one wants to feed their baby the only way they thought they could, and have other mothers glare at them.  Some of us feel bad enough as it is.

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