my life being boob captive
I breastfed my second baby, Aiden Ziggy, for almost eighteen months. 524 days to be exact. And I have a dark secret about it; I hated it. There, I said it. Yes, I hated breastfeeding. Here is our story…
I should start by saying that I was unable to breastfeed my first born, Dylan. As a first time mom, I wanted so badly for it to work. After a traumatic birth that nearly resulted in a NICU stay for him, blood transfusions for me, and a whole lot of tears for us both, he ultimately would not latch. I felt like such a failure. I never established a full supply in that first month, so he was mostly fed by the F word. Yes, I gave him formula. Anyone who is a part of some breastfeeding support groups know that to some, feeding your baby the F word is worst than putting your infant forward facing in their carseat. But Dylan was fed by it mostly. I wound up pumping for an entire year as well so he could get some breastmilk. And let me tell you, boy did I hate pumping. But I made myself do it because of the guilt I felt so deeply for not being able to breastfeed. For being a broken mom (as the voice in my head told me I was).
When I was pregnant with Aiden, I spent a lot of time stressing about what our nursing relationship would be. Would my new baby latch? What if I couldn't breastfeed again? What if I had to feed another by that damn F word? What if I could breastfeed and I couldn't get him to take a bottle? I worried about each scenario. For those who don't know this about me, I've struggle with anxiety for most of my life. And goodness breastfeeding happened to just bring it out to a max. It doesn't help that breastfeeding is trendy right now. Seriously. And there are some hospitals, baby friendly hospitals, that condone formula. There is a lot of pressure for moms to nurse. And I felt it to a max.
When Aiden was born we struggled a bit in the hospital with nursing. He had a tongue tie and wouldn't latch on my right side. There was one point where a nurse came in to take my blood pressure, for the third time in a twenty minute increment... it would not go down. She asked what I was so upset about, telling me I really needed to try to calm myself down. I told her well I really needed my baby to latch! Next thing I know, the lactation consultant and a social worker come into my room... listening to me cry, as my baby is held at my boob, and not eating. At this point, his breathing issues had come into play and no one knew what was wrong with him, so they needed him back in the nursery for monitoring. I cried as I fed him the bottle. The lactation consultant told me she didn't like to advice moms what to do, but that I really really didn't need to breastfeed. I didn't need to put myself through the turmoil. She saw what it was doing to me. Bless her. Goodness, do I wish I had listened. But I was so damn determined to nurse my baby that I kept pushing through. Luckily(?), once his tongue tie was clipped, he latched. And I left the hospital with my little nursling.
That first month breastfeeding was stressful. Aiden wasn't gaining weight. At my pediatrician's office, one of the doctors also happens to be an independent board certified lactation consultant, so I made an appointment with her. After our session, she advised me to take away his pacifier, not to try any bottle until he was at least two months of age to prevent nipple confusion, and any time he moved his mouth to stick my boob in it and feed him. She told me I could be missing his cues when he was hungry. That that could be contributing to why he wasn't gaining. Each weight check brought tears and fears. Finally, almost month after he was born, he got back to his birth weight. I thought that now the hard part of breastfeeding was over. Wow, was I wrong.
By the time Aiden was two months, I decided to try a bottle. And he hated it. Protested it. Once my mom was able to get him to take one but that was it. I should have been more consistent and offered it every day. But at this time, we were in the midst of figuring out all of his health stuff. Going from dr to dr. Around this time his reflux also set in. He was absolutely miserable and in such pain. He would latch, start to eat, unlatch and cry, Repeat all day long. There were days where I was worried about dehydration and I wasn't sure he took in enough milk at all! I tried everything! I tried eliminating acidic foods from my diet. In sheer desperation, I even gave up coffee... my daily fuel, the love of my life... cold turkey stopped it. Because I was so worried something I was putting into my body was making his reflux worse. Because when you are the sole provider of what keeps your baby alive, there is a lot of pressure on you.
By three months old, he was diagnosed with failure to thrive. Back to the lactation consultant pediatrician we went. While theorizing with ways to get him to eat, she said I could pump after all feeds and throughout the day give him the extra pumped milk. But there I was with a baby who wouldn't take a bottle (and we had tried probably thirteen different bottles at this point. I tried walking around with the nipples of each bottle in my bra all day long so they would get my scent on them. I tried cutting a shirt of mine and having someone feed him a bottle through that. Friends tried. My husband tried. But the boy just wanted my boob). So the doctor's advice? Feed every 2 hours. Tell this to an already sleep deprived mom who's baby was being passed around from specialist to specialist like a hot potato... watch what happens. It's not great. But I had no choice. So every 2 hours I would nurse my baby. Praying his weight would go up. We had to go to the dr for weight checks every damn week. Having worked as a nanny with a variety of children, some with special needs, I knew what the worst case scenario was. In fact, several kids I took care of before having my own kids, were tube fed. Was my baby next? Was he going to develop the way he should? What if he didn't get the nutrients he needed and it permanently affected him? Every day I worried. I slept in hour and a half increments. There were times I was so exhausted. So very tired. But worried if I allowed myself an extra fifteen minutes to sleep that he wouldn't get a sufficient amount of food for that day. So I had no choice but to push through. My thinking became slower. I had conversations I would later forget I had. I forgot things. The days were one big blur.
By four months of age we had his dairy allergy figured out. At this point a GI was on his team of doctors. She took over his weight issues. Still had to go to pediatrician every week. Undress him. Place him on the scale. Hold my breath. See the numbers. Hope for an increase. Call into his GI. Repeat weekly. Eventually we graduated to weight checks every other week. Then monthly. Here we are now at nineteen months of age and we've FINALLY stopped the weight checks. When your baby isn't gaining enough and you are the maker of the milk, it fucks with your head. It made my anxiety worst. But here's the kicker, I couldn't increases my anxiety medication because I was nursing. Because you have to watch every g-d damn thing that goes into your body when breastfeeding. (Note: I know there are some medications one can take for anxiety that are safe with nursing. But for me, I worried about the unknown with them).
I was told just to hold on a little longer. That when he had solids, I wouldn't have to feed around the clock so religiously. Wrong. Up until a year of age, any time I went longer than three hours between a feed, his weight gain would stop. And back to a strict schedule of nursing we'd have to adhere to.
Now, nighttimes were just a fucking disaster. After our month of having to feed every two hours, Aiden got used to that routine. It's the only way he would fall asleep. Not uncommon for a breastfed baby apparently. He also often would startle from his sleep apnea. And the only way he knew how to get himself back to sleep... my boob. Why didn't I break this cycle? "Sleep train" in that first year? Because I jumped at any opportunity to get extra calories in the boy. Because I am one who CANNOT stand for their baby to cry. It hurts me deeply. Because I was so damn tired I didn't even know how to start.,
I'm hesitant to even touch on this topic, but it was part of my struggle: dieting and breastfeeding. When you want to lose the baby weight you gained from being pregnant, but have to keep your calories up to provide for a baby that is slow to gain weight, it's another mind fuck. I've struggled a lot in the past with eating issues. So this brought me a lot of anxiety. A whole lot. I felt trapped. Incredibly, hopelessly trapped. But I'll save those thoughts for another time and post.
With the combination of Aiden's medical conditions, he was sick a lot last winter. And the poor boy also suffered from eustachian tube dysfunction... frequent ear infections. Anyone who has had a baby with an ear infection, knows just how awful they are. Especially at night. And my boy's only comfort during an infection was nursing. He would be up on average every 45 minutes in pain. So we fell deeper into the nursing all damn night long cycle. I fell into a deeper hole that I didn't know how to get out of. I felt so very stuck.
I was so drained, as most moms are, by the time my husband got home from work each day, that sometimes I took a nap from 4:45 pm to 6:00 pm. Just so I had enough energy to get through the dinner and bedtime routine. Once I got both kids down, I would rush like a mad woman and do the dishes, clean up the house, do the laundry, take a shower and then Aiden would be up again. I was the only one with the ability to get him back to sleep. So begrudgingly I would get him and nurse him back down. Then I'd try to get a couple more things done, never really getting any actual time for myself. He'd wake up. I'd get him back down. Repeat this cycle until I'd fall asleep... to be awoken all night long.
The point of this post is to not hate on breastfeeding. It can be a beautiful thing. I just wanted to offer a perspective on when breastfeeding really isn't best. It took everything from me. It killed a lot of my brain cells. It was so stressful living my life in three hour increments during the day and even less at night. I couldn't ever leave once the kids were asleep because I was needed to be on tap at home. The rare times I had a sitter during the day, I could never leave for very long. I felt like I was being held hostage sometimes. We actually just moved into a new house too. I packed up an entire house in the most unorganized way because I just didn't have the uninterrupted time to pack as a normal person would. Kind of like how I started a medical blog and it took me TEN MONTHS to finish my second article! Because I just never got the time to myself to do it. (Note: I do have other topics I have started and hope to finish soon!).
Now don't get me wrong, there were some good times too. Being able to calm my baby, knowing that I was providing for him, the bond that we had, looking down into the sweet little eyes as he nursed, those sweet little fingers feeling my mouth and playing with my face as he ate and more. It is not my intention to negate all these moments. I want to stress that.
Ultimately do I regret breastfeeding Aiden? No, Because it was part of our journey. Perhaps it was the universes way of providing my baby with extra antibodies for his immune deficient little body. Perhaps it naturally enabled me to keep a more wakeful eye on his apnea spells. Or maybe it was just provided me with a lesson on inner strength. That love conquers everything.
As I come out of the battlefield that was my life the past year and a half, I decided I wanted to share this story with others. Last week was world breastfeeding week and I saw a lot of posts and articles about how wonderful breastfeeding is (and it is, don't get me wrong). I saw a lot of talk about why "breast is best" (wrong!!! fed is best!!!). But guess what? It really is okay to give formula! How cool is it that science is so advanced that there is an alternate way to feed our young? Science milk. In fact, sometimes I think I would have been a better mom this last year and a half had I fed with science milk.
If I had a baby who wasn't failure to thrive would I feel this way? If I had a baby who didn't have a handful of medical issues would our journey have been as difficult? If I didn't have a history of anxiety would it have been so hard? Who knows. I do know though that the factors in our breastfeeding relationship took a lot from me. A lot that I have to get back. Since weaning him I've been able to function again. I've gone out several times with friends. My husband and I have had several date nights. I'm not always on edge. I'm slowly coming out of my zombie like survival state. I started reading plays again (a favorite past time). I've had a few auditions. I'm hopeful to start my circus classes again soon. I'm living a life that is not controlled by my boobs. And guess what? I think I'm a better mom because of it.