Part One: The Beginning
I had a rough start breastfeeding Bo. From the beginning, I was determined to nurse her, because I hadn't been able to have that opportunity with MP. I looked into adoptive nursing, but MP was already 13 months when we adopted her, and it would have been a very difficult journey--drugs, machines, tubes. I wasn't up for the challenge. I just wanted to enjoy having a new toddler without all of the added stress and huge possibility of failure.
And I wanted to enjoy every aspect of pregnancy, since I had waited so long for it--7 years--and been told I would most likely never get pregnant. With an official FSH of around 15, I was pretty sure I would never get to experience pregnancy. But I somehow did, and once pregnant, I put every ounce of effort into learning about breastfeeding. I was a fiend. I took classes, bought books, and watched videos. I bought pillows and a top-of-the-line pump and even got my schedule at work reconfigured so that I could pump. I reserved a room in the nurse's office twice a day (I work at a school), resigned to waking up at a horribly early hour so I could nurse Bo twice AND pump once, and bought lanolin and awesome nursing bras that were a cross between a medical bandage and stripper gear.
Bo nursed immediately after birth. The pain was exquisite: somewhere between your flesh being squeezed in a vise and your entire body coming out of frostbite. I was simultaneously screaming and swooning. Bo nursed and nursed. The nurses who came in to check on us were shocked at how eager and accurate she was.
They told me not to fall asleep holding her, but she wouldn't stop nursing, so that first night in the hospital, I remember falling asleep with her little leech body stuck on me sometime around four AM. (She was born at 9 PM). They took her from me, but brought her back promptly. She was screaming, waking up all the other babies. One nurse remarked that she was a "little pig." I was pissed and looked at my daughter, frantically sucking away. "She's just hungry," I said, proud.
I had a huge bruise on my breast that morning, though, that the lactation consultant--who finally visited me later that first full day--told me came from Bo latching off the nipple and onto the skin next to it, probably when I was sleeping. It was so black I didn't even identify it as being a bruise. My daughter had given me a boob hickey. The lactation consultant showed me a few tricks, but said that we were pretty much doing it right.
A few days later, we were back in the hospital; Bo had jaundice, severe, and I, according to the head of pediatrics, was to blame. "My kids did fine on formula," she yelled at me. "She's not getting any of your milk. She's hungry. Feed her a bottle." I was hysterical. Actually, I have never, ever been so hysterical in my life: I must have cried for six or seven hours straight, so much that my eyes were mere slits and I couldn't recognize myself. (We had also locked Bo in our bedroom that morning and Random had had to break down the bedroom door, and then we had gotten in a car accident on the way to the hospital, so there was a lot going on.) I was convinced I was a failure. My greatest fear was that I wouldn't be able to nurse Bo; for some reason so much was tied up in it--my ideas of what, for me, it meant to be a good mother to her; my ideas of what the total package of getting pregnant and giving birth meant; the justification I could give for having such a large chest (I was truly pornorific at this point--way, way above my normal 36C/D, way above a DD, somewhere in the G range, I think).
I called my mother; she told me that she had had a similar problem--her breasts had swollen with milk, but nothing had come out. And so she had shrugged, and given up, and worn hot compresses. I refused to give up, but my baby was hungry and it was my fault. I gave Bo a bottle, which she sucked down in less than a minute--I sobbed the entire time, hating that bottle--and then I started to pump.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
I was so confused. Wasn't my milk supposed to come in by now? Was it the induction that had messed it up? I was induced, and I became convinced that maybe my false beginning to labor was what had confused my body.
I produced a coating of thin yellowish milk and fed it to Bo, but we had to continue to give her formula for the next day. We got home Sunday night; I continued nursing her and feeding her bottles of formula. I called a lactation consultant the next day. I was in incredible pain; every time we nursed, it was as if someone was clamping my breasts in a fiery vise. But I was stubborn, and I persisted. My mother asked me why I cared. My husband told me he didn't care if I stopped; he thought I was awesome no matter what. I couldn't stop. And every bottle we fed her killed me a little, inside. I saw other new mothers blissfully feeding their babies bottles, and wondered why I couldn't do the same thing, what demented part of me was keeping me from being okay with it. Theoretically, I had very little against formula; yes, I know breast is best, but I am not going to tell anyone what's best for their families. And I almost resented other women for the ease by which they fed their babies. But I knew they might be wrestling with their own demons.
I was trying to feed Bo one day out; she was under my nursing cover. A mother who had been feeding her newborn a bottle came over. "You have no idea how lucky you are to breastfeed," she said. "My son was born with a cleft lip, and couldn't breastfeed. I breastfed all my other three children, but not him." All I heard was that she had successfully breastfed; I also wondered at her assumption that breastfeeding was so easy for me. I didn't see her pain because I was so focused on my own lack of success.
The lactation consultant came, interrupting a family dinner, and--long story short--determined that the milk was there but wasn't coming out. A week and a day after giving birth, she showed me how Bo was latching on the wrong way; she showed me how I could be more successful at getting Bo to latch using a tube that went into a bottle of formula. The tube was taped to me. I hated the system but promised to try it. She left telling me I'd need at least another session. Bo was underweight--she was way below her birth weight at this point-- and if I wanted to make this work I was going to have to pull out every big milking gun she could give me. I was to pump whenever I wasn't feeding. (I couldn't fathom this, but I did it--I woke up every hour at night when Bo slept in fits, and pumped. I was so tired I fell asleep with the pump on me, sucking nothing but flesh. ) I was to use the supplementary nursing system. I was to sit in bed all day and let her nurse whenever she wanted. I was to make special tea and go to the nursing store and get herbs to make concoctions. I was to eat oatmeal every waking moment. And, of course, there were the lure of the drugs, not available for use for nursing in the US but available online. I was completely crestfallen and convinced we would never make it. I had so little energy at this point.
Bo nursed ALL THE TIME--cluster feeding didn't even begin to describe her schedule,. But that night, after seeing the lactation consultant, something magical happened: I had my first letdown. This was a week and a day after giving birth, and I recognized it right away. I whooped. After that, the milk mostly came regularly, although I helped it out with the drugs I ordered from several strange island nations. When I wasn't nursing, I pumped, even after going back to work. My entire life revolved, it seemed, around breastmilk--procuring it, preparing it, freezing it, defrosting it, pumping it, feeding it, wiping it off everything (Bo was a HUGE spitter upper).
I'm telling all of you this because, believe it or not, I am still breastfeeding almost two years later. That's right, I'm one of THOSE MOMS. "Extended breasfeeding" (is two years extended?) has brought me a lot of good and a fair smattering of strange. And now I'm ready to stop, but I don't think it's going to be easy at all--because Bo won't let me. Just this morning, for example, she breastfed from 5:30 am to 7:40 am STRAIGHT.
Eeyow. Randomsuggests I have her weaned by the end of June, which won't happen; I'm hoping for September. But I'm guessing that if Bo has her way, it's not going to happen by then either.
Part Two coming soon.