Breasts, Babies, Bottles and Bullying

The latest Momversation is about breastfeeding and since we can’t all seem to get enough of this subject lets talk. I support breastfeeding and I think it is wonderful and I was a complete failure at it.

1 hour after Lucy was born she was on an IV
1 hour after Lucy was born she was on an IV

As any new mother I was anxious about labor, childbirth, being a mother, meeting my baby and all the other stuff that goes with new motherhood. Lucy was born five weeks early. Not early enough to be truly worried but early enough that when she was born she couldn’t breathe. Her rib cage strained up and down and at times I was amazed her ribs could withstand the pressure. Everybody reassured me not to worry and that this is common. As a new mother I didn’t know any better so I didn’t worry. It is only now when I look back at pictures of her connected to an IV, a breathing tube and monitors that I realize how not-normal it really was.

I couldn’t hold Lucy right away or even try to feed her. She needed oxygen and she needed to have her breathing stabilized. It would be several hours before I even saw her again and even longer before I could try to feed her. I held her small body in my arms, assumed the position and she latched right on. It was amazing. And then the burning, sharp, piercing pain followed. I couldn’t breathe. I instantly pulled her away. Surely it is not supposed to hurt this bad. The La Leche League was quickly dispatched. At one point I had my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my sister-in-law’s mother, two La Leche League ambassadors, my husband, myself and Lucy all in the room at the same time. Oh, and I was naked from the waist up. My nipples bleeding and tears streaming down my face. I cried every time Lucy had to eat. I desperately wanted this to work. The La Leche League couldn’t help me. They didn’t know why it hurt so bad. Lucy latched perfectly but I was most definitely in severe pain and there was no denying that I was bleeding after only 24 hours of breastfeeding. We tried different positions. We tried meditating before nursing. We tried Vicodin. We tried pumping (which hurt equally as bad). I went home confused and Lucy was losing precious weight. She was at about 5lbs when we brought her home and was given the instructions that she could not drop below.

For 48 hours I dreaded feeding her. Every time she cried for food I cried. The sense of helplessness, mixed with the anxiety of being a new mother and sheer exhaustion pushed me to my brink of emotional ruin. I was falling apart and David could no longer bear seeing it. If I gave up I was admitting failure. I had failed her. I had failed myself. I couldn’t give up but I couldn’t continue. The normally, in control, decisive, get it done woman that David had married had dissolved into a crying, emotional shell of a person incapable of a coherent thought. David held me in his arms and said, “I support you regardless of your decision, but you need to do something because this isn’t good for anybody”. I was miserable. Lucy was miserable. I decided to bottle feed. David ran out and bought formula that night. Lucy and I quietly nestled into our recliner and I fed her.

The next morning I woke up scratching. My skin felt like it was on fire and itching all at the same time. I walked into the bathroom and turned on the light. What I saw was horrifying. I was covered in a bright red rash from my neck to my waist. It covered everything including my arms. Overnight I had developed Mastitis. Truly, a sign from God.

I say all this because for a long time I accepted every guilty glare and every snide remark that was ever tossed my way. I accepted the shame, the guilt, the failure of not breastfeeding. But now that I have perspective – well, it was the right decision for our family. David loved having the opportunity to feed the kids on Saturday mornings and have his own special bonding time. I instantly became a much more relaxed mother. Our family regained its equilibrium.

I support breastfeeding and I support mother’s who want to breastfeed in public. I just ask that for the rest of us – those who tried and failed – compassion, grace, and kindness.

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8 thoughts on “Breasts, Babies, Bottles and Bullying”

  1. Well said. I think it’s kind of “just” the downside of being part of a movement. The people who believe in the movement, who rally behind it and push it along because they believe so strongly (I’m thinking also of *some* vegetarians or eco-friendlies or anti-vaccinaters or homeschoolers or public schoolers or pro-vaccinators — what have you — even, say the suffragettes of the 19th century), it’s almost like activists have to adopt blinders so they keep focused on their goals. Pep rallies, after all, seldom point out that the other football team is also full of very hard-working, deserving players.

    Anyway, I’m glad for all of our blogs, where we can add some nuance and needed personal perspective to the discussion.

  2. I love this post!!!!!! Thank you for writing this.

    I am sorry you had to go through that! I am glad you know that you did what was best for your family!

    I think breastfeeding is a personal choice and really no one’s business.

    I am breastfeeding baby #4 at the moment. I often wonder what it would feel like to not have a baby on my boob 22 hours of the day. ~insert day dreaming sigh~

    Michelle 🙂

  3. I completely agree with you! My first daughter was in the hospital for about 5 weeks or so after birth due to needing heart surgery, and she was hooked up to so many machines it was pretty impossible – the few times I tried after we got home and we were getting her off her feeding tube she didn’t want it cause she had no clue what it was. My second daughter I tried for about a day or 2 and then immediately switched to pumping, which was MUCH better since I was more relaxed and she was a bit of a cluster feeder so my natural supply would not have satisfied her as well right away. I also could supplement with formula. I ended up going all formula after about a month because I had to go out of town for a couple weeks so daughter #1 could have her 3rd heart surgery – and of course baby could not come with. We should not beat ourselves up over our ability or inability to nurse because circumstances are different for everyone and FYI for everyone else, both my girls are AMAZINGLY healthy in spite of not having the immunities in breastmilk for very long.

  4. Laurel: I don’t doubt the benefits of breast milk but I had several people mention to me that my children’s immune systems would suffer. I have found this to be rather ironic since my kids have never had an ear infection, or any other type of infection. They’ve had their share of common colds but that is about it.

    Jane: I agree that it takes passionate people to move a cause forward and I applaud those who do. However, I have a very good friend of mine who said once; “I have passionate beliefs but I would never dream of forcing or legislating my beliefs and values onto somebody else”. I agree with that.

    Supermom: The best part was when my son came along and I could let my daughter feed my son. Those were sweet moments.

  5. Beth, I really feel for what you went through. I ended up bf-ing all three of mine until they were 9-10 months old, but it wasn’t because I’m a fist-pumping member of the Boobs are Better tribe. It just happened to work for me on a personal level.

    On a more macro level, what works for me is healthy babies that get the nutrition they need no matter what the source.

    So sorry for what you endured as a bottle-feeding mom. I have many friends who’ve had to go through the same thing.

  6. Bravo, Beth! It is a mother’s right to choose what she thinks is best for her child.

    I breastfed my oldest for about 4 long, miserable weeks. I pumped when she was napping. She stayed awake all night and I could not supply her need at night. I have inverted nipples both sides and no amount of massaging or using the pump could un-invert them. Add in a c-section and a mom who was in pain due to not wanting to use Percocet and you have a recipe for disaster. I tried and failed to breastfeed her. She also could not latch on to my large, inverted nipples.

    But the day I switched to one of the ready-to-feed cans of formula given to me by a formula company, was possibly one of the most miraculous days of my life — next to childbirth and marriage of course. My daghter loved her bottle. She started gaining weight. I started forgetting about my inadequacies as a mother and my just bubbling to the surface depression and started becoming a mother — a relaxed, ready-to-bond mom of a beautiful newborn baby.

    I did not attempt with my second child since I needed to go back to my WAH job in 4 weeks. Yep, freelancers do not get maternity leave. Surprisingly I did not get flack from hospital staff. I was ready. In fact the only flack I got was from a clueless, breastfeeding-obsessed, La Leche loving friend. I was mad at my friend for giving me a hard time while I still recovering from another c-section.

    For my son, I tried again. I was no longer working from home at that point. My over-9 pound son was too voracious an eater, plus I could not bear the thought of the inverted nipples/nonlatching on/pumping debacle. He went on formula before we left the hospital.

  7. I find it interesting that it has become such a passionate and “hot-button” issue for people. Regardless of whatever decision you make it is not like your child is starving or being abused. I think the majority of people respect the decision of the individual – I do think the ‘bullies’ are the exception not the rule. I think where the guilt and anxiety comes from is really the media. The constant stream of articles that proclaim that bottle-feeding is bad, bad, bad and that breast-feeding should be private, private, private. As mothers, I think we all recognize the difficulty of motherhood and God bless those who do it well.

    As Jane eluded to, I do think that blogging is a big part of bridging those communication gaps and building a community amongst mothers. A community of support, acceptance and understanding.

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