Parenting brings so very many joys and heartaches. That first laugh feels like it lifts a hazy veil from the many weeks of round the clock sleeping and waking. Watching while they have to fall to learn how to walk made my heart jump. Our expectations as parents affect so much of how we view these years. Simply knowing what to expect at different stages can help us relax and enjoy the often stressful process, but when the experience doesn't fit anything or everything we 'knew' going in, it can be truly heartbreaking.
After reading scores of articles, and a couple of really good books about breastfeeding, I approached our first weeks as parents with the 'knowledge' that breastfeeding can be difficult, but that you just have to keep going. and it would all work out. I 'understood' that the only reason breastfeeding might not work is if I didn't have the drive, persistence, will, or proper information. Because of those expectations, my heart hurts to this day, nearly 4 years later, to discuss my body's inability to produce milk more than drops at a time.
Jason was born at the hospital while I was under the care of a midwife. My water broke in the middle of the night, and a day and a half later, our first son arrived with no interventions. We were both quite tired from the long labor, but he was still able to latch on very well when he was 20 minutes old. Since my water had broken so long before Jason arrive, we had to stay an extra night in the hospital to watch for signs of infection. The entire time we were there, Jason slept and nursed, and was rarely awake apart from nursing.
When Jason was 2 days old, we spoke with the hospital's lactation consultant before we checked out. She said he had a good suck and latch. I had mild discomfort during feeding that the LC said may be due to a lower pain threshold in very pale women (I've never heard that before or since, though), and by the time he was a week old, there was no discomfort at all.
Babies normally come out facing mama's tailbone, but Jason was rotated about 30 degrees, and he developed bruises across his face from the pressure it caused. The bruising caused Jason's bilirubin levels to be elevated even further than is normal for newborns (more info here). When he stopped having bowel movements (the way bilirubin leaves the body) before the meconium and bilirubin were out of his system, we had to supplement with formula at day 5. Oh, how I cried!
Once he had taken a couple of ounces of formula a few times that day, it was like magic: he pooped; he stayed awake to gaze around; he gurgled; he peed; and he cried. It was like he had 'woken up'.
As the weeks progressed, my days with my newborn involved nursing for 30-60 minutes, giving a bottle, and then pumping for 30 minutes. By the time this was all finished, there was barely time to change a diaper and feed myself before we had to start all over again. When we tried to wean from formula, Jason lost weight. My breasts never felt engorged, and pumping only ever produced a teaspoon of milk after 30 minutes on each side, and that was after weeks of supplementing with Fenugreek and other herbs recommended by the various LCs with whom I spoke. None of the lactation consultants I met with had any advice to offer except to tell me that I'm doing everything right, and they didn't know what else to suggest.
What I know today: my breasts didn't grow during either pregnancy, and they grew only slightly in the week following birth. I was never engorged. My boys were nursing champs, and the latch was good enough that it wasn't painful. My babies kept loosing weight until formula was introduced.
Even my skeptical friends began to understand what I was going through when I mention not being engorged- from what I understand, this is a pretty dramatic thing that happens in the days after the birth. When I began to understand that- lack of engorgement does happen in a minority of mothers, but when the babies are gaining weight it is all well and good- I began to forgive myself. When I was able to succinctly explain that I didn't engorge and my babies kept loosing weight even though they had great latches, I stopped crying every time the subject came up. Now I only cry about it once or twice a year.
I want to reach other women who have had heartbreaking battles with their bodies over breastfeeding, and give them a hug. In my research, this is a major unacknowledged issue in the breastfeeding world: sometimes it is not the mother's fault, the baby's fault, or the community's fault. Some of our bodies don't respond in a normal fashion. This is not being researched, and there is nowhere to go for help when lactation consultants and fellow breastfeeding mothers are at a loss for advice. Forgive yourself, and love your child. Watch him grow. Don't spend so much time energy hating yourself for something you cannot change when you can spend that energy loving your family.