I recently met Nicole at a local doula gathering. When she shared her breastfeeding story with me, I was overwhelmed by emotion. I immediately asked her two things: 1-How will you work through this to help other women as a doula, and 2-Do you like to write? I am so grateful she generously poured her heart out to let others know how painful and confusing it can be to face the obstacle of not producing enough milk. I say it to moms everyday: We don't expect feeding our babies to be so hard. I have worked with many moms experiencing milk supply issues due to IGT, PCOS, breast reductions, and extreme blood loss during birth. Very often there is a deep sense of loss. Thank you to Nicole, for being vulnerable and honest -- I know it will help others.
"Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces." This, this right here has been my solid ground -- my strength when I just can't seem to stop beating myself up for things I cannot control. Let's rewind a second, shall we?
Being a young mother is never easy, especially when you're the first of all of your friends to have a baby. You have no one to look to for advice or wisdom, it's just you and a new baby who won't stop screaming and nurses who are less than helpful. I was 19 when I gave birth to my greatest accomplishment and I was so proud, but what was I doing wrong? Why wasn't she latching? Sure, I knew breast is best, but as a first time mom, the crying was overwhelming and I just wanted her needs to be met. The night after she was born she got a bottle of formula because she had been crying non-stop and hadn't eaten because she hadn't ever latched for more than two minuets at a time. I was sad but I was just happy she wasn't screaming from hunger anymore. I had about 6 women give or take look at my breasts (or lack there of) and touch them, without permission at that, and no one had any advice for me -- so I went home, formula in tow and with no regrets.
At home I continued trying to pump, trying to latch her, and just trying to get a supply when I only had drops at a time. I tried a nipple shield, pumping religiously, teas, supplements, and I just gave up because I read some women just don't respond to a pump. Afterall, she was fed so she wasn't really going without, was she?
I have since given birth again, 11 months ago to be exact. This time to my son and my second greatest accomplishment. Before I conceived him and during my pregnancy, I devoted HOURS to researching the best parenting practices, and that included breastfeeding. Breastfeeding: Natural. Normal. Tradition. Instinct. The reason the human race has survived for centuries. I learned that every woman should be able to breastfeed if she "tried" hard enough. I learned about proper latch, feeding on demand, skin-to-skin, the benefits of natural labor, tongue ties, lip ties, no pacifiers or bottles for a minimum of 6 weeks. The list is basically endless, I knew it all and I was confident. You can ask my doula, the one thing I wanted the most out of my birth plan was to be able to breastfeed, and my worst fear was not being able to breastfeed.
After 7 hours of labor I gave birth to my son, completely naturally. Yes! I did it! I was so proud of myself and immediately placed him to the breast. I remember looking at my doula and saying, "look, his mouth is big, he should latch nicely," and he did. He latched and we spent so much time nursing. We denied baths and took off that annoying hat they put on him -- everything was textbook. We went home after some time on the lights for jaundice.
Did I mention everything was textbook? It was...until it wasn't. He constantly wanted to nurse, which is normal for babies. But then I noticed he wasn't peeing much anymore, and he wasn't satisfied after nursing for what felt like an eternity. I birthed him on Friday afternoon, and by Monday he had extremely chapped lips, yellow skin, yellow eyes and little urine output, but I was basically in denial. The next day he was admitted to PICU for jaundice and had to spend 24 hours on the lights. I HAD to start supplementing because my son was starving. I was starving him. My body was failing him. I cried and cried and cried. From 7 lbs 6 oz, to 6 lbs 3 oz and NO urine output. I did everything right, why was this happening to me? I was devastated, but despite my pain I kept at it. I met with an LC who gave me an SNS and and an abundance of advice that included "if things don't change in 1-2 weeks then you just might be one of the small percent of women who can't breastfeed."
Can't breastfeed, what? Some women can't produce milk, but why?
We went home the next day and he was thriving from being supplemented, but I hated myself -- hated the body that birthed two beautiful children. It's an awful feeling, a feeling that left a wound that is still as fresh as when it appeared. I kept at everything I had learned and I never got an increase in supply. Between both sides I couldn't even pump to cover the bottom of a bottle. Prescription drugs, water, clean diet -- NOTHING helped, but why?
IGT: insufficient glandular tissue. I found a great support group on Facebook that was my saving grace, they encircled me with comfort and understanding. There are markers for IGT and I realized that I had most of those markers. Buy why hadn't I heard of this before? All of the articles I read and people I talked to and I had never heard of it. All of the medical professionals that had seen me topless and I never heard a word spoken about it. Why aren't people trained to notice this, and why isn't this a more well-known issue?
This has been a long road and I'm still suffering. I can't feed or nurture my baby the way I was designed to. He's missing out on the best kind of milk his little body was designed to live off of. We did donor milk but it's hard to come by, honestly. He's now exclusively formula-fed and I hurt every time I wash or make a bottle.
I have since became a birth doula, and I almost feel hypocritical about it. How can I offer breastfeeding support to women when I can't breastfeed myself?
I'm healing and I've come to be a huge lactivist. Just because I wasn't and couldn't be successful doesn't mean I don't know the dos and don'ts of breastfeeding, and it doesn't mean that I won't run in to someone who will struggle like I did (and still do).
My heart hurts often and I still cry a lot, but I am healing. I need to start loving my body again. My first step to forgiving the things I can't control is writing this in hopes that more people will understand this kind of terrible struggle. It may not be a big deal to some, formula vs. breast, but to others, it's extremely difficult to accept.
And that's what I have learned to accept.
Nicole is a new doula in the Bakersfield Area. The mother of two little ones, she has experienced a wide range in parenting beliefs and ideals in a short time. She understands birth and mothering isn't always about choosing what you want, and rather, adjusting the best to what comes your way. Nicole is dedicated to supporting women during birth AND breastfeeding, to help them find success as they define it, with some fine-tuning here and there according to what the experience brings.
You can find Nicole on Facebook.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)