While I was pregnant a little more than two years ago, my mind raced about all that I would do for our little Poppy. (Miles was the size of a poppy seed when we discovered the pregnancy, so that was his nickname until we learned his gender.) There would be cloth diapers and wipes, organic homemade baby food, an owl nursery, a collection of baby carriers and slings, and of course breast-feeding.
None of those choices came with a lot of research. They were just the things that felt right to me; what I knew I wanted to do. I’d been raised by awesome hippie-esque parents that instilled green values (along with several other brilliant things). My experiences in the Peace Corps on the other side of the world in Bangladesh gave me a fresh perspective on the things we would really need. Life had led me down a more natural path.
Although I felt those were the best decisions for our family, I really hadn’t seen many in my family do most of those things before me. None of my friends had breast-fed their children; my mom didn’t breast-feed my twin sister and me. The only people I knew who had were two of my cousins, and I’d only been around one of them a handful of times when she was nursing.
It was kind of a foreign concept. And yet, I was sold.
As D-day approached I learned what I’d suspected all along — an “intervention-free” delivery wasn’t in the cards for me. About halfway through my pregnancy, I was referred to a high-risk pregnancy center in Indianapolis, not unexpected for a 30-year-old with a pacemaker. Then, about a month before my due date, they said a vaginal delivery was just too risky and scheduled a Cesarean Section.
I didn’t let this take away from my earlier plans. How could it really affect plans to breast-feed? I’d heard it might make things a little challenging, but I was determined.
The delivery was weird. I remember only being able to see my husband’s eyes peeking out between the surgical mask and cap, and they looked terrified. I felt a lot of tugging and then physical relief when Miles was pulled from me only to be replaced by sheer panic.
“Is everything OK? I can’t see him. Is he OK? What’s going on?” all in about a five-second span. He was perfect, all 8 pounds and 1 ounce of him. But I didn’t get to hold him or touch him, barely able to see him. I laid splayed out on an operating table, arms strapped down, drape just below my chin. It was more than an hour before I was able to touch him.
My husband took him back to our room where my mom and twin sister were waiting. They all three were able to see, kiss and hold MY baby before me. It was a tough pill to swallow. But I just laid there as they stitched me up, knowing that soon I’d be with him, and we would start our breast-feeding journey.
When I got back in the room, a nurse helped with the first feeding. It was frustrating for both Miles and me, but we got there. It was like that every hour or so. We played the latch game, him rooting around, me trying to just regain the feeling in my lower half.
Those first two days in the hospital, my son kept losing weight, ounce after ounce. They told me, “No worries, all babies lose weight.” But Miles flew past the expected 8 to 10 percent weight loss mark. They warned me that if he lost much more, we would need to supplement.
The words brought tears. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t feed my own child. I was starving him. I’d started using a breast pump two days in and continued for the next nine months. He did lose more, at one point dipping below seven pounds. We supplemented with tiny bits of formula that he received through a device called a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). The system worked by providing pumped breast milk or formula through a tiny tube that was taped on my breast. So it was like Miles was actually nursing.
Throughout our nine-month nursing journey we encountered a lot of obstacles. I remember hearing from people, “The reason he’s crying is because he’s hungry. Give him a bottle. I’m sure he’s not getting enough from you.” I recall the nights where Miles would take almost an hour to nurse and after I pumped (which I did following every feeding) I had only 45 minutes before the cycle started all over again. I can’t forget the countless trips back into the hospital for lactation consultations; tears of defeat and joy over ounces of precious weight lost or gained.
I was taking fenugreek supplements, enough to make my urine smell like maple syrup (Seriously, it was pretty nuts!). I ate oatmeal every day and drank more pineapple juice than I’d like to admit. I attended weekly breast-feeding support groups trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, why the process just wasn’t clicking for us. I struggled with a nipple shield, soreness, low supply, nursing strikes and blocked ducts.
Co-workers, the publisher’s assistant and story sources walked in on me as I pumped in the newsroom bathroom three to four times a day. In the process I would only net enough milk for a feeding, maybe two if I was lucky. I took my pump everywhere. I pumped at a Colts game, in our car during date night, on road trips, in a garage during a birthday party and in a custodian’s supply room during a charity bingo game.
I wanted it to work so badly. But it didn’t. My husband and I had a trip planned to Louisiana when Miles was nine months old. My supply was nearly gone, and Miles fought nursing because he wasn’t getting milk quickly enough. I decided to let it go. And I accepted it.
Although initially I saw it as a failure, I realized that I was doing what was best for our son, feeding him the best way I could.
Now, when baby No. 2 comes along, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve seen the mistakes that I made and the things that I will do differently. But if we face a similar outcome, I hope I come around to the same feeling — as long as you are feeding your child the best way that you can, you have succeeded.
Share your experiences here. And be sure to check out our stories on breast-feeding Sunday where we talk to several area moms about their feeding choices and journey and hear what the local hospitals are doing to become designated by the World Health Organization as Baby-Friendly.