Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bite the Hand

I am always humbled, and a little bit jealous, when I read a post like Penelope and Bumblebee's about breastfeeding. The way that she talks about that "very beautiful, very emotional" part of her relationship with her baby almost makes me wish that I was still breastfeeding. Almost.

Like Penelope, I too always knew that I would breastfeed. I had done a lot of reading and was thoroughly convinced that it was the best thing for The Boy. With my magical 20-20 hindsight, I think that I always knew there were going to be problems. Although my breasts did grow along with my belly, they never reached the epic growth that friends of mine experienced. I also knew that it was going to be no walk in the park. That's what every one said. Some babies latch on easily from the get-go, but I do believe that those babies are in the minority.

When the Boy came out and the nurse positioned him at my chest in the recovery room, he sucked eagerly and I felt a moment of pure, unadulterated joy. It felt so natural. And for a person who is not necessarily the most at ease in her body, that was a real achievement. After that, it all kind of went downhill.

The Boy would have slept through his whole first night, but I dutifully woke him every 3 hours and put him to the breast. He didn't seem all that eager to eat, but I figured he got enough because he went back to sleep. (I, on the other hand, didn't sleep at all that night, I just watched him.) I didn't feel that I had got the latch right so I asked for help from the nurses repeatedly and attended the free classes at the hospital. Sure enough, he wasn't gaining weight, and soon became jaundiced. Normal stuff, really, but we had to stay an extra day before we were realeased.

We spent the next month or so going back and forth to the lactation consultants at the hospital at least twice a week. Strangely enough, I started to look forward to those visits, because at least it meant that I got out of the house and talked to real people. They had us on a strict schedule of feeding every three hours whether The Boy wanted to or not, because he wasn't waking for his feedings. We also had to fill out a chart of each time we fed him, for how long and whether or not he filled his diapers. I was also pumping after each feed to stimulate milk production, and I was to record that as well. For a while there, we were even supplementing the breastfeeding with formula through a tube.

So every three hours, here's how the process would go:
Wake up. Get a glass of water and get everything organized. Wake the Boy up. Undress the boy to wake him up, and for skin-to-skin contact. Use cold washcloths to wake the Boy further if other methods didn't work. Breastfeed one side for 30 minutes. Change The Boy's diaper to wake him up again. Breastfeed the other side for 30 minutes. The Husband would bring the formula and the tube feeding apparatus and help me to position it (it took three hands to do it, and silly me, I only have two..). The Husband would take The Boy and put him to bed. I would pump for another twenty minutes. All told this process took an hour an a half. Then I would go to bed. It would take me a half hour to fall asleep, and the alarm would wake me up an hour later to do this all over again.

I breastfed through cracked and bleeding nipples, purple nipples from treatment for thrush, but luckily no mastitis. And eventually, things got easier. I pumped once a day instead of every time. I started taking Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle and Domperidone (30 pills a day, all told) to increase milk production. We stopped the tube feeding. We even visted Dr Jack Newman, who pointed out that The Boy had a slight "tongue-tie" problem that may have been interfering with his ability to suck (or latch - I was tired, and I honestly can't remember the whole conversation). He took care of it right there, and the breastfeeding did improve after that.

He still took about an hour to feed, and although he did get faster (more efficient?) as the months went by, our quickest feed was about a half hour. I did have to plan my day around the feedings, because I always had to make sure that if I was out and about, that I was somewhere where people didn't mind us hanging out for an hour (thank you, Starbucks!). On the plus side, I did get a lot of reading done when I was at home. The Boy was never one to look lovingly in my eyes while feeding, he just closed his eyes and quietly sucked away. So I read. For a while there I was reading about eight hours a day. It relaxed me, and made me more content to sit there while he took what he needed.

I do think that we bonded during these hours, just maybe in a different way than others experience it. I don't regret a minute of it, and would do it all over again if I had to (although, I would hope it would be easier the second time around). But more than that, The Boy taught me some pretty serious Life Lessons. As a thinking person, they were lessons that I intellectually already knew, but had never put to the test:

1. Although things may not turn out the way that you thought they would, it doesn't mean that they turned out badly.
2. The people that help you in your time of need are the people that mean the most to you.
3. If you want to do something badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen. Even if it seems impossible.

That was just something that I needed to get off my chest.


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bubandpie said...

Having suffered from over-supply, I had a very different experience from yours. It's always fascinating to read about the breastfeeding relationship - it's so different for everyone. This was an encouraging story - you persisted through a lot!

penelopeto said...

Good for you for sticking it out and seeking all of that help - I know so many women that gave up long before those options had been exhausted, and I'm not really sure what I think of it.
Even though things went pretty well from the start for us, I relied on my support system of sisters, friends and midwives for advice, for encouragement and for help with the other things that had to be done while I was attached to my baby for most of the day. It's hard work, but so worth it.
I've enjoyed visiting, and thanks for stopping by my place.