"I think she wants mama's milk," Junior said to me.
"AAAAAHHHHHH!" I screamed in pain as my daugther latched on to my breast. My three year old jumped up from his seat, a horrified look on his face. "Are you crying mommy?"
This was the scene in our family room the last time I nursed my baby.
I have studied the Theo.logy of the Body. I know that God gave me these fine mammaries with which I can feed my children. I didn't nurse Junior, save a few painful episodes, rather I pumped for a month, got barely enough daily for one bottle, then he was exclusively formula fed. My reasons for not nursing him were many; he didn't latch well, I had a difficult recovery after my c-section, and I was stressed more than normal, which caused my milk supply to dwindle hopelessly into oblivion.
During this most recent pregnancy, I concentrated on getting psyched up for two things...1) a vaginal birth, and 2) breastfeeding. The VBAC was a success and was relatively easy for me to accomplish. Breastfeeding was my next hurdle. I reviewed materials I had received during the breastfeeding class I took when I was pregnant with Junior, I did some reading on-line to review holds and what to expect. I took some great advice from some lovely bloggers, Justine and Jenelle, both of whom are amazing mothers who have successfully nursed their children.
I didn't even get bottles out at home to force myself to breastfeed and not give up out of convenience. I only supplemented with formula in the hospital at the insistence of the doctors because of a diabetes medicine I had been taking which causes the baby to have low blood sugar. I still put her to the breast before giving her about 15cc of formula one drop at a time from a cup. She was born on Thursday evening and my milk came in Sunday. Despite having bleeding nipples and being in excruciating pain and having managed to feed the baby about 12 times on Sunday, I had developed a painful mastitis by Monday morning. I went in to see the doctor right away and was put on antibiotics and told to nurse through it, do massage and use warm compresses to alleviate the pressure and pain in the blocked duct. It was a physically, mentally and emotionally draining experience.
I nursed through it. I finished my course of antibiotics. When Celia was about 10 days old, it finally got a little better. I thought we were finally beginning to hit our stride and I would be able to do this. Although it was getting better, Celia was wanting to nurse every hour and a half. This meant that I would spend about an hour nursing her, get a break for about half an hour, then she would be screaming again for more. I would literally pray that she would stay asleep so I wouldn't have to hold her (my breasts and nipples were really sore) and that I wouldn't have to feed her again so soon. I cried during each feeding because of the pain. I felt like the worst mother ever for wanting to quit nursing, for not wanting to hold my baby, for dreading her cries. I felt like we weren't bonding because of the pain I was experiencing.
Although I drank over 100 oz of water each day, drank the herbal Moth.er's Milk T.ea, tried my best to eat a decent diet, my supply started dwindling again. I added pumpings in-between nursing sessions (wasn't getting much). I continued to nurse the baby 10-12 times per day. When she cried after each session, turning purple from the intensity of her screams, I gave in and gave her a bottle. She sucked down 2-3 ounces quickly and was finally satisfied. She didn't seem to be getting enough at the breast.
I am completely on board with the self-donative style of parenting
(sometimes confused with attachment parenting). The core of the
self-donative parenting philosophy is that I (and my husband) should be
willing to give up my wants in order to fulfill my children's needs. I
am committed to this type of parenting.
I struggled, thinking I was being selfish for not wanting to continue nursing. I know breast milk is the best food for my baby, I also knew that we were not bonding. I was an emotional wreck, crying and sobbing through each feeding.
My mental health was suffering. Was I not willing to give up my wants
(wanting to be relatively pain-free) to do what my baby needed? The
guilt was overwhelming and flooded my entire being. I cried out to God
to help me get through it; I prayed that I wouldn't be in pain, that I
wouldn't be selfish, that I would be strong enough to be the mother my
child needed me to be.
Finally, on her one month birthday, she latched on and I screamed in pain and the tears started to flow. I wasn't able to be the mother she needed while I was breastfeeding. The pain, stress and worry was causing me not to produce the milk needed to nourish her physically; the pain was causing me to distance myself from her emotionally, resent her legitimate needs and not be there to nourish her emotionally. I knew what I had to do. I was finally able to admit that I wasn't
being selfish, I wasn't putting my "wants" ahead of her needs. Stable mental and emotional health are essential to my well-being. They are essential to me being the mother she needs; one that wants to hold and cuddle her, one that doesn't cry at the sound of her cries, one that wants to be with her rather than chase the setting sun to escape.
In the end, we went cold-turkey to formula. It wasn't easy. Though I wasn't producing much milk, I still became engorged and went through almost a week of pain as my body realized it could stop producing all together. I cried at her 1-month pediatrician appointment out of guilt when I admitted we had stopped breastfeeding. Celia is much more content and is finally gaining weight (almost in 0-3 month size clothes!). At last, I am able to hold her without being in pain. I can even hold my big boy again (helpful during his incredible 3 year old tantrums). She is still up at night and doesn't go more than 3 hours without eating, so I am not getting more sleep than I was before the switch. Best of all, we are bonding!
In the end, I had to do this for my own mental health and the emotional health of my family. To those moms that can breastfeed...I have a healthy envy for you. I wish I could do what you do and I tried, but I can't. My self-donative parenting is looking a little different than I planned and hoped, but I am still committed to this lifestyle and am just going to keep going one step at a time and making decisions that are right for me and my family.