The factory is silent. Its assembly line stands motionless. Somewhere off in the darkness, a buzzer sounds. One by one, lights begin to flicker and illuminate on long-unmanned diagnostic panels, giving a sense of enormity and complexity and scale to the machinery. The low hum of power supplies warming up comes next, followed by the higher and louder whine of turbines and electric motors. A whistle sounds, and one by one, employees begin to file in and take their places at the controls. Purposed for a single task, whose time has now come, the factory slowly comes to life...
Sunday, January 3, 2010
The Guilt of Milk
Claire is 6 months old today!
And thus marks the bittersweet day when I stop trying to provide breast milk for her.
Now, before you applaud me (or chastize me, which is what I expect from some) for making this decision, I want to back up a bit...
I knew before Claire was born that I wanted to do my best to breastfeed her. All the information in the world supports the "Breast is Best!" campaign, and God forbid you choose otherwise. You'll be dooming your child to a life of diseases, horrible health conditions and obesity! Breastfed children are smarter, taller, prettier -- you name it, someone will say that breast milk will do it. Clogged tear duct? Put breast milk in it! (Yes, I've actually heard that one.) Infection, diaper rash? Try breast milk! Lost a limb? Put breast milk on it! It will grow back! (Okay, that was an exaggeration, but it sure seems that way sometimes.)Amazing stuff, breast milk, no doubt.
I digress. I knew from the outset that I wanted to breastfeed. I had a c-section, and because I needed a few minutes in recovery from that, I didn't immediately put her on the breast the moment she was born. No problem. After my blood pressure stabilized, and the family was done ooh-ing and aah-ing and stepped out for the evening, and I stopped having the massive shakes from the anesthesia, the nurse told us we could start the breastfeeding. I said I had no experience with it, so she helped get Claire into position. Then she man-handled my boob to get it into Claire's mouth! As uncomfortable as that moment was (for more than one reason) Claire latched on like a pro. I was breastfeeding!
Then they tested her blood sugar. It was way too low. The nurse strongly suggested that because her birth weight was so high and her blood sugar was so low that we immediately supplement her with formula so she wouldn't end up in the NICU. She had seen it go wrong too many times! We agreed to it, and we started giving her a bit of formula. Within 24 hours Claire's blood sugar was stable. So from the first moments of her life, I was already playing catch-up. I put any disappointment aside because I knew I was doing the right thing for my daughter keeping her out of the NICU. My 11 lb. 11 oz. baby needed at least an ounce and a half of milk from her first few days of life. The colostrum I was putting out just couldn't cut it right away.
But eventually I caught up. We continued to supplement until my milk really came in and it seemed like I could provide for her. We were exclusively breastfeeding for a couple of months. (I continued to pump too after every feeding session.)
Then something happened around her second month. It was like Claire suddenly "woke up" and no longer wanted to breastfeed! I would just lean her back to get her into position and the screaming would start! I couldn't figure out what was wrong, or what had suddenly changed. After some consultation, we determined it was a combination of two things: First, there was too much distraction that she was now aware of, and she just wanted to look around! Secondly, she was diagnosed with silent reflux. No problem, if she didn't want to breastfeed, I could just pump and feed her. But in the meantime, I kept trying to breastfeed once a day anyway. I chose first thing in the morning while she was still waking up and calm. I could get her latched on and she would nurse for at least a few minutes until she wanted to flail and get away. I took what I could get because I figured it was better than nothing, and I wanted to have an "emergency backup" method, just in case. I also enjoyed the closeness of our quiet little moments together, and the feeling it gave me to be providing for my baby.
Then Claire got used to being bottle fed by others when I went back to work. The last week of October, I got her to have one more nursing session that was just like "the old days." She and I stayed in bed a little later that morning, and she nursed for a long time. I knew that occasion would probably be the last. I was right, as I was never able to get her to latch on again after that. And after I came back from a business trip the first week of November, I stopped trying. I decided it wasn't doing either of us any good to keep pushing the issue to the point where we were both upset.
In the mean time, I couldn't get by on just pumping. No matter how much I pumped, or how much fenugreek I took, or what I added or subtracted to my diet, it seemed I had a set limit of about 20 oz. a day. I pumped at all times of the day, early, late, added blessed thistle supplements, fennel, goat's rue... I took handfuls of supplements and tried it all to no avail. Meanwhile, Claire's food needs kept increasing! She quickly outpaced me to where she is now -- at about 36 oz a day.
So ultimately, I was able to exclusively breastfeed my baby for about two months. (I'm counting pumping-feeding as EBF.) After that, if it weren't for formula, I couldn't have fed my baby. Despite the fact that I KNOW formula isn't poison, it's baby food, I have never been able to shake the guilt attached to not being able to make enough milk to support my daughter.
And yet my goal was still to go on pumping as long as I could. I was hoping for a year, but it's such hard work. I finally compromised pushing my supply to where she would get one breast milk bottle a day, and the rest formula. That seemed to be the way for me to get the pumping in I needed to do while maintaining a full-time job, a husband and a baby and a house, and still give Claire the benefits. But eventually even that started to feel like too much. Having a constant parade of houseguests since September wasn't making it any easier. I didn't quit on my worst day; I kept going. But after much long, hard soul-searching and heartache, I decided I would draw the line at 6 months, and here we are.
But why should this decision have been so difficult for me?! I knew I tried so hard, much harder than many other women would have. Pumping multiple times a day for months on end is taxing. I know in the beginning I said that breastfeeding is hard, and I still think it is, but it's definitely the easiest method. Whip out a boob any time and feed the baby! No muss, no fuss. But I went from breastfeeding, to breastfeeding and pumping, which was harder, to exclusively pumping, which is the most challenging method of them all. People say that it's like trying to feed twins -- first you "feed" the pump, then you still have to feed the milk to the baby. Not to mention all the pump part cleaning and bottle washing all day. Whew!
And unlike other women, I was never able to "feed" the freezer either. I caught up a little at the end, when we were down to the one bottle a day, and I froze a few bags. Those have gotten us through Christmas and New Year's now with a little extra pumping to finish out the days. But somehow that empty freezer case has always made me feel like a failure.
The internet is no help. I'm not just talking about all the women who brag about making 40 oz. every day, or the ones who have "normal size" babies who hardly eat a thing so they can pump and store. "Breastfeeding support" is just sad. So many exclusive breastfeeders are SO militant and SO self-righteous, that even if you say you tried as hard as you could, there are always those that just keep pushing suggestions about how you could try harder. Rather than be supportive of your need to take care of yourself AND your baby, there are those who would call you selfish or even LAZY. It's hard to block out these voices. No matter how much I want to listen to my inner voice, the one that tells me I know I'm doing the right thing for all of us, I can't shake the nagging inner, and sometimes outer voices that make me feel like I could have done more. That now my child will be somehow deficient because I didn't keep her solely on breast milk for a year (or two, or three, or whatever the current wisdom is.)
And the guilt is everywhere. I recently watched a video about how "Nursing is Normal", part of a campaign to promote nursing in public (which I have no problem with.) And while I support the cause, there's so much pro-breastfeeding propaganda in it, that all it did was made me feel guilty and sad that I couldn't count myself in those numbers. Rather than make me feel united to their cause, I felt excluded, singled-out, marginalized. While I'm sure that was not the intent, I can't put the blame solely on either one of us for it.
But my daughter is beautiful, and healthy and strong. I am so lucky. She is 6 months old today, and growing tall and wide (and proportionally) like a weed! I know it is due in part to how much work I put into giving her all the breast milk I could. But it's also the product of much love and care. Of long hours of cuddling her to sleep, and walking the floors with her until she was calm. It's the days spent watching over her while she plays, or taking long walks with her in the sunshine. It's having a solid marriage with loving and supportive parents to give her the foundation she needs to grow up with a healthy view of the world. And for those things I am proud. I am proud of the choices I have made for her. I am proud of my beautiful baby girl.