Breastfeeding Woes and Triumphs

by Kim Lewis

For Rhonda

           I have a friend, who for reasons much too complicated for this article, was not able to produce milk so that she could breastfeed her child. It is a rare occurrence, but nonetheless, a very painful one if you are the woman who is devastated by this reality of breastfeeding. When all you have ever known is the fantasy of crisp white nightgowns, antique rocking chairs and breast milk that flows abundantly, a glitch in the system is enough to rock your world.  In your mothering daydreams, you are a blissful new Mama filled with the serenity and joy that is one of the many beautiful side effects of giving sustenance to your newborn through the womanly art of breastfeeding.  The oxytocin hormone flows and you are utterly and completely at peace knowing that you are the source of all of your babe's  nutritional and emotional needs.  What could be more perfect than that?

          Unfortunately, perfection isn't always what you get when you aspire to be the sole source of nutrition for your babe.   For many women, breastfeeding is as easy as breathing.  For others there are many little bumps in the road. Hence, the rise in Lactation Consultants in most areas.  In days of old, there were wet nurses to help when supply was an issue or if Mom was not available. Having absolutely no breast milk after birthing a new babe is an extremely rare occurrence. However, this is not much consolation to the devastated and sorrow filled Mom who had always planned to feed her baby's body, heart and soul through breastfeeding.  
          When Andy, my very 1st angel was born, he was deemed as having breathing problems and was rushed into the pediatric intensive care unit.  He was given a bottle of sugar water immediately despite my specific birth plan,which stated explicitly that he would be breastfed and no bottles were to be given.  We continually struggled with an array of latch and supply issues.  We enlisted the help of a certified lactation consultant but were never able to get past our bad start at nursing. I was crushed the first time we gave him a bottle of formula. I felt like a complete failure.  My own baby did not even want my breast. How much more rejected can you get?  Needless to say , I had an agenda for babies #2 and #3 when it came to breastfeeding.

         With Bailey's birth came another assortment of breastfeeding type issues. This time, I made sure that I had a doula at my birth to advocate for me.  In addition to my specific birth plan, my doula would remind the nurses and docs that I wanted to have my baby nurse as soon as he had left my womb and crawled upwards toward my breasts .  He latched on like a champ minutes after emerging from my body onto this earth and stayed at the breast for hours.  In my eyes, he seemed like a very content sleepy baby. 

Before too long he was a very content sleepy baby that was a lovely shade of pumpkin and was quickly rushed to our doc who confirmed that his jaundice levels were over the top.  Apparently he was sleeping way more than he was eating and my milk supply had diminished dramatically.  He was deemed an inefficient sucker.  While he was at the breast quite a lot, he never seemed to really get the job done.  I was obsessive about maintaining my breastfeeding relationship with my son  and was already starting to feel the beginnings of the depression that would start to pervade our lives.  I followed a strict regimen of pumping my breast milk around the clock in an effort to maintain a supply of milk that could sustain my babe while also feeding him Mama's pumped milk with a very tiny syringe and tube system.  This method was recommended by the lactation consultant so as not to cause nipple confusion.  It was a very taxing procedure and added monumentally to my sleep deprivation but I had to try everything possible to maintain that breastfeeding relationship.  While B slept and slept and I pumped and pumped my milk grew less and less bountiful.  As my milk supply diminished, the Postpartum Depression that would change our lives moved into our home and stayed.  My OB prescribed anti depressants and my heart sank.

         At the time of Bailey's birth I was very uninformed about drugs and breast milk.  I tend to avoid drugs  by nature but have succumbed to them when necessary.  However, I was struggling with a decision that was based on healthy concern for what was going into my baby's body and a pervasive need to put some balance into my life which at that moment in time was starting to feel like a rollercoaster running off the track.  I was torn to say the least. However, since B was at this point taking a bottle more than my breast, it was a somewhat easier decision to wean him since he had, for the most part, weaned himself.  This did not however soothe my aching need for my fantasy baby that was sustained by mother's milk.  It did, however, add to the mother guilt pile.  Surely, not being able to feed your own baby with breast milk must be pretty high on the failure chart. 

          Angel baby Molly came into our world with HER own agenda.  To nurse and nurse and nurse until SHE created a milk supply that could sustain her. All of my supply issues were eradicated by my non stop nurser.  We so called slept in the rocker which was more conducive to an all night latch.  If she was not actually nursing, she was always latched and ready, lest she get the urge to elicit the 15th let down between 10pm and 8am.  She was relentless in her goals..... even more determined to get her milk than her mother was to supply it to her. She created a milk supply by her shear determination that was enough to sustain a continually balanced weight gain.  She refused any and all types of artificial nipples, so that when I was feeling uncertain about my milk supply and my ability to meet her needs, formula was not an option.  She hated it and made that perfectly clear.  Needless to say, we are still nursing as she has passed her 2nd birthday and I have no immediate plans to wean.

         I have been through it all, it seems, with my breastfeeding experiences and yet...... I have not.  I listened to my friend's story of the reasons why her body simply could not produce breast milk and my heart sank when she calmly- with a great sense of loss, told me that she could never have another child.  I thought for a moment that she meant that she would not be able to conceive another baby.  After a moment, she clarified that she could not birth a child she could not feed.  In my heart, I understood her pain - her deep, aching sense of loss in not being able to provide for her babe that which she had always known she would- in her dream.  But, parenting does not always work out to be what we had dreamed or expected or aspired to. 

         In fact, this wonderful Mama had fed her baby angel more than some mamas who have produced breast milk for months or even years.  She had nurtured that babe with her breast.  She had continued to nurse her baby over the years.  She had grown a soul with the intimate contact of skin to skin, heart to heart, mother to child.  This mama had sometimes dealt with all of the  negative aspects of breastfeeding without seeming to get any of the positive physical bonuses of breast milk.  The stares of the not so educated, modern day breastfeeding bigots while she nursed her babe in public. The toddler defiance that can surround any aspect of life but that which makes setting boundaries around nursing almost impossible.  And yet, without the prize of the nutritional value of breastmilk, without the immunities that breastmilk can provide, she still plugged on with nursing day in and day out. 

          That is the real reason we Mamas breastfeed for an extended time.  Yes, breast milk is THE  most nutritious and balanced food there is.  Yes, even as a toddler and a 3 and 4 year old child, there are so many immunities and benefits to be had in a physical sense.  But, more than that, we nurse for an extended time to create a grow a soul, skin to skin, heart to heart, mother to child.

          Yes, my friend, you should birth another child if you can.  Because you will feed that child in so many ways .  Ways that some of us will never know .....but long to aspire to.  That, my dear friend, is the true Triumph of Nursing.

Kim Lewis Mason
1106B Irving St. SW  Olympia, WA 98512
Email �[email protected]

Kim Lewis Mason lives in Olympia, WA with her 3 children � Andy, Bailey and Molly, their dog Daisy and cats Kiki and Washington.  She survived postpartum depression with all 3 of her births but was affected by a severe case of PPD following the birth of her youngest child.  She is currently working on a book entitled �FromDespair to Joy �- A  PPD Survivor's Story�.  Kim operates her own postpartum doula service called MamaCare and considers it her mission in life to support women as they transition into new mothers.    For more information on Mama Care, you can reach Kim at 360-753-5111 or email her at [email protected].




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