Monday, March 23, 2015

Birth, breastfeeding, and guilt: an unexpected birth story leads to a parenting revelation

When I first knew I was pregnant, there was no doubt in my mind that breastfeeding was the best for my child. Every new mom gets asked if they are going to breastfeed, and some family members even took it a step further in telling me that it would be so easy for me to breastfeed because they produced enough milk to feed an army, and since I am related to them, I undoubtedly would as well. I was not so sure though, from the start I had vague feelings that things were not going to go as planned. I cannot accurately describe what I was feeling, or what was causing that slight hesitation whenever people asked me about my birth plan or my feeding plans. My response was a bit less definite, “I hope to…”, or “I am going to try…”. I felt that being too definite was setting myself up for failure, especially with that vague feeling lurking in my gut, telling me to be cautious.

Leading up to her due date, I started feeling the need to speak with my significant other about what he would do if I died. I had no idea what brought that into my mind, very few women in developed countries die in child birth anymore, but I had a sense that I really needed to have that talk with him. Little one's due date came and went, and a little over a week later I went into labor. Even labor did not go as I had planned. I ended up hemorrhaging half of my blood volume, almost dying, and almost losing my uterus. Needless to say, I did not get to be the first one to hold my baby, and it was over an hour before I finally got to try to feed her. Everyone was an emotional wreck.

As most mothers that breastfeed know, it takes a few days for your milk to come in; so as little one started to lose weight I was not too concerned. We were in the hospital for 5 days, and in that time I tried exclusively breastfeeding. When she dropped 15% of her birth weight and was still losing, and her little lips were dry and cracked, and her tongue was dry and coated with thick mucus from dehydration, all I wanted was to feed my baby. When we left the hospital, we had to set up an appointment to see the pediatrician the next day because of little one’s severe weight loss. The pediatrician agreed that we needed to supplement her feeding with formula for a few days to try and stop the weight loss. I happily gave her bottles, and felt so relieved that she was eating!

I still tried to breastfeed her at every feeding, but she refused to even try to take the breast. She would push me away and hit me until I gave her the bottle. When I picked her up, she would immediately turn her face away from me, and push away. I talked to multiple lactation consultants, and tried to increase my supply by more frequent attempts at feeding and pumping, but that was a no go. I tried teas, and supplements, I bought pills on line; all to try and increase my milk supply. I would use the syringe that came with the gas drops to feed her the tiny amount of milk I was producing because I was not even producing enough to put into a bottle.

There were feelings of inadequacy. Why can’t I feed my baby? What is wrong with me? What kind of woman am I? There was the realization that if we had been living in a different time in history, we would likely both be dead. There was the hurt of having my child push me away and cry when I took her from whoever was holding her because she hated me trying to make her breastfeed. There was stress infusing everything. And then I stopped. I stopped trying to increase my almost nonexistent milk supply, I stopped trying to force my child to breastfeed, I stopped telling myself that we were taking the easy way out by quitting, and I started enjoying my daughter. After a week or two she started enjoying me as well.

I still struggle sometimes with the idea that I gave up and am hurting my child, especially with social media constantly having self-congratulatory posts on successful breastfeeding pop-up in my news feed; or people posting articles about future health/success/intelligence all being linked to one single factor, breastfeeding. To all of the bottle feeding Momma’s, yes, breast feeding is a wonderful thing, but do not worry. Your child will not constantly be ill, or turn into the village idiot, or feel unloved and deprived later in life just because you chose to formula feed. Health, intelligence, and emotional and psychological well-being are multifaceted, breast feeding your child does not guarantee a happy, healthy, successful life, and formula feeding does not turn your child into a sick, unintelligent, maladjusted failure. So, congratulate the women that were able to make it work, and do not let anyone make you feel like a failure, or a bad parent for not breastfeeding.

Guest post details: Meghan is a teacher and microbiologist that dabbles in virology. She is currently working full time at an animal vaccine company developing autogenous vaccines for all manner of critters. She divides her nights and weekends between teaching at a local community college, and trying to figure out how to take care of a baby. With two jobs, two dogs, two cats, a turtle, a baby, and a significant other (also working two jobs, and working on two degrees to boot!), life is pretty interesting and crazy!

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