Got Milk?

Photo Credit: "Trouble Breastfeeding?" at brixy.com
Photo Credit: “Trouble Breastfeeding?” at brixy.com

I don’t. Not really. Nonetheless, I’ve tried to nurse for eleven weeks, with minimal success. Now I regret that I have continued, because this trying has messed with Sam’s schedule, and my self-confidence.

There are those moms who dream of breastfeeding at all costs. I never did. What I did dream of, after I read a book entitled Preparation for Parenting by Gary and Marie Ezzo, was getting my baby on a schedule and having him sleep through the night by eight weeks. The book promised my baby would do this, if I followed the schedule they outlined: feed every 2 ½ to 3 hours, and follow the pattern of feed, waketime, sleep. Then I was supposed to wake the baby and start the cycle again. With this pattern, he should have been sleeping through the night by now. But Sam is eleven weeks old today, and he is still waking one to four times a night.

What happened?

A commitment to breastfeeding, no matter that I had a low supply, is what happened.

I blame myself, and a few others, for encouraging me to keep going no matter what. They told me that mothers’ milk works on the demand and supply principle: the more I nursed, the more I would produce.

I nursed exclusively for three weeks. By the end of three weeks, Sam’s weight was steadily declining. It was at our third weight check that his pediatrician, with a worried look, told me to start supplementing. She also told me to call the lactation specialist one more time and see what tips she could give me. (I had already worked with this person twice. She determined that Sam was latching well, and my milk—what milk I had—was transferring.)

Here I could have just stopped nursing, admitted I had given it a valiant go, and switched entirely to formula. Neither my hubby nor I wanted to quit yet, though.

I called the lactation specialist. What she told me made me cry.

“Take a breastfeeding vacation. Just take a Sunday and lie in bed with the baby and let him nurse as much as he wants. And make sure you are latching or pumping at least eight to ten times a day. You can try lactation cookies, and fenugreek, etc. etc.” She gave me all the advice I’ve read in various other places.

I told her, barely holding back tears, that we’d exclusively breastfed for three weeks; I just didn’t think I could produce the milk. As far as the breastfeeding vacation, the thought made me want to scream. Did she mean to tell me I should start getting less done than I already was? With my house in a shambles and my body bloated because I had no time to exercise? With thoughts overcrowding my mind because I had no time to write and sort them out? And even if I devoted my life to increasing my supply (which was, essentially, what she was asking me to do), there was no guarantee it would even work.

No ma’am, I couldn’t do it.

I decided to do what I could reasonably (and sanely) do. I continued nursing before giving bottles and pumping when Sam allowed me an extra fifteen minutes. I started taking fenugreek because a relative had given me a bottle. I tried a daily sesame seed smoothie recommended by another family member.

Last week (ten weeks) I estimated I was producing around 25% of what Sam eats, and I asked my hubby again: Do I continue?

Again he said, “I really think you should. He’s getting good stuff from you, and who knows what will happen, if we will still need it in the future?”

Even I agreed that the calming effects of breastfeeding were still valuable for fussy times.

But my hubby hasn’t had to deal with the constant self-doubt I face every time I breastfeed. He hasn’t had to deal with those sleepless nights when Sam drifts off at the breast before getting the bottle, then wakes within an hour hungry again. He hasn’t had to, first, give up several hours of his day to breastfeeding, and then, give up several more when bottle feedings, bottle washings, and pumping were prescribed. He hasn’t agonized over how much formula to give (because doesn’t feeding more formula mean producing less milk? Yet how else can I be sure Sam is getting adequate nutrition?). He hasn’t had his sleep interrupted and his whole day thrown off because he can’t decide how much to breast- and how much to bottle-feed (therefore he keeps trying different combinations). He doesn’t agonize over this daily like I do, when I wake feeling exhausted yet again, or when Sam rejects a bottle, or rejects a breast, or acts different at every feeding.

Today, when I again considered how much time and effort this whole feeding thing was taking, how most of the rest of my life is on hold, how confused I still felt about feeding time, and how far from a pattern I still felt (I had just bought the ingredients to try lactation cookies—maybe they would help?), I felt utterly discouraged.

And I asked myself for the millionth time: is it worth it?

My gut told me, like it had weeks ago, No.

I know all the wavering back and forth has not been worth it, purely because it has destroyed my self-confidence and my ability to plan my day. Because of this mental unrest, I cannot settle myself into a pattern, much less Sam.

I’ve asked myself, Did reading the Ezzo book ruin me, where I expected too much too soon? Where I thought that breastfeeding should come so easily, and a schedule along with it? I cracked it open again today to see if their advice was really that bad…and found a section I didn’t remember reading before. The authors said that about 5% of women physiologically cannot produce adequate milk, and in that case, they should implement the feeding schedule with formula. Simple.

So…I will finish eating this batch of lactation cookies (sadly horrible for weight loss). I will finish the new bottle of fenugreek I bought today. And I will continue to latch Sam as much as I reasonably can. I figure on a week. But after that, if my supply doesn’t go up, I’m done.

Why didn’t I listen to my instincts before? If I had taken one course or the other, Sam might be on a schedule today, and we might all be sleeping through the night.

People will always have strong opinions on all things mothering, but as far as breastfeeding and this low-supply mama go, I’m learning not to cry over scarce milk.

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On Reading while Breastfeeding (or My Forgotten Love)

Today I’m taking a break from the baby blogging, sort of, in an attempt to remember another love of mine: reading.

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A few of the books on my bookshelf. Most recently, I’ve read Anne Rice’s bland memoir on returning to her faith, Called Out of Darkness; Rachel Held Evans’s strange project, A Year of Biblical Womanhood; and Frank McCourt’s tale of his childhood in Ireland, Angela’s Ashes. As to the first two, I think you’d find the two books on housecleaning I read before my son’s birth, Sink Reflections and The House that Cleans Itself, more rewarding. Angela’s Ashes, on the other hand, is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Once I lowered my expectations for what I could get done in a given day, I settled in for feeding time, six to eight times a day, and reached for my “old friends.” I began to look forward to feeding time so I could get on with the story. I decided I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding just yet (unable to produce even one-third of what Sam needs though I am) because it was guaranteed quiet time in which I could read.

Reading has become my oasis in a sea of diapers, bottles, and upset sleep. It’s become the only thing able to remove me from my baby in our first six weeks together (at least mentally). That sounds kind of bad, but I assure you, it’s not. Babies are great, and they get greater with age, but moms need a break now and then. We need a chance to “miss” our little dears. And we need a chance to exercise our minds, and wrestle with words, beyond trying to decode “waaa.” We need a way to remember that we are intelligently human. Without some kind of mental stimulus beyond “ga ga goo goo,” we can easily become depressed, dull, or just unhealthily narrow-minded.

A week or so ago I typed a few blog-intended lines (quickly orphaned when Sam waaa-ed) about how I was unexpectedly finding joy in just turning on the Today show on NBC. I’ve never been a TV watcher (couldn’t even tell you what plays during primetime), but as a new stay-at-home mom, listening in on Savannah, Matt, Natalie, and Al’s cheery banter lifted my spirits a little. I liked to pretend I was sitting there with them, drinking their morning coffee, joking about unusual headlines, and looking professional and polished (not struggling to juggle a bottle and a bagel, grumbling about lost sleep, and looking bedraggled and frumpy). The Olympics also helped me to justify all my breastfeeding-induced butt time—hey, they only come on every four years—not to mention reintroduced me to ice skating, another forgotten love.

But asked to choose between TV and reading, I could do without those voices and faces. In the final analysis, I much prefer the mental dialogue between a book and myself to the mindless escape of the screen. This reminds me of one Thanksgiving when a family member caught me reading Pride and Prejudice and asked, “Isn’t there a movie of that? Why are you reading the book?” as if the movie destroyed the need for the book. Such people will never understand why the book is almost always better than the movie, which is why I didn’t waste time trying to explain. My blog readers understand, don’t you?

Anyway, I’ve probably left Hubby and Sam alone for long enough—it’s time to get back to mommy things. Before I return home (I’ve been sitting at Mcdonald’s, my old writing haunt), my quest is to pick up a soy-based formula (we suspect the little guy is lactose sensitive, and it’s interfering with his and our sleep—oh, I hope we’re right).

Once I get home, it will be time to breastfeed again, and (grin), get back to my two-dimensional friend. At the moment, I’m courting Angela’s Ashes—so good—and I wonder why I waited years to read it. I first read mention of this Pulitzer-prize-winning memoir in The Everything Guide to Getting Published in 2010, when I began researching publishing my own memoir. A recent review of Ashes from my blogging buddy Luanne reminded me of it, and now I’m hooked. I wish I had the luxury of finishing it off in one long stretch this afternoon, but like all activities these days, blogging included, it will probably happen over the course of many small sessions, steadily strung together as I have opportunity.

Below, feel free to tell me what you’re greedily reading right now—if anything—or what great reads you recommend to this landlocked mom (memoirs or true stories preferred).

Surviving Parenthood

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Until his first smiles, I’m counting on funny expressions like this one to keep me endeared to little Sam.

So this is what it comes down to: if I want to write a blog post, I have to do it while lying on my side feeding my son, awkwardly typing with a crick in my neck. This makes me think of a humor book on parenting I read (Sippy Cups Are not for Chardonnay), in which the author joked that the new definition of “sexy” for mothers is just getting to wash their hair.

I won’t lie: after just three weeks, both my hubby and I are having doubts about parenthood. What did we get ourselves into? we’ve asked. And, Does our baby come with a return policy? I feel terrible even typing those things, but from all the parenting books I’ve read (blame it on graduate school), these seem to be normal enough questions. Yet I’ve rarely heard them spoken by friends and acquaintances who have kids. Have they just forgotten what the early days were like? If so, here’s a reminder.

My newborn son takes round-the-clock work, but offers not one smile in return. More like it, he cries, and he screams—morning, noon, and night. Although just a week or so ago all his crying made me cry, too, now I roll my eyes, pick him up again, talk to him in silly voices (perhaps desperate pleas), or, if all else fails, I lay him down to scream for ten to fifteen minutes. I can’t take more than fifteen minutes.

When I do get him down for a nap, it’s all I can do to grab a shower or a bite to eat, or, if I’m really lucky, get some laundry or dishes done. Yesterday I was able to sweep the mud room where our dogs constantly track in, well, mud, and that was a major accomplishment. Some days I also manage to get dinner made before hubby comes home, and that is always cause for profuse thanksgiving.

In the beginning (just a couple weeks ago), I remember laying Sam down for a nap and praying, Lord, can you please let him sleep for one hour? Now, with the wet blanket of reality smothering me, I have started praying, Lord, thank you for every minute—and I really mean every single minute—that Sam sleeps. Sometimes it’s fewer than ten minutes. Yesterday’s two-hour nap was a happy milestone. But no matter how long or short it is, it is always just long enough…for me to get at least one thing done. Maybe it’s just a shower, maybe it’s just washing my breast pump accessories so I can be ready to pump again after the next feeding. Stressed though I am, God sees to it that my needs are met. That’s life right now.

Right now, I’m only accomplishing the most basic necessities. For an overachiever like myself, this is near torture. But, sigh, it’s good for me. It’s good to remember how dependent I am on God for my most basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter. Little Sam has reminded me of this. Because he is taking his sweet time to regain his birth weight, I’ve been worried about my milk supply. I’ve been worried about him. When I’m tempted to resent him for “chaining” me to a feeding schedule, I am softened to remember that, with all these feedings, this little, helpless being is totally depending on me for his life. Suddenly, all these mundane feedings are hardly small or insignificant. Likewise, motherhood.

Lord, when I’m tempted to see my new “job” as merely frustrating, difficult, and insignificant, remind me what a privilege it is. Help me see my job as a miracle—I’ve gotten to play a small part in creating a life, and now I get a small part in sustaining it. I get to understand what your job is like just a little more. I get to experience your love just a little deeper.

So this is what it comes down to (after forty minutes of feeding): a sweet, helpless baby sleeping silently on my chest, depending totally on me for his sustenance, his life. How can I stay angry at a sleeping baby? It’s impossible. This must be one of the survival mechanisms God built in to all newborn babies—for them and for their parents.