I've decided to give up on nursing. More or less.
Since Bat Girl was a week old, I had been doing the (supposedly) supply-building routine of nurse, bottle, pump. It was, to be frank, really fucking draining. Most times it was a battle to get Bat Girl on the breast, and then she'd only nurse for a minute or two. Then after the bottle, if my husband wasn't home to hand her off to, it would take me over an hour sometimes to get her to either sleep or settle down enough so I could put her down long enough to pump. And this would stress me out, because the less time there was between pumping and the next feeding, the less I'd have in the boobs the next time I attempted to nurse, and the less likely Bat Girl would latch on. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Then, right around the time of my last post
on breastfeeding, Bat Girl started rejecting the breast even more. I was lucky if I could get her to latch on and nurse two or three times in a day. Most of the time she simply refused to even try. We had always had one successful, long nursing session first thing in the morning (when it's generally 3-4 hours since my last pumping and my boobs are at their fullest), but she started to reject the breast then, too. One morning she actually started to scream the second I started turning her body toward mine in the nursing position. It was heartbreaking.
I had two long, tearful phone calls with the local LC and with Dr. G. The local LC suggested spending lots of time with Bat Girl skin-to-skin in the nursing position, to desensitize her to being there so she wouldn't hate it so much, and also suggested trying a supplemental nursing system
, which is the one and only thing I had determined I was not willing to try--I just couldn't bear the thought of one more piece of equipment to wash and maintain, one more thing
to futz with at feedings. It is a testament to how desperate I was feeling, though, that I actually considered it.
Dr. G. suggested skipping one or two pumping sessions in the morning, when Bat Girl only goes 1.5-2 hours between feedings, to leave some milk in the breast to help encourage her to latch on. But then she gently pointed out that this was the second phone conversation we'd had where I was crying, and said again, "If this is interfering with your ability to enjoy your baby, then maybe you should seriously consider whether you want to continue."
Well. I got off the phone and sobbed for about an hour. And then, after a weekend full of indecision and self-recrimination, I finally decided to let go of nursing and concentrate my efforts on pumping and maintaining my supply. It had become too hard to both nurse and pump, and nursing had become far too difficult, emotionally. I'm still nursing once a day, first thing in the morning, and ironically Bat Girl now nurses better than ever that one time a day, now that she's only put to the boob when there's a considerable reward. That one nursing session is really more for me than for her--it allows me to still feel like I'm a nursing mother, barely.
I'm at peace with this decision, more or less. The way things were going, given that I wasn't willing to try an SNS, it was the most logical, sanity-saving choice. I considered trying a "nursing vacation" (take baby to bed and do nothing but nurse for 24+ hours), but wasn't willing to risk Bat Girl becoming dehydrated or not gaining properly.
I'm actually much less stressed about pumping now, too. Now that it's untethered from Bat Girl's feeding schedule, I try to pump 8-10 times a day but don't need to panic if I've just fed her and can't get to the pump for another hour. With pumping and feeding, we're up to about 10-12 ounces of breastmilk a day, which isn't too shabby. But it's just little enough that I'm wondering whether or not to continue when I go back to work. To maintain my supply, I would probably need to pump at least three times during the work day and three times in the evening, plus once in the middle of the night and once first thing in the morning. The work part I can handle, and in fact at first, I felt so liberated when I gave up the nursing battles that I thought I could definitely go on indefinitely. But the thing is, given that I'll be away from my baby for nine hours a day, do I really want to spend the little time I have with her pumping? And, more selfishly, having not been to the office or gone out to lunch or anything fun for more than six months, do I really want to spend my re-entry into the world focusing on pumping?
And here we come to my dirty secret. When I was in the beginning of my breastfeeding problems, so many people said to me, don't feel guilty about the formula, she will be fine. But the truth is, I didn't feel all that guilty about the formula. I mean, of course I wanted Bat Girl to have the benefits of breastmilk--it's why I even considered breastfeeding in the first place. But the reason why breastfeeding was so important to me, the reason I beat myself up over it and kept stubbornly pushing and pushing myself beyond the point where most sane people would have quit, was entirely selfish, was all about me.
First of all, I think I was simply unwilling to accept failure. But more importantly, breastfeeding represented something about the kind of mother I had hoped to be--the whole AP ideal of nurse-on-demand, tote the babe everywhere in your designer sling, calm crying instantly with your bountiful breasts, etc. etc. Possibly my favorite nursing memory of all time is of one night, very early on, when my husband was unable to get Bat Girl to stop crying after a 3 a.m. feeding, and out of desperation, I tried nursing her down. And it worked! In retrospect, probably just because she got bored by the lack of milk and fell asleep--if I tried that now, it would probably only make her madder--but I'll never forget how proud I was that I was able to calm her this way.
Anyway, I pictured us taking road trips with Bat Girl--I'd nurse her at rest stops--and being able to go anywhere with her because I'd always have a food supply handy. I'd have a special connection with my baby because of our nursing relationship, and be able to calm and comfort her with this unique connection. Instead, I'm afraid to leave the house for more than three hours because I have to run home and pump--and I refused to travel to my in-laws because I couldn't face the hassle of pumping at someone else's house, or worse yet, pumping on the road during the five hour trip. My breasts, instead of being a source of consolation, were a battlefield. Instead of memories of sweet late-night nursing, where I roll over in bed and stick my boob in the babe's mouth and we both fall asleep, I will have memories of the wheeze of my breast pump at 4 a.m.
It doesn't help that every source of information about pregnancy and parenting, from my baby books to the pamphlet the Department of Health sent to us with Bat Girl's birth certificate, touts the benefits of breastfeeding: You'll save money and bond with your baby! Your baby will be happier and healthier and smarter! She'll have fewer ear infections and allergies, she'll love you more, her poop will smell like flowers!
I know, logically, that Bat Girl will be just fine with formula. I can bond with her just as well over a bottle, and indeed, over the long term, breastfeeding will be one of the least
important things I do for our relationship. I'm sure there are women who breastfeed successfully who are just terrible mothers. I know that any amount of breastmilk is good and I've done far more than many women ever do. But it still hurts that I couldn't have the nursing relationship I wanted with my baby. Yesterday I went to a moms group get-together and was sick with jealousy when a couple of the other mothers started talking about how breastfeeding was so hard at first, but was now so rewarding and they loved the bond they had with their babies because of it. (And hello, I just finished telling you how I couldn't breastfeed--are you totally insensitive, or just stupid?)
And I will always wonder if there was something else I could have done. The past few days, I've been obsessing about this, maybe because I'm contemplating giving up when I go back to work, and endings always make one reflect. If I had pumped diligently in the hospital, would my milk have come in sooner and more copiously? I was looking at pictures of the day Bat Girl was born and realized that after our initial attempt at nursing, Bat Girl was bundled up in blankets again before I could continue cuddling her in recovery--if I had insisted on remaining skin-to-skin for that hour, would it have made a difference? (Not that it was easy to cuddle her to my skin, with all the leads and wires taped to me.) Should I have taken less pain medication post-surgery? Eaten something different? Taken metformin while I was pregnant? If I hadn't been on bedrest and forbidden to attend a breastfeeding class, would I have been better able to recognize a bad latch early on?
I guess I'll never know. I know if I ever get pregnant again, I'll do lots of things differently. But even if I'm able to have a great breastfeeding relationship with another child, it won't change the fact that I'll always feel like I missed out on something. I know the joys I'll have with Bat Girl over the rest of her life will more than make up for it. But it still hurts.