mercredi, janvier 12, 2011

on breastfeeding

My good friend and former roommate had breast cancer a few years ago. She's now in the process of trying to adopt. People invariably say the wrong thing, and weird things. I thought her post on the things smart, kind, well-meaning people say about breastfeeding (to someone who's had a double mastectomy, no less) was awesome on many levels.

One reason it resonated is because breastfeeding was one of the hardest, most frustrating experiences of my life. Leo and I took breastfeeding classes while I was pregnant and were able to cite the myriad benefits of breastfeeding. I wanted to have a breastfed, happy baby and was planning to do so for at least a year. My mommy friends were all great about saying that it's a tough thing for you and the baby to learn and get right -- even if everyone thinks it's "the most natural thing in the world." They were also right to say to get help -- from lactation consultants, other moms, and support groups.

When Seba was two days old, I remember holding him at 3 a.m. in the NICU and trying to get him to feed. He was hungry and not latching well. With the pillows, rocking chair, footstool, IV, wires, monitors, and everything else, I found that I was about three hands short of what I needed to position him properly. As my back and shoulders throbbed from contorting myself into a position that was supposed to work for feeding him, I wished for the many hands of Shiva. I looked down to see the few precious drops I was producing (my milk hadn't come in completely) rolling off of Seba's cheek and into my hospital gown. That was the first time I completely lost it while trying to feed him. The silent tears were profuse and my swollen eyes hurt almost as much as my C-section incision and tweaked back when I struggled back to my bed.

Over the next few days, we tried again and again and again and had a little better luck. I also pumped every two hours to help stimulate and establish my production, and that was yielding better results. Still, things weren't working as well as I had hoped. By the end of the week, Leo growled at the nurses who would bring us privacy screens any time I was breastfeeding Seba in the nursery because I "might want more privacy".

In spite of our plans and our efforts, Seba never latched well. It might have been that he was bottle-fed for that first week of his life because he was in the NICU. Or it might have been the damn brace he was in for his hip dysplasia for the first six months of his life. Or it might have been my letdown. Or it might have been something else.

Yes, we saw the lactation consultant three times a week for about six weeks.
Yes, we tried a supplemental nursing system.
Yes, my kind seamstress mother-(s)in-law made a custom nursing pillow to try and get Seba in the perfect position to nurse despite the hip brace. She also drove me to lactation appointments and even lent a hand whenever I needed it to get Seba into the proper position while nursing.
Yes, my baby screamed at me and cried whenever he was put to a breast -- he loved my milk from a bottle, by the way.
Yes, my breasts leaked horribly at the forceful letdown.
Yes, I took fenugreek and blessed thistle and all the recommended homeopathic herbs and foods to help my milk production remain high.
Yes, I felt like a failure for not being able to do something so "natural".
Yes, I cried as my milk production tapered to nothing after I took supplements and pumped with a hospital-grade pump every 2-4 hours AROUND THE CLOCK for nearly 4 months.
And, yes, I finally learned to stop measuring my motherhood in ounces.

So, yes. As I told my roommate, skipping the hardest, most frustrating experience of motherhood is not necessarily a bad thing.

Today, I will feed Seba the last 3 ounces of the freezer stash of breastmilk. I'm grateful to have been able to give him what I could, but hope that I don't have the same issues with our next child. Beyond the emotional component of breastfeeding, there was the sheer exhaustion borne of spending 25 minutes every 2-4 hours pumping, and 25 minutes every 2-3 hours bottlefeeding our son. Leo was amazing in the process and helped a great deal. Still, when I realize that I basically doubled my sleep deprivation/ feeding time by having to pump and to feed, it's no wonder that I was a zombie for the fourth trimester.

For those who are interested, here's my friend's post on the topic:
Some Perks of Not Breast Feeding
Sometimes smart, kind, well-meaning people say stupid and insensitive things.

As an example, about 6 months ago I was doing some house-related shopping. The charming (no sarcasm intended) sales lady asked, "do you have or plan to have children?" At which point I gave her a quick explanation of my parental status. No kids yet. I'm adopting. Could happen tomorrow or in five years. And, oh yes, I've pretty much always wanted to adopt at least one kid -- my friends from high school are in no way shocked by this decision -- so when I was diagnosed and told this meant I was not allowed to get pregnant and take some of my post-chemo meds (you take them for 5 years) adoption was an easy and obvious choice. And, no, I did not have any eggs frozen or even consider that. "But you might be able to get pregnant later? Because, you should experience breast feeding if you can. It's such a great bonding experience." No, I'm not kidding. She didn't just talk about the joys of pregnancy, she specifically identified the joys of breast feeding. One minor problem with that: I had a double mastectomy. The only thing coming out of these guys is saline.

Even in my post-breast-cancer days, I've heard many stories about why breast feeding is just the best experience ever and how it really cements maternal bonds. Though, a good friend called me one day to say, "in case you were wondering, I hate breast feeding and wouldn't do it if I could get away with it." This, of course, got me thinking about possible benefits of my particular situation. As usual, if anyone else wants to share thoughts, please do so. And, no, you don't need to tell me about why breast feeding is good. I am actually pretty familiar with all of that.

(1) There is no reason I have to be the one to always get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby. A baby is a very compelling reason to get out of bed, and certainly I plan to take on my fair share of 3 a.m. feedings. But, I'll have less moments of mild resentment while I look over at my sleeping husband than the average new mommy.
(2) Speaking of this, along the lines of feeding=bonding, my husband will be seen as equally able of meeting essential needs in the eyes of our little one (who has no concept of $$$), and will get equal bonding opportunity. My husband is pretty nifty. I don't mind sharing with him. He deserves equal adoration.
(3) No need to pump, find a place to pump, find a place to store pumped milk, etc.
(4) No milk leaking onto my dry clean only work wardrobe. Also, no need to worry about leaking in front of a client, judge, boss, etc.

P.S. The woman carrying the baby in the cute little onesie at a breast cancer awareness march that says "I'm a breast man," probably didn't have a mastectomy.