Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Breastfeeding and Heartbreak

This may end up being one of my hardest posts to write, but I need to get it all out, I think.  If you're a man and breastfeeding, nipples or breasts, when used to feed children, weird you out you're going to want to skip this post too. ;)  I have a feeling this may get incredibly long..sorry about that!

When I had Chloe I was pretty set on breastfeeding.  I will admit that I was extremely naive and had very little education on what it took to breastfeed (physically, emotionally, logistically, etc).  Justin and I took a breastfeeding class at the hospital so I knew the basic holds, but that was honestly about all I walked away knowing.  In the hospital Chloe latched on great and things seemed to be going really well.  The lactation consultant (LC) took a little time with us (very little), said things looked pretty good and we went home thinking this was going to work out.  My milk had not come in by the first night we came home (which is completely normal) and in the middle of the night Chloe woke up screaming her head off and would not go back to sleep.  I called my mom crying and asking what in the world I should do.  She told me give her a little formula and get some rest. I gave her formula and she slept peacefully the rest of the night.  I will not was awesome.  I continued to try to breastfeed her, but my nipples became extremely sore and so I decided I would just pump.  I did that for a few days, getting very little milk, and then just gave up.  Unfortunately after making the decision, she started not tolerating the formula we had and so we ended up going through about 8 million brands/types of formula (okay, probably not that many, but it felt like it) before we settled on soy.  Once we figured out the type of formula that worked best for her life was good.  She was taking the formula, sleeping well, and we were all doing great as a family.  At the time, I never really thought twice about any of it.

Fast forward to my start in birth work and my thoughts on breastfeeding/formula feeding changed quite a bit.  I became much more educated on the many benefits of breastfeeding and knew I would breastfeed the rest of my children.

All throughout Lydia's pregnancy one of the things I looked forward to most was being able to breastfeed her.  I daydreamed all the time about us having that special relationship and me being able to give her the best start to life.  ALL of my friends breastfeed and they were a great encouragement that I could do it through their success and also just talking to them.  Weekly I told my midwife I was prepared this time and knew we could do it.

Like I said in her birth story, when Lydia was born she latched on quickly and easily.  Girlfriend knew what she was doing.  Unfortunately, she was also a vacuum of the dyson variety and drew blood during her very first feeding.  While I was a little worried, in my naive (again) mind I thought for sure it would heal quickly and we'd be on our way.  Unfortunately, it didn't.  My nipples were a disaster within the first 2 days of her life.  I knew that in the first couple of weeks the inital latch could be brutal (like curl your toes and let out a yelp it hurt so bad).  We were definitely dealing with that, but my nipples were so damaged that the entire feeding was painful.  I called an in-home LC to come over and check Lydia's latch/assess the situation.  She told me that the latch was great, she was just had a very strong suck.  We had other issues that arose (thrush, Reynaud's, etc) that made the pain worse than it already was.  I tried a million different things to help heal my nipples (a prescription cream, lanolin, vinegar washes, grapefruit seed extract, airing out my nipples, not airing out my nipples, pumping, using a nipple shield...and on and on and on).

It was exhausting.  Newborns want to eat ALL time.  I would cringe when I heard her crying because I knew she wanted to eat again.  I didn't want to really be anywhere near her during the times she wasn't nursing.  It was hard for me to look at her without feeling completely disconnected and bitter. And I cried. A LOT.  In fact, I cried more than I didn't cry.  There were times I would stand in front of the mirror and tell myself that I needed to get it together.  I felt like I was in some deep dark hole and there was no end in sight.  I called/texted/talked to/ (mostly) cried to all my breastfeeding friends and mom and other doulas and they continued to encourage me.  But I just was not myself.  My mom told me several times that she was worried about me.  My friends could see I was not myself.  Like I said, it was like I was in a hole and couldn't get out -- I was lonely and scared and tired and disconnected and it was a really scary place to be.

Justin was amazing through the entire time!!  He was so encouraging and would tell me I was doing an amazing job and never once said the world formula although I'm sure he wanted to.  Another thing that was so hard was that Chloe was hurting through this whole thing as well.  She would cry when I cried, she would ask me if I was okay all the time, she made a picture that said "breastfeeding is bad" (lol), and she really started to resent her sister.

I finally spoke with my doula, Kay, on the phone one day and she could tell I was a complete mess.  I cried the entire time on the phone and just poured my heart out to her about how detached I was, about all the guilt I was feeling, etc. etc.  and she encouraged me so much.  She let me know that it's okay to make decisions for our family based on what we feel and know is best vs. what everyone else in the world thinks.  She reassured me that I was a good mom and had given Lydia an amazing start no matter what the outcome of our breastfeeding relationship became.  She allowed me to process through a lot of the feelings/guilt/emotions I was dealing with.  She gave me some more ideas to try to help things get better and when I hung up with her I felt a little more confident as a mom, which is what I needed so badly.

Things didn't get better.  They continued to get worse, actually, and when Lydia was 3 1/2 weeks old (and I had fed her about 250 excruciating times) we switched her over to formula.  It was a decision that Justin and I talked and prayed about for several hours...weighing the pros and cons.  Ultimately we decided that for our family, at that time, formula was the best choice.  I can not even tell you the weight that was lifted off my shoulders when we made that decision.  I have never been through a time in my life where I actually could almost tangibly FEEL peace.

The entire time I breastfed Lydia my milk supply was awesome and she did amazingly well.  She gained weight quickly and was getting more than enough milk.  Because of that, our decision to switch her to formula caused me a lot of guilt.  I felt very selfish, as if my pain and depression was not enough reason for us to switch her.  Maybe some people think I am selfish.  At this point it really doesn't matter.  You see, sometimes life doesn't go exactly how I planned -- in fact, that's kind of the story of my life in regards to my children -- and I have to rely on the fact that 1) I serve a God who loves me no matter what and 2) I love my children more than anything and am doing the very best I can as a mom to my two precious girls.  If that's not enough for someone else looking in on our lives, then too bad.

While switching to formula was absolutely the best choice for our family, the pain that came from those outside our family was almost unbearable.  I felt incredibly judged by some, whether it was perceived or real.  The first 2 weeks of feeding Lydia formula were extremely lonely -- not as a mom (which was the case before), but as a friend and a woman.  I started to question almost every decision I've made as a mom. I'm not sure the pain of that will ever completely go away and tears roll down my cheeks just putting myself back in that place as I type this.  My heart was broken. If there is one thing I have learned from this experience it's that we should rally around each other as women and support those other mommas we love because we know they're doing the best they can.

Today, 3 months later, Lydia is doing fantastic and I still feel like formula was the best decision for us in that moment.  Do I mourn the loss of that breastfeeding relationship? Absolutely!  Do I wish things had gone differently? Of course! Do I feel like my child is loved any less or not as well taken care of? Not one bit. Will I try my freaking hardest to breastfeed any future children we have? You better believe it! 



KT said...

I hated breast feeding and felt guilty that I didn't love it bcz weren't we told it was a time to bond? Phooey. I felt like I was always attached to something and leaking. I pumped and did all kinds of stuff. I didn't last as long as some, and lasted longer than others. And switching when i did both times made me feel both relieved and guilty at the same time. You have to do what's best for your family as a whole. You are doing great.


MissMolly said...

Oh, Ashleigh, this broke my heart! I knew you had a hard time but I probably didn't realize just how difficult it really was for you. One of my biggest fears is that we will struggle with breastfeeding or that it may not work. Thanks for sharing!

ERICA said...

Ash- this was so well written. With such real, honest feelings, and I KNOW this was not easy for you to write (though I'm sure therapeutic) and I'm SO extremely proud you got it all out and shared your heart with us. I love you, and YOU ABSOLUTELY are such an incredible mom. I'm so blessed to have you to ask questions and always know I will get the HONEST truth. :)

The Worley's said...

Thanks for writing all of this!I loved reading it all! and I love you soooooo much! you rock! :)

Momma Sara said...

this truly makes me hurt inside. Honestly I have to apologize I know I have judged others mommys too and you are right we should rally around them and support them as we all continue to parent and learn. thank you for sharing I know it must of been hard and keep up the great work!