Monday, March 8, 2010

From victim to victory, Jennifer's story

We hear it so often.  "I just couldn't breastfeed".  If you're a lactivist like me, you may find yourself wondering what their definition of "couldn't" is.  There are a small percentage of women that are literally incapable of breastfeeding, but if one were to look at online forums, stories, Yahoo Answers, or even the women in their real-world circle, it could easily be concluded that the vast majority of women are born with defective breasts.  The excuses given are vast, and I'm sure you've seen/heard them all too.

Something is indeed defective in this world, but it is not the breasts of all womankind!  

I don't bring this up to hurt those who truly could not breastfeed, or those who failed due to overwhelming circumstances and a lack of support.  I say this to point out that lack of support in this world, and encourage others to speak up, reach out, and help in any way that you can.  I say this to beg others to be HONEST about their reasons for not breastfeeding.  When someone really didn't put their heart into breastfeeding, it does everyone a disservice to say "I could not breastfeed".  

If a woman hears other women in her life repeating this over and over, she could believe that all breastfeeding is difficult, and only a lucky few are able to do it.  She could feel doomed to fail before she's even had a chance to try.  Then when she runs in to even the smallest problem, she may think "I guess I'm just like everyone else, and I can't do it".  She may even have this view reinforced by a doctor who knows squat about breastfeeding and hands out free formula samples as a "fix-all".  Instead of persevering through what may just be a normal part of breastfeeding, or a resolvable problem, she gives up and then starts telling everyone "I could not breastfeed".  The cycle continues.  

I would like other mothers to have more faith in themselves and their babies.  We may live in a society that expects us to fail, but we do not have to prove them right!  I'd like to share some stories with you, of women who have overcome various breastfeeding difficulties.  Keep in mind that these stories are the exception, not the rule when it comes to what is "normal" with breastfeeding.  My desire is to show you that even in extreme circumstances, victories can be won.  We don't all have to lay down and accept "I couldn't breastfeed" as our mantra.  We don't have to harm other women and babies by perpetuating the myth that breastfeeding is hard and agonizing for everyone.  If you chose not to breastfeed, please be honest.  If you had some trouble, and gave up without trying everything, please be honest.  If you truly could not breastfeed, please feel free to be honest about that, but make sure the impressionable women around you are aware that your situation was not "the norm".  We must encourage others to succeed, even if we couldn't/didn't.  We must build our fellow mothers up, instead of tearing them down and dooming them to fail just so we don't feel alone in our own failures.  We must offer the encouragement and support that our society and medical industry fail to provide.  Breastfeeding is undermined at every turn, and we don't have to go along for the ride.   

I hope that when you read this blog series, you don't think "That sounds awful", but rather realize "Hey, if she can do it, I can do it!"  Jennifer's story below is the first of several, and I hope you enjoy and stay tuned for more in the future!

"I slept restlessly throughout the night. The pain kicked in around 4 am, and I lay awake obsessing over how things had not gone the way I had imagined they would. I was angry at my body for not cooperating, I was angry at my husband for not helping as much as I wished he had, and I angry that the last time I had felt in control of anything was in the car on the way to the hospital. I stewed silently, and vowed that today would be different.

Morning came. The lactation consultant came. Once again, our attempt at nursing ended in failure. Jacob had no interest in even latching on, let alone sucking. The LC was gruff, pulling me in all different directions, pushing Jacob’s head all around, yelling at him more than encouraging him, as she was saying, “C’mon, you can do it…latch on! Latch on!” I was tense. Why wouldn’t he latch on? What was wrong with me? The LC sighed a heavy sigh. “Oh well,” she said. “Let’s just give him a bottle for now, and we’ll try again later.” She seemed to think that was the right thing to do, and was, after all, the expert. I had proved to be nothing more than a failure over the past 24 hours. I watched sadly as Jacob lazily slurped at a bottle of formula, sickened with myself. I still did not have any of the control I vowed would overcome me.

By the time we were sent home, Jacob still hadn’t successfully nursed. I left with one small bag of breastfeeding items, one large bag of formula products, and still, zero control.

When we got home, I started pumping my milk. Jacob was taking bottles alright but still would not latch on me. I pumped my heart out for a week.

On the advice of his pediatrician, I stopped giving Jacob bottles. “Babies won’t starve themselves,” he said. “He will figure out what he needs to do.” He wanted me to return in 3 days to check our progress.

For 3 days Jacob and I cried and screamed, out of exhaustion, frustration, and hunger. I was trying desperately to gain some control. Everyone I knew, my husband included, tried to help and urged me to just give up. I still tried.

At our check up, the pediatrician looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Your baby is on his way to leaving this earth. I don’t care what you give him; you need to feed this child!” I started bawling. What happened to “babies won’t starve themselves”? Throughout those rough 3 days I had a sickening feeling that I was not doing the right thing, but I trusted the pediatrician’s original words. Now I was being told I was killing my child.

I went home and prepared a bottle of pumped milk. It was obvious Jacob was starving. For the next week I continued pumping and bottle feeding, and still trying to get him to latch on to me.
Once things were relatively back to normal, I decided to look further into the small bag I received from the hospital. It included a nipple shield. I decided to give it a try. It took a couple of feedings, but Jacob finally got the hang of it. Slowly, I was regaining my control. I would not “give in”. I had lacked control in every situation up until this point, and was bound and determined to reclaim it, with or without support.

Jacob was properly breastfeeding, without the shield, somewhere between 5 and 6 weeks of age. I cried tears of joy the first time he nursed entirely without it. I hugged him tightly to me. I let him nurse as long as he wanted, as often as he wanted. I decided there and then that we would continue our nursing relationship as long as he wanted, no matter what. We had worked too hard to get to this point and we were not going to turn back. Nothing could come between us now. No one could take that away. I had finally gotten the control I so desperately wanted, and in turn, gladly relinquished it to my son."

Jennifer Carter


Becks said...

"When someone really didn't put their heart into breastfeeding, it does everyone a disservice to say "I could not breastfeed". "
This really resonated with me. When we as parents make conscious choices in the way we raise our children, we need to OWN them. We need to stop the judging of others and raising our defences and just own our choices. If you are truly at peace with formula feeding, then why not just change that one letter - from "I could not breastfeed" to "I would not breastfeed". You're right, there is a big difference, especially since there are women who want to and truly can't. The way I see it, if you're truly doing it in the best interests of your child then you should be able to own it. Just my 2 cents.

Christian mamma of 2 said...

thanks for posting that story... I so wanted to breastfeed my babies, but was not able to.. I hate to say that, cause physically i am sure i was able to.. but i was young and didn't have support. my son was born 8 weeks early and was very small and had not yet developed the sucking urge, nor the suck swallow breathe reflex as well.. I tried and tried and couldn't get him to latch on.. I did work with the lactation specialist at the hospital and tried several techniques, but he just wouldn't latch on.. it didn't help that he was in the nicu so i couldn't feed him on demand.. and when i was home, i pumped and brought milk to the hospital, but without the baby there i often forgot to pump, or would be away from home trying to get last minute things done and was worried my milk would dry up.. I only wish i had someone to tell me to hang in there, not to worry, that my milk wouldn't go away and i could keep trying.. but i didn't have that kind of support.. my son's father and his family were not ones to nurse, and my mom didn't nurse either.. the nurses at the nicu weren't very encouraging either so i ended up giving up and switching to formula.. it wasn't til way after i quit, that one of the nurses informed me.. "if you would have just pumped at least once a day, you wouldn't have lost your milk supply, and could have continuted to work with him and it would get easier as he got older and more developed" where was that advice when i was still nursing or trying to anyways.. how come nobody took the time to say those things to me when i needed to hear it?? its really frustrating... my youngest was adopted and i didn't have the option to nurse...and was really sad about that too...

barefootbeauty said...

You go, Jennifer! What amazing determination. I hope that I can be so persevering should I run into such difficulties.

Anonymous said...

I ended up with a severe spinal headache and blood patch that required morphine when my son was 4 days old. He nursed like a champ from the moment he was born up until then (he was 9.8 lbs - he nursed ALL THE TIME). But then after getting formula for just ONE day at the hospital when I was down and out, he would not latch. I pumped for a week and gave him bottles and finally got some great advice and support from my SIL and her mother who were avid BFers. They told me that he would know that I could put some breastmilk on my nipples and he would begin if I just stopped giving him bottles. I did just that... for two days it was a battle but finally he did latch and 9 months later we are still doing awesome! He nurses A LOT! Someone even told me later on (a doctor) that morphine has a short half-life and I could have nursed my baby within an hour of having it (depending on the amount). I am so happy that I had someone there to help me understand that I could do this and giving me encouragement and support to believe in myself and my son. I still have to tell myself that I am enough for him and I still get people who tell me that I should stop nursing and that my son is ready to stop nursing. Recently my son was biting my nipples (because I had given him a sippie cup). I have a fantastic doctor who helped us get back on track with what to feed and/or give my son to drink and who told me that if I give him any other liquids, I am starting the weaning process. I don't want him to wean... I really want to give him this awesome mother nature liquid that science cannot recreate or imitate and no other food or drink can measure up to as long as I can! Why wouldn't I? So many women are so mis-informed... even ones who do breastfeed don't continue as they should because of outside pressures. I am a huge fan of baby led weaning. It is so natural... I hope my story helps someone today!

Camille said...

This is beautiful! Thank you for doing the right thing!

Anonymous said...

I have no idea why but this post brought tears to my eyes. Maybe because I was not support either, and fought to still nurse, or maybe it's still hearing the myths even after close to 3 years. Mainly I think because the beginning is what I feel is truth. We all need to be honest with ourselves and say the true meaning of why we chose things.

When I personally hear "I could not breastfeed" I get mad, not at the mother but because I hear "I was not supported" or "I failed".

dinnae said...

awesome story. :)

with my first, he had a very hard time latching, and at 3 weeks, with blistered and bleeding nipples i had researched about shields and got my hubby to go get me some. they were my saving grace. the recommendation on the package was to ONLY USE FOR A MAX of 3 weeks.... but my maternal health nurse said "sweetie, if he's nursing, and that's what he needs to get your milk, who CARES how long he needs them for???"

that kind of support and comment was so awesome! and how sad is it that no one had pointed out to me, OR TO JENNIFER, the tool of shields???

education is KEY.

Mommy2Monster said...

i have always been pro-breast milk for as long as i can remember. the way i see it, we live in an artificial world, if i want to bring my child up healthy, i cant feed them artificial food from the beginning. my breasts made milk for a reason.
when i had my daughter, all i had were problems. she would latch, but she wouldnt latch properly and i was always in pain. my nipples became raw, and bled into the breast pump. i had to throw out several pink batches of milk. i admit, i used formula a couple of times but was unhappy. it made her poop stink and her spit up stained everything. i knew this wasnt the way things were supposed to be. so i tried and tried and succeeded! i will never use formula again. breast is the best!

Momioso said...

I think so much of the failure of women to breastfeed hinges on the facts that a) they never see anyone do it, b) they don't know where to go for help, and c) they have to work. I only bf my first baby for 6 mo, and at that, only part time. I failed to nurse more/longer because I worked and hated pumping - but really and truly - because I simply didn't have the motivation to do so.. I didn't get how important it was, how amazing it would be to bond that way. I truly thought that formula was just as good as nursing. Insanity, I know. Sigh.

Mandi said...

One hears a lot of the "My mother couldn't breastfeed so I can't probably either"... It's crazy how many people believe that formula is just as good!! And if you mention that breast milk is the best thing, everyone hushes you so mothers wouldn't feel guilty about bottle feeding their babies. Even though that is just a fact.

Anyway, here's a story how I got my milk supply back after a stomach flu and dehydration:

It is possible!

Moorsmama said...

Wow Jennifer, thanks so much for sharing your story. What really gets me is how the so-called experts (LC and ped.) were of no help whatsoever and created such a terrible situation for you and your baby. With 'helpers' like these, now wonder women 'can't' breastfeed. Jennifer, you have my admiration and respect - well done!

Olivia said...

Thank you so much for saying this. It pains me everytime I hear "I couldn't breastfeed" or "My baby self-weaned at 7 months" (what?)

I struggle with how to talk to these mothers. If they are done having children, is there a point? If she is planning to have more, how can I talk to her about potential solutions or misinformation she had without upsetting her?

I think it's important for women to know about potential problems, but sometimes when women share it can sound like war stories. When I go to LLL meetings, after expectant mothers are told of all the bad/difficult things that can happen, I like to tell them that often none of those bad things happen so they don't end up being scared to death.

Ashley said...

I also encountered many problems in breastfeeding. My son had a short tongue and I was told to cut it but I didn't so for 2 weeks I struggled to latch him on properly. He eventually worked his tongue out on his own and everything was good. At 4 months he developed an extreme rash. At 5 months I found out he is allergic to chicken, milk, eggs and peanuts. Very allergic. I cut it all out of my diet. Great weight-loss. I became selfish at 10 months though and started to resent my diet. I quit breastfeeding. I miss it so much but I am so proud of myself for going for 10 months when everyone told me I couldn't even make it a week. (my only support was my partner. HE WAS AMAZING through it all)But my problems are not even close to the norm. Its rare for a child to be allergic to so much so young. I mean he is actually allergic, not sensitive. Most babies are sensitive to the cows milk protein in the mothers milk and that just means the mother has to drink less cows milk. If you do end up with a child who is allergic to certain foods and you want to breastfeed, dont let anyone tell you its impossible. Its totally possible and breastfeeding a child with allergies actually gives the child a great chance to grow out of the allergy. I think I will write a blog about breastfeeding a child with food allergies now lol

Thinkbirth said...

Thanks so much for sharing Jennifer's story. Her story is certainly inspirational and one of astonishing personal triumph. The odds she struggled through are stunning in that they were so practitioner generated - iatrogenic. I want everyone to know that in no way was that 'lactation' consultant behaving as one - pulling and pushing the baby around like that is NOT what LC's do when they know what they are doing. In some ways, the Paed's advice was somewhat on the right track, but totally useless when the support and facilitation strategies weren't accompanying his 'advice'. Good grief!! The distress Jennifer and her baby went through those days were totally practitioner initiated. I'm so sorry Jennifer on behalf of all of us health care practitioners that you suffered so much from our 'interventions'.

Good on you for succeeding in spite of us. You are truly awesome.

Jamie said...

I didn't have an easy go with breastfeeding either of my children. Conner wouldn't latch, but on the last day of our hospital stay, a LC finally gave me a nipple shield. Just like Jennifer, it worked!!! I eventually got him to just the breast, and fed through blisters, and all kinds of fun stuff. He was breastfed 3 years, and I am so thankful I kept trying. Madi has spina bifid and hydrocephalus and needed a major surgery just a day after birth. I stayed with her, day and night, in the NICU and fought to nurse her. Her neurosurgeon helped me fight, and just two hours after closing her back and putting in a shunt, she was in my arms and nursing! She's been nursing a year and going strong!

I have a hard time when someone says that they couldn't nurse. I went through heck to nurse my kiddos. I feel so very sorry for those who REALLY cannot nurse, and am saddened by the lack of support for the rest.

Kim said...

Well done Jennifer! You brought me to tears as we had a similar situation but started the shield at 3 days pp. That shield is what saved us from any early bottles or formula, it took us 4 long months to get rid of it. I forgot all of the pain and frustration I felt at the time. I felt as if I was a failure because I had to use some artificial thing on my nipple to get her to nurse properly. It was supposed to be natural, why couldn't I do it, etc etc. My child still nurses at nearly two now.

Anonymous said...

I fortunately didn't have any problems with breast feeding my baby - but if I had of, I knew that I had lots of support as 2 of my friends are lactation consultants and my mother and husband are both proBF. When I read stories like these I cry. They are tears of sadness; that some mothers don't/won't try or don't have support, and they are tears of joy; that there are such wonderful women (and men) out there who persist and give support, sometimes against the odds to get things back on track. I have never really had a passion in life, I have started to study many things, but never finish because I loose interest and passion, however after having my first baby and getting into the breastfeeding 'circles' I have found what I want to do in life. Being a mum is great, but helping others become great mums too can be even better. I am a studying to become a BF councilor with the goal to eventually become a ILC. Support is the key, even the strongest of people need someone to fall back on sometimes. Even if you do not experience problems, it is so reassuring to know that, if you do, there is someone there to hold our hand if you need them. And to also know, that our bodies, and our babies are amazing - together we can do anything!!! Thank you all so much for sharing your stories, if just one person is helped by you making your experience public than you are an honest to god life saver! Congratulation!

transplanted tia said...

This is such a wonderfully written piece! Thank you for not pushing the idea that we "can't do it" or that it has to, in the end be a case of martyrdom to be suffered through. Breastfeeding is miraculous and all women deserve to be enlightened about what their bodies are capable of without being given either the impression that only a lucky few can do it or that everyone can if only they are willing to endure agony.

If breastfeeding was the only way possible to feed our children more effort would be put into making it a healthy relationship between mother and child for each and every nursing pair. For those few who absolutely are not capable, our then more compassionate society would abound with women willing to feed the babies. When my milk did not come in right away after the premature birth of my second child my sister took a great deal of stress out of the situation for me by letting me know she would feed my baby her milk until I could. In my family breast feeding is the only option though, from a cultural standpoint.

~Ashley~ said...

I can relate to some of this ....

My first was a battle. I know he would have been put on formula if we'd been in a hospital at first. My milk took like, 4 days to come in and the child was sooooo hungry.

Then I nursed him for 15mo.

My second son was born 5w early, and was small. We took him to the NICU, just in case. What a NIGHTMARE!!!! He was a small, but healthy baby boy. No breathing problems, NOTHING.

We were not allowed to hold him at first, and no one believed my husband that he had a strong sucking reflex! They tubed him formula for 3 days before I brought my milk in EN MASSE with the hospital pumps cranked to full speed.

He always seemed hungry, but they fed him "by this weight", every 4 hours. When we took him home, he DOUBLED that amount and kept eating every 4 hours!!!!

They also fed him with "slow-flow" nipples because he was so small - just over 4 lbs. His sucking reflex was SO STRONG he would crush those nipples and they would tube him again because he didn't eat fast enough. :X Finally, it took my husband and I staying around the shifts, watching to make sure they got the right nipples on the bottles, because one nurse could feed him, the next couldn't and we knew he ate like a champ!

We took him home at 12 days. I tried to nurse there twice, once sucessfully, once was bad with a counsultant barging in, grabbing a hold of me and giving me advice without even saying "hello". I *knew* at that point my milk would never let down. I had to read a magazine pumping or I wouldn't let down. It was dreadful, the pressure in the NICU to perform. :(

I had a nurse tell me they didn't have enough milk for him, they needed more. O.o I didn't know how that was possible, but pumped even more. When we left after 12 days, they gave me half a brown sack full of little containers of milk - the nurse said I never should have been told that, because I had always supplied plenty. I had like, a gallon of milk. I ended up throwing it away, because I didn't know what else to do with it - big regrets about that now!!!!

I got him home, we fed him with a bottle for 2 days, used a nipple shield for 2.5 weeks, and then I kept forgetting the shield so he went directly to me.

EVERYONE said there was no way I could nurse him because he had 2 full, bottle fed weeks.

It is all about perseverance!!! Great story. :)

(Oh, and my 3rd, my daughter, was shockingly easy to latch on. It was finally what I expected and didn't think at that point was possible.)

Mama Podkayne said...

Nipple shields worked for me too, just as with Jennifer. Whne I had my second child the LC discouraged it and once we got home and my initial milk burst was slowing down (I was squirting milk into my daughter's mouth) I knew I needed a shield again. Same thing, used it until 6 weeks.

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