A month before my son was born, I chatted with friends about when I would be returning to work. Since I was an “older mom” and this might be my only child, I wanted to stay home as long as possible and enjoy it. My husband and I had made the decision to live on one income, and, since we both made pretty much the same yearly salary, this literally would chop our household income in half.
No problem. We had paid off both cars and all of our student loans and cancelled cable. It would be lean living for a while, paycheck to paycheck, but it would only be for a year or two. And the only expense the baby would bring in the beginning would be about $40 a month in diapers, because…
I was going to breast-feed.
This was part of the plan, and I had no doubts that I would make it work. As I talked to my friends, many of whom had been unable to breast-feed for various reasons, I shrugged and played it all nonchalant, “I’ll try. If it doesn’t work, we’ll do formula.”
But secretly, I was thinking, “Hell, no. I am totally going to make this work. It’s the food nature intended for my baby. It’s the best thing for him. It gives him his immunity. And it’s free!”
Where, oh where did I get such confidence, such certainty, that something I knew absolutely nothing about and never had done before would be a sure bet for me? Two things: my genes and my boobs. My mom had breast-fed six children, so genetics was totally on my side. And now late in my pregnancy, I was proudly sporting double D’s, thank you very much. I was a walking milk factory! How could I possibly fail?
Sometime during my pregnancy on one of my many visits to the Barnes and Noble “Parenting” section, I overheard a conversation between two women on the other side of the bookshelf. Now I use the term “overheard” loosely, because one woman was talking at a much louder volume than was necessary in the quiet bookstore, clearly intending for the pregnant lady in the next aisle (me) to benefit from her wisdom. She was extolling the virtues of breast-feeding to her friend. She was insistent, even militant in her beliefs. “Women just give up too quick. Get a good lactation coach, and you’ll be all set.”
See? That’s all. Lactation coach. Maybe those women who couldn’t breast-feed just hadn’t tried hard enough.
Oh man, I can feel the collective stink-eye of all my friends (and maybe some strangers) even as I type this. But you totally know where this is going, so you can take some satisfaction in the fact that I will be getting my comeuppance.
While I was recovering from my c-section, my son was being cared for in the NICU where they, of course, were feeding him formula. He needed fluids to help with some of the health problems he was having, so they obviously weren’t going to wait for me to feed him. Two things about this bothered me: I had read that once a baby is started on a bottle, it was extremely difficult to go back to the breast. I also read that it could take several days for your milk to “come in” after a c-section.
Damn it! I had to make this work! I met with the hospital lactation coach, and we came up with a plan. I would go to the NICU every three hours, give my son practice with the proper “latching on” technique, feed him his formula at the same time through a small syringe in the corner of his mouth, then go into a room adjacent to the NICU and pump – 15 minutes on one side, 15 minutes on the other.
When my boy latched on and found no milk, he was PISSED. He also wasn’t fooled for a second by the syringe in the corner of the mouth and would immediately turn his head and suck on the syringe instead. We tried this for several days, but each time just ended up feeding him a bottle of formula anyway.
Another problem arose when it appeared that my son was allergic to something, although they weren’t sure if it was the formula or the little bit of my milk he was getting. They switched him from one formula to another until they settled on the most hypoallergenic formula available. I was told to pump and freeze my milk until they figured out what the problem was.
On top of all that, pumping was not going well. I couldn’t believe it – the double D’s were not producing enough milk!
Despite it all, I still worked at it. Every three hours my husband and I made the 10 minute walk from the hospital guest suite to the NICU, spent 30 minutes feeding and holding our son, then 30 minutes pumping, then 10 minutes washing and drying the equipment, and then we made the trek back to the guest room where I would fall into a short, fitful sleep. I…was…exhausted.
I tried to keep this routine up when we went home two weeks later, but I often chose sleeping over pumping. The lactation nurse who came to the house warned me that I had to keep the 3 hour pumping schedule in order to produce enough milk to switch back from the formula he was on (which, by the way, was the MOST EXPENSIVE on the market, at $27 per canister). But when the nurse returned the following week, I tearfully told her that I just didn’t think I could keep it up. Maybe she felt I was wasting her time, because her response was a curt, “Then just let your milk dry up.”
It was like a punch in the gut.
That night, my husband came home from work, took one look at his weary, miserable wife and said what was probably the best thing he could have said to me at that moment, “Honey, it’s time to let it go.” The next day, he packed up the rented pumping equipment and returned it to Babies-R-Us.
And you know what? I was fine. My baby was fine. Our budget was blown, but my mom came to our rescue many times (especially when my son was going through 2 ½ canisters of formula a week).
And now, with the utmost respect, I must say how much I admire my friends who breast-fed their babies (and my mom, who did it six times and made it look easy). It takes a huge commitment, as well as a selfless sacrifice of time and energy. And given how many of us have tried and been less than successful, it is truly a beautiful and special thing.
But what I respect even more about my friends is how they never made me feel bad at play-dates and get-togethers when I heated up my bottle of formula and they nursed. We laughed and shared stories, and we fed our babies in whatever way worked best for each of us.
I wonder if my alter ego in Universe A, who undoubtedly was successful with her attempts at breastfeeding, would be so gracious. Considering my attitude before my son’s birth and without the experiences to know any better, she might have ended up like the bookstore lady – talking a bit too loud to be sure everyone would benefit from her breast-feeding expertise. Knowing my friends, though, they would probably just smile and nod…maybe roll their eyes just a little, and love her anyway.