In my mind before having a child, I had always envisioned myself breastfeeding. I had a picture of myself sitting in our rocker with my son to my breast and me looking down blissfully at this beautiful boy I created. I figured that I would feel a deep sense of satisfaction with myself because I was giving him the best thing I could give him-my milk.
In my last trimester, I had dinner with a good friend who had a child of her own. We somehow got on the subject of breastfeeding and she was sharing with me her own personal experience with it. Her child would not latch on, she was having postpartum depression, and she was sore, basically she was miserable. She told me that she decided to stop breastfeeding and that she and her daughter were much happier now. She leaned over and said to me, “Breastfeeding is not for everyone…” I thanked her for the information, but in my head I was still carrying around this beautiful image of Ethan and I sharing this special bonding moment together.
Two weeks before I had Ethan my husband lost his job. I had thought that we would quickly recover from this and he would find another great job without a lapse in pay. I couldn’t imagine him not working or being able to find a job, but that is exactly what happened for almost an entire year before he got his next job.
Being sick with worry over my husband’s job loss coupled with the extreme heat of the hot July sun, my son arrived into the world two weeks earlier than was expected. Ethan came so quickly into the world that the doctor jokingly offered to teach my husband how to do a home delivery for the next baby. Ethan was perfect in every way and I immediately put him to my breast as though this was the most natural thing a mother could do. My milk had not come in yet, but the nurses encouraged me to have him breastfeed because it would help stimulate my milk supply.
In the morning, the nurse brought Ethan to me so that I could feed him. I was holding him rather awkwardly in my arms and trying to get him in just the right position so that he would be able to feed. The nurse suggested that I hold him “football style” because she thought it would be good to teach me a few different ways I could hold him. I am a very private person and having someone hovering over me and moving my breast made me nervous and more anxious then I had been before. The football position was more awkward for me and immediately after she left, I returned to holding him the way that was most comfortable for me and only then could I relax enough to actually feed Ethan.
When we brought our son home, I thought that I couldn’t have been more tired, but I was wrong. Ethan nursed with a passion and so frequently that I felt that I had nothing in my own body to nourish myself. He nursed for a half hour and then I would lay him down in his bed where he would proceed to scream his little head off and curl his entire body up in a ball. Twenty minutes later, I was feeding him again for another half hour and this routine proceeded through the entire night and the days of the first six weeks of his birth. I told my husband that I wasn’t even going to wear a shirt because I didn’t see any point in it. I was a human milk truck and every single time I got my shirt buttoned, my child was ready to feed again minutes later. He was colicky and extremely unhappy and his skin was broke out in a terrible rash.
After the first week, I brought him into the doctor and explained that I thought something was wrong. The doctor disagreed and said that his rash was typical of a newborn and that he would “grow out” of the colicky stage within the next three months. THREE MONTHS? THREE MONTHS? I wanted to sit down and bawl right along with Ethan.
Those first few weeks were extremely hard on us. I was sore and uncomfortable and with him feeding so frequently, there were few places that I could go to where I could feed him in private. The only place we went to was the mall. I remember sitting in the rest room as the door swung wide open and people walked through to use the restroom. At that moment I felt a great sense of embarrassment. Not because I was embarrassed that I was feeding my son, but because I was having trouble being discrete and also having trouble letting my milk down with such an audience. Ethan was screaming at me because no milk was coming out and I was near tears because he was in tears. Not exactly the blissful picture that I had created in my mind.
Encouraged by a talk with my mother, I decided to contact a Le Leche consultant on what the problem could be and she asked me what I had been eating. She said the very best thing I could do was to eliminate everything from my diet except for bread and water and gradually add things back into my diet to figure out what he was allergic to. Emotionally and physically drained, I decided to give this a try and see if it could help. I did this for about a week and my son was still screaming and crying at me. At a loss, I contacted the consultant again and she reassured me that I was doing the best thing I could do for my baby, but some foods (like dairy) take three weeks to fully get out of your system so that may have been partly to blame on why he was so colicky. THREE WEEKS? THREE WEEKS? Three weeks of bread and water and again, I sat down and bawled right along with Ethan. I felt such a sense of desperation and I knew that three weeks of this was three weeks longer than I could handle.
In the sixth week of his life, my parents came to visit us and to help me take care of the baby. My mom and dad sandwiched Ethan between them and looked down at him as he hollered with his rash-covered face and that is when my mother suggested formula. As soon as she said the word, I almost rejoiced. It was as though someone was giving me permission and telling me that I was not a bad mother just because I wanted to bottle-feed. I could not open a can of formula fast enough.
That day we started Ethan on soy formula and within one day his face had practically cleared up, he slept without being curled up in a ball, and I could rest. We brought him in for his six week check-up and I shared with the doctor the remarkable improvement we had seen with Ethan being on the formula. Only then, did the doctor disclose that some children do have an allergy to milk proteins. At that point, no explanation was needed because I had made peace with my decision to not breastfeed.
We are hoping to have another child in the near future and I am still planning to try again with breastfeeding. Just because this experience was not a positive one for us, does not mean that the next one will be as difficult. I do admit, however, that I am more open to bottle-feeding and that I am more realistic about my expectations of breastfeeding. It is hard, you are sore, and it is a big commitment, but it can be a wonderful experience for both the mother and the child. But just as my friend shared with me, I am sharing with you, breastfeeding just isn’t for everyone. A mother must do what makes her and her child happy and for Ethan and I, the answer was bottle-feeding.