That time I failed at breastfeeding...
Have you ever failed at something? Something you can admit to? Or maybe it's something you'll NEVER admit to. There is a thing in my past, something that I failed at, a thing I will never get over.
I failed at breastfeeding.
And now I will tell you the story of how it happened. This is a story about me and my friend Debbie, and this is one of the reasons why I am a great Lactation Consultant today. (Yes, I just gave myself a compliment.)
So I was a CLC- that is a Certified Lactation Counselor, if you didn't know. That is the first step I took in becoming an IBCLC. A CLC is a helper, and maybe a future Lactation Consultant, as was the case with me. I was working at the hospital and earning my supervised hours working under a very experienced and kind IBCLC, Debbie Wicker. I was not yet a mother, but I was pretty pregnant. And when I visited parents to assess needs and lay a foundation for the Consult to follow, I got asked frequently if this was my first. It's like I could see them discredit me in their eyes, when I confirmed that it was. And I could reason with the best of them that I had completed a 40 hour class and passed a test that gave me the upper hand on helping a dyad breastfeed, probably that is more than they have done. And I had more hands on hours working with babies than some of them had spent with their own new baby so far. But it was like there was a club I wasn't in, and it made it just a little bit harder for me to help them. It was like they were taunting me. Just you wait and see...
So I was 42 weeks pregnant, and I begged, and then demanded to be induced. You can guess how that went. On August 7 I finally went to the hospital. Let's just leave it at this: my son was born at 1:07 pm on the 10th. You understand that it was a long labor, yes? I got light cocktail of pain medications, it was a vaginal delivery with a teeny tiny tear, just one stitch! I shouldn't have been in so much pain. But boy was I. I felt like I got hit by a truck, and then another, and another. I swore this was my last baby, and I couldn't believe I survived childbirth. So the golden hour came and went, and my baby hadn't latched on his own. So things were not going to plan. Not a single thing. But things would be ok, I could fix it. I was a Lactation Counselor, after all. I took the class, I read the books, I give the advice!!! But my nipples were killing me when I finally got him latched on, and every time he latched I cried in pain. And I knew that wasn't right.
So I asked for a pump. And they wouldn't give me one. The nurses clearly thought I was the baby with the way I could barely walk, and the crying, and the generalized way I was pitiful. So I just kept on doing it. And then we went home. I worried that he would get hungry and I would have to feed him. I dreading feeding him. I resented feeding him. I pumped such small amounts of milk he drank it up faster than I could make more. So I was sitting there, on the couch, looking at my tiny, crying, hungry son. And I cracked. I got the formula, and I fed it to him. I sobbed while I was doing it. His dad was asleep, and I was ashamed. I didn't want to tell him that I had lost yet another battle- this one was the most important one to me. I was failing at breastfeeding: I was failing as a mother. My only job was supposed to be feeding him and keeping him safe. And I couldn't even do it.
At 2 weeks my 2 IBCLC friends told me my baby had a tongue tie. I refused to believe this, because I thought tongue ties are rare, and my friend just had a baby with a tongue tie, and there was no way both babies could have it! So I waited before calling the ENT, and then when I finally called, I couldn't take him to be seen for 3 WEEKS. At 5 weeks I held him down while the ENT clipped his little frenulum. And we both cried. And then he latched and nursed right there in the office with no pain. And I realized I had been wrong, again. He WAS tongue tied! I had failed again.
At 3 months postpartum I went back to work. My precious baby boy was at a home daycare up the street from our house. The daycare provider, Nicole, was warm and sweet. She didn't care what I fed him, as long as she could feed him when she was hungry. Every morning I gave her every drop of breastmilk I had made the day before, and a can of formula with a couple of bottles. I kept my head down As I handed it over, embarrassed at the small volume. She did what needed to be done. Those first 3 months I breastfed my son, then gave him a bottle of formula, then pumped as often as I could manage. They were the best of times, the were the worst of times. The next 3 months, I sat at my desk in the office and pumped every 2-3 hours at work. Debbie made a curtain to give me the illusion of privacy, which made me feel special. I didn't really need the privacy though. Having that pump on my desk was a badge of honor. I had given birth, and I was making milk for my baby. I was careful to keep to myself the small amounts of milk I was pumping- sometimes just drops. At least now I was one of them: one of the moms like I was helping. I was in the club. I knew then why they had looked at me like that before.
At 6 months postpartum Debbie came out of her office and stood over my cube while I pumped and did computer work. And she said "You know, it's ok to stop. It's ok to stop pumping. You have to consider if spending your time this way is worth it. He's going to be ok." And I cried and cried and cried. And that was the last time I pumped. The toll on my emotional health was so great, I had no idea until I was past it. What I was putting myself through every time I sat down to pump and made a few mLs was not worth the fight. I didn't know that what I needed was permission to stop. We both knew the value of breastmilk. It wasn't in question. But she knew, and taught me that my mental health was worth more.
I will always feel like I failed at breastfeeding. And that's what it is- it's my PERCEIVED failure. I have told my story to tons of people as I trained them throughout my hospital career, and no Lactation Consultant has ever agreed that it's a failure. I provided my baby with breastmilk for as long as it was good for both of us. That was successful breastfeeding. And then it wasn't good for me, and a very wise person gave me permission to move on. And that is a success story too.
That baby I told you about just turned 7 years old. And I cried as I wrote this. I will never get over it. Even though he is exceptional, and he doesn't care that we didn't make it to a year of breastfeeding. Even though I am now breastfeeding an 18 month old, and I have to say that it's a success story this time around.
One of the most meaningful things I do as a Lactation Consultant is help moms set realistic goals, and achieve them. Another is saying out loud "It's ok to stop doing this".
There is no place for judgement in parenthood. We're all in it together, raising the children who will take over the world someday. And we have all failed at something, whether we admit to it or not. I tell my story so that it might give you peace with yours, and to share with you that I really do know how hard it is- to breastfeed, to parent, to succeed, to feel failure. And I carry this with me, along with my notebook, my nipple shields, and my scale, to every family I see.
Have a peaceful day, my friends!