Thursday, February 7, 2008

Milkmaid no more

This post is going to be about breastfeeding, and it is not going to be very funny, so if you want something more humorous and lighthearted, I suggest you go over and look at some Lolcats for awhile.

So I have decided I am finished lactating, at least for the time being. Those of you who know me personally will probably be saying "Weren't you whining about this, like, a MONTH ago? Give it up already!". Yes, I was whining about this a month ago, but shut up, this is my blog and I can whine as much as I want.

Back when I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to nurse my baby. I envisioned nursing her for 1 year, then I figured I'd tell everyone Emily wasn't nursing anymore but secretly still nurse her right before bed or upon waking in the morning just for the closeness. I imagined nursing confidently in public places (with a nursing wrap on of course), having a freezer overflowing with frozen breastmilk so that I could go out for errands or to the gym whenever I pleased, and I would have so much milk that I could even donate to a milk bank if I decided I wanted to. I would do all of this without flashing my chest groceries to a single person. Oh, and I'd be back into my pre-pregnancy jeans after 2 months, maybe 3.

Needless to say, it hasn't quite turned out this way. Emily has been a very difficult baby to nurse. She wasn't born with a cleft palate or any other defects that would make it hard for her to physically nurse. I did not have any issues that would prevent me from nursing. I had the desire to nurse and the commitment to stick it out during those first few difficult weeks and make it work. It's just that Emily has a terrible attitude towards nursing.

At the very beginning, the doctors wanted to make sure she got lots of food so she wouldn't get more jaundice then she already was, so they made us supplement her diet with formula. I hated it, and I was terrified she'd get nipple confusion and not want to nurse anymore. But once my milk came in and her bilirubin count went down, it seemed all systems were go. I was stashing away a bottle of milk here and there. I was terrified every time the power went out that my frozen milk would defrost and spoil. My modesty, however, had gone out the window when the nurses walked into my room 2 days after Emily was born and said "Let me see your nipples". Ok.

On top of that, Emily flat-out refused to nurse with anything covering her. I'd try to nurse her in public, and the limbs would flail, the nursing cover would go flying, and everyone would see my bits. The same thing happened if I tried to cover her while guests were at my house. My Father-in-law saw me half-naked way more times than I ever would've hoped (that number of times being zero). I was heard to say things like "Only 48 more weeks of nursing!" and "I can't wait until she's eating solid will save so much time and I will not miss being stapled to the couch for 45 minutes out of every 2 hours one bit".

Fast-forward to month 3, and Emily had started up an endearing new behavior. About every third time I'd try to nurse her, she'd throw an almighty fit and flat-out refuse to calm down until I gave her a bottle. It wasn't reflux, it wasn't because she was too hungry, or not hungry enough, or too distracted, or to cold, or the room was too bright, or any number of a hundred things we tried to "fix", it was just that she didn't feel like nursing. Ok, no sweat, I had some bottles of frozen breastmilk, when she threw a fit I'd defrost some, feed it to her, then pump and my milk supply wouldn't suffer.

But it did suffer. I tried taking Fenugreek all day, hooking myself up to the pump for extra sessions, drinking extra water, I even considered getting drugs from Canada to help my milk supply. But all that happened was that I felt exhausted and irritable all the time and slowly my stash of frozen breastmilk dwindled.

In October, we all flew to Chicago and I was freaking about what to do milk-wise. What if Emily freaked on the plane and wouldn't nurse? I brought some breastmilk, but what about on the way back? I spent weeks worrying about what to do, and finally decided we could give her a bit of formula while she was there if she needed it. We introduced formula a couple days ahead of time to make sure she'd take it, and let me tell you! The feeling of freedom I got from dumping the rest of an unfinished bottle down the drain instead of desperately trying to force it down Emily's throat because it had been painfully rendered from my body and dammit, Emily WAS going to get those antibodies and nutrients! We only ended up having to give her 2 bottles of formula while in Chicago. But it was fairly impossible to pump as much as I needed to there, and once again, my milk supply suffered.

When we got back, Emily's appetite just flat out exceeded my best efforts at milk production. She was eating some solid food by then, and I hoped that would fill her requirements that I couldn't. It didn't, and a bottle of formula per day became the norm. She continued to have her fits occasionally, except now she scratched and pinched and had teeth. No matter what expert's advice I tried, she'd laugh at me and just bite me more. It was like trying to nurse a woodchipper.

A missed pumping session here, an especially hungry day for Emily there, and by December she was getting 2-3 bottles of formula a day.

Then January came. And Emily decided not to nurse anymore. Ever. Every single time I tried, I got the same reaction she had started at 3 months. I was fairly inconsolable for a day or two. If she woke up at exactly the right time and was still sleepy enough, I could still get her to nurse first thing in the morning though, and I set to pumping. Some mothers pump exclusively the whole time. Maybe I could even get my supply UP now that I had to pump so much anyway. But being home with a crawling baby who doesn't like to nap during the day does not lend itself to endless hours spent attached to a breast pump. I only usually managed to get in 2 pumping sessions a day, one in the morning and one right before bed. At night everyone would go to sleep and I would sit bleary-eyed in the office and pump for half an hour, then creep as quietly as possible into bed so as not to wake Will. The amount of milk I got was less each time, but I was terrified to skip a pumping session, lest my milk supply go down even more.

And last night, as Will got into bed and I settled Emily into her crib, Will asked me if I was coming to bed. I said "No, I have to pump". Will said "Awww...we never get to fall asleep together anymore. I miss it". I realized how much I missed it too, but my mama instinct kicked in. My baby needs my milk more than my husband and I need to fall asleep at the same time. I went to pump for half an hour anyway. I got about 1/2 Tbsp of milk...all I had made in a 24-hour period.

So I have decided this 9 months of torture is over. And despite how hard it has much I've had to struggle at every step, I am extremely sad about it.

The thought of putting away the pump until our next baby comes along should be a huge relief, but it brings tears to my eyes. Defrosting and feeding Emily the last 2 bottles of milk I have in the freezer that I have been ferociously guarding for who knows what eventual use is next on my agenda, then putting away my nursing bras and tanks that I have lived in for the past 9 months. The thought of ridding the house of the last vestiges of a lactating mother and her nursling make me weepy.

I hated nursing! It was a constant fight and an omnipresent stress. Since Emily has scaled back her nursing sessions I have experienced a wonderful surge of I forgot I ever had. And I should count myself lucky we made it this long. Some women would like to nurse but can't nurse for one reason or another. Some women stop on purpose after 3 months or 6 months. And some women have no desire to nurse at all. Only 11% of moms still nurse their babies at 6 months.

But I feel guilty for not trying harder. I feel sad that Emily and I won't have those nice nursing moments anymore, even though they were few and far between. Nursing has been a constant, since the first minutes of her life. She has started crawling now, and walking while holding onto the couch and feeding herself cheerios, but nursing is the first major thing she has STOPPED doing.

Those of you who know me also know I usually plan things, and then they happen, simple as that. I am incredibly lucky that that is the case, believe me I realize that. But I guess I haven't been prepared for disappointment so I feel cheated that something so important hasn't gone as I had planned.

So I am going to go pump now, then boil my pump parts one last time, pack it all up, and put it away until I'm getting ready to go to the hospital to have my next baby. I'll feed Emily the rest of the milk from the freezer. Then, because I believe in looking at the bright side of things, I think I'll go on a three-day bender, because it has been a year and a half since I've gotten good and drunk!


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