I remember being pregnant with Lil and having some very bizarre dreams. One must have been around when I was 8 months along and in my dream I realized Lil's leg had fallen out. Like, OUT out.... The rest of her was trying to come out too! I was doing a jig around my bedroom asking my husband to please help me push her back in because it wasn't time yet! I woke shortly after so I don't know what the end result was, but I can look back at that dream and smile. Silly as it was. Most of the other dreams I had while pregnant had themes of breastfeeding. One in particular was quite upsetting. I remember pulling back the blanket of the bassinet wondering when the last time I fed the baby. She was cool to the touch and not moving. She did open her eyes and had shallow breathing. I remember the wave of emotion I felt as I tried to nurse the baby in my dream and how horrible I felt as a mother. How could I possibly forget to feed the baby? As it turns out, I would not have a mind that would forget to feed my baby, but breasts that would not be able to.
Lil was born early on a Monday morning in a tub filled with water in our home. It was everything I wanted my birth to be. I didn't tear. I didn't poop (odd fear, but I was so concerned about it..). I even enjoyed pushing. I know. You can tell me to shut up. It was an average length for active labor (pre and early, another story) and surprisingly enough I didn't once wonder when it would be over. Shocking for me, as I'm a type of person who loves instant gratification. Within 30 minutes Lil and I were cuddled up in our bed and she had bobbed her little head towards my nipple and latched on.
The first 4 days of Lil's life is a blur of cries and sleeplessness. I couldn't figure out why this baby would stay up all night screaming, refusing my breast. After many pleas from my husband and the okay from our midwife, I gave my baby a half ounce of formula. She stopped crying immediately. I sobbed. I had failed. I had starved my baby. I still struggle with the guilt of this a full 19 months later. After talking to many women and a couple lactation consultants, I know the first and most important thing is to feed the baby. Everything else comes second, but that doesn't change the fact that I was mourning a failed nursing relationship, a bond that I was very much looking forward to.
My body failed me. I never became engorged. My breasts never changed size during pregnancy. On a good day if I took all my supplements I could produce a whole ounce of milk for Lil. When I returned to work, that decreased to 15 mls per day. We seeked donor milk and are forever grateful to the three women you graciously gave their extra milk to us. Lil thrived off formula, donor milk, and what milk I was able to give her. We bottle-fed, nursed, and used an SNS. I stopped pumping and nursing at 6 months. I had gained excess weight because of the supplements, and the small amount of milk she got from me just did not seem worth it anymore.
While searching for a "cure" for my dismal supply I found an amazing support group on Facebook for women with chronic low supply and/or IGT (insufficient glandular tissue). Because of those women I learned so much about the possible reasons why my body failed to meet Lil's needs. I don't carry any of the physical markers for IGT, so the jury is still out on why I didn't make enough milk. Could have been an imbalance in hormones (likely). Maybe it was an undiagnosed lip or tongue tie (doubtful).
It has taken some time for me to come to terms with our breastfeeding relationship, or lack there of. I was angry for a while. Angry at all the articles I had read about how all women can breastfeed and that there is no such thing as low-supply. Angry at myself for being one of those women who use to judge others for bottle feeding. Angry at the LC who couldn't magically increase my supply. Angry that no one ever told me that having practically no supply was even a possibility! Angry at nursing mothers who would complain about leaking breasts and over supply. I was ashamed when I had to excuse myself from the mommy/baby group to go mix a bottle of formula. I wanted to hide. I felt judged. I am no longer angry. If anything I feel a little bit excited to try again with any future children. I now know what to expect of myself and if we exceed any of the expectations, all the better.
When asked by pregnant women what I wish I had known before having a baby that no one told me, I tell them this: Sleep, no one tells you that most babies won't sleep well in their crib/bassinet. Lil only wanted to sleep in my arms. As soon as I stopped fighting her need to be on me and trying to fix the situation and accept it, we all slept a lot better. They also didn't tell me that I would lose who I was. That woman doesn't exist anymore, and it took a while to mourn the loss of her. Lastly, I tell them a little bit about my breastfeeding journey. I tell them that most women will not have the difficulty that I had, but it was a shock to expect to do something that all women are meant to be able to do, and not be able to do it. I had to mourn the nursing relationship that I did not get to have with my daughter. I had to change my expectations of what I thought our nursing relationship was supposed to be and come to terms with what it was. An unexpected life lesson for motherhood, for sure. A whole lot of loss (sleep, nursing, myself) to be balanced by a whole lot of gain (knowledge, love, Lil).