A Second Chance at Breastfeeding

I stood in a tiny dressing room today, and took off my bra.

“You’re going to want a nursing bra that leaves some room for growing” the kind woman yelled through the curtain.  “You can assume that your breasts will be at their largest size about two weeks after baby is born”.

I could assume that.  But I won’t.

I’ve been down this road before.  The hundreds of dollars spent on cute little nursing tanks with tiny clips meant to set voluptous milk-filled breasts free so that your baby can eat.  Nursing bras in black and nude, a hospital-grade pump that purred loudly every 3 hours as it sucked the life out of me.  Bright yellow Medela bottles that reminded me of spring, yet dropped me into the dead of winter as they collected only tiny drops of milk.  Hours spent with lactation consultants, all saying different things.  “Your baby has tongue tie”.  “No, no tongue tie here.  Who told you that?” ” You’re not producing enough.  Try Mother’s Milk Tea.  Try Fenugreek.  Try lactation cookies.  Try to do a triple-feed.  Try an SNS nursing system.”  Try, try, try.  Not once did anyone take their eyes off of my cracked nipples to look into my bloodshot eyes.  Not once did anyone follow me into the bathroom to ask me why I was sobbing into the downy hair of my tiny boy, who was squeaking his hunger out in soft kittenish mews.  No one ever mentioned post-partum depression.  No one ever offered a solution that would take care of me, so that I could take care of Max.

Max was my first baby.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I was tired, and recovering poorly from an unexpected C-section.  I thought that if I only wore the pretty pink nursing tank top and unhooked the tiny clips, that the milk would come.  I thought that if I gave Max those cute little bottles of formula, and nursed him when I felt better, that the milk would wait for him.

It never did.

My tears flowed freely, but my milk came out in a meager trickle for four long weeks.  My son was hungry.  My son had reflux.  My son was hurting.  My son was pissed.off.  His pain matched mine, as I bounced us both incessantly on the exercise ball and paced the hardwood floors in front of the window.  I cried on the couch, as I supplemented him with formula.  I cried in bed, as I willed myself to do the hard work of nursing, when bottles were so much easier.  I cried in the shower, as the warm water tore across my wounded nipples and down my stitched-up belly.  Breastfeeding was supposed to be natural, I moaned, all alone in a hell that only new moms could understand.

The kind-faced nursing bra lady peeked through the curtain.  “That’s great!” she said.  “That one definitely fits”.  I reached my hand into the soft fabric of the bra cup, and pulled out a crisp white circle.  “Ummm, I’m embarassed to ask, but what IS this?” I said.  She smiled gently.  “It’s just a pad to prevent any leaking” she said.  “You’ll need to wear them once you start nursing”.

Or maybe I won’t.

“Oh, I got it” I whispered, embarassed.  “I never made enough milk the first time to actually leak”.

When she left, I practiced using the little clips.  Unsnapping each one, pulling down the cup, adjusting the straps.  I pretended that I knew what I was doing.  Imagined having my second son’s lips at my breast, just a short 4 weeks from now.  Tried to act like it was the most natural thing in the world.   I looked closely at my reflection in the dressing room mirror. I tried to absorb the ways that my body had changed, the ways that nature was preparing for me to give sustenance to the baby who was now kicking the hell out of my ribcage.  But all I saw was ugliness in the mirror.  And sadness.  And failure.  As I stood there alone, I heard the kind sales lady answer the phone.  She asked careful questions.  Offered suggestions to a new mom who was calling for support.  And suddenly I heard her say “It’s ok.  No one ever tells you that breastfeeding is really hard.  You’re doing the right thing by calling us.  We’ll help you figure it out”.  Hot tears bloomed like wildflowers underneath my closed eyelids.  I forced myself to open them, and set the tears free.  I looked at my reflection in the mirror.  I ran my hands over my breasts.  Full, healthy breasts that were waiting to feed a child.  “It’s ok to cry” I heard her say to the caller.  “Lots of moms cry when they come in here at first.”

“I’m crying too” I laughed, my voice loud and clear through the curtain, for the first time since I had arrived.  She laughed with me.  “Yep, even the lady in the dressing room is feeling emotional about nursing!” she relayed to the distraught mom on the other end of the line.  I thought of Max, now a handsome four year old with strong legs that help him race around the playground, and strong arms that he wraps around my neck as he squeals with laughter.  I thought of the endless apologies that I had whispered to him over the years, the guilt that I tried to tell myself didn’t matter in the long run.  Max had grown up just fine.  Max was ok.  It was me who had never been able to forgive myself.

I quickly got dressed, and walked out of the fitting room.  “I’ll take two” I said, with a faint smile.  “One in black and one in nude”.  “Perfect!” she replied.  “Most moms get two, so that they can alternate when one is in the wash.”  Not me, I thought.  I probably won’t even need one.   Me…the one who had failed.  I thought for sure that she would see right through me, that she would call me out as the outsider imposter miserable excuse for a mother that I surely was.  Instead, she just smiled and said “You’re doing so many things to prepare yourself this time.  You’re giving yourself a second chance.”

It’s all I’ve ever wanted, that second chance.  From the moment I turned in that terrible pump, and fed my first-born the last quarter ounces of breastmilk that I stored lovingly in the fridge, I’ve prayed for a second chance.  I want to know what it’s like to feel engorged.  To watch the gift of life trickle from my baby’s mouth.  To not have to rinse bottles and sterilize plastic nipples and carefully measure out formula every time I want to go somewhere.  I want to sit with all of the other moms who feed their babies effortlessly.  I want to complain about cluster feeds and weaning and the stares that people give when they see someone nursing in public.

I’ve been an advocate for formula-feeding without shame, and I believe with every ounce of my mama heart that babies who are nourished with formula are still fed with love.  Still, I am desperate to nurse.  Even though my sweet, brilliant Max is healthy and fine and perfect, I want to be a part of the sisterhood of women who uses their breasts to give life.  I want to redeem myself.  I want to try again.  I want to know that I am not broken.

My new bras sit folded neatly in my dresser drawer, a “nursing basket” gracing the top of my nightstand.  I run my fingers over the tools that I have stocked up on.  Nipple cream, books, pills, disposable pads, cold packs and warm packs.  I close my eyes and imagine that I am confident enough to ask for help.  Brave enough to push through.  Determined enough to will my body to work for me.   I will not be afraid.  I will not be overwhelmed.  And this time, I know for sure that I will not be alone.  As I get undressed for bed, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  My big round belly, low and heavy with the life that grows inside of me.  And my breasts, full and round, waiting patiently to do what they are supposed to do.  I will trust this body.  I will appreciate this body.  I will thank this body.  Whether it works or not, I deserve a second chance.
Pregnant1Photo by Richelle Wetzel, Lissymack Photography

 

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Comments:

  1. Michelle W says:

    Thank you for this post. I had a similar situation with my daughter not latching properly, constant tears, and the final submission to formula feeding. Now that I’m pregnant with my second I feel the fear and apprehension returning about whether or not it will work this time around. I hope your second chance turns out great!

  2. I had a similar experience with my first and felt like I couldn’t ‘fail’ at breastfeeding again when I had my second. Thankfully, he latched on like a pro. It took breastfeeding my second to finally let go of the guilt of not being able to with my first. Because breastfeeding is exhausting and isolating and painful at times and if I ever have a third I’m not going to even bother. Sure there have been a few blissful moments but its not all its cracked up to be. We’ve made it six months and I’m counting down to 1yr.

  3. Loved this post. Exactly what happened to me with my first and wishing a second chance before having my second. I now have a third baby and although I only could breastfeed my 2nd and 3rd baby for 4-5 months, it was much easier after knowing what really works in brestfeeding and having more support after the 1st time. You’ll do great, don’t worry. I noticed that when I looked to see if milk came out and worried about it, it flowed less easily. :)

    Also, my first didn’t get much breastmilk and had stop breastfeeding at 2 months and she’s very healthy and super smart! :)

  4. Thank you so, so much for sharing this. I had the exact same experience with my first child, and I felt like such a complete failure as a mother. I just wanted to do the right thing for my baby, and I’d read all the “breast is best” propaganda and decided that formula was only for lazy or selfish mothers. When I finally came to the conclusion that one of us had to be the grownup and make the hard decisions–and that it had to be me, since it couldn’t be the baby–I got absolutely no support from friends or family. Everyone insisted I should be doing X or Y before I “gave up.” But I didn’t give up; I did what I needed to do in order to care for my child. Which was, as it turns out, exactly the right thing to do for my baby. (And on an interesting side note, my bottle-fed child was healthy as a horse; my breastfed second child had seasonal and food allergies galore, chronic ear infections, etc.. Go figure.)

  5. This is such a raw and lovely post. Thank you for writing and sharing it. There are so many of us who experience trouble breastfeeding, but it can be incredibly isolating. I remember the feelings of panic and self-loathing and almost betrayal I had when I wasn’t able to produce for my first child. My second is blissfully much easier, though it still isn’t bountiful nor simple. But I do finally love nursing and have peace with it, and I am grateful every day to feed my child. Best wishes to you this time around!

  6. I am sending you big hugs. I, too, had an unexpected c-section with my first and a really rough breastfeeding experience. I couldn’t nurse my first – she had a terrible latch, and she was just not interested no matter how I tried. Went through the whole nine yards – nipple shields, sugar water, dropper feedings, all of it. Like you said, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I ended up pumping exclusively for nine months and oh, I am so familiar with your feelings toward the Medela pump with its sunny yellow face.

    Now that baby is 5; she is beautiful and strong. I gave birth again in December via scheduled c-section to my handsome little boy. He nurses beautifully, perfectly, wonderfully. It was still hard at first, when he was nursing hourly and my nipples were in so much pain – but he nurses. He is 4 months and still wakes most nights for one feeding, and that is tiring but I spend most of it saying thankful prayers that this is what I get to do, this time. It has been extremely redemptive and healing for me – I pray that the same will be true for you. Thank you for your honesty and bravery.

  7. I had a similar experience with twins but I had plenty of milk and it was me the docs were worried about. The guilt of stopping because of me was unbearable and the fact that they were lactose intolerant and I was wasting away feeding two kids while eating no dairy. Four years later, after having twins kick me arse, I had a singleton who nursed 14 months. I was more patient, relaxed and it was a wonderful experience and I hope you get that this time. If not then thank God we have formula that is wonderful and your little guy will get to participate in feedings. You know by now that we all do the best we can and people shouldn’t judge. Good luck and I am excited for you.

  8. I had almost no supply with my oldest two kids. I had heard that supplementing would harm my supply, so I refused and waited for my milk to come in. And then continued waiting, drinking tea and eating cookies and taking galactagogues and nursing or pumping religiously, as my kids continued to lose weight past their first weeks. And then their second weeks. Finally, I was told by their pediatrician, my OB, and my lactation consultant that I needed to get some formula. I felt like a double failure, first for not being able to produce enough milk, and then again for having been too stubborn to give up on the idea of EBFing. With formula, I was able to supplement nursing until about 6 months, when my supply completely disappeared.

    I don’t know what changed with my third child, but he is 12.5 months old now and has never had a drop of formula in his life. My supply is still holding fairly strong (although it is dropping a bit now that he’s embracing table foods), and I never had so much as a blocked duct. It was a great gift, and that opportunity allowed me to let go of a lot of my anger at myself.

    Oh, and a happy ending? My older two are now four and three, and they are some of the healthiest, brightest kids you’ll ever meet. Between three kids, I’ve only dealt with one ear infection in four years, and that’s been the extent of their illnesses. Breast milk may be “best,” but formula is what gave my older kids the chance to thrive and grow. I will always be grateful that we live in a time where that option is readily available to us and others who need/choose it.

  9. Thank you for this post. I’m 3 weeks away from baby #2 and struggled for weks to be able to BF my first. My poor husband would end up consoling a tearful wife while calming a hystarical baby after every unsuccessful session. She would scream and kick and scratch at me and all i could do was cry. In the end I was able to BF but it was a long hard slog of lactation consultants, endless pumping and tears. I never made enough milk and after a few months gave up trying to meet her demands with breastmilk alone. I did a combo of BF and formula. I remember the strong sting of failure every time I smelled formula on my baby’s breath. I have a brand spanking new pump, bottles, bras and storage bags (oh how those bags mocked me) and prayers that round two will be easier.

  10. Such a wonderful article, thank you. I had my first 10.5 months ago. She is perfect, had great latch-on, a good strong suck, everything looked great on her end. I, on the other hand, produced nothing for all her and my efforts to do otherwise. My breasts didn’t develop much breast tissue. So, though my prolactin levels were high, I pumped right after I nursed, I had no obvious physical problems, I did the supplements and the SNS, I was only able to squeeze out 15 ml a day. A pittance. From a long line of women who always breastfed their babies, this was a bit of a shock. Hell, one side of my family has a history of formula intolerance so they HAD to breastfeed, despite the doctors telling my grandma formula was better. What must she have felt, to have to feed her babies “substandard” food like her breast milk?
    Now I am pregnant with twins and I am so afraid of not being able to nurse them, too. No on can tell me why my body failed. No one does medical research on the tiny number of women this happens to so no one can even tell me if there is something I can do while I’m pregnant, to improve my outcome. I’m angry at my doctor for telling me I was on the other side of normal, that this was normal and there was nothing we could do about it. No magic pill to take that would change things. I remember crying on the way home and getting really angry because I thought that men with ED weren’t told that. Someone found a pill for them. But why try to find a pill for breast feeding mothers when there is formula for those of us whose bodies fail to work as they should?
    I am hopeful that I will work right for my second chance. I hope for and feel happy for every twinge of pain, every sore day, every tender sensation from my breasts, hoping that it means a happier outcome from me and my twins.

  11. I just cried reading this. Thank you for being so honest.

  12. I cried reading this. I still feel the guilt and I still can’t forgive myself and my body that failed. Thank you for this.

  13. Christine says:

    Beautiful article. I want to encourage you because I also had difficulty breastfeeding my first child after an unplanned C-section, but was so determined to give her milk I pumped exclusively for nine very long months. It was such a relief when I finally let myself stop, because setting the alarm to pump in the middle of the night and also waking to care for my daughter was so exhausting. When my second daughter was born, she took to breastfeeding instantly. It amazed me. I couldn’t believe it, and it restored my own faith in myself. She turns one next week and I’m still breastfeeding her, I think I love it more because of my inability with my firstborn. I truly hope you have the same experience!

  14. I think perhaps, that you and I are the same.

    I am not pregnant yet, but I am desperate for a second chance. I will see how it goes. And I will try not to feel judged, whatever I do.

  15. I think as well, that you and I are the same. This is EXACTLY how I felt almost word for word. I sent this to my husband so he could try to understand what goes on in my head. Thank you for writing this.

  16. Thank you for posting this. So many moms have problems and no one talks about how hard it is. How jealous or even mad you can fell when you wacth moms feed there baby’s yet you have to go make a bottle. I hope things went better for you I hope next baby I can bf also

  17. I am in tears reading this. Those same emotions I felt with my first born and now as we are trying for our second miracle it’s all coming back again. Thank you for so eloquently putting into words how this feels. It truly helps emotionally to know that there is at least one other woman that has gone through a similar experience.

  18. Thank you so, so much for posting this. I was unable to breastfeed after a really traumatic emergency delivery; I also suffer from thyroiditis. I felt so awful about it – all the signs say “breast is best” – the hospital had an award for percentage of new mothers who left breastfeeding. I had a lactation consultant and doulas but no milk ever came out and my nipples were black with dried blood cracks. Felt like such a failure. Not all of us can breastfeed and the constant La Leche League KellyMom drumbeat just makes us feel even worse.

  19. Wow. I never comment on things, but just had to say thanks for posting this. I just cried as I read it because it put words to how I felt struggling to feed my first. I am pregnant with my second and feeling so much of the same. Thank you for sharing!

  20. I have just sobbed my heart out reading this article. I feel your pain and heartache and the feelings of failure. Thank you! It’s so good to know that I am not the only one to have experienced this. I’m praying that if and when number two comes along my boobs will work! xxx

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