I breastfed my newborn son in the Target dressing room today. My tiny boy, the one who lost ounce after ounce in the hospital, is now over 12 pounds. Why? Because I have nursed him in restaurants, in the front seat of my car, in the recliner, in bed, on the floor, curled up on my friend's couch, and in the Mummy Room at Babies 'R' Us. I have nursed him in the preschool library and at the picnic table next to the garden.
I'm like the "Got Milk?" version of a Dr. Seuss book. I can nurse you here and there, I can nurse you everywhere!
I used to be a formula mum. When my first son was born, I tried desperately to nurse him. But after an unexpected C-section, my body started to fail me. I couldn't stop shaking. I couldn't stand, or walk, or reach over to pick my sweet son up out of the hospital bassinet. I was on so much pain medication that I felt as if I was sleeping with my eyes open. In those first four days at the hospital, I wanted desperately to be present. I wanted to remember my time there with Max. Instead, I could barely hold my head above water, more or less nurse him. I cried, I shook, I slipped into a dark fog that erased my memory of my first few days with my son. I was robbed of the skin-to-skin time that signals to a woman's breasts they should make milk. My stomach had been stapled back together though my heart was still split open. I figured that I'd nurse Max when I felt better.
The darkness subsided eventually, but I had missed the window for welcoming my milk supply. I was devastated, embarrassed, and without an ally. I was angry at myself, and felt betrayed by my body.
I pumped, I used supplements, I sobbed in the shower and cursed the breasts that were filled with shame and regret, but not a drop of milk. As the weeks went on, we also learned that Max's belly suffered from GI issues that made him vomit and choke. He was diagnosed with Reflux, Delayed Gastric Emptying, and food allergies. It was formula (a prescription, hypoallergenic one) that ended up saving him, and I learned to stuff my sadness into my back pocket and take pride in feeding him with love. Max was my first baby, and my first lesson in how mummy guilt could strip your confidence and make you doubt everything that you thought was true. I fed Max with formula, because it was my body, my mental health and my choice, but the pain never went away. I couldn't let go of the hope that I might be able to nurse my next baby.
Our doulas spent the first 48 hours of Ben's life sitting next to me on the hospital bed. Their shadow hands helped me to hold him tightly when the fog crept in. They cupped my suddenly ginormous double D's, squished them into "sandwiches," pulled his tiny rosebud mouth on to my breasts and held him there as he figured it out. They gently nudged my shoulders back, put pillows under my arms, and made sure that I was eating and drinking. My mum and my husband encouraged me to keep going, and took care of everything else so that I could simply sit and nurse. But even with all of the help, even with all of the determination, even though I fought like hell to see straight through the fog of my pain meds, Ben still lost weight. We knew that he wasn't sick like Max was. His blood sugars were fine. He was latching, he was eager, and I had him at my breast 24/7. But he had a slow start. Suddenly, I was failing again at the most natural thing in the world, before we had a chance to even begin.
When the lactation specialist arrived on the third day of our hospital stay, the pediatrician had already told her that I would need to supplement with formula. I started crying before she opened her mouth. F*ck you, I thought. F*ck you and your pump and your weight charts and your fake concern. Just leave me and my baby alone. The feeling of failure was too familiar. Failure and I were old friends. My tears were hot and fell fast down my cheeks and onto my chest, dropping like rain on Ben's soft little head as it burrowed into my empty breasts. But this time, I knew enough to not be afraid. I knew that his weight was still in a safe zone. I knew that nursing him first and then giving him formula would keep him nourished, while still protecting my budding supply.