Before O was born, I had quite a few dreams about life with this little guy. Most were bizarre. Oh, you know, I dreamt I would put him in a cabinet in our laundry room before I ran errands. "A safe place for him to sleep", I remember thinking to my dream-self. In another dream, I had been able to un-velcro my abdomen, so that I could take him out and play with him, before covertly returning him to my stomach before my OB found out what I'd been up to. By far my most favorite dream, and one that I had several times, involved nursing. In my dreams they were such sweet, bonding, nurturing moments between the two of us... sun streaming through our bedroom window, dust moats floating lazily around the room, my little sleepy-eyed babe snugged up in my arms contentedly nursing... the whole bit. It was beautiful and dreamy.
And then he was born... and nursing for us, in reality, was anything but beautiful and dreamy.
It was hard, it was really, really hard for both Oliver and I. My milk took two weeks to come in, and the NICU staff was quick to urge us to give him formula. I spent every day with a lactation specialist while he was in the NICU. Each day a different specialist would come, with different, and inconsistent techniques. Oliver occasionally latched, during which time we would pump formula through a tube pressed against my skin, into a shield or directly into his mouth. It was a three person event. Every two to three hours for forty five minutes. And then I would pump. And then I would sleep. All while drinking ungodly amounts of water, hoping that would give me enough hydration to produce what Oliver needed.
And then we were discharged. With all of our equipment and random strategies and shields and tubing, and no idea how to help our babe nurse and no milk to speak of.
And you know, it was never like my dream. Most feedings involved a very anxious baby, who was desperate to eat and could never get enough as quickly as he would like. He was screaming and inconsolable, I was in a rediculus amount of pain, and Matt alternated between comforting Oliver and comforting me. We had the sweetest lactation consultant visit us multiple times in our home. We did weight checks regularly for our guy that had quickly fallen below the 5th percentile for weight. And we fought like crazy to make it work. For weeks and weeks.
Enough is Enough
And then, when he was two months old, O had enough. He quit nursing. He refused to latch, he refused to suck. He was red faced, screaming and desperately hungry. I tried swaddeling, I tried unswaddeling, I tried laying and standing, the football hold, the cradle hold, I tried giving him breaks, I tried priming him with an ounce of formula... but he was just done.
I pumped for another month, as much and as regularly as I could. And then my body was done too.
I was heartbroken. Heartbroken, and relieved. I think all three of us were. I later learned that being separated by the NICU, giving him a bottle that early at the nursing staff's insistence, and the physical trauma of a 4th degree tear, all seriously complicated things for Oliver and I.
I remember a conversation with a co-worker before I left on maternity. She had quite a bit of difficulty with nursing and we were talking about the challenges of nursing vs bottle feeding. I remember telling her that I wanted to give breastfeeding my best effort, but in the end, if it came down to it, I would be fine with a bottle. Plenty of babies grow up happy and healthy on formula, and I was not going to be overcome by emotions if it didn't work out for us.
Bless my heart. I just didn't know. I didn't know how hard I would be willing to fight. I didn't know how badly I would want it to work. I didn't know how it would feel like giving up if I stopped. I didn't know how many times I would be driven to try just one more thing to make it work. I didn't know I would have to routinely talk myself out of a guilt trip.
I have one last bag of milk left in the freezer, that I have not been able to bring myself to give him. And I have a note from our lactation consultant on our counter, framed and next to the formula container.
And I am thankful for her kind and compassionate words, every time I make a bottle.
You fought hard and well for breastfeeding, but in the grand scheme of Oliver's life... the important thing is that you are fighting for his deepest good. You get to do this forever.
Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to be done. Sometimes that is the very best thing. Sometimes we have to learn to let ourselves off the hook when things don't go according to plan. Sometimes we have to give ourselves a little grace. Learning... still learning.