This started out as a reply to the comments from the previous post, and it eventually rambled its way into its own entry. Like I said, if it helps even one other mom, it'll be worth it.
While I wouldn't want to live through it again - and I admit I'm a little anxious about baby number two, though even if some of the same issues presented, we'd be much better prepared - I'm grateful for the lessons.
First, that I was able to see firsthand just how difficult it can truly be. I admit, before I walked a mile in these moccasins, I just didn't quite get it. I'd hear about a mother who had "trouble" nursing and eventually quit, and, I am ashamed to say, I judged her, in a way. I didn't intend to, and it wasn't mean-spirited, but I did. I figured in most cases she just didn't try hard enough, didn't want it enough. And thus I found myself enduring another 4 am syringe feeding, with all the coordination and concentration it takes, and I found myself looking longingly over at the bottles I had only planned to use for expressed milk months and months later, when I went back to work a few days a week, long past the window of danger for nipple confusion. And I understood. I still remember that moment as clear as day.
Second, it made me realize just how crucial support is, especially in the form of well-educated lactation consultants, and how much availability of such support affects breastfeeding success rates. As much as I wanted to breastfeed - and I wanted it SO desperately it's hard to even describe without seeming maudlin - there is NO WAY I could have done it without Jennifer, IBCLC extraordinaire. Not a chance. Even with good books and online resources like kellymom.com and Mothering.com, which I had and used vigorously. These are still wonderful and I can't praise them enough, but it's no substitute for one-on-one expertise.
Finally, no real lesson would be complete without the epiphany of gratitude for what one DOES have. Believe me, I could and did get caught up in feeling sorry for myself. And I bargained a lot - the kind of fruitless yet addictive fantasy bargains we've all indulged in. I had managed to dodge a c-section due to placenta previa and had a wonderful home birth that I had prayed for (see my birth story, though I'll write more about the pregnancy and previa in the future). But now that I was in the midst of this struggle - would I trade? If I had to choose between a c-section with zero nursing difficulty and what I had, which was a fantastic home birth, with our nursing issues, what would I do? This kept me up many a bleary, weak and weary night.
I still don't have an answer to that. What I do know is how low I felt when I started attending the support group Jennifer hosted, and epiphany struck - there were women there who were dealing with issues at the same level of difficulty as I . . . and they had ALSO had c-sections. Gulp. Yeah. Let's at least be gracious for what I did have. Similarly, and also through the support group, I saw women with, again, similarly intense problems . . . who ALSO had serious low supply issues on top of everything else. And here I was, producing enough milk for three babies at once. I never once had to supplement with formula or even donor milk.
Because of these lessons, and the gifts of empathy, humility, and gratitude, I have hope that I can bring all the more compassion into my future work in and around birth.