Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Epilogue to the nursing saga: Three lessons

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.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this blog and your previous blog about your struggles to breastfeed. You could have written my breastfeeding saga, except I'm still at the 3 1/2 month mark, trying all the things you've tried to persuade my daughter to breastfeed. Like you, I had a baby born at the lower end of "term", with a posterior tongue tie, recessed chin, high palate, with no rooting reflex until she was over a week old. Add to that a mom with large boobs and small nipples... Finger feeding, nipple shields, SNS, hours of skin to skin... been there done that, still trying to find the perfect combo which encourages her to feed.

    Your emotional struggles are so like mine too... so thanks. Thanks for your heartfelt, honest blogs which strike a chord with me. And give me hope that I may still yet have a normal breastfeeding relationship with my daughter.