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Breastfeeding: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Compromise

After many, many weeks of producing a never ending stream of yellow baby mustard poo, my child went on strike. The parade of gook full diapers had begun to taper off around the seventh week or so, moving from torrent to steady flow. Later, we moved on to constant trickle and then, suddenly, in week nine, we went a whole day without a poop. What had happened? Had I lost my milk making mojo? Emmy didn’t seem hungry, I hadn’t changed my eating habits, but still … where was the assuring mustard smear I’d come to relay on as proof my child was eating?

As a breastfeeding mom I have no idea exactly how much my child eats. Two ounces, no ounces, sixty-four ounces, a cheeseburger with fries, it’s a mystery. All I know is that my daughter was going through diapers like I was going through clean t-shirts. We both should have been doing it professionally. It was comforting, seeing those dirty diapers. If something was coming out, something MUST have been going in. And there was tons coming out.

And then nothing was coming out.

At all.

For days.

My daughters didn’t poop for almost a week.

And that, I learned, is perfectly normal.

Mind you I learned this after sitting on my couch, baby in one arm, laptop in the other, tears streaming down my face, desperately searching WebMD for the symptoms of baby butt cancer.

Ends up that some babies who are breastfed digest their food super efficiently, leading to a big drop off in poop. It is perfectly normal, perfectly healthy, and perfectly horrifying.

Now, this is not my first ride on the bucking bronco of some of the more alarming effects of breastfeeding. I haven’t had what you might call a “friendly” relationship with breastfeeding. Rather we’re more like rival super villains working together to foil the superhero Hungry Baby. There is no trust or joy in this relationship, it is one based on necessity and a common purpose. And while I’ve heard other women use words like “wonderful” and “pleasurable” when describing their experience with breast feeding, I would not use these words. I would use words like “ouch,” “grrrr,” and “again?!”

I made the choice to breastfeed long before my child was born and knew it wouldn’t be easy. I was told it would hurt, but only for the first week or so. I was told that I would get frustrated at times, but that if I stuck with it, it would all be worth it. I was reminded by my doctor, my mother, all the books I read, and most of the websites I was addicted to that the breast was best. Children who are breastfed have higher IQ’s, better immunity to pathogens, get far less ear infections and colds, and…they can fly. In fact, towards the end of my pregnancy I began to feel that not breast feeding Emmy was akin to poisoning her. After all, didn’t I love my baby? Didn’t I want to give her the absolute best? Didn’t I want her to have every advantage?

Of course I did.

And that’s why I had to breastfeed, no excuses.

And then Emery was born … and I starting breastfeeding…and I thought my nipples were going fall off.

It all started in the hospital.

Emmy’s latch, how her mouth grabs onto the nipple, was great, she could get on a breast like no one’s business. And once she was on, she never wanted to let go. Ever. In fact, she was such a tenacious little sucker I’m pretty sure I could have let go of her, stood up, and walked across the room with my arms at my sides and she’d just tangle there, perfectly fine, still attached. The hospital’s lactation coach came to see us and told me that I was golden. She told me I was the best in the hospital and I was doing everything perfectly.

Then Emmy turned yellow.

Because of our mismatched blood types, Emery became pretty badly jaundiced and had to go and spend some time in phototherapy. I was told that she would have to spend the night in the nursery and, to make sure the excess biliruben was being flushed from her system as quickly as possible; she’d have to receive formula seeing as how my milk had yet to come in and they needed to keep her eliminating waste as frequently as possible. They encouraged me to pump, wheeling a deceptively innocent looking machine. I hooked this little vampire up to myself every hour and half. When the brought Emery back to me I fed her every hour and it still wasn’t enough.

She was still hungry and the noises she was making, I can’t do them justice. It wasn’t just a cry, it was desperate, shaking, soul wrenching plea. It was a plea for food. It was a plea for me to help her, and I couldn’t.

I could do nothing to help my child. I could not physically produce what she needed.

I have never felt lower in my life.

This nasty pattern of self loathing followed us home from the hospital, where I was confined to a bed because of c-section with nothing to do but think about how the house was falling apart, I needed a shower, and how the baby was only six days old and I was already failing as a wife and a mother. I became super focused on the only thing I was physically capable of doing for my family.

Breastfeeding.

I couldn’t do a load of laundry or lift the baby onto the changing table, but I could sit in bed and feed the baby.

Only I never seemed to be doing right.

My nipples hurt worse than I ever thought would be possible. The baby wanted to be fed every forty-five minutes and I would cringe when my husband would hand her to me. I was smelly, hairy, and above all exhausted. It was a miserable series of events. My husband tried to help, he truly did. He held my hand, fetched my pain pills, patted the baby, and told me that I was beautiful even if I wasn’t wearing pants. Or a shirt. Or a bra. In fact, at this point the only thing I was wearing were underwear that stopped roughly an inch below my armpits. He told me I was great mother and that maybe, just maybe, this would go a lot easier if I would let him feed the baby the occasional ounce of formula in one of the spare bottles we had bought just in case a situation similar to this occurred. I could rest. I could recharge. I could sleep for more than fifteen minutes at a clip.

Upon hearing this suggestion I burst into tears.

I felt like a loser. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I do what millions and millions of women before me had done and just feed my child? I shouldn’t have to use formula, I shouldn’t have to depend on an outside source to feed my baby. Pioneer women didn’t need soy based powdered drinks to help their child survive, why did I?

I let myself get wrapped up in qualifying successful motherhood with successful breast feeding. I felt that if I let my husband give her a bottle or if we supplemented with formula I was failing. I had been given this beautiful, wonderful little girl and all I had to do was feed her … and I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t one of those women, cuddled in the bed with their gorgeous, unblemished, unsquished newborn, blissfully nursing her into chubby perfection. I was a topless, unwashed mess with a squirming, swollen infant, desperate to fill a never-ending baby hunger void. No books prepared me for the feeling of absolute, primal terror that gripped me when my daughter started crying because she was hungry and I couldn’t do anything about it. No article in Parents or Motherhood can relieve your blind panic when your child is crying for food and there is nothing to give her.

In the end, much to my initial shame and disappointment, we settled on giving her a single bottle right before her “bedtime” just around 11:00. It was my husband who finally tipped the scales towards supplementing. It had been an especially hard day and my husband, with my best interest at heart, decided that in order to let me have a couple hours of sleep, made the executive decision to feed the baby a bottle. He didn’t wake me up or ask me what I thought, he just did it.

I hated him for about fifteen minutes after he broke the news, but thank god he did because it opened the door just a crack, and that crack has made our lives far more enjoyable. While this may not be the choice for every family, allowing my husband to give her one supplemental bottle every night before bed has improved her sleep schedule, improved my sleep schedule, and given my husband and our baby some time to bond together. As she’s gotten older her demand has decreased, but we’ve kept the end of night bottle because it works for our family. Letting go of my hardcore expectations of breastfeeding has forced me confront my own weaknesses and release myself of unrealistic demands. Breastfeeding doesn’t come easily to everyone. There were a ton of times I wanted to just give it all up completely, and I can be proud of myself that I stuck through it. I can’t say how long I’ll be able to keep it up (I always said I’d stick through the first year … don’t know about that) but I am sure that I will chose the best thing for all of us.

Including myself.

And my flying baby.

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