It was February 4, 2016 when David and I found out we were pregnant. When it happened, I went on social media and started following many, many moms/ moms-to-be. I wanted to know everything there was to know about pregnancy and little babies. I wanted the nitty gritty details – What made them sick while pregnant? Did they sleep alright? Did their babies sleep? What was their birth story? Etc. etc.
I read tons of moms’ stories and felt empowered by the Instagram moms who were taking the world by storm. I followed a handful of moms who were due around the same time as I was, and one by one, they all started having their babies, making me super impatient for our little baby boy to join us. I read all their stories on birth and breastfeeding and saw all the pictures of moms breastfeeding their babies while out and about. They talked about the bond and connection they felt with their babies, while breastfeeding, and I ached to be able to do the same once our baby was with us.
Being one of the first in our friend circles to have kids, I didn’t know much about breastfeeding and the things that went along with it. I didn’t know if it was easy or tough to do, but in all the prenatal classes we went to, we kept getting told, “there is no reason why you won’t be able to breastfeed…your body knows what to do”, so I knew that when the time came, I would be determined to make sure I could.
I was skeptical things would all line up, but sure enough, weeks before Jason was born, I could tell things were changing and lining up for the big day. My milk didn’t come in right when he was born, but I was producing SOMETHING, which shocked me. (I was later told that that was the colostrum we had learned about.) I was blown away/ amazed, in birth and the days following, that my body just knew what to do. Jason came out ready to suck and latched on seconds after he was born.
In the days following baby J’s birth, my job was to get my supply up and in order to do so, I had to make sure I was constantly getting Jason to latch/ suck. The problem was Jason sucked TOO hard. He sucked so much that it hurt to have him latch on. At that point, I was supposed to be feeding Jason anytime he cried because the sucking would soothe him, plus the continued sucking/ stimulation would help my milk come in. But it was just so dang painful. I wasn’t sure what to do because everything was just getting raw and it just hurt so badly. I was getting discouraged that it wasn’t coming easy.
The nurse that was on that day came and suggested that I pump every 2 hours instead of the 3 I was doing, and to try a nipple shield. The shield is essentially a thin, silicone layer that you put on top of your breast/ nipple so that there is a barrier between your skin and your baby as they breastfeed. So that’s what we did. David bought me a nipple shield from the gift shop downstairs, and I pumped every two hours, for approx. 40 minutes, then we would syringe the colostrum/ milk that I pumped into Jason’s mouth.
Looking back on it now, I think I would’ve done things differently and not jumped to do the pumping/ nipple shield right away. However, when you’re beyond exhausted and someone gives you a way out, you take it. I think jumping to do the pumping/ nipple shield so soon gave Jason a bit of “nipple confusion” and eventually made it harder for him to latch onto me.
In the days following, I continued to try and get my supply up by pumping, doing tons of skin-to-skin, and drinking lots of water. I remember the day I pumped 70 mls for the first time and being ecstatic. The problem with pumping was that, Jason ate every 2 to 3 hours, from the start of one feed to another. It meant that I would pump for 40 minutes, feed it to Jason (which would probably take at least 20 minutes) and by then, an hour would be gone. However, it meant that he would need to eat in about an hour and a half from then so I would need to start pumping in an hour. Repeat 10 to 12 times a day.
At the time, anytime I didn’t pump enough, we would top up with formula. But it seemed like anytime my supply was finally catching up to Jason’s appetite, he would increase his intake again. I just couldn’t keep up.
It was about 3.5 weeks of this crazy, around the clock pumping/ feeding/ washing bottles and pumps that I really started to question what I was doing. I wasn’t sleeping and hated the stupid pump backpack I had to bring EVERYWHERE I went. Every time I would pump, I felt like crying. I was devastated that I was failing.
Around week 4, I remember setting up a doctor’s appointment with my doctor, and also another one at Fraser Health for a routine check-up. I prayed earnestly that week for answers and guidance on what to do. At this point, Jason would not latch onto me anymore, but I was told about all the benefits that breastmilk had over formula so I was still very determined to keep trying.
I remember nights where I would sit there, pumping beside our bed and just crying as David watched me, helplessly. I remember him saying many times, “I wish there was something I could do to help you…”
David knew how badly I wanted to be able to breastfeed so he supported my decision to keep pumping, but he told me that it was 100% fine if I wanted to stop. I know that he (along with our family) would’ve supported my decision either way, but I was emotional, frustrated and sleep-deprived and wished someone could’ve just TOLD me what to do.
I wanted to be able to feed Jason so badly, but it had reached the point where I was no longer getting to enjoy Jason, or time with David/ our family. I would pump and pass Jason off to someone for his feeding. While he fed, I would try and get a even a few minutes of sleep before my next pump session would start. I told myself that unless one of these appointments had something revolutionary for me, I was going to stop pumping.
I met with my family doctor and she booked me in with a lactation consultant the following week, who would hopefully help me with the breastfeeding issue. I left that appointment disappointed that I was leaving without a plan.
A couple days after that doctors appointment, I met with the Fraser Health nurse. I knew as soon as I met her that she was hands-down, the answer to my prayers. I sat down with her, and she told me, “you don’t look well, are you getting any sleep?” (Answer: No…unless 3-4 hours spread throughout the day counted…) I told her what I was dealing with and she asked me, “what do YOU want to do?” I was taken aback by that question. She was the first health care professional to ask me that. Up until that point, I kept getting told that as long as I kept at it, it would eventually work out. I told her I didn’t know. She looked me in the eyes and said, “let yourself be okay with not breastfeeding. It’s okay if you don’t. Your baby will flourish and be just fine.” That changed everything for me. Her kindness and graciousness that day will stay with me the rest of my life.
It’s funny looking back on it now because no one ever, ever put pressure on me but myself. I feel extremely blessed by this as I know many women struggle with lots of pressure from family/ friends/ the media. And looking back on it now, I realize I was my own worse enemy.
I left the appointment that day feeling like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. She equipped me with ways to wean off pumping. It sounds silly but it made me emotional to know that once I stopped, there was no going back. The next couple weeks following were painful, but I was popping painkillers and stuffing cabbage in my shirt throughout the day (Google it), and sure enough, I started producing less and less milk. I slowly weaned my pumping and Jason eventually switched completely to formula around week 7. (While it was sad, I never really got to “mourn” the stopping of giving Jason breastmilk, because it was around week 6 that we ended up having to check Jason into the hospital for a stomach bacteria incident…and sometime in the the whirlwind of those 4 days at the the hospital, the pain stopped and my milk stopped.)
Now, it has been 5 months since that Fraser Health appointment but I still think about it often. I literally credit my sanity and well-being to that nurse. I know that post-partum depression is real. I don’t know if I had it, but I know those weeks following were a whirlwind and very, very emotional.
Around week 5/ 6, when I started weaning my pumping, I started getting sleep again and was able to take care of myself/ love myself better, which in turn allowed me to love David and Jason better. That in itself has made it worth it and allowed me to not look back and regret our decision.
I am not sure what we will do with the next baby(ies). I think I will give breastfeeding another go, but will try and not put as much pressure on myself, now that I know it IS okay if things don’t go according to plan. It does make me sad to know that I couldn’t do it for Jason, but I know that our decision to switch was better for our family. And while I was really disappointed that I wouldn’t have those moments of bonding with Jason that breastfeeding moms talked about, when I feed Jason and he looks up at me and reaches up to grab my face/ neck while I hold him, I don’t have any regrets.
And now that I have overcome the feeling of disappointment I initially had, I have come to love our experience with bottle-feeding because it means that David, or Jason’s grandparents, or our friends can feed Jason too. It allows me/ us to have a little break, here and there, which is nice and very appreciated. Neither David and I were breastfed, and I think we turned out alright (if I do say so myself…), and I know Jason will be okay, too.