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Failing as parents before we even leave the hospital

April 17, 2012
Logo design by Christine Hepner

Or more precisely, I was failing as a mom in only 3 days flat.

So what could possibly be hard about breastfeeding? Turns out, just about everything. I just had never given it a thought before I was pregnant other than to think maybe it was a good thing to do, sort of. During my pregnancy, I got totally overwhelmed with the whole topic. I tried to do some research on what I would need, and I’d immediately get so anxious about it, I’d put it off for another day. I mean, hundreds of dollars for a breast pump? Manual or motorized? New or used? Who knew?

The best advice I got was from my friend Claire who had her son about a year before us. She told me to rent everything, because she had gone out and spent hundreds of dollars for all the best stuff, and then her son never took to it. Then, our friends Chrissie and Kevin told us about the Upper Breast Side, the breastfeeding store in our neighborhood. Although “store” doesn’t seem to quite capture it; it’s more like where you go to get militarized for the upcoming Battle of the Breasts, kind of like a breastfeeding re-education camp. But I totally got it once I got there. Honestly, it’s as hard as it can possibly be to breastfeed your baby, if that’s what you want to do, for the recommended one year. If you have to work, it’s shocking how difficult it is. I’ve heard nightmare stories from other mothers about just how difficult it was to work and pump, even at jobs that you think would be totally encouraging. One working mom told me she worked for a pediatrician who made pumping almost impossible for her and fired her for taking too much time. So, I understand that the women at the Upper Breast Side are as fiercely supportive of breastfeeding as the rest of the world (at least the U.S.) is fiercely apathetic or outright unsupportive. I say the U.S., because I had colleagues in the U.K. who went out on 12- or 18-month maternity leaves. Not paid, but with job protection so that when they at least had the opportunity to stay at home knowing their jobs would be open when they were ready to return.

I walked out of the Upper Breast Side with such confidence that I felt I could breastfeed the world! I was armed with everything I would need, including organic nipple oil and cards to put on my baby’s hospital bassinet that read, “I’m a breastfed boy.” Apparently there are frequent mix-ups in nurseries and breastfed babies are given bottles, scotching the whole deal for everyone. Again, who knew.

The only problem, for all my good intentions and all the baby’s efforts, I just never produced enough breast milk to nourish him. For three solid days in the hospital, we tried. Every two hours, day and night, we tried. I had the IVs to jump-start milk production, I had consultations with the lactation consultant, and we tried and tried, but he kept losing weight. At first, everyone was very reassuring. We were told that it is completely normal for newborns to lose weight the first few days. He was 8 lbs. 7 oz. at birth, but by the third day, he was down almost 10 percent of his weight. Still, everyone kept telling me to keep trying, everything was still perfectly normal.

Then, finally, our favorite nurse, who I will not identify by name or even mention the shift she was on, because I fear that she might have to go into the Witness Protection Program to escape the La Leche League assassins if they could identify her. But, she gave it to us straight–the baby was not coming home with us the next day because of his weight loss. Unless we could get him to put back on at least a few ounces, I would be discharged, but he would stay in the nursery. That was all I needed to know. I had a bottle in his mouth within ten seconds, and he gulped it down. I continued to try to breastfeed, but once it was obvious that he was not getting anything, I’d supplement with the formula.

Friday morning, the attending pediatrician told us that she would only discharge him with us if we made an appointment for him to see our own pediatrician the next morning. We agreed, and we were all released.

I’m aware of the arguments against what our nurse told us–that doctors and nurses are too quick to recommend formula when breastfeeding is difficult, and given time, breastfeeding will work for most mothers. But in retrospect, I can say that we were that small percentage that was never going to be successful. I continued to try for months and months. I never produced any more than a thimble-full at a time. My baby would have starved or been completely miserable the whole time. I am completely grateful to that nurse.

We had to take our baby (F, from now on) to the pediatrician every three or four days for the next few weeks until he had regained his original weight. I had no idea until I opened a letter from our insurance company, but this condition is called “failure to thrive.” How awful! Can’t they come up with something less accusatory? I mean, that’s not a diagnosis, it’s a judgement. Why not just call it “My mom is a total fuck-up and she can’t even manage to breastfeed me?” I thought I was just being completely oversensitive until months later when I was having lunch with my sweet friend, Rita. Her “babies” are adults now, her youngest just turned 21. When I started to tell her my sad story of breastfeeding frustration, I said “failure to thrive” and Rita started crying! Even almost 21 years later, it stings. Her youngest “failed to thrive” when breastfed, too, and we sat there in a diner blubbing and feeling totally silly, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Next time: D promises he will share his story of Daddy Panic

Thanks for following and reading! I’d love to hear your story of IVF. Please leave your comments below.

© 2012

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Please comment below!

  1. I can tell you that I have two kids and nursing didn’t work for us either. It wasn’t “failure to thrive,” as in they never lost weight. I just didn’t produce enough milk. I could tell it wasn’t happening. They tried some tube hook-up to finger-feed my firstborn in the hospital. It was nuts. Some very kind older and experienced night nurse finally told me that giving my son a bottle wouldn’t hurt him. That was all I needed to hear. Thank God for her! I tried pumping at home and nothing. When my daughter was born, things were better but I still just didn’t have enough milk. Sometimes it just doesn’t work for people. And I don’t feel bad about it one bit. My kids have always been healthy. They were rarely sick when they were young. People can be harsh about nursing, but don’t be hard on yourself. Formula is perfectly fine.


    • grayhairedmom permalink

      Yes, I’m so thankful for my nurse, too! I knew it was time to give up even trying when a friend of mine mentioned the “feeling like you are going to burst if the baby doesn’t nurse soon.” I never felt that, and I did keep trying for months. The most I would get pumping was an ounce, maybe. And my son is now “off the charts” in height and his weight is proportional, so he caught up very nicely on the formula after a rough first few weeks. Thanks for letting me know about your experience!


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