|My "friend" the pump-- also somehow now I have two electric pumps and a manual one...What am I going to do with all these pumps??|
I don't have many friends or family members that breastfeed. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who do or did so exclusively. Most people I know formula feed. Personally, I don't love either option. Nursing is hard, especially at the very beginning when you're just so sore and the baby is still learning and your supply is evening out and the baby eats frequently anyway, etc etc. But I love the benefits of breast milk. So it's a sacrifice I made as long as I could with Ros (and yes, there are pleasant moments, the pain doesn't last forever, and eventually that oxytocin release when the baby nurses is something to look forward to). Formula was a huge blessing for me, too. And it's a huge blessing for a lot of people, and I recognize that and totally do not judge. It's just that it can really block up a baby and be hard to digest, etc etc. As an added lovely bonus, a lot of formula companies put stupid things in formula that really make me scratch my head. So, like I said, for me, neither option was perfect.
Only when I had Rosalind did I realize there were actually more than just those two options. As I've mentioned numerous times, Ros had a really difficult time with breastfeeding. There were multiple reasons for it, I'm sure. But after a month of struggling to feed her, I started pumping milk to bottle feed her. Because it's hard to keep up with casual pumping AND nursing a baby with a voracious appetite, at 6 weeks I started supplementing with formula. Soon after that, I was only nursing her at night when she was too sleepy to fight me, and she was getting both pumped milk and formula during the day. It was a LOT of work. I thought originally "Hey, exclusive pumping seems like the way for me!" I had a pump and a bunch of bottles and pumped and bagged milk like crazy. But because of PPD and her insatiable appetite, pumping often enough wasn't really feasible. So by the time she was 3 or 4 months old, my supply was pretty much dwindling to nothing. I remember one night in the middle of the night, she was trying to nurse and get a let-down and nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. It was heart-breaking for me. And she was screaming from hunger so we had to go make a bottle, and that was hard too.
After that, I tried relactation a couple of times (if you've ever tried this, you know how impossible it can be). I pumped and pumped and even tried to get her to nurse during the day, but she just chewed on me as if it were a joke. I remember after a collective 2 hours of pumping one day, I was able to get almost 2 ounces-- pure liquid gold. I was so proud, but simultaneously felt pathetic. And then when I was warming it up the next day in a bottle, a well-meaning but misguided individual dumped it down the sink, thinking it was a dirty bottle, and I cried for 45 minutes. That really was pathetic. So I quit trying, and resigned myself to feeding Rosalind formula-- which would have been fine if she had tolerated it well, which she didn't. Formula made her super constipated, and it was just something we had to deal with. We tried a handful of different varieties, and I remember one afternoon, I was alone with her and she was trying so, so hard to poop, and I had to sit there with her and hold her legs with her diaper off and talk to her soothingly while she screamed and pushed and started to bleed. Again-- heartbreaking.
And then, one evening my visiting teachers were over, and we were talking about how hard all this had been (I have no idea how we got on the subject, seeing as I barely knew these women, and we were actually meeting for the first time), and one of them suggested as they were walking out the door to leave, "Hey, I know it's kind of taboo and not really for everyone, but have you considered donated milk? Not through the milk bank, since that's reserved for really sick babies, but donated milk from other nursing women." I was intrigued, and she said she would hook me up with the group she had previously donated to. I talked it over with Sam and did a mound of research, and we decided that as long as we met the women we got the milk from and knew they were legit, that it would be something we should take advantage of.
We never got a regular donor, just a few people who had a bunch of frozen breastmilk taking up space in their freezer, but through those generous donations, we were able to give Ros partial breastmilk and partial formula for a few more months. As she got older, fewer people took pity on us, but her digestion improved, so it worked out okay. Several of the people that I mentioned the path we took to thought it was a little disgusting, though for the life of me, I could never really figure out why. These people had to disclose their diets and medications, etc, and I met every one of the women who gave us any milk, and they were all kind people with children of their own, who understood the need. The group was private, and every member was vetted by a moderator for legitimacy. While we did occasionally get a bag of spoiled milk, there was really nothing disturbing about any of it, and really seemed to me a wonderful act of service that we were lucky to take advantage of.
This time around, I did (and do) not have high hopes for nursing Remy. I am nursing him as long as I feel able, especially since it's flu/RSV season and he needs all the help he can get, especially with an older sister and a dad who's a teacher. We get a lot more germs coming through here than my OCD/anxious self can handle at times. But I'm also realistic. I know nursing is not my thing. I know I'm not cut out for the long term (I'm just not, you guys). I know that medication I will have to take soon is not breastfeeding-friendly. I have felt horribly guilty about my inability to provide for my babies at times, since if it were a hundred or more years ago, my babies would simply die. But, as Sam pointed out during a tearful conversation recently, it's not a long time ago. It's today. And it's okay to take advantage of other options for the sake of my mental health. I need to take care of myself so that I can take care of my family. That is incredibly important.
I don't know yet where this feeding path will take Remy and me, but I'm doing what I can to balance his health and mine. If that means formula, fine. If that means trying to find a milk donor again, I'm glad for that too. But through this whole thing, through all the guilt I've felt and shame I've perceived from others, there's one thing I've learned: Fed is Best. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.