I am sharing Casey's story today! I've met her a few times in Santa Cruz and she is just the sweetest lady. I'm thankful that she is willing to share her story and I know it will be a help to others. Thank you lovely! (Casey blogs at Mrs Casey Ann . <3
I am so thankful to share my breastfeeding story (thanks sweet Danielle!) because this whole process has been so completely life changing for me—and I'm only four months in, ha! I am so indebted to the many mothers who've shared their stories, especially in this space, because I read every last one voraciously during Luke's middle-of-the-night feedings looking for someone to relate to, for someone who made it through. And I found that here! Over and over again, no matter the journey or outcome, mamas who persevered for their babies and figured out their best way to cover and love them. It was such a hopeful place for me in the midst of it all. Let's keep sharing mamas!
When I was pregnant, many people asked how I'd approach feeding Luke and I always said that I hope to breastfeed, because I did. But wow!—I had no (no!) idea what it would look like. There were close people in my life who'd breastfed, but I think some of it just glossed over me. I'd read so many books too, all about pregnancy and what was happening to my little boy inside my tummy, but I seemed to just skip the breastfeeding sections, or it was non-existent. I really had no idea what to expect and prepare for.
Then on that wonderful day when we got to meet our little boy Luke, I was completely changed. My time in the hospital was scary and surprising, and in a moment, both Luke and I were in enough distress to warrant an emergency c-section.. not part of my plan, but now a part of our story. The recovery was more grueling than I was ready for.. I had a big incision and didn't react well to the heavy drugs given for pain relief. My husband was my rock during this time, bringing Luke to me for every feeding, changing every diaper, helping me constantly.
Being in the hospital was a blur. I had no idea how valuable that first feeding would be and I want to hug the nurses that were fighting behind the scenes to get Luke to me for that moment to feed after he was born (he was in the NICU for 45 minutes due to being in distress, I'd already gotten to cuddle him, but not feed him). So as soon as he was in my room, James (my husband) brought Luke to me and what an incredible moment it was! My baby boy felt so familiar there on my chest and as I stroked his skin, it almost felt like I should feel that stroking, like his skin was my own. He was beautiful! As he laid in the center of my chest, he began woodpecking towards my left side to latch (wood pecking is what we called his little head bobbles looking for milk :), and he latched like a champion. I realized how much I longed to do this! But that came along with a lingering sense of feeling so unprepared, unknowledgable and inadequate.
Over the next five days, I grilled almost every nurse and lactation consultant within any vicinity to my room. I felt a little bit at the mercy of whatever anybody told me, and however helpful each one was, it seemed everyone had a different opinion and varied information. I had yet to feel confident about what I was doing and changed my methods hour-to-hour, based on what advice was given. I also didn't have that full (engorged/milk in) feeling until probably the last day in the hospital (although Colostrum was there) and even though that small amount of milk was coming, I had the feeling it wasn't enough (although it really was!). And to top it off, when you are in the hospital for five days, they weigh your baby incessantly, and even though they said it was normal to lose some weight, nobody treated it like a normal thing (although it was!). I was stressed beyond belief but I wanted to keep at it.
Over the next weeks and months, I'd experience the engorgement, the rawness, the sensitivity (I truly never thought I'd shower again, yikes!). My husband is all too familiar with the breastfeeding aisle at Target—the creams, hydrogels, the hot packs! I needed it all and I couldn't understand how I could continue for the whole year much less another month..this was no cakewalk! But I wanted to push through and give Luke the best start I could muster. I wanted to fight for this. I read and read, from articles online (ps: the internet is littered with garbage info about breastfeeding, bah!) to books, but by far the most helpful were these personal stories. I needed to know that the pain was normal (it just hurts at first!) and that it will get better. Because it did—it did get better!
I was finally feeling like we'd figured something out and at around two months, my happy, content and alert little Luke was filling his diapers like a champ but gaining pretty slowly. At his two-month checkup, my doctor let me know she wanted to see more bulk. Oof..all those feelings of inadequacy soared in (on top of already feeling insecure about the c-section at the time). I don't have enough for my son was ringing through my head constantly. She suggested supplementing with formula if I felt comfortable with that, and I assured her I had no problem and of course I'd do it, if it's best for my baby. I didn't want to be foolish or stubborn about it all (I now know that I wouldn't have been, even if I'd told the doctor no). So I went home with bottles of formula and after nursing him, fed him the extra bottle, which he gobbled up so quickly; I wept the whole time. He was hungry. Was I being selfish and starving this boy in order to nurse? I just wasn't ready for this to be our answer. I wasn't ready to budge on our nursing relationship. I wanted to do everything possible in my power to make things work.
So I did more research**, tried to get informed and proclaimed myself on a nursing vacation. My last ditch effort. Over a period of a few days, I canceled all my plans and rested with my whole heart (no busy work!), feeding Luke every two hours (or earlier) and removing all fake nipples (bottles or paci). Anytime he looked hungry, I fed. I fed and fed and fed. It was definitely painful at the time (rawness returned) and it was a stretch for me physically. I couldn't believe that he'd be happy to eat so often! I learned and watched carefully for his cues and prayed that we'd hit our stride together. And you know what?—We totally did! In those days, something special happened and I gained a confidence in my role with my baby boy.
So many things are 20/20 in hindsight. Now I realize (and so does my doctor) that my little boy is on the littler side (just like my husband was!). I also know that he's an every two hour babe, even at four months, he's just a hungry little hippo (just like his parents were/are!). I also know that, despite what everything I've read says, he will not make eating his priority, and will not make himself loud enough to tell me he is hungry in the night (so I still wake him). Oh how I'd wish I'd known all of this ahead of time!
There was a lot of trust involved in nursing for me.. Trusting that what I had was getting to his belly, trusting that what I had was enough and would adjust appropriately. I wanted so much to be able to be calculated about it all, but I couldn't. And there were just things I didn't know about Luke at the start! My mantra nowadays—don't overcomplicate breastfeeding!! I learned that babies and breastfeeding aren't a formula (no pun intended..), it's a somewhat messy, somewhat painful at first, beautiful expression of love and bonding and comfort (yes, I nurse him for his comfort!). I am so grateful that I've been able to breastfeed these four months and deeply desire to go far into his first year. Will it look like I plan? Ha, probably not. But it's another part of this incredible adventure that I'm so grateful to have a chance to take!
**I wanted to note that the main resource I used for breastfeeding info was Dr. Jack Newman's site (www.nbci.ca). There are so many videos and info sheets on what a drinking baby looks like. It was and still is an answer spot for me, an invaluable resource in my opinion! And read his article on the myths of breastfeeding, don't let people over complicate it for you (what to eat, what to drink, etc etc), breastfeeding is a gift :)