I’m sitting here in the dark listening to the raindrops falling ever so steadily and the echoes of my sweet neighbors newborn bebé wailing. It takes me back to not only a sweet time in my life when I first became a mom, but also to a challenging part of my life when I realized that my maternal instincts don’t always kick in.
A seed of insecurity was planted in my heart the day I held my precious baby in my arms for the very first time.
Don’t get me wrong, there was unexplainable joy and deep seeded love the moment our eyes met, but with it also came dark feelings that I didn’t invite into my heart or home.
I watered and nurtured my seed of insecurity every time I compared myself to other moms. Their nursing successes, their rapid weight loss, their baby gadgets and the list goes on and on… With every unsolicited advice from family, friends and complete strangers, the seed grew.
Then one day this seed of insecurity took flight and bloomed. It started as a routine check up for my one month old. The cold room was filled with tired moms with fake smiles holding their babies. I walked in feeling confident not knowing what was awaiting behind those double doors. Our pediatrician began examining our son. His facial expressions showed concern as he questioned me about my babies bowel movements, eating habits, etc…. He left the room.
Though this was my first visit with this doctor, I immediately knew something was wrong. He came back with a nurse and they both examined him quietly and they left the room again.
He walked back in with a serious look on his face and he said, “You can’t go home with your son.” Time froze. His words and condescending voice just became one long sentence, spoken in slow motion.
Finally, I tuned back in and I heard him ask, “When was the last time you fed him?” He was now speaking to me as if I was a reckless, careless 15-year-old mom. It didn’t help that I looked young, even though I was 28 years old.
He said in his most professional, cold and emotionless voice, “Mrs. Tuten, he is alarmingly under weight. He was born at 6.5 lbs and he has now lost more than a pound. I am afraid that he won’t make it through the weekend if I let you go home.” He walked out.
I sat there in the cold, sterile room holding my baby and crying. I now not only resembled a helpless 15-year-old but I felt like one, as I cried.
My crying quickly turned into sobbing. The nurse walked back in to clean up the doctors lack of tact and she began to reassure me that this was not my fault and this could’ve happened to anyone . . . but the damage was done.
I didn’t need anyone else to help me feel guilty, but now I had a professional confirm that I really didn’t know what I was doing and, for that matter, that everything I had done up to this point: the sleepless nights, the bleeding nipples, the constant feeding was NOT good enough.
I felt shame, embarrassment, confusion and frustration but all I could do was sob as I held my sweet boy.
Surely, this was just a dream. I must have slept through my appointment and I am just having an awful nightmare. I will wake up and this will all be over.
Unfortunately, it was really happening.
My husband left work and rushed over, we spent 2 nights in the hospital, what seemed like an eternity. I watched my sweet baby boy scream in anguish as the nurses poked and bruised his little arms in an attempt to put an IV in him. I will forever have etched in my mind his tiny little 5 lb. body laying there with tubes running through him attached to a monitor.
His diagnosis: “failure to thrive” or, as I interpreted it, careless mom who was unable to provide and feed her child.
What the doctor didn’t know was:
I nursed him every three hours.
I spent an hour each feeding trying to wake him, stimulate him, play with him in order to get him to nurse.
I had bleeding nipples because I cared about my baby.
I didn’t get much sleep because every little coo and sound he made woke me up in panic.
I may not have been the perfect new mom but by golly this baby boy is loved. He is cared for and he is a happy and content baby. That’s why there were no signs of “failure to thrive.”
He didn’t know me. He didn’t know that I wasn’t a careless 15-year-old mom. Those days in the hospital changed me. My spirit for mothering was crushed and I left the hospital with an insurmountable amount of baggage:
Guilt — I should have known he was near death?
Shame — I’m a woman, I should be able to feed my baby but I can’t even nurse him properly. What kind of mother am I?
Jealously — I couldn’t watch, much less hear, another mom gloat about their amazing nursing experiences.
All of those feelings soon turned into resentment. From that day forward our nursing sessions looked like this: nursing for an hour, supplementing with a bottle, and then pumping. This all took about two and a half hours, leaving only 30- 45 minutes of “free” time to get things done around the house before I had to breastfeed again. I did this for six long and hard months.
Everyone cheered me on in my decision to breastfeed because after all, this was the best thing for my sweet baby boy. Little did we know that it was the worst thing I could do for my son, myself and our family. Those six months were filled with exhaustion, bitterness, jealousy, and resentment leaving me drained. Though this was a dark time in my life only by the grace of God can I look back now and still say that I couldn’t get enough kisses from him, he was loved.
My husband encouraged me to let go of nursing, but I didn’t listen. I became a determined, crazy nursing mom – reading anything I could get my hands on about how to make this work, trying all sorts of crazy recipes to make my milk supply increase . Alas, none of it worked.
Now an explanation to what probably got you reading this far, my title for this article. In light of my negative experience I would still choose nursing, if that’s a possibility. My hope is to encourage women to realize that it does take time and effort to learn how to breastfeed. And to share that we don’t all have a choice in the matter of nursing. Though lactating is a natural process we still have to learn to breastfeed. And it doesn’t always work for everyone.
Some of us do have to reluctantly go and stand in front of the formula aisle for hours trying to decipher between the endless supply of formula choices. Forcing ourselves to buy it because the endless hours of “professionals” grabbing our breast to get our baby to latch on just didn’t work.
I quickly realized that nursing my baby and having my baby latch on does not come natural. You do have to learn how to breastfeed your baby and for some the learning process is harder than for others.
I wish people would share this more with moms.
I equate “natural” to something that does not need my active participation, it just happens. Most babies don’t naturally latch on correctly (this is important) they need to be taught and once they learn, some catch on right away and suck to their heart’s content.
I couldn’t agree more with how Catherine from LearnerMom put its, “Falling in-love. Making poo. Producing tears. Tummy flutters. Goosebumps. Cold shivers. Muscle cramps. Any of these fall neatly into the category of “natural”. Breastfeeding isn’t like that. At all. At best one could describe the production of colostrum as natural. I didn’t give a moments thought to its production, but there it was…ready and waiting when my babies were born. Breastfeeding, like so much of parenting, is learned. And like most things that are worth learning, it hurts. And takes time. And patience. And it almost always helps to have some kind of teacher (even if that teacher is a book).”
If I could go back and tell my new mom self something I would have said, “Mari, Just let it go. When you look at your children out on the playground playing with other kids you can’t pick out the ones who were breastfed and the ones who weren’t. So, let it go.”
On a side note, we did discover later in life that I produce skim milk, this was after having similar newborn weight loss issues with my second baby.
In other words, my milk doesn’t have the fat that is needed for my babies to gain weight and grow.
In spite of all our issues, I am glad to report that I have 3 healthy, handsome and growing boys. I’ve learned after the first child well maybe it took the second one to accept that nursing wasn’t going to work for us and that’s is completely okay.