by LaTia Wilson Barrett
Note from the editor: This guest post from a Leaky is sharing one person’s journey through breastfeeding. Her story isn’t a prediction for yours but like your story, her story matters. For those that can relate to LaTia’s story, we hope you find encouragement and support to know you are not alone, for those who can’t relate, may empathy and understanding be your guide.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I was ecstatic. My mind was instantly flooded with all the hopes and dreams I had for myself as a parent. I was excited for the chance to experience that first flutter, first kick, first… everything. One of my first thoughts about giving birth, well, following wincing at some of the stories I’d heard about the process, was about the experience of breastfeeding. So many of the parents in the various online groups I was a part of talked about how much of a bonding time breastfeeding was, and how much their sweet newborn took to it right away, and how much pride they had in being able to exclusively breastfeed their baby. I read these kinds of stories with a kind of wonder and glee that one feels when thinking about the magic of Christmas. I mean, it all sounded so idyllic and perfect. I never had any reason to think that things wouldn’t be just as magical for me. As it turns out, it was not at all magical for me. I had always assumed that everyone could breastfeed their child if they chose, and it never occurred to me that I would have an issue. But I did. And it hurt. A lot. It shattered me, until I was able to redefine for myself what it meant to be a mother.
My daughter was born at 36 weeks and 3 days via emergency cesarean after 32 hours of labor and 1 hour of pushing. I had been induced due to severe pre-eclampsia, and by the time my daughter was actually born, I was too exhausted to fully enjoy the moment. But here she was, all 6 pounds 14 ounces of her, looking just as harried as I felt. But she was here and not too much worse for wear. While I was in the recovery area, one of the first things I asked for was a breast pump. I knew that if my daughter and I were going to be separated even for a just a few hours that I would need to try to get things started on my own.
However, a few hours turned into 5 days. Over the course of the days that we were separated I pumped, even during the 2 days that I spent in the ICU due to respiratory distress. I never got the “rock hard”/full feeling, I never woke up leaking, but I continued to pump, assuming that I was one of those women who took a little longer than a couple days for her “milk to come in”. I was so happy the first day I saw a few drops, and cried happy tears (and took pictures!) the first day I was able to pump a measurable amount (about 10mls)! I very clearly recall the day that I finally was able to put my daughter to breast. I cried because it was one of the moments I had been looking forward to the most since finding out I was pregnant. We were both tired and more than a little worn due to our experience, but we were finally together and all was right with the world.
After 10 days in the hospital, we were finally released to go home. My milk still hadn’t “come in”, but maybe I was just one of those who was a little later than everyone else. I mean, I did have an emergency cesarean, an ICU stay, and was really sick following her birth. But, it was going to happen any day now, right? Right?? As it turns out, I did have milk, but it just wasn’t enough to feed my baby. It never dawned on me that I could actually have supply issues and that I wouldn’t be able to feed my daughter.
We are never really told what to do when breastfeeding doesn’t work out, aside from, “take fenugreek… pump more… drink more water…” But what about those of us who have serious supply issues that a simple cup of tea or oatmeal cookie just won’t fix? Why aren’t more women educated about what CAN happen, and how to address it? Why are so many of us made to feel like failures and told if we just “put baby to breast more often” or “pump more often” things will work out just fine? I spent many months and lots of money chasing my dream of breastfeeding my baby, when I really should have been more focused on just enjoying her.
At the height of my breastfeeding journey, I produced roughly 2 ounces of milk PER DAY. My self-worth for quite some time was measured in ounces. It wasn’t until I developed tendonitis which required I stop pumping altogether around 5 months that I realized that my daughter loved me whether I gave her breastmilk or formula. She would smile just as bright and laugh just as long. She loved ME, not what my breasts could or couldn’t give her. And while I cried on the last day that I gave her my breast milk, I know that she has gotten not only what’s best for her, which is a full tummy, but I’ve also gotten what’s best for me, which is less stress. I still think about “what ifs”, and all the things I maybe could have done differently to produce more milk, and I still feel a slight pang whenever I see a parent nursing their child, but I know that our journey turned out “right” for us, and that’s just fine with me.
Concerned you may have low supply? Go here to learn more about what’s normal, what’s not, signs of low supply, what you can do, and when to seek help.