Breastfeeding is one of the most magical parts of being a mother. It's also one of the most difficult, stressful and heart wrenchingly rewarding and beautiful experiences I've ever gone through. The good, the bad, and the milky -- this is my story.
Before having Poppy, I had always imagined that breastfeeding would be easy breezy. Something that came totally naturally and effortless. But then once I had her, I quickly learned otherwise.
For some moms, it happens without struggle... almost as natural as the rising sun. For me, well, YEAH, RIGHT! I friggin' wish!
As it turns out, my experience would be the exact opposite. A roller coaster of emotions. The good, the bad, and the milky. To tell my story, I'll start right after my birth story which took place at 7:05pm on Friday, May 29th 2020.
As I was holding my new wiggly baby after giving birth, I was in shock. It just didn't feel real. It felt like an out of body experience.. Like I was tripping or something. I don't know if it was the drugs or the mere disbelief that i could possibly grow something so amazing. But my brain did not compute.
But as I held her in my arms, bewildered, I looked over at my husband, Jeremy, who was sobbing his eyes out. I was still in shock. Still wide-eyed in wonder with dried eyes.
A few minutes later, the nurse came over, snapped me out of my stare and helped place our baby on my chest. From there, I watched Poppy wiggle her way down my chest. She found my nipple with ease. How?! I have no idea. But that's when it hit me. That's when her birth became real.
As I felt her little lips find my boob, and the first gentle suckling began, my eyes started to burn and fill with water. I finally started crying. For me, it was truly the moment that it all felt real. The happy tears were finally flowing and my brain started processing what we just went through.
After a few minutes, Poppy pulled off my chest and snuggled me. I didn't think anything was wrong with it but then out of nowhere, one of the nurses placed a nipple shield on me. I had never even heard of one so I just went with it. She latched again and fed a little longer on and off for the next 2 hours or so.
After all skin to skin time in the delivery room, they finally wheeled us to our new room. Poppy was sleepy and sweet and I was still excited yet totally wiped out and exhausted.
That very first night on our own was unbelievable easy. I was pooped but couldn't fall asleep -- hello adrenaline high! It's all still kind of a blur but I remember putting her on my breast as she would fuss.
As soon as she would get the taste of colostrum, she was instantly soothed. I was relaxed and feeling great. Not going to lie, I actually felt like a superstar mother-of-the-year type was since I was nourishing my baby from my body with ease.
Early the next morning, the hospital lactation specialist stopped by and asked how we were doing. I said she was latching well and that I couldn't really think of any questions... she said "Ok, great!" and just like that, she left the room.
Later that day, Poppy started crying harder than normal. Her "aaaa laaaa" that once made us laugh began to make us panic. At first, her cry was sweet like a little french angel... but then it changed. She became inconsolable. I would try to get her to latch but she would just scream. One of the nurses came in and reminded me of the nipple shield. Without really thinking I stuck it on and Poppy started nursing again. All was good in my mind. I was relieved and so was baby.
Later that night around midnight, Poppy was pissed again. The nipple shield wasn't working, my bare breast wasn't working, rocking and soothing weren't working and I was at a loss. At this point, the lack of sleep was catching up to me. I was frustrated and worried which is not a fun combo.
This went on for what felt like hours. Nurses would come in and check on us while just telling us to just keep calm and keep trying. At this point, Poppy hadn't fed from my breast for what seemed like eternity. I was getting stressed, worried and anxious which didn't help the situation.
Around 3am, one of the nurses came in and asked me what I wanted to do for Poppy. I was begging her for advice because I had no idea what to do. We couldn't call or text any family or friends because it was in the middle of the night and I was just perplexed. It didn't help that the nurse seemed annoyed and ambivalent and just kept saying "whatever you want to do -- it's up to you".
I was getting so frustrated because I wanted and needed guidance. I just really wanted her happy and content again and I was getting desperate.
The nurse finally suggested that I try to pump to collect some colostrum. I ended up getting a syringe-worth and Poppy slurped it down within one second.
Five minutes later, she was still upset. Still hungry. Still crying. Still mad.
Meanwhile, I was sweating, crying, panicking, and at a complete loss. I was so worried that I was literally overheating and feeling nauseous.
The same nurse came back in and asked if I had fed her the colostrum and then basically told me the only thing left that I could do is to supplement with formula. Unknowing to me that introducing a bottle this early might forever change her breastfeeding habits, I accepted.
Poppy slurped down 2 oz of formula and slept longer than she had since she was born. I was so relieved and I finally got some sleep for the first time.
The next day, my milk still hadn't come in and the colostrum still wasn't cutting it. The nurses recommended that I kept her on formula since it helped her quit crying. They said that sometimes big babies like her don't get satiated from colostrum and that it was totally normal to supplement with formula.
So after all the doctors and nurses were done with their morning rounds, I asked when the LC would visit our room that day. I had so many questions at this point. But to my surprise, we were told that they didn't have one on Sunday. I WAS LIKE WAIT WHAT?! Why?! No one told me that I'd only have one opportunity to talk to her. It's still beyond me why they wouldn't have an LC on the weekend but in times of Covid, I guess there is no norm.
So from there on out, we used a shield when needed and supplemented with formula until we were released from the hospital the next night.
During our first day at home, my friend Sarah, who's a certified LC, came over to help. She was awesome and helped us so much. Since my milk still hadn't come in, she set us up on a drip system called a supplemental nursing system. It functions like an IV bag full of formula that you attach to your nipple and above your shoulder. A teeny tiny tube runs down which you tape to your chest and align with your nipple. When the baby sucks, it slowly drips the formula into their mouth so the baby thinks she's nursing. It's an awesome invention and a great way to still nurse if your milk is taking a while to come in.
The next morning, my milk came in with vengeance! Poppy was latching and was feeding like a champ. All was well in our world!
During the day, I would breastfeed her on and off with the shield. And then I would pump and pour into premie bottle so Jeremy could feed her while I got some much needed sleep. It was working out perfectly and I was so happy.
Fast forward 3 days, and all of a sudden, Poppy started screaming at my boobs whenever I'd try to get her to latch. She completely refused if I wasn't wearing the shield so I started wearing it al the time. Still to this day have no idea why she started hating breastfeeding but it started to wear on me and my mental health. After a week long struggle, I thought it would be best if I just pumped and bottle fed her. She seemed to prefer it and I liked that she wasn't screaming bloody murder every few hours.
A few weeks went by like this and life was good. Poppy was happy and so was I.
Then one day out of nowhere, Poppy started rooting on Jeremy's chest. "I think she wants to nurse, babe" He said. So I grabbed my nipple shield, stuck her on my boob and she started nursing again. It was like magic! I was shocked and so freakin happy. SHE WAS NURSING AGAIN AND SHE LIKED IT! Multiple times a day, all night -- no tears, screams, or inconsolable cries. I was so relieved.
And although she was nursing so well, I continued pumping once in the morning and once at night since I had such an oversupply. I was actually able to freeze hundreds of ounces which was freakin rad. I loved nursing her. I felt like there was this new bond that we had. It was also great because Jeremy loved that he could feed her, too. We were all happy and content.
I got really good at it. I nursed at the beach, at an Ikea, in a parking lot at Target - WE WERE DOING IT! And doing it well!
Breastfeeding went smoothly for a while and when I finally felt like I was getting the hang of it, things changed. As she turned 2.5 months old, she decided to throw me for a loop, AGAIN!
One totally normal day, I put her to my breast and I could tell she was getting frustrated. She started pulling away and fussing. I didn't think anything of it, so I'd just try to push her back on to latch. This only made her more mad. We tried every position. We tried different nipple shields. We tried everything!
After talking to my LC, we ended up just giving her a bottle after trying and trying. She slurped it down as fast as she could then passed out for a solid two hour nap.
After that, she would latch here and there but she would cry and scream most of the time. My LC told me to keep trying and to not give up which was good advice. Most likely she was just going through a leap or growing spurt.
But to be honest, the lack of boobie love was completely devastating to me. I felt like I was torturing her every time I'd try to breastfeed her. It broke my heart.
From there on, she kept latching less and less and kept screaming more and more. It really freaking sucked. She went from being a happy easy baby to a frustrated and hungry one.
But during the night, it was a whole different story. Whenever she woke up, I would change her diaper and lay her in the bed next to me. She would roll over and start nursing without any problems. Although it took place in the middle of the night when I was exhausted, I still felt so happy about it. I really wanted to be able to nurse her so if it meant that we had to do it in the as the sun was rising, that was fine with me. At least I got to have that moment some of the time.
Since then, whenever I offer her the boob during the day, she completely freaks out. I don't know if I somehow traumatized her or what but during the daylight hours, she wants absolutely nothing to do with my teet. At night, she's 100% game and will nurse for 20 minutes before falling asleep on me. And for that, I feel lucky.
To be honest, my entire breastfeeding journey has been completely mind boggling but I've come to terms with it. Whenever she refused the boob, it used to hurt my feelings and make me feel inept. But with a little change in perception, I now think of it as a a sign of her brainpower and strength. Since breastfeeding is harder work than chugging a bottle, she must have figured out how to work smarter not harder.
And after talking to one of my therapist friends, she put it into perspective for me. She said that as someone who has been a lifelong overachiever, it's super hard not to be able to do something successfully after you put your heart and soul into. It really breaks you down and that's totally natural. Because at the end of the day, no matter how hard I tried to nurse her, it is Poppy that actually has the final say.
Through this, I had to learn to let go of control which I've realized is a rough and unavoidable part of motherhood.
And although this has been the hardest thing I've ever done, I'm still so incredibly grateful. I'm grateful that I was able to give her a choice. I'm grateful that I have enough milk to pump and pour into bottles while still being able to freeze an extra stash. I'm grateful that I even got to breastfeed her at all.
Sure I had big dreams of nursing her for 2 years like my mama had done for me. But I realize that it might not be my story and I'm finally ok with it. I still plan on offering her the boob often but I won't get discouraged or upset if she doesn't want it. Sticking to bottles during the day and boobies at night is A-ok with me.
I will continue to soak up those midnight feedings. To watch lovingly as she nuzzles up to my boob. To feel joy over her big toothless smile when she sees a bottle. And of course, to be in the moment during those sweet, sweet moments that will inevitably come to an end.
And at the end of the day, I know I tried my hardest to exclusively breastfeed. And although it was tough and exhausting at times, I feel like it's taught me so much. It's shown me how to let go. To accept that I am no longer in control. And to be grateful for what I was given.
But the biggest lesson I've learned is to let Poppy be Poppy. To not force my dreams or ideas onto my daughter. To let her make her own decisions. To allow her to forge her own individual path while still showering her with unconditional love and support. And of course, to always see the optimism in whatever choices she makes.
No matter what happens, I promise to be the best mom I can be. I promise to always focus on the good in every situation. And I promise to love this little baby with all of my heart.