I'm So Glad I Didn't Give Up On Breastfeeding
A few hours after I gave birth, my daughter Luna and I were moved into the communal room of the maternity ward. We stayed there for a few days, until we were given the OK to go home. The midwives just needed to make sure I'd established a good latch first. My baby, who weighed around five and a half pounds at birth and wasn't especially strong, hadn't had a proper feed yet.
I spent the night in a state of semi-consciousness. I was too exhausted to move, let alone cuddle my baby. But I was too full of leftover adrenaline to shut my mind off. At one point, an overnight nurse tried to attach my baby to my left breast, urging me to elongate my nipple. My arms didn't respond to her plea. I mumbled something, but I'm still not sure what it was.
Luna slept for most of the next day. When she woke up, I maneuvered her into every breastfeeding position I'd been researching for months: The side-lying hold, the cradle hold, that football hold thing. Her lips stayed still on my boobs every time. She didn't seem to know what to do. Or maybe she didn't have the strength. She just couldn't latch, and I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever be able to nurse her.
For the next two days, several midwives came in periodically to hand express my colostrum. They eventually told me that I could go home, and advised me to keep trying to establish a latch. "She'll get there eventually," someone told me. "In the meantime, keep hand expressing into a bottle cap. Not the bottle itself. You don't want her to get attached to it too soon."
I live in the United Kingdom, where postnatal care includes regular at-home midwife visits during the first few months of new parenthood. These visits are like little therapy sessions where crying is not only allowed, but encouraged.
The first midwife came over the day after we took our baby home. Unfortunately, Luna had lost more weight than what is considered normal in the days after birth. She had spent the whole night before sleeping, and she still wasn't latching.
Those two weeks were hell. Sleep-deprived, tear-filled, anxiety-riddled hell.
The midwife told me my milk would arrive within the next 24 hours. In order to get her weight up, I was urged to hand express or pump as much as I could and continue to cup-feed her every two hours. If Luna fell asleep, I was to wake her up. I was to do this both day and night for at least two weeks, but possibly for longer if she still wasn't latching.
Those two weeks were hell. Sleep-deprived, tear-filled, anxiety-riddled hell. Every two hours, I tried to get Luna to latch on. Every two hours, I failed. Her screams grew louder the hungrier she became, until I eventually caved and pulled out my breast pump. Every minute of every day, I was either glued to the pump or glued to a crying infant.
At one point during those first few weeks, I texted my sister-in-law. She had two kids of her own, both under 2 years old. When her first child was born, she'd tried to breastfeed. She had really, really wanted it to work. Unfortunately, it was painful AF. Her son wouldn't latch and his attempts at doing so left her sore, raw, and bleeding. "It's 100 percent OK if you can't," she reassured me. "There's nothing wrong with formula-feeding. The baby needs a happy, healthy mother. Don't make yourself miserable. Pumping is twice the work."
I just knew in my gut that breastfeeding would help me further bond with my baby.
I knew she was right, but that didn't stop me from wanting breastfeeding to work. I wanted it so badly. Not because there's anything wrong with formula-feeding. Not because I thought breastfeeding would make me a "superior" parent. Not because I bought the idea that it would lead to my child having a higher IQ. I just knew in my gut that breastfeeding would help me further bond with my baby. I also knew that I wanted to give that baby all the antibodies possible.
Two weeks quickly turned into a month. The midwives kept coming and, thankfully, Luna's weight kept creeping up. She still wasn't getting her milk directly from me, though. She was getting it from a bottle cap or, occasionally, from the bottle itself.
At this point, we were still feeding every two hours, and I was at a breaking point. I couldn't remember what it felt like not to be exhausted, like every bone in my body was as thin as tissue paper. A lot of people had told me time and time again that it was OK to give up, and of course I knew that it was. My stubbornness was fading with each passing day, and I eventually asked my husband to pick up some formula on his way home from work.
Then I suddenly felt it. Luna was suckling. She'd latched onto my nipple and she was actually drinking. I could hear the faintest sounds of satisfaction coming from her as little drops of liquid gold escaped her mouth.
Sometime between his trip to the grocery store and his arrival home, however, something happened. I was watching Jane The Virgin in our living room. The laptop was on a table in front of the couch and Luna was propped up on a nursing pillow atop my lap. I took off my shirt and exposed my right boob, as I had done hundreds of time before. Bracing myself for her screams, I turned the volume up on the show.
I was so focused on the screen that I didn't even register what was happening on my chest. Then I suddenly felt it. Luna was suckling. She'd latched onto my nipple and she was actually drinking. I could hear the faintest sounds of satisfaction coming from her as little drops of liquid gold escaped her mouth. For just a moment, I thought I had to be asleep. I was going to wake up in a few minutes and realize I'd passed out on top of the baby or something.
But no. This was actually happening.
Still, things were not entirely smooth sailing from then on. My left nipple is inverted, and getting Luna to latch onto that one took another few weeks. About two and a half months after she was born, however, she learned. Before I knew it, the pump was only coming out when I needed to leave her with her dad or grandma to run an errand or catch up on work. Before I knew it, we were even given the OK to feed on demand, rather than every two hours. I slept for a solid 300 minutes at one point in her third month of life, and it was a damn beautiful thing.
Looking back on it, breastfeeding wasn't something I worried about when I was pregnant. I never anticipated how difficult, grueling, and disheartening it could be if you happen to have a child who doesn't take to it immediately. And I never anticipated how helpless I'd feel should that be the case.
There is something about knowing that my body can offer my daughter nourishment and comfort that fills me with a profound sense of joy.
Although I've never been especially ashamed of being a quitter when it comes to things like ending unhealthy relationships, letting go of hobbies that I've grown tired of, or leaving jobs that weren't for me, I cannot express how glad I am that I didn't quit this time around. There would never have been any shame to formula-feeding, but I always knew that nursing was something I deeply craved.
There is something about knowing that my body can offer my daughter nourishment and comfort that fills me with a profound sense of joy. As someone who's generally filled with self-doubt instead, this simple act is a reminder that I can be there for my baby when she needs me. It was hard AF to get here. But the wait, the exhaustion, and the tears have been beyond worth it.