Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Easing the Fears

***Yet another disclaimer: This post contains descriptions of me using my breasts for what they were made for. It also contains pictures that to some, might be "graphic" so if you don't want to read any words that are related to my breasts or see any pictures of my beautiful babies eating, then look no further than these asterisks***
Seeing these two pictures next to each other brings up a mix of emotions that I had never prepared for. The top picture is me, learning how to get Jonah to latch on. It is the second time I had ever attempted to feed him. I remember very vividly, Daryl bringing me a still wrinkly Jonah from the bassinet. Ah, this is the moment I'd been waiting for- this is the moment that everyone had told me would make me feel like a mother. The first time I had nursed him, I was in the recovery room from the OR, still groggy from general anesthesia. It had been interrupted by a very stressful phone conversation from the pediatrician on-call, and there really isn't very much that I remember about it. Even at the time, this seemed like the first moment that I would be feeding my baby.

I opened up the hospital gown and tickled his nose with my breast, just as our bradley instructor had taught me to do. It didn't work. He didn't turn his head, he didn't open his mouth. He grimaced, stretched, and started to whimper. I tried it again. "It worked the first time" I said as Jonah let out a newborn wail. Seeing his mouth wide open, I decided to seize the opportunity. I shoved as much of my boob as I could, into his mouth. I think it surprised him, because he stopped crying. He took a couple of tentative sucks, then popped off. "Well this isn't making me feel much like a mother" I told Daryl as I pushed the "Call Nurse" button. "Yes?" said a voice on the intercom. I felt stupid saying it "I need help feeding my baby!" I told her. "Be right there!"

By the time the nurse came in, I was close to tears. I couldn't do it.. all the reading and practicing and talking to other mothers.. and I couldn't do it. "I need help.." I glumly told the nurse as she brought the rocker next to my bed. "Everyone does" she reassured me. I liked this nurse a lot. She was eight months pregnant herself, and I think that caused a sense of compassion that I had not felt from the other nurses. She helped me get all of our chords out of the way, and placed Jonah back into my arms. "Tickle his nose like this... and.. there!" He latched on. I couldn't believe it. I fell in love with him all over again, for the hundredth time that day. Minutes later is when he began to choke and was rushed to the nursery to have a tube stuck down his throat to remove "excess mucous from birth."

Fast forward to the second picture. That picture was taken six months later. We had just returned home from a weeklong stay at the Toledo Children's Hospital. I had been given a rental pump and some bottles, and was told we had to stop nursing. "He just isn't growing at the breast." they told me. At six months old, my baby boy was only weighing just over ten pounds. He had stopped growing. He started gaining weight soon after we switched to giving him bottles of pumped milk. This journey of ours is chronicled here on this blog, so without getting into it I will just say that the second picture is of the last time I ever nursed Jonah. Everyone including lactation consultants, our pediatrician, and la leche league, said they would get Jonah back on the breast, but nothing we tried worked. The last time I spoke to our la leche league leader, she had happened to call me while I was shopping. Ironically, I was having a breakdown in the formula aisle, trying to choose what was to become my son's leading source of nutrition, when my cell phone rang.

Fast forward again to when I was four months pregnant with Evie. "You're not going to try to breastfeed again are you?" This question tore my heart out. We had never found the cause for Jonah's growth problem. After a bombardment of testing, the best that any doctor could come up with was "reflux." The best that any lactation consultant could come up with was "nipple confusion." And now Jonah was having development issues. Deep down, on a level I never showed anyone (or at least tried not to show) I did blame myself. Jonah couldn't walk and couldn't talk. He couldn't do a ton of other things that kids his age were supposed to have mastered months before. And now here was this child who I was supposed to have been able to feed, to nurture and nourish, and I couldn't, and now he has all of these problems. So while I wanted to answer my friend's rather intrusive question with "of course I'm going to breastfeed!" all I could get to come out of my mouth was "well... I'd like to at least *try*"

"You have skim milk, you know!" that's absurd, I thought. "It happens more than you'd think! Some women don't make good milk. You're just one of those women. You should give a bottle of formula at least for every other feeding, and maybe not nurse the whole time. But if you need that for emotional reasons, still nurse, but give a bottle most of the time." My friend talks a lot without thinking. I didn't respond, mostly because I was so dumbfounded at what I was hearing but also because I couldn't get a word in edgewise! Had I not been broadsided by this whole conversation, I would have told her that breasts don't work like that. Instead, I thanked her for a lovely visit, gathered my purse, and left.

By the time I got to the first stopsign I had to pull the van over and cry. Was I so selfish that I was going to.. no, that I *had* sacrificed the health and well-being of my child for "emotional reasons"?? What if I can't feed this baby either? What if I stick to my guns again, and this baby doesn't grow because of it, and it effects her development too?? Was I being *that* selfish? How was I going to feed this baby?

I had this fearful conversation with myself pretty much up until the time that I found myself in labor. But, I would very proudly like to show you another picture:

This is a picture of me, learning how to breastfeed all over again. My fears weren't instantly calmed. But I could tell right away that Evie was different. She can suck much stronger than Jonah ever did. Throughout the day, she goes every two to three hours without eating, rather than constantly needing to be latched on. She does not throw up entire feedings, and she has never had the milk come through her nose as I am feeding her. It's only been five weeks, and already my experience with feeding her has been infinitely better than with Jonah.

When we found out that Jonah has 22q deletion, my fears were calmed even more. In the packet of information that was handed to us, we learned that a great number of children with the deletion had unexplained failure to thrive as well as extreme feeding issues. It wasn't my fault. He couldn't eat. I had done my best, and so had Jonah, and it wasn't anyone's fault that I couldn't feed him. And it wasn't my fault that he doesn't talk and that he couldn't walk until a couple of months ago. It wasn't my fault that he has autism. These things all come with the deletion as well. It wasn't my fault...

Further calming my fears: Evie already weighs ten pounds. She has outgrown clothes that Jonah wore until he was 6-7 months old. She is GROWING. And it's all thanks to me and my boobs!

I'm not letting my guard down completely yet. I will be eyeing that scale for a long time. I will always be wondering if she's getting enough to eat. Especially since we don't yet know if Jonah's syndrome occurred randomly or is inherited. But I am no longer terrified that I am somehow sabotaging my children's growth and development. The guilt is gone.


  1. Oh jess you are such a good mom. I am sorry if I ever ever ever did anything to make you feel like you weren't doing your mom job right- I never thought that. I am so glad first that you are finding answers for Jonah- You are doing so well with him. It has been so great to get together and see all our kids play- he is holding his own and doing so well. You have made so much progress- yes we don't know what is on your road to come- but you are doing all that you can. Second I am thrilled that things are going so well with nursing Evie. You have grown her well. As moms we do the best we can with what we have. You are an amazing mom with so much dedication to your children. And I'm not just saying it because I'm your sister. I am put to shame with the amount of painting and purposeful activities that you do with your children- while sadly I am often focused on getting as much done around me as I can and not being the fun mom. You're an inspiration to me.

  2. Christi, you never made me feel like that. I don't recall anything you ever said to me, anyway. The friend mentioned lives here, and is at all the same things we go to. She has an opinion about everything, and just doesn't think before sharing that opinion. She doesn't mean to make anyone feel badly, she just likes giving advice I guess. I've learned to just smile graciously and tell her I'll consider it