Sunday, January 16, 2011

The magical, maddening island of two

Our first meeting was far too short. After a few minutes of me talking to him and kissing his face, Greg had to take him away while I was stitched up. The drugs had caused me to tremble all over during surgery and this continued into recovery. In fact, during my surgery, Greg assumed I was trembling out of fear or because I was cold. He kept rubbing my arm, my face telling me it would all be alright.
I was in recovery when Greg and Liz, our birth photographer, came to tell me about our small wonder. Greg was at a loss for words. He just kept saying "he's awesome." Liz, showed me pictures she had taken and repeatedly told me how beautiful Andrew was. Then, my labor and delivery nurse asked if I wanted to nurse.
They brought Andrew to me and even though I was still trembling to the point of my teeth chattering, I held him in my arms and my son began to suckle at my breast. And, in a few moments, the trembling stopped.
Thus began this new relationship that is so different than any I've ever experienced. Inside the womb, Andrew was solely dependent on my body for all his needs and oddly enough this remains true even though he is no longer inside of me. It is a seemingly overwhelming task, but one that I feel like I can achieve. While some women cringe at the thought of their baby nursing, I find breast feeding to be completely natural. When I was pregnant, I would dream of nursing my son. Now that he is here, the reality of being my baby's sole source of nutrition has set in. The responsibility is so great.
The breast feeding is at times magical -- sometimes it seems my son and I are the only two people in the world. It's as if we are on an island of two, floating along on a wave of joy and love and comfort. And, then there are moments when worry takes over, when I fear my body isn't providing what he needs -- when the doubts and the exhaustion seem insurmountable. There are times when I feel like surrendering, days like today, after a sleepless night and a difficult day -- when I feel like giving him a bottle might be better for both of us. But we just try to take these days one feeding at a time. When I look down at my precious boy at my breast I am sometimes moved to tears.
For a woman who has never particularly been fond of her breasts -- they are far too small and lopsided and not particularly special in any way -- I am simply amazed that they are doing what they are supposed to. I feel a sense of pride and deep emotion that my body -- despite it's flaws -- is working as it should.
In those first days in the hospital, I lovingly nursed Andrew until he fell away from my breast or went to sleep. But my nipples became so sore and we started to worry he wasn't being satisfied. On the day he had his circumcision, I could only convince him to take my breast twice and that night, he screamed in hunger. A nurse showed us how to use a tiny syringe to drop formula into his mouth. He lapped it up like a puppy or a small bird. That is when the doubt began to set in. When we left the hospital, Andrew weighed 8 pounds 2 ounces, down from his 8 pound 12 ounce birth weight. We came home that Saturday without having met with a lactation consultant because she wasn't at work on Friday. By Monday, my concern had grown because my milk still hadn't come in. Even though I've read all the books that say colostrum is enough to sustain and satisfy your baby, I wasn't sure. Andrew seemed hungry, his eyes looked weak and perhaps more telling, his last dirty diaper was at 5 a.m. on Sunday.
I called the hospital and the consultant told me to come over so that she could weight Andrew and take a look at our technique. Once we got there, we learned that Andrew weighed even less. I was upset, but Brandy, the lactation consultant, said my technique and his latch were good and the only thing I could do was wait for my milk to come in. She told me it would be like I had gotten implants overnight and that my breasts would be engorged and I would have a great desire to nurse Andrew to relieve the pressure and pain.
I went to bed Monday night praying that I would awaken Tuesday morning to a new and improved bust line. It didn't happen.
I cried that morning because we were heading to the pediatrician and I thought for sure she would tell me to start supplementing with formula or even worse, switch to formula all together.
Andrew was down to 7 pounds 13 ounces when they weighed him at the pediatrician's office. While we waited in the little exam room, I cried again, angry with my body for letting my child down and mourning what I was sure would be the loss of my breast feeding experience.
But our doctor wasn't really phased by the weight loss. She said it was still within range and that in a couple of days we'd come back to have him weighed. If his weight hadn't started to go up by then, we would revisit our plan but for now, she wanted me to continue feeding him. And, then, she told me a most amazing thing -- my milk was in. Relief rushed over me. I felt stupid for not already knowing this, but Dr. S said that some women don't experience engorgement and that I was doing everything right. By Thursday, Andrew was up to 8 pounds and we go back later this week to make sure he is still gaining.
The poopy diapers haven't been as frequent as the books say they should, but our doctor said that sometimes, breast milk is so nutritious it is eliminated from the body as urine because there is so little waste. I am still nervous that I'm not giving him what he needs. My mom is here and she is watching him like a hawk -- trying to keep her thoughts to herself, but not doing such a good job. I know she thinks he is in a constant state of hunger. My sister, on the other hand, is also here and she is the angel on my shoulder telling me to keep going, that my body is providing enough and that Andrew is just fine.
My desire to continue to nurture my son through breast feeding has not waned. At the same time, I want him to thrive. So there is nothing else to do but continue to feed him when he's hungry, eat healthy, drink lots of fluids and wait for the doctor to tell us where we stand on Thursday.
Either way, it has been an honor to nurse my son since his birth. I can't describe the feeling of love that comes over me when I look down at his precious face as he suckles. And, the joy and satisfaction when he falls away and puts his arms over his head like he's just scored a touchdown. These are the moments I will treasure always.


  1. Krista, I SO relate to your feelings about breastfeeding--the awe of it AND the enormous frustration/worry of it. We had our own troubles as well. I've been meaning to write a post about it, and you've inspired me to get 'er done soon! :)

    Our issues stemmed from a really poor latch. I've never paid much attention to my breasts--or more specifically, my nipples--especially in relation to how they might feed a little mouth one day. My nipples are on the short-ish side, so latch was always soooo painful. Like, toe-curling painful. One night I ended up hand-expressing some breastmilk and finger fed him with a syringe. It killed me to do that--I was so worried I was going to just confuse him further--but I just cried at the thought of putting him back to my horribly painful nipples. Ugh. Such a realllly rough time!

    Lactation saw us twice a day while we were at the hospital, and I still couldn't get the real hang of it. It felt like the two of us were a mess--just an uncoordinated tangle of arms and boobs.

    I ended up resorting to using a nipple shield to help draw my nipple out...and then it seemed that Arlo became dependent on this--and it's kind of like a bottle nipple, so I felt DOOMED that he would never get the hang of the feeling of a real nipple. It's taken us 4 weeks, but we're finally there. Just in these last 2 days we've been almost exclusively breastfeeding without the shield or any other kind of augmentation. I can't tell you how proud and empowered I feel. ;) I share that with you just to keep your motivation and spirits up--it does get better!

    I even went back to the hospital twice to work with lactation. And I've read four different books on breastfeeding. Some of this helped, but what helped the most was time. Giving Arlo the time to grow, giving myself time for more patience, giving us both time to learn this new job of ours!

    I love that drunk-on-milk look when he falls away--it cracks me up every time. :)

    You've been such a trooper! I'm proud of you! Congrats on your little guy--he is sooo sweet and nuzzly! :)

    P.S. If you ever want to email, you are always welcome to contact me at blog[dot]trinity[at]gmail[dot]com.

  2. So glad to hear you're doing well and enjoying time with your precious little guy! Glad to hear you've stuck with it and that breast feeding is working out a bit better for you guys. Hope things continue to move forward smoothly ((hugs))

  3. it must feel so good after going through IF to feel that your body is working the way it's supposed to. what a beautiful description of the island of two. i hope you can continue to breastfeed and have that special experience.