Monday, April 18, 2011

Being a Mom is Hard Enough - Guest Blogger Cerlandia

shoes Before becoming a Mom Sarah received a Master of Arts degree in Sociology and worked with troubled youth. Currently she enjoys staying at home with her two young children and crafting whenever she has free time. You can see what she's up to over at Cerlandia.

I had to really think hard about doing this guest post. I was incredibly honored to be asked, but I value my family's privacy (as well as my own) and I try to find humor in all things. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of humor in this story; even I who can find humor in Husband finding out his product was moving to Seattle while our kitchen was torn down to the studs still fail to find humor in Daughter's birth story.

Or better, the story of why I was unable to breast feed. I talked with Husband about the privacy issues I had with it and we both agreed that people need to know that not everyone can breast feed, nor does everyone want to for their own reasons. People should be respectful of other's choices and in part, it was this lack of respect that made me hate leaving the house when I knew I had to feed Daughter. I will try not to get up on a soap box, but I make no promises. I'm sure that I will be opening myself up to a lot of criticism, but as a tech at the emergency room who was trying to start an I.V. told me, I have tough skin.

When Husband and I found out we were pregnant there was a mix of emotions, but we came to terms and we were excited. We chose a wonderful midwife whom we both really liked and the pregnancy was going so well. The baby was doing great, there was no reason to think she wouldn't be healthy. Until 31 weeks. I had a tiny spot of blood and mentioned it at my appointment the next day. Turns out I was 1.5 cm dilated, the head was down way lower than it should have been and after the stress test the midwife found that I was having contractions every minute. I had no idea. A premature contraction feels a lot different than a full term contraction (I learned that later - it has been likened to your baby curling into a ball) and pair that with my high pain tolerance I didn't even notice. We were sent off to the hospital (I think this was 4 days before Christmas) where I was admitted for three days while they did their thing to stop the contractions and gave me steroids to help her lungs develop. There is a bit of irony there as I wanted an all natural pregnancy only to end up getting steroids.
I made it two weeks on bed rest until my water broke. Daughter was born at 33 weeks and 3 days (I used to say she was 6 weeks early until a doctor clarified that they call that 7 weeks early). During labor a doctor from the NICU came in telling us what to expect having a baby that early. I don't really remember anything but the baby will most likely be in the hospital until the due date. The birth was not the easiest, but that's a story for another day. I was only able to hold her for less than 5 minutes. We did skin to skin, but didn't even try having her latch on because the doctors were worried about her breathing. She was taken to the NICU for tests and to get cleaned up, but we were told they would bring her back if she showed signs of wanting to eat. About an hour later when they were done cleaning me up we asked the midwife to go back and see about her. She came back with great news; Daughter was going to be brought to our room!

That's when the breast feeding struggles began. Turns out that back in the NICU they decided (even though our chart and the bassinet clearly stated I wanted to breastfeed) to give her an ounce of formula. At the time I had no idea the damage that may have been done; that you're supposed to nurse your baby as soon as possible. It wasn't until 6 hours later, when it was well past her next feeding, that the nurse had a lactation consultant come in. It wasn't that I didn't try to get help from the nurses, because I had. Daughter's latch on looked wonderful, she wasn't sucking. I kept trying to tell the nurses there was something wrong and they kept putting me off telling me the lactation consultant would be in as soon as she came in for the day. Approximately 12 hours after Daughter was born a pediatrician was called in and confirmed that there was indeed something wrong. Her blood gases were high and she wasn't getting enough oxygen. Plus a heart murmur.
The day after she was born

Here's something else a lot of new moms may not know, if you can't breastfeed for any reason, it is important that you pump as soon as you are able. And then every 2-3 hours after. Nobody brought a pump to my room until 14 hours later. I got the tiniest amount of colostrum for her and then my milk came in. I pumped ever 2-3 hours for the almost 4 weeks Daughter was in the NICU and made an ounce a day. That is what she was eating every 3 hours. You would think the nurses would have been supportive, but the NICU was my first experience being judged simply because I didn't make enough milk. Not because I wasn't trying, I did skin to skin every time I was there and pumped every 2-3 hours. I don't think I went out except to get a meal once in a while or visit the NICU. I heard such comments from the nurses as:

This is all you have for us?
You need to drink more fluids!
Don't you know this is the amount she drinks at one feeding?
I already felt like a failure for having a premature baby, but now I got to feel like a double failure because my body didn't produce enough milk for my child. I never got to see the lactation consultant in the hospital again; unless you were having issues feeding you didn't get to see her (it was a large hospital and she was extremely busy). We did rent a hospital grade pump, like it was recommended, it just didn't help.
When Daughter was getting healthier and her sucking reflex started to kick in I wanted to breast feed. Not one nurse encouraged it. Instead I was told that I could breast feed but that she'd still have to be fed the ounce of formula since I wasn't making that much and she couldn't lose weight. I was told that the doctors needed to know how much she ate and they wouldn't be able to tell that if I breast fed, but the choice was ultimately mine. So basically if I wanted to doom my daughter to the fate of being in the NICU longer then I could breast feed. At least that's how it sounded to me. I should have fought more, but I really really just wanted Daughter home so I let them give her the formula.
Two days before she went home

When we got home from the hospital I tried breast feeding a lot, but I had a lot of the same fears. We were told at discharge that if she didn't eat so much per day (and we were supposed to keep track) that she'd be back in the hospital. Nobody told me that it would be okay to breast feed and then bottle feed. That it wasn't a big deal to mix formula and breast milk and that my daughter would be able to tell me if she wasn't getting enough food. Instead we were taught (like a lot of NICU parents) that we should not trust a preemie.
The Monday after she was discharged we had an appointment at the breast feeding clinic (the one they never told me that I could have gone to when she was in the NICU to get help with low milk supply) and the lactation consultant walked in to us giving her a bottle. You would think that a lactation consultant, or anyone really, would be happy that at least the baby was getting food. But no. She seriously yelled at us. As in raised her voice and yelled at us for giving her formula. And so I explained why I was giving her formula and that's when she became helpful. She told me to breast feed, then give the bottle, and then pump to try to increase my milk supply. She also gave me some herbs to try and told me that there was a prescription medication that could also take, but she hesitated going that route (as did I, Daughter had had quite enough prescriptions in her young life). So I tried all of that. This was my routine:
feed for an hour
bottle feed for a half hour
pump for a half hour
sleep for a half hour
get up and do it all over
It worked fine the week my husband was home so that he could do the bottle feeding and I could get an hour of sleep, but when he went back to work there was no way I could keep up that schedule and still stay sane. My milk supply never increased even though I was told it should within a week. I just physically and mentally couldn't do it anymore and so we switched to formula.
And if I thought the nurses and the lactation consultant were bad they were nothing compared to others (some complete strangers). One said it was a shame because breast feeding is the best thing about being a woman (now I'm a bad mother and just a shame to women everywhere? Might as well take me out back and shoot me; I'm sure the jury will understand). I was told that my child would be stupid, overweight, would hit puberty early, and wouldn't be good at math (I'm still trying to figure that one out). And the looks strangers would give could be horrid. Which is hilarious because I've seen strangers give those same looks to breast feeding moms; so the only thing I can come up with is that moms who are still feeding their children from a bottle or breast just aren't allowed outside the home.
I can't help but wonder if without all of the pressure to breast feed and with actual support from people I knew and from people who were caring for my child I might have made it a little longer. I'll never know and as guilty as I felt then I don't anymore. Daughter is 5, is not stupid, or overweight. I have no idea if she'll hit puberty early or not and I'm not going to worry about it. Girls are hitting puberty early, some have even been breast fed. I do know that I had a Son three years later. Everything went right and I still didn't produce enough milk for him. I started to do the same thing in terms of breast feed, bottle feed, pump until it suddenly occurred to me that I was exhausting myself and not being as good of a mom as I could be. From that point on I just breast fed during the day and pumped only when Husband was doing night feedings. And I was a much better mother.
Being a mom is a hard enough job without people judging you on how you feed, whether you cloth diaper or use disposables, or whether you cosleep or babywear; and I can't help but wonder if we supported each other instead of judging each other if maybe (just maybe) this mothering thing wouldn't be as hard.


I am honoured to host this guest post from Sarah at Cerlandia, and invite you to leave supportive comments as well as visit her lovely blog.

Farren Square


  1. My heart is there with you Cerlandia. {{hug}}
    I too found I was not able to breastfeed my boys after coming home from the NICU. It was heartbreaking and left me feeling like I had flunked out of some mandatory mommy class. It took a while to come to terms with it all. Things are always difficult when they do not turn out the way we desired.
    You sound like a wonderful mother. I am glad to hear that you not only do not judge yourself but you do not allow others to do so either.

  2. This is a wonderful post. This: "so the only thing I can come up with is that moms who are still feeding their children from a bottle or breast just aren't allowed outside the home." is the exact thing I was saying yesterday. Breastfeeding moms feel like the world is against them, but I feel like the world is against me because I bottle feed. We all just need to stop concerning ourselves with how other people feed their babies.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this. I had a very similar experience with not producing enough milk for my full-term daughter and we did all the "right" things, such as skin-on-skin and BF right after birth etc. I remember the depression & exhaustion from the feed & pump 24/7 schedule and actually managed to do it (w/o help) for 4 months before totally crashing. I didn't get to enjoy anything about my babies first few months of life, because I was just so tired, depressed & focused on being a BF failure and dealing with the formula feeding judgment and dire warnings about how unhealthy my child was going to be.

    Two years later, I have a very healthy, happy, active toddler who doesn't care that she got formula mixed with the small ounces of breast milk I could produce or the breast milk that other women donated to me. She just is happy that her mommy is happy and loves her.

    Anyway, enough about me. Thanks for writing such a much needed post.

  4. Thank you! Very well said. I too felt those same pressures. You feel like a failure when your baby is rushed to the NICU. Yet you did nothing wrong. You feel like a failure when your doctor tells you your baby is losing weight on your milk. Yet you did nothing wrong. I wish people would realize one way isn't necessasarily the ONLY way.

    As for formula babies being "stupid?" My formula baby hits all his milestones, how is he any different?

  5. I'm so sorry that you ladies have experienced such hard times in association with how you have fed your babies.

    The way that this binary is presented (to borrow from genius Commenter Lindsey on my most recent post) is so confrontational that I think a lot of moms get swept up in it, and ultimately some of them turn to negativity in order to "Sway" formula feeders towards breastfeeding. Very destructive.

    It can be hard for us breastfeeders who want to be educational and supportive to differentiate ourselves from those who are negative and destructive (those who tell moms that formula babies are bad at math, etc) while still offering ourselves as someone who can support a mother who is interested to do what she can to breastfeed. My favorite support-person in this area is Jessica from She is accepting, open, and supportive all at once.

  6. I agree completely Farren. The work Jessica does is amazing. If only all breastfeeding activist would take a page from her book. When talking with others about breastfeeding I try to model that behavior as well.

  7. Thank you for all the kind comments. It makes me feel much better about putting all this out there.