Jess: It’s world breastfeeding week again. Three years ago, I wrote a blog about my struggle with nursing James and the painful decision to give up (Read here).
When I found out I was pregnant again, I vowed that breastfeeding would work this time. I planned a VBAC so that I wouldn’t have to worry about c-section complications getting in the way. We had assumed that my body’s disastrous response to the surgery with James had been the major factor in my inability to breastfeed him. With James, I had skimmed through some books on the topic. With Joseph, I read and read and planned all the ways that this would be different. I wasn’t going to let my body fail me a second time.
After a beautiful natural delivery (you can read about that here), I was able to nurse Joseph immediately. He had a great latch and things seemed to be going beautifully. A little more than 24 hours later, we went home and continued to have a pretty decent nursing relationship. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, since this was new for both of us, but I thought we could figure it out. Wes and my mom did everything to make breastfeeding easy for me.
Then Joseph started screaming—screaming—every time I tried to feed him. We would fight with him for 45 minutes only to have him feed for a few minutes and pass out in frustration. When we got him into the doctor for his first appointment at 6 days old, he had lost a pound—just like his big brother. I went into HEB in tears on our way home to get the can of formula that would save him from the dehydration and hospital stay that we had with James. Then I got my pump out and went to work. Some of my friends had needed to supplement at first, so I assumed that this was just a stage.
As Joseph developed nipple preference and my 8-12 pumping sessions per day produced less than 25% of his needs, we called a lactation consultant. It was then—when my second child was more than two weeks old—that I finally discovered the issue. I have a condition called Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). Basically, my milk-producing tissue never developed when I was an adolescent. With each pregnancy, my breasts have developed a little more tissue. So I produced more with Joseph than James, but still nowhere near his needs.
I was crushed. I didn’t go into breastfeeding either time with some idea that it would be all sunshine and roses. I knew that I would struggle, but I assumed that I would have enough milk for my children. How could my body fail me like this? How could every breastfeeding resource assure me that “almost no women” have true supply issues when at least 5% of us do? Doctors try make previous c-section patients have second c-sections because the risk of uterine rupture during labor increase to .2% from .1% after the first surgery. But “almost no women” have supply issues!? And that is just the women who do research rather than give up when their babies don’t get enough food.
It is painful to be in this place. It is painful to once again be opening cans of formula. It is painful to hear that I’ve taken the “easy way,” or “formula is poison,” or “breast is best.” Everywhere I turn, I can find that last phrase. What about “fed is best”? What about acknowledging the amazing strides science has made so that we can mimic breastmilk for our babies? What about celebrating the fact that my children survived despite my body not being able to nourish them? It is hard to see all of my friends succeed where I have failed. It is hard to watch other mothers feed their children in a way I will never be able to feed mine. It is hard. But my children are thriving, the formula/breastmilk period of their lives is so short, and we have an amazing bond. So during World Breastfeeding Week, I rejoice with those who nurse successfully, I weep with those who cannot, and I remember to not be too hard on my body—after all, it grew and birthed two beautiful boys. What a blessing it is to be their mother.
Wes: This is going to once again be a blog in which I have very little to say. This is not because I do not have strong feelings and opinions on this, but because, having gone through this twice as Dad—and not as Mom—I have come to realize that my place in this story is not to say anything myself, but to serve as an ally and a megaphone for my wife.
What I want to say is just go re-read everything Jess wrote.
What I need to say is something to those who might find themselves in positions like mine, where your role is one of support. This is one of those times where being the Yes Man is so important. Your job is to encourage your wife in any way she needs, whether it is by spending extra money on consultants, pumps, and tools, by taking her to appointments and sitting beside her, or by handling all of the bottle feedings so she doesn’t have to feel like she’s giving up, your job is to be her biggest support. Your patience might be pushed. Your lack of sleep might reach new levels. Your temper will be tempted. But this is one of those times when you are not the subject. Your focus is on her and the health of your baby.
Remember: this is not just about saving your marriage (although it might). It’s not just about helping your newborn baby (although you should). It’s about helping your spouse remember that she is not a failure, that she is not letting down your child or you or anyone by not being able to breastfeed. It’s about helping her live through what could be one of the darkest times of her life, as she feels physically incapable of being a mom.
Remind her that she is fearfully and wonderfully made, and so is y’all’s child. Then just be prepared to sit with her. It won’t be fun, or easy, or pleasant. But it will almost assuredly be what she needs.