I couldn’t nurse my firstborn. The healthy 8lb 5oz baby boy popped out a week late and with every fiber of my post-natal being I felt like the first woman who had ever given birth and been unable to follow through with her Plan. I was going to harm my baby by doing motherhood wrong if the nourishment didn’t come from me.
It had been the Plan ever since my mom took me to the gynecologist when I entered womanhood. Mazel Tov! The doctor looked at my breasts and through tight red lips said, “Inverted nipples. You won’t be able to feed a baby.” I vowed to prove her wrong.
Turns out the doctor was right. Though easily misplaced clear plastic nipple extenders made it possible for baby to latch. Luckily, he was born with a strong sucking reflex. Unluckily, there wasn’t any milk for him to suck. That was the real problem. My body produced very little milk; unlike my grandma. Family legend has it that she could fill buckets.
In the hospital, I was assured by professionals that milk would soon stream from my body. Meanwhile the boy was hungry and formula was strongly advised. Wet nurses aren’t a thing anymore. I asked. At first I refused to supplement. I believed that if baby just latched right I would start gushing milk like a dairy cow. Then the medical staff wouldn’t release us from hospital until I agreed to supplement. Tears flowed. Reluctantly I agreed.
Was Similac really “Similar to lactation!”? It was nutrition and I had no other choice to feed my child. Why? Was it genetic? Was it because of my Gestational Diabetes? Was it because I had two epidurals during labor? Was it because my breasts ballooned so much that the milk got lost and couldn’t ask for directions so it gave up on the journey out?
My milk came in a little and I began researching and asking anyone who would listen for advice on how to make more. I unproductively met with various lactation consultants. La Leche League couldn’t help either. I ate ice cream (to make my bit of milk creamier) and oatmeal (to produce more milk) I drank Mother’s Milk tea, I took fenugreek as often as possible. That left me smelling like maple syrup and craving pancakes. Old Russian Wives Tales had me drinking boiled walnut water and wearing red sweaters. Why? I don’t know. I drank whole milk even though it nauseated me. I sipped Guinness, which nauseated me too. I rented the hospital’s industrial grade Medela Pump and every two hours it vacuumed up what little I was making. Overboard anyone? Me! Of course, the pumping only started after he nursed around the clock for the first seven weeks of his life because he was never full enough to take a break. The poor little guy expended more energy getting the trickle of milk than the calories it replenished. This didn’t strike me as obsessive at the time. My dad augmented a foot massager and I wore it around my neck like a prayer shawl while I pumped and desperately hoped the vibration would shake my milk loose. My kid needed four ounces, I never got more than three ounces. Two from the left, and one from the right. He lost weight.
My truly supportive husband pointed out that millions of people, himself included, were raised just fine on formula. I shot him a dirty look and said that I needed a nap. We started supplementing with more formula and the baby resumed growing again. Then on his three-month birthday I sprayed out my last trickle of milk and we entered the all formula months of infancy.
Once I forgot all the formula at my in-law’s house and had to confess on the way to the airport. Another time at work with baby a friend made an emergency formula run for me. How I envied moms who could never leave home without it.
This all sent me into a depression that lasted four times longer than my milk did. I gained more weight the year after pregnancy then during it. Then on Baby’s first birthday I stared at our healthy and happy little boy. It dawned on me that I did everything I could, yet he was fine anyway. I forgave myself for not making enough milk.
Providing formula for my baby had felt unnatural, but eventually I found it was still natural, just in a completely different way. All that mattered is that we as parents found the best way to help our child grow, especially when The Plan didn’t work out. I shifted my energy into taking better care of myself because the best I could give my son was a healthy and happy mama.