Thursday, March 17, 2011

Begining Babyfood... A New Stage

    I'm not sure why feeding my baby solid food feels like such a monumental step to me when so many firsts that people mark on their calendars slipped by me with little more than a fond notion of "hey that's new". I didn't feel weird about transitioning him from our bed to the crib, sizing up in clothes/seating/complexity of toys, or giving up the swaddle, I didn't even get teary eyed over his first smile (although to my credit I couldn't help but beam right back at him). But this to me seems so huge! The food thing in general has been the biggest, most all-consuming aspect of parenthood for me to date, and honestly it was the last thing I expected to be so wrapped up in. Maybe it's just that I'm in the health and wellness industry and have become increasingly aware of the dangers in our food, or that I'm scared of passing my terrible eating habits on to my son, but this has been my biggest struggle with the whole motherhood game.

    Originally I wasn't planning on blogging about this subject, it was too personal, possibly too much information, and definitely a controversial issue in the parenting climate out there today. Nobody had a vote in the matter but my husband, myself and my son, so why put our situation on public display and chance receiving loads of unsolicited advice? Now that some time has passed, however, and there is no going back (what's done is done) I'm beginning to feel the need to share my story...

  When I was pregnant with Bastian and people would ask me "Are you going to breastfeed?" I always answered "yes, baring any unforeseen problems". What I didn't realize at the time was that I actually meant "unless I turn out to be one of those rare unfortunate mothers who don't produce a single drop of milk I will find any way possible". When the time came my own dedication to the mission bordered on scary. Within the first 24 hours after giving birth we saw 3 different lactation consultants... this may have seemed like a huge deal at the time but I was soon going to be known by first name... by voice even, by every lactation consultant at that hospital (and they were all exceedingly nice and helpful). Even that was not the scary part... the scary part was the extreme pressure I put on myself to perform despite the odds staking up against us more each day.

Image c/o anderdo
The following is an abridged recollection of my first four months as a mother:

"bleeding is normal"

"bleeding is not normal"

"That's just due to an improper latch"

"Pain is normal in the beginning until you both get the hang of it"

"Well, actually, pain is not normal, it must be an improper latch."

"It sounds like you may have oversupply issues"

"Everything will work itself out once we get the latch right... to heal yourself in the mean time here are shields,  gel pads and a topical cream."

"Try this hold  it'll help correct the latch"

"He nurses for 90 minutes straight?"

"Turns out he's tongue bunching you'll need to do tongue training exercises with him"

"Here's a supplemental feeding system you can use to train him how to suck while giving yourself a break so those grand canyon sized cracks can heal but you'll have to pump before, during, after feedings..."

"He really needs to learn to latch, have you tried..."

"Really, the pain is that bad? I didn't realize you were fighting off sobs with every feeding... do you have any of these other symptoms?... sounds to me like you have thrush."

"If you have thrush he has it too, so he'll need treatment."

"Your son is losing weight"

"Don't worry, this method of bottle feeding is proven to reinforce breastfeeding and should correct the tongue bunching"

"You have to supplement with formula to get his weight back up, since your supply has dwindled to almost nothing!"

"You need to see three different specialists to be approved for meds to clear up your infection"

"He won't nurse anymore? that's weird"

"I'm out of methods to suggest to get him nursing again I recommend taking him to a speech therapist"

"The meds aren't working? Are you scrubbing, use the creams, anti-fungals, eating 8 cups of yogurt a day and drinking 12 cups of tea??? How about boiling everything you and the baby come into contact with? Have you stopped consuming sugar altogether? Well the only other option at this point is Gentian Violet... nevermind that there's a correlation between it's use and an increased risk of mouth cancer in babies..."

"Lets try an aggressive regimen of probiotics and prebiotics before resorting to Gentian Violet... you'll have to keep doing all of the other treatments as well... and here are some supply increasing supplements"

"Since he won't nurse and you're hellbent on keeping him on breastmilk you'll have to pump every 2 to 4 hours around the clock to get, then keep your supply up"

"The pain is just as bad now with the pump as it was with nursing? Your getting new blisters and the old cracks still aren't healed? You need to rent a hospital grade pump"

"I'm sorry to tell you this but if the treatments haven't worked after all this time then your only other option is Gentian Violet."

"Really? Your supply all but disappeared again? But you got it back up and steady for such a good amount of time?"

   Please understand that I don't share this to gain pity or even sympathy... I share this on behalf of all the mothers out there who have had to make tough decisions they didn't want to make based on factors they never anticipated. I truly believe that my dedication to providing breastmilk to my child became more about proving a point than about what was in the best interest of my baby. I also feel that there was a bit of postpartum depression playing into my overwhelming obsession with this one particular aspect of mothering... I allowed my self-esteem as a parent to rest solely on my performance in this one piece of the whole picture and there came a time when I realized I was infringing on my own ability to care for my son in any other way than physical nourishment.

   It is also important to note that while the above quotes were written with a healthy dose of sarcasm, I am truly grateful to all the wonderful people we encountered on this journey that did nothing but care. That being said, the amount of conflicting information out there on this topic is beyond frustrating and it gnaws at a mothers feeling of competency more and more the deeper she delves into it. The value of a mother's instincts cannot be overemphasized... in this information age world it's all too easy to undermine our own decision-making abilities by giving too much weight to the enormous flood of opinions, expert and otherwise, constantly coming at us from every direction.

   Finally on the other side of this struggle I can say that the knowledge, and more importantly the confidence, I gained through the experience was well worth it. It has instilled in me an abundance of compassion for other mothers on every side of the equation, every shade of the spectrum. Above all, what really resonates deep within my heart and makes tears of joy well up in my eyes is seeing my son thriving, growing, eating, completely free from myself. In the end it was never about me, it was always about him. Seeing him happily gulp down a spoonful of "real" food... food that is completely separate from the formula vs. breastmilk debate, free from my ability to take claim of creation and control, it makes me realize just how quickly these days go by and how truly important it is to focus on what really matters. What matters to me is raising this baby boy into a good man, and I will continue to do the little things in my power that contribute to that end result, but the steps of a staircase are inconsequential if the staircase leads to a cliff. Where is your staircase leading?


  1. Excellent piece! Wow! I was not aware of the extent of your valiant efforts! I really agree with the wisdom of your conclusion. I applaud your courage in sharing for all the struggling parents out there. Another point I might add is the huge benefits possible when bottle feeding allows the Dads to share in the feeding/bonding experience. One of my greatest joys was watching Don's relationship develop with our boys as he willingly took equal part in our parenting experience.

  2. Who knew Mod Squad would be so awesome?

    Anyway, with our first son, I had very similar struggles. Strikingly similar. It was awful and I carried guilt forever. With our second son, I actually became best friends with my LC. We're still friends to this day. Good thing, as LB had a tongue tie. Oof.

    Both of my sons, though each with a different start, are amazing. We do the best we can as parents. Remind yourself of that.

    Looking forward to getting to know you more!

  3. @ Wendy, excellent point! There are definitely benefits to bottle feeding, many of which I have experienced since switching over when my body decided it had enough of my craziness. In my case I saw it as a last resort option, but my point of view at the time was also flawed in more ways than one. I am still pro breastfeeding, for sure, but there are many reasons a family might choose to do otherwise and I applaud anyone who has the courage to make the best decision for their children and family based on their whole picture, and not be swayed by forces that would have them do differently!

    @ FireMom Mod Squad has been such an amazing experience so far and it's only just begun! You are absolutely right, we parents are human and we do the best we can... berating ourselves for perceived failures won't help our kids, and it definitely won't help us! Sorry to hear that you went through these sorts of struggles, at least we know we're not alone right?

    P.S. LOVE your blog! Will be following along from here on out!

  4. I really love that you have done this post. We are all just doing the best we can and it's so sad when mothers feel such enormous pressure. I experienced most every configuration - easy breastfeeding but not being able to pump a single drop ( I couldn't get him on the bottle which led to me now being able to leave him with anyone for nine months....) and extreme mastitis which is so painful I feel for everyone who gets it even slightly. I know in London we could barely write about breastfeeding because of the extreme views on it. Very sad. I am so pleased you wrote about this.

  5. Wow... I'm sorry to hear that. I did get a mastitis as well but count myself as lucky that both times it was minor and went away on it's own within 24 hours. I appreciate you sharing your experience though, I think the mass majority of media out there on both sides is very biased and a lot of moms go into it thinking that breastfeeding is going to be super easy... sometimes it is and sometimes it's not. If more people knew about some of the struggles that come with it I think there may just be less judgments flung around, and less isolation for new moms when they are blindsided by all of these issues!

  6. I, too, am so glad you posted on this topic. This must have been the strength of the quilting circle, the hours spent boiling jars for canning, that women would freely share their stories, their struggles, their triumphs. Until I read this, I forgot those moments of insecurity, remorse, challenge - and finally rising up to make a decision. I was so overwhelmed with the whole concept of motherhood as I stepped up for the task of mothering twin boys alone. I constantly felt a day late, and a dollar short - but "ever forward" was the charge. I remember literally trying to wrap my head around the visual picture painted for me of trying to breastfeed two babies, at the same time; the options for laying in bed, the admonishments "not to roll on one" in the process, giving way a knowledgeable sage standing in consternation saying "well, I'm not sure. If both of your arms are in use holding two babies hopefully suckling correctly at your breast and one gets away...I just asked my husband to bring him back over." Ah....well, that's just not gonna work then, is it?". Then there was the reality of one child loving to breastfeed, snuggling right in - while twin #2 would eat voraciously for 5 minutes, and more. (He is still fickle and defiant, to this day! Thus began the rigorous schedule of breastfeeding #1, switching to #2 (for his 5 minute routine), back to #1, to 45 minutes of pumping, to cramming something relatively healthy in my mouth, to washing out the pumping supplies for the next excursion, to finish feeding #2 with the bottle of highly coveted breast milk, to starting the cycle all over again. I was pressuring myself to believe that I would somehow affect my babies' development, their health, their opinions by not producing the coveted milk. Of course, getting finished with round after round of what was supposed to be a deeply profound, mothering experience - I cleaned up and headed out to prop up the concept that I was business woman of the world with my breast pump in tow, day after day. Memories flood back - trying to find a place to pump in the other world, holed up in bathroom stall, seeking a plug, a world where it seemed I didn't belong. t marked off the days on the calendar in my brain - hoping to hang in their long enough to cross the magic finish line where the critics and their mantras might be pacified that I got "some" of the nutrients uniquely designed by my body to pass on to my infants. This three ring circus finally came to a screeching halt at 5 months and a few days as I darted through an airport just in time to catch a flight for an out of town meeting (on a ticket that I had spent the majority of my grocery budget) only to realize I had left my breast pump in the car that was then pulling away with my twins safely in the hands of a loving weekend caretaker. A couple of days of wrapping, a days worth of dried tears for my perceived separation from the "real mothers" club, a severe berating by the sperm donor on my inabilities as a mother, and lack of priorities, and I washed the last of my bottles, glared at the dreaded pump on my return, and began the process of enjoying the loving hands of family and friends as they helped to feed my babies with formula. In my case, it certainly takes a village to raise a child. I thanks God for my village to this day.

  7. Thank you Gretch for sharing your story... we need this kind of community among mothers. It's nice to hear from someone who has been done that road already and has had similar, albeit different, experiences and struggles... and made it through. Your boys are an amazing testament to the powers of a supportive community as well as that of a mother who makes the tough decisions based on what works for her family instead of what the world expects of her. My hope is that our collective stories are able to rise above the chaos of the media out there and reach out as a comfort to those mothers struggling with these, and other issues this very moment... and in the future!


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