Broken Milk Dreams

January 20, 2010

"April, are you ok? April? April?"

I couldn't answer my husband because I was sobbing...for about the fourth time this week.

See, I can't get my son to breastfeed. And it's not for a lack of trying. I worked for two hours with a lactation consultant at the hospital after my son's birth to ensure he could latch on properly. I nursed him despite nipples so sore that I'd yelp and writhe at his first suck. Everyone assured me, though, that the pain would subside with consistent effort and that I'd soon be enjoying the benefits of nourishing my baby.

About a day after leaving the hospital, however, the feeding situation rapidly deteriorated. William began fussing at my breast, fighting my attempts to feed him. Getting him to latch on soon took 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour. His whimpers turned to blood-curdling screams. In desperation, I finally agreed to my mother-in-law's suggestion to start supplementing William's diet with formula. The next day, at William's 48-hour hospital weigh-in, I learned that William had lost 11% of his birth weight since leaving the hospital--and if he didn't gain some of it back in 24 hours, he would have to be admitted. So per the pediatrician's orders, I started giving William formula at every meal. William then refused to take my breast at all.

I haven't quite given up yet. I went to the store a couple of nights ago and purchased an electric pump. But the results have been less than encouraging. An hour of pumping so far yields about half a teaspoon of nutritious milk...milk that I know is far more gentler on my son's stomach than formula. Seeing him spit up formula tells me that I've failed at one of the most natural acts in the universe, and it's like a dagger through my heart every time.

I nearly cried at William's weigh-in watching another woman breastfeed her newborn in the hospital waiting room, knowing that such a thing was impossible for me and my baby.

My husband reassures me that it's no big deal. And in a way, he's right: as long as William is eating something and gaining weight, he'll be fine and healthy. But for me, being unable to produce for my baby enough milk--a special gift from my body--is akin to how I think a man might feel if he were told that he's impotent. It hurts in a deep way.

When I was pregnant, my daydream about nursing resembled something like a passage from one of my favorite books, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. In this particular passage, the protagonist's wife, Olan, sits in the doorway of her home, nursing her firstborn son. Her husband describes her milk as being so plentiful that it flows out, rich and white, onto the dark soil of the fields. The imagery of this passage has always stayed with me, even when I first read The Good Earth in the eighth grade. Right now, I can only pray that my daydream might still become a reality. Pray with me, friends.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry! I'm sure your son will be alright, like you said as long as he's eating. I can't pretend to understand the pain of not being able to give your child a part of yourself, but I know how much you are hurting. I hope things work out for you and your family, you deserve it. Thank you so much for supporting me through all of the things I've been experiencing. I really value your opinion and I hope you know you are loved!


Sanctum's Muse said...

Thanks, Konnor. I hope things are looking up for you.

paige said...

fwiw, it takes me a good 6 weeks before the pain subsides when a baby & i begin our breastfeeding journey. Pumping - even with a good quality electric pump - is far less efficient than a baby's latch, so don't count on that teaspoon being all he's getting.
The 48 hour weigh in is still so soon after birth - give it a chance - & take courage - this part hurts quite a bit for some of us.
i loved that passage from The Good Earth too - such a heartbreaking book though :)

C. Beth said...

Oh my goodness, I am so sorry. I pray you've found peace, whatever has happened in the last 8 days. You are such a loving mama.

By the way, both my kids spit up their breast milk ALL THE TIME....

I wanted to congratulate you; I just gave you a One-Minute Writing of the Day award for 1/16. Great job on the writing...and the mothering!

Sanctum's Muse said...

Thanks, Beth. Things have become much better over the past week. I'll be writing about it soon. I just haven't had much time with a newborn on my hands!

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