Wednesday, November 09, 2005

My Mommy Guilt (long)

Being a parent seems to come with lots of guilt. Every mom I speak to has some sort of guilt she is constantly carrying around, some feeling that in one way or another she did not do the best by her child. My biggest mommy guilt is that I did not succeed with breastfeeding. It is a guilt that smacks me in the face every day when I see a nursing mother or read on a blog anything about breastfeeding, a guilt that sometimes consumes me. It is a guilt that I need to let go of, I am just not sure how.

Before Pumpkin was born I read every breastfeeding chapter and pamphlet religiously. I regurgitated all I read about the health benefits to everyone who asked and swore I would breastfeed my baby for at least 6 months. I purchased two little plastic suction cups for a ridiculous 75 euro to pull out my inverted nipples and wore them every night up till the last two months of my pregnancy when they became a risk of inducing pre-term labor. I knew it would not be easy; I was prepared for the sore nipples, for the difficulty latching and the engorgement. Mr. P also read all the literature and was 100% in areement with me to breastfeed. We knew exactly what we were going to do, that is till reality slipped into our plans.

Due to a very long labor and medical intervention Pumpkin was born with little desire to nurse. After 52 hours I was exhausted, but knew I needed to get her to nurse in the ‘golden hour’ for the best start. Laying there, still in the delivery room, the nurse tried to manipulate my nipple and get Pumpkin to latch. She just would not. Great start I thought, but at that point too tired really to object when the nurse said to just wait. I am not sure the next time I attempted nursing, my hospital stay is a blur of nurses grabbing my breasts trying to help my baby latch to my inverted nipples. As soon as I had to nurse my nipples pulled out by the suction cups went right back to their shy inverted state. Every nurse seemed to say something else and I was completely confused and frustrated. Then one nurse weighed pumpkin before and after a nursing session and came back to tell me “sorry, but she drank nothing”. I tried to argue that the first few days all they get is a little of the colestrium, and that of course she did not put on any weight while nursing. She explained that Pumpkin had not yet urinated and they were not allowed to release us until she did so. Due to my inability to argue effectively in Dutch, my lack of overall confidence, and an overwhelming desire to get out of the hospital (I had planned on a home birth to avoid having to be in the hospital at all) I submitted when she said they wanted to give her a bit of formula. Shit, I could not even stick to my guns for 1 day.

After 2 nights in the hospital, Pumpkin peed out that formula and we were released from hospital. Here in the Netherlands you get home care for a week after you give birth. They do minor checks on mom and baby (reporting to the midwife who also makes 3-4 house calls), show you how to care for your new bundle of joy and help with household tasks. When our homecare nurse asked what her highest priorities should be we responded helping to establish breastfeeding. I have to say she was WONDERFUL, I cried my eyes out when she left her last day. I had no idea how I was to manage without her. She had numerous suggestions on how to establish a better latch with my inverted nipples showed me various breastfeeding holds and assured me I was doing well. Before she left us my milk supply was excellent and Pumpkin was above her birth weight without any help from formula.

Unfortunately while I could get her to latch with assistance, we were still struggling on our own. She would cry and scream every time when she could not get the nipple in her mouth. Once she got the nipple she would suck for a few minutes and release screaming again. We would have to start the whole latching process again, me trying to manipulate my nipple, Mr. P holding her arms back (because she would push away in her excitement to nurse) as I placed the nipple in her mouth hoping she would take it. One nursing session would take well over an hour, and one to one and a half hours later she was crying for more. I was stressing more and more. I felt I could not leave the house because there was no way I could discreetly nurse in public with her flailing arms and screaming. Also since I was pumping for a minute before each nursing session to try and pull out my nipples, there was no way I could do that in public. I was feeling caged up in my house afraid to even go to the store because she might get hungry.

After two weeks Mr. P went back to work. I nursed Pumpkin in her room at night to try and avoid waking him, however since almost every time I nursed I ended up crying along with Pumpkin in frustration he would stumble into the room to calm us both down. During the day no one was there to help and while she would nurse well once or twice, the most times were disasters. I was exhausted and frustrated and starting to dislike my own daughter. I dreaded when she would wake again to eat. I cried all day and called Mr. P continuously at work. It was not going well at all, definitely not as we planned. When the well baby clinic nurse made a house call I mentioned my troubles and how I was thinking about switching to formula. She, just like everyone else, said “it will get better, just stick to it”. But when? When would it get better? Where was that bond you are supposed to feel? I hated breastfeeding; no one said that I would feel like this – not one of those books or pamphlets said that some mothers do hate breastfeeding. What was wrong with me? That night Mr. P bought a box of formula at my request. We decided that while breastmilk was important, it was also important for Pumpkin to have a happy mother, not a mother who cried all day and wished her baby would not wake up.

Pumpkin took to the bottle like a champ. For a while I pumped to relieve the encouragement and gave her bottles of breastmilk rotated with formula. Then my milk dried up and she was officially a formula baby. There is not a day since that I do not question my decision. I wonder if I had just stuck to a bit longer, if I had had more support from somewhere. Perhaps it would have gotten better, or perhaps I would have become more and more depressed. I do not know. Mr. P says I need to get over my guilt; we did what we did because it was best for us. We gave her a good start with a month of breastmilk, and formula is not poison. She is thriving on it, and our relationship is so much better than when I wished she would not wake up. Somehow though I can not let it go, I see disapproving looks when I feed my daughter (half of which I am sure are in my head) and feel I have to constantly justify our decision to everyone. I hope breastfeeding does go better with our next child, and I think I have learned much from our experience. But mostly I hope that eventually this guilt goes away.

posted by Laura @ 1:12 PM   18 comments