Friday, May 4, 2012

Warning: Probable TMI

**Advance warning: moments of weakness and probable TMI lie ahead. But if you are a mother or "to-be" it may be worth it to read.**

I wish I had been able to breastfeed. Even if only for a little while. Hell, even if only once. Maybe they would have handed me my little Tybalt in the postpartum room, I would have nursed once, and decided it wasn't "for" me. Or I might have tried nursing and found I literally physically couldn't. Or assuming it went swimmingly, maybe I nursed for a few months before weaning so Romeo could help in the middle of the night. Or imagine, what if I breastfed, loved it, Tybalt loved it, and instead of blogging at 1am right now, I was up nursing a 20-month-old still?

Point is, well, what is my point? I guess it's that I simply wish I could have tried it. Add it to the looooooong ass (excuse my French) list of newborn/mother experiences I feel I was cheated out of when my heart failed and I didn't even live with my son until he was 3 months old.

When "we" were pregnant Romeo and I discussed the breast vs. the bottle over and over again. It was perhaps the singular biggest decision I just could not make up to the very end. We knew that we wanted to know the gender in advance, we had a name chosen, for medical reasons (my back implant) we had decided on a c-section. It took a while to pick his exact bedding, but I knew I wanted a teddy bear motif, and I graphed out far in advance where all the furniture would fit best. I had picked his first stuffed animal and the outfit I wanted him to come home in. But how he would be fed? I just couldn't decide. And it wasn't really ever going to be a joint decision, which perhaps should have even eased some confusion and made it slightly easier. I mean how many things do you and your spouse agree on instantaneously? When it's not a joint decision it usually goes faster. Of course I looked to Romeo for his opinion, "Would he feel left out if we didn't bottle feed?" "How would he feel about me nursing in public?" "Would he be disappointed if I didn't choose to breastfeed, because all the books say it's best." And summarily he said he would support whatever I chose. But it truly was me who couldn't decide.

I knew the health benefits, yet for every article you read promoting it, there is another "consoling" you and saying your baby is potentially just as healthy on the bottle, and don't worry-- it's not the end of the world. Some even saying nursing is overrated. I also read that nursing helps prevent postpartum depression because of the chemicals released. This was to me perhaps the biggest item swaying me to nurse. With my history of clinical depression I knew that statistically I was more likely to suffer from postpartum. I was encouraged nursing might help. On the other hand, if it didn't I would still be nursing, yet unable to take my anti-depressants because of doing so, which would lead to a bitter conundrum. Perhaps I would be better off simply taking my meds and not nursing. Honestly not just for my sake, but Tybalt's as well. I knew that a depressed me wouldn't help anyone. Then there was the issue of father and child bonding. There is much literature about its importance, of course, but specifically of the fact that great bonding can occur by being involved in the feedings. If nursing, daddies should be awake at midnight as well, changing diapers and getting baby back to sleep. But some mothers choose not to nurse apparently on purpose so that Daddy can do the actual feedings and bond that way.

The closest I/we ever got to a decision is that I would plan to nurse. Assuming it went well (and I felt sane) I would go "breast only" for a few weeks to months. (My stamina without sleep, if or when I felt the need to start my meds again, and whether Romeo felt he was bonding enough yet or not, would determine whether it really was weeks vs. months.) But eventually I would start to pump and it would be bottled so Romeo and I could share the feedings, bonding, and lack of sleep.

But even though that was my "final plan" I still hemmed and hawed. Part of me didn't even want to nurse, as guilty as I felt about that, I sometimes had no interest. It wasn't just the reasons that perhaps I shouldn't (meds/ Romeo's bonding) it was, "Do I really want to?" "Do I want to have to whip a boob out in public?" "Do I want to not be able to get a babysitter for the first however many months?" "Do I want my breasts to be human refrigerators?" Ever since Romeo and I had dated he had been enamored with my breasts, as I am well endowed. In all PAINFUL honesty, I wasn't thrilled at the idea of my breasts being under "new management" and turning into my child's rather than my husband's. Romeo had been my first. (Okay, not the first to enjoy my boobs, I had fooled around as a teenager with a couple boys. But he was my first "real" sexual partner.) As a young adult I suffered from horribly low self-esteem due to my obesity. However with weight usually comes large boobs, and it was definitely true in my case. You could even say "BEYOND definitely true." Especially compared to my small framed female teenage counterparts. So the boys I fooled around with weren't really into me, except for the bonus of my top half. And I couldn't describe it while pregnant and trying to decide, and I still don't know if I truly can, but where I let those teenage boys just fool with my mind because they really only wanted to fool around with my boobs, Romeo... I don't know... treated them as a prized possession. I genuinely adored him adoring my breasts because I knew he adored the rest of me as well. He had loved the person first. I guess I was terrified that once he saw "his" boobs turned into breasts in the scientific sense--feeding and sustaining life, he would feel differently. (Not to mention the shape I have heard breasts take on after having nursed a child.) And while I was brave enough to bring these concerns into our conversations about the ultimate decision, and Romeo assured me he would not be deterred and his opinions about my body would not change, I just still had my doubts.

So, I still had not made a firm decision. The only clear picture in my head was that I wanted to nurse Tybalt the very first time. After I gave birth, when the nurse asked, I would say "Sure!" and my little boy would be placed on my chest and I would nuzzle him and I would try. [Insert pause for me crying right now as I think about what I didn't get to do.] Anyway, I figured after that I would either follow "the plan" or else if really still unsure, I would take it day by day, feeding by feeding.

But as [bad] luck would have it, I had an emergency delivery 3 weeks early, went into cardiac arrest on the c-section table, nearly died, was in hospitals and rehab facilities for 3 months, and only saw my baby about one evening a week (from what I consciously remember with all the drugs). He lived with my in-laws and was very lovingly hand-fed via bottle by them and Romeo. I didn't get to live in the same house as him until he was 3 months old. And because of complications and extended home nursing, I didn't come out from the basement and really know him until he was about 4 1/2 months. I wasn't strong enough to be full-time mom and sole caretaker (of course with Romeo, I just mean without MIL) until we moved into a new apartment and Tybalt was 6 months.

His feeding choice was not mine. It never became mine. Actually, I can't even begin to describe to you the joy I had when he was 6 months old, we had moved into our new apartment (we terminated our old apartment lease when it was obvious we had to be at my in-laws for my home nursing care and we were paying rent on an apartment no one was living in), and anyway, the joy I had in going to Target and actually choosing which canned formula to buy for my son! It sounds insane, I know. But my MIL or Romeo did the shopping when I was recovering, and they just bought the brand that the hospital had sent home samples of. Finally, I was the one in the baby aisle and I could choose.

But that's all the choice I got. And there are nights, like tonight, when my husband has fallen asleep and I can't yet, that I daydream. I lie in bed in the dark, my hand will graze my breast or my nipple as I roll over or some odd motion, and my mind drifts to 2 years ago, and how VERY, VERY, EXTREMELY SILLY I was for ever doubting I wanted to breastfeed. And I sob as Romeo snores and saws logs.

If only I could have done it, just once. Just once, God. Why couldn't you have given me just once?

Please, if any of you reading are a mother-to-be, or know one: Nurse. Or tell them to. I am not a "granola, crunchy mom." I'm not extolling the health benefits and everything else. I'm not telling you to nurse your child until he is old enough to unbutton your shirt himself. I'm just saying try it. For me.

Look, I know we are a small blog and not read by many, but if you can share my story with anyone, please do. We as humans are not omniscient and often don't even know who needs what help, so maybe you should just share it for the sake of sharing, and it will find and touch the person in the universe that it was meant for. Share the link on Facebook (the Internet is a powerful thing), copy and paste it in an email, heck-- print the screen and snail mail it. If it will be of any help-- perhaps to a woman who is still on the fence, or maybe you nurse now or have decided you are going to and need help defending your position, etc, whatever the case! And if you do choose to share it, and/or it does help you or someone you know (in any way at all) I'd be thrilled to know. So PLEASE email me at julietcap702 at gmail dot com, or even leave a comment here. I'd like to think my regret is not in vain. That as cliche as it is, when God closed that door of choice on me, sharing my story is the window he opened. Perhaps it's the point.

**Again, my apologies for the moments of TMI, vocab, etc, in this post.**


  1. Oh, my gosh, Juliet! I am so sorry you had to go through all of that. Thank goodness (and medical science) you both came through OK.

    I hope it isn't presumptuous to share my story here. Personally...I planned to breastfeed, reluctantly, but I had a baby who was born prematurely, was 4 lbs 12 oz, had no brown fat, and couldn't latch. There was no way we could let the kid lose any weight. She got the colostrum in the hospital (only with the aid of the industrial pump). But her pediatrician took one look at my med list and said, "No breastfeeding." And...I was SO. RELIEVED. We tracked every milliliter of every feeding that went into her and made the data into charts.

    Almost five years later, I have a child in roughly the 95th percentile of height/weight and I feel zero guilt. I think I felt guilty for a while for being so happy I didn't have to breastfeed, but not because I didn't do it. (Also -- and this may bite me in the ass -- she's healthy. She gets sick much less than other kids, even when she was in school.)

    So while I understand your regret, I hope you will forgive yourself. You couldn't help what happened, you couldn't have possibly breastfed, and there's no fault. Everyone touts the benefits and the closeness and all of that -- but I have a very healthy kid who is spirited and close to me. It turned out fine.

    1. This was exactly the comment I would have written. Except that Landon was a fat preemie, but a preemie nonetheless and the surprise and stress surrounding his birth and breathing issues (as in, he randomly stopped breathing, frequently, for no reason at all) meant that I had an excuse not to breastfeed. A good excuse, but an excuse nonetheless and I too felt nothing but relief.

      Juliet, there is nothing wrong with writing out your story and your grief (because it is grief, and grief should be honored) and you in no way need to apologize for any of it. I hope that it helped to write, it always helps me, and that you find peace with your particularly un-peaceful birth story and first few months. Time helps a lot I think, and not just because time usually helps things, but because as your baby gets older, the months you were so ill and separate from him as a newborn diminish in relation to the numbers of days he has spent with you since. I hope it is that way for you.

  2. Thank you for your words, AAL. This being the internet and not face to face, I can't read you perfectly, so I do hope you took no offense to my plead to mothers to try breastfeeding. As I am looking back on my post I realize it may have sounded somewhat desperate and one-sided. But that's not what I intended. I think I meant that if you are considering it, go for it. As well as looking for a way to share my story and get a piece of it off my chest. Because whether I would have breastfed or not in the end, the choice was never mine and that almost hurts me just as much if not more than how I did or didn't feed. And I see from your story the choice didn't become yours either, and I find it refreshing that we simply have two different viewpoints and feelings now that the past is the past.

    The world is filled with children who were never breastfed. I wasn't, my sister wasn't, and I have a few friends who have chosen not to. But most of my friends have, and I think that's another reason why I was conflicted while pregnant. We women can be so hard on each other when we make decisions the other doesn't agree with. Which is sad, because I believe women need to be each other's biggest supporters and defenders. I take comfort in your words of wisdom and that your daughter is healthy and well adjusted. I trust Tybalt will be too. (So far he's been the family member to come out of this medical ordeal the best! :)) Anyway, many women do not nurse and for multiple reasons. You and I both experienced medical reasons, others simply choose not to, and I'm sure the list continues as to reasons why. (Thank you also for admitting a feeling of reluctance while pregnant, it's nice to know I'm not alone in just simply not wanting to, at least when I was actually pregnant.) But you are correct, for me at least, I regret what happened and do feel remorse. I know the choice to nurse isn't right for everyone and not everyone makes it. Just how on the flip-side some women wouldn't even fathom bottle-feeding. But my words truly were written just from my own personal prospective and my own regret. They were in no way intended to guilt anyone else into wanting to do it or to have done it. (Let's just say I have my own "issues," lol.)

    And I do agree with you--I hope someday I will forgive myself and let myself off the hook for it. Perhaps it will just take some time and some other emotional wounds to heal first that surround his birth experience too.

  3. I don't really have anything to add other than I so admire you for laying this out here. I can't recall where I first read or heard this but "the definition of courage is - to tell your story with all your heart."