In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I’m participating in Mothering.com’s Blog About Breastfeeding event.
Read part one of this story.
Finally, two surgeries and countless procedures later, we were home from the hospital and our whole family was together. We settled down into a routine and that’s when the breastfeeding reality sunk in. When he was first born I kept thinking how many hours had passed without nursing. The hours turned into days. Before I knew it weeks had slipped away. Now months. Months. Is it possible to breastfeed a child that hadn’t nursed or taken a bottle after this long? How much longer would it be?
I was still doing oral stim exercises. Also, during all his daytime feedings, I put a pacifier in his mouth and held him at my breast. I hoped that he would make a connection: sucking + at the breast = full belly. It was probably crazy but I did it anyway.
We had our first breakthrough at about three and a half months when he finally passed a swallow study. I knew he would pass because his voice was back. This meant he was no longer aspirating. The occupational therapist said “congratulations, you can now give him food by mouth.” Um okay. Is there more? I mean, I know kids don’t come with a manual but I thought maybe with THIS kid I’d at least get a couple hand outs. Something.
When it was time for his next feeding (and I still don’t know why I didn’t question the feeding schedule thing having nursed on demand for two and a half years) I happily and hopefully lifted my shirt. Crickets. Nothing. He looked at me like “what’s that.” For the next two weeks I tried everything I could think of to get him to latch onto my breast.
- stroke his cheek
- pull down his chin
- shove the breast in
- hand express some milk into his mouth
- stimulate my nipple so it would be easier to latch on to
- put my finger in his mouth and stroke the roof of his mouth
- put a pacifier in his mouth and once he started sucking switch to the breast
- and about a million other things that didn’t work either
Nothing seemed to work.
It was time to accept the fact that my son and I would never share the bond of breastfeeding.
I raised the white flag and told my husband that tomorrow we should go shopping for bottles. “Are you sure” he asked. I felt like a quitter, a failure. I thought maybe with a bottle he would latch on better and eventually eat with his mouth in a “normal” way. That was the goal right? Not breastfeeding, eating with his mouth rather than the tube drilled though his stomach.
Then it happened. It was a Sunday evening, hubby was bathing the two older kids and my neighbor was over. You know those moments in life in which something huge happens and you remember every detail. You know where everyone was standing and what color shirt you were wearing – everything. Trace, now four months old was getting fussy. I was distracted by conversation with my neighbor. Conversation about how to bottle feed. I was embarrassed that as a mother of three I had no idea how to give a baby a bottle. He got a little fussier, then even more. So without thought, like I had done for two and a half years prior, I grabbed a pillow, sat on the couch, lifted my shirt and put my baby to my breast. Before I could even respond to my own actions it happened. I felt a tiny suckling sensation at my nipple. Could this be real? Both my neighbor and I stopped wide-eyed mid-sentence. I wanted to shout to my husband, but thought better of if. Go! Go get him I softly pleaded – hurry!
He rushed in and joined us with tears of joy. “What does this mean?” my husband asked. At first I shook my head no, not really sure what it meant. But quickly smiled, forgive the phrase, but a “shit eating grin” type smile. Oh yeah, we are breastfeeding now baby. Before I could even finish my thought, my baby was fast asleep, too tired to finish.
But this teeny tiny little latch was all I needed, it was on like donkey kong!
With no clue how to make this transition, I jumped in the deep end head first. The next day I pushed back his tube feed and offered the breast – nothing, so I feed him with the tube and feeding pump. Later that day, the same thing again – nothing. But I knew it was possible. The next day I waited a very long am-I-doing-the-right-thing hour past his feed time and offered the breast – he latched! He was starving and tired and frustrated but he latched. I let him “try” for a couple minutes then tube fed him because I felt like he was suffering.
No one had information for me – friends, family, doctors, nurses, surgeons, occupational therapist, speech therapist, Le Leche, other “heart moms” or even good old google. So I just kept doing what felt right.
Everyday for the next several months we made progress. Not all of it forward progress, a lot of one step forward, two steps back. My nipples hurt, this was so different from starting with a newborn. It hurt so bad I almost gave up more than once. How could I consider giving up after coming this far – oh the guilt. He and I were both learning. He was learning that food came from my breasts, comfort came from my breasts. And while I have no way to prove this theory, I believe he knew that love came from my embrace and my breasts.
We made a lot of mistakes. For example, after the G-tube was changed to a MIC-KEY or button (like a little port in which you can plug the tube in to) no one told us that stomach acids would eventually wear away at the the saline inflated balloon holding the button in place and it would therefore fall out. Once, we feed the bed instead of our baby because the tube wasn’t plugged in all the way.
He remained on a continuous pump feed at night although I still had to get up and pump. I hated pumping less now because my son was nursing. Wow it felt so great to say that my son is breastfeeding. Once he was completely breastfed during the day, around 8 months, I started to conquer the nights.
Boy did I screw that up at first.
I assumed that since during the day he was nursed when he got hungry that he would wake up at night when he felt hungry – wrong. He had been sleeping through the night since birth. Not because he was some rock start baby but because of the continuous feed. So that first night, he slept until five am and woke up famished. He then proceeded to nurse every hour for the next two days. Clearly I had to rethink my approach. So I shortened the continuous feed and nursed later into the evening and earlier in the morning. It was hard work and there were many times I just wanted to plug him in and go to bed. Slow and steady we conquered the continuous night feed until finally, just before his first birthday…
my son was completely breastfed.
My son was breastfed. I actually wrote a letter to the charge nurse and neonatologist that rolled their eyes at me and agreed with a completely fake smile when I said we would nurse. I didn’t send it – chicken.
Trace nursed for another year while we transitioned into solids. He weaned just before his second birthday because he “dwank aw mine mik.”
I still feel guilty when I think of how many times I almost gave up. I’m tenacious and goal driven but still wanted to throw in the towel. Every time I wanted to quit my baby just needed a little more time – a week, a day, an hour. Can you imagine that 60 minutes can make such a huge difference for you and your baby.
This is our story but there is a deeper message. Maybe for you that message is don’t give up on your baby. Perhaps the message is seek support or give support. Be an example to others but tell the truth. Breastfeeding is not always unicorns farting rainbows. Support your sisters and if one of them makes a choice different than yours, support that too.