We had problems from the beginning -- after my c-section (breech birth), she was a super-drowsy baby who wouldn't latch, who then developed jaundice, so the doctors made us give her formula to get her digestive processes going. Kavi loved the bottle, and once the jaundice improved, I started pumping breastmilk for her. But we kept trying to get her to nurse, and after a few weeks of determined effort on our part, she did learn to latch, finally, and would eat a little bit before pulling away from the breast and screaming in anger. After working on it some more, we decided that what we thought was going on was overactive letdown -- from the way she acted, it seemed like she was getting more milk than she knew how to handle. So we tried leaning back and lying down (so that lack of gravity would help lessen the flow), and finally, two weekends ago, she started nursing consistently in the side-lying position. I was visiting my parents in Connecticut at the time, travelling alone with Kavi, and we had no trouble co-sleeping and nursing through the night. It was really lovely. Not that I enjoyed all the waking up in the middle of the night -- without Kevin to give her a bottle, it was always me who had to wake up, very tiring. But it just felt nice, snuggling with her. Not to mention a pleasure to do less pumping. Plastic cones are not snuggly.
I thought that with a little more time, we'd have this breastfeeding thing down, her and I. But instead, I came back to Chicago to help pack up the car and drive for four days across country. Not easy to practice breastfeeding then, exhausted at night in slightly scary motel rooms where I didn't want to even put her down on their sheets. And when we got to California (where we'll be spending the next four months while Kev teaches a semester at Berkeley), we had some more craziness getting settled into his parents' house, adapting our schedules to theirs, etc. and so on. It was easier just to keep pumping, and we figured it'd be okay -- she was still latching fine, and as soon as we got settled, she'd start nursing like a champ. Kevin reassured me when I fretted, and deep down, I figured it'd be fine.
Because really, didn't everyone learn to do this? My mom did, my grandmother did, my great-grandmother did. I knew that lots of women today had trouble with breastfeeding, and it made me wonder -- is this really just a problem for our generation?
I asked my mom, and she said that if she had been able to be with me during the first few months, she's sure she could have showed me how to do it right. She admitted that every once in a while, back in the village, there was a woman who couldn't nurse -- didn't make enough milk, or some other such problem. But they could always find a wet-nurse for her, since so many women were around who had infants. The babies almost always learned to breastfeed. I suppose in the old days, the ones that couldn't nurse (cleft palate, or some other problem) -- well, those babies died. A reason to be grateful for my pump. But still -- almost all women back then learned how to do this. Which means I should be able to do it too, dammit. I'm smart, I read. I've read all the books; in fact, I've read The Nursing Mother's Companion from cover to cover. Did I mention, I have a goddamned Ph.D.? Which is doing me absolutely no good right now. Because my baby won't take food from my breast.
I know I shouldn't think of this as a failure. Kevin keeps telling me she's healthy, she's happy. Kavi's right at the center of her weight range -- not too light, not too heavy. She's perfect. But my supply, which was solid for three months, if not stellar, is now failing to keep up with her. For the last three nights, we've had to supplement with a few ounces of formula. And yes, yes, I know that formula is not poison. Kevin was raised on formula, and is quite decently healthy. But still -- I'd like her to stay exclusively on breastmilk for at least six months. Or as close to exclusively as I can manage. Which means my breasts need to make more milk, and fast. And I have to think that my body will get the message a lot better if there is a baby attached to my breast instead of a rigid plastic horn.
In the end, though, it's not so much about her. Kavi is going to be fine either way -- whether I keep pumping for her, or have to supplement a little, or give up in exhaustion and just switch completely to formula. This needing her to nurse -- it's really about me, about my ideas of what motherhood should be. I wanted to have a child for so long, and thought it wouldn't happen. And then when I finally did get pregnant, instead of it being this glowing, happy time I had hoped for, it was mostly exhausting and painful, not to mention that I was terrified throughout that something would go wrong. And then when we were finally close to term, and I started believing that we were actually going to end up with a healthy baby, she ended up breech. So instead of the natural birth I had wanted to experience (even if I had to give up partway through and take the drugs, I wanted the chance to try at least), I had to have a c-section. And now, now I can't even feed my baby properly. God, if it weren't for her smiles and her sweet snuggles, I would seriously be wondering why I ever wanted to do this in the first place.
So little of this has been what I hoped for. I was prepared for the nights of broken sleep, the inexplicable tears (on both our parts), the messy diapers. But I think in my heart of hearts, even though I'd been warned that a lot of women in my generation had real trouble breastfeeding, I was just sure that I could get my baby to eat. It seemed like it should be so simple.
I'll call the lactation consultant tomorrow, one Thida recommended, one who is hopefully nicer than the mean LC's at the hospital who made me cry. We'll try again, and if we succeed, I will be so grateful to her. But right now, tonight -- it feels like I've failed. Because hard work and determination and smarts and patience weren't enough. Because I couldn't do this on my own.