You can’t always get what you want.

I’ve never really talked about this issue, and I’ve sure as hell never posted about it, but when I saw a few other bloggers participating in this blog carnival I knew I had to throw down too. I’m a bit late to the game, but better late than never.

I knew before MJ was born, hell, before she was conceived, that I was going to be a Breastfeeding Mamma. Actually, everything about my pregnancy, her birth and her early years was going to be about as natural as was possible. I was going to give birth with the assistance of a midwife, not a doctor. It was going to be in a tub, not a hospital bed. She was going to be put in my bed and on my breast immediately, none of this mucking about with hospital nurseries or cribs.

All that came to pass.

Then it went drastically wrong.

I thought we were doing well. At our postpartum day three visit, MJ was down in weight a bit from her birth weight, but I knew that was ok. My milk hadn’t come in yet but it surely would in the next day or so.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again, I’m an academic. I don’t do anything these days without doing serious research first. I knew what to expect. I knew about the initial pain of breastfeeding. I knew breastfed babies lost nearly 10% of their body weight until the colostrum had been drained and my milk came in. Then I knew she should gain weight. She didn’t.

By day 5 I was truly worried. I was engorged, implying that my milk had come in, but when she nursed the engorgement never went away. I spoke to the Lactation Consultant at the midwifery center. She said to try hand expressing some milk in the shower to ease the pain. I tried. I couldn’t. My best friend, who also was my doula, brought me a pump. It didn’t help.  I was huge, red, inflamed, feverish and nothing would come out.

By day 6 I had full fledged mastitis and MJ was still not getting enough to eat. She would spend an hour at a time on my breast but still come away hungry. Eventually, she seemed to give up and the moment I put my nipple in her mouth she’d fall asleep and not even try to suck. Her weight still hadn’t come up to even match her birth weight. A trip to the midwifery center (they were great and did everything they could to help me with my postpartum recovery) and a torturous breast massage by the lactation consultant (and yes, I use the word massage very lightly. It HURT LIKE HELL) got some milk flowing. I immediately put MJ to my breast in hopes that she would be able to get some of it. She got drops at a time.

The midwife gave me an SNS feeder. I was given donated milk for the feeder and had rubber tubes supplying MJ with another woman’s milk. I was instructed to pump after every SNS feeding session. Nothing came out in the pump. I’d spend a half an hour, an hour on the pump with it turned up to full and nothing would come out. When the donated milk ran out I had to put formula in the feeder. I cried for hours.


Her suck got weaker and weaker. No one believed me. They all told me that I was just getting used to the pain of breastfeeding, but to be honest, it hadn’t hurt me in a good long time. I wasn’t just getting used to it, MJ just wasn’t trying as hard. I’m sure it was because of the SNS. The milk flowed freely for her on the feeder, so why try?

I felt hopeless. I fell into the deepest depression that I have yet experienced. The way I saw it, I had one biological function in this word, to feed my baby and I couldn’t even do that. If I couldn’t feed her, how the hell was I supposed to take care of her.

I called for help. I called La Leche League. Now, I know that LLL has helped many women who were having breastfeeding trouble. To me they were horrible. It took me 3 days to finally get someone to call me back and when she did first she berated me for supplementing and then told me that there was no meeting anywhere near me until the next week. Another week? I told her that she had to be kidding me, my baby was starving now. Then she said the worst thing any woman has ever said to me. She told me it was my fault. She said that if I hadn’t been so quick to supplement that my body would be more willing to provide for my baby.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach and head simultaneously. Could it really get worse then this?

The next day I went to a local hospital to spend the day with an LC. She told me that she wanted me to be there for at least 4 or 5 feedings. Before each feeding she took off MJ’s diaper and put her on a scale. After each feeding she weighed her again. We were in week two and MJ still was only getting ½ an ounce to an ounce at a time. She was starving and had no qualms about letting me know it. She’d scream at the top of her lungs. We went back to the SNS.

Towards the end of that day the LC had me putting two ounces of formula in a bottle and letting MJ get a few sucks on that before putting my breast back in her mouth. She also got me a different pump to try. We were both shocked with those results. The new pump was able to extract milk, but it was still colostrum. I’ve never cried harder than I did at that moment. I cried partly in relief that something finally was going to work. This pump would be my savior. I may not be able to feed my baby on my breast, but at least I’d be able to give her the breast milk I wanted her to have so badly. But I cried for another reason too. If this pump, nearly three weeks after she was born, was still getting colostrum then she had never really drained it from me in the first place. She had never actually had my milk. My determination to only breastfeed my baby was starving her. I felt like a failure all over again.

Pumping on the new pump worked for awhile. I’d sit with the pump attached to me every moment that MJ wasn’t, but sadly I wasn’t able to get enough. Where my friends would talk about pumping 8 ounces in one session, I’d barely be able to produce 2 in a day. I mixed those 2 ounces with formula and put them in bottles, but I couldn’t bring myself to feed her. CableDad took over.




There was just something so painful to me about feeding MJ in a bottle, I’d cry each time I tried. CableDad was a champ through all of this. He was the sweetest most sensitive man he could be. He said he’d happily feed his baby and he would do it so that I wouldn’t be upset over my inability and so that she would never feel any sorrow or resentment from me. I’ve never loved him more than I did then. I hope I told him that.

The the holidays hit. I had family in town and CableDad, MJ and I were expected to make the rounds as a happy family. It was incredibly stressful. I stopped being able to produce any milk for the pump at all. Friends would ask me if I felt the letdown and I had to be honest, never once did I. Not even in the beginning.

With nothing coming out for the pump I had to resign myself to feeding MJ solely on formula. I was horrified knowing that she would never be a breastfed baby. I was disgusted with myself for feeding her plastic and chemicals. But mostly, I was disgusted with the fact that through all of this ordeal I had been so upset about my inability to feed her naturally that I hadn’t been able to enjoy the first few weeks of my baby’s life. Every time I looked at her I saw my own failure instead of the beautiful creature she was. I knew it couldn’t continue that way. I tried to rise above it.

As it turns out my baby was tongue tied. She could not suck properly because the frenulum of her tongue was too tight. Our pediatrician mentioned this to me, almost in passing, at her 12 week appointment. He suggested that I might want to encourage her to stick her tongue out whenever possible to stretch it out. When I asked if this might have had any impact on her ability to breastfeed he said, “Certainly could!” in the most chipper and annoyingly pleasant tone. Why had no one told me this earlier? I wanted to deck him right there and then. I nearly did.

I can honestly say that I never got over my failure as a mother. I hated leaving the house because I was embarrassed about pulling out a bottle and a can of formula to feed my baby. I refused to admit to anyone that she wasn’t breastfed. It’s not that I lied, I just would always change the subject. That was easier to do than you’d think. People love to tell you about themselves. All I would have to do is ask and then sit back, the crisis averted yet another time.

MJ is now 16 months old and the happiest and healthiest baby you could ever meet.  She smiles and laughs at nearly everything.  And she’s never been sick, not a single day of her life.  I never wanted to feed my baby formula and I wish I didn’t have to, but sometimes you can’t get what you want.  In this case, I did.  I got my baby girl and there’s nothing that could be better.

Thanks to SarcasticMom for starting this blog carnival. Posting about this has been a cathartic experience for me.


~ by CableGirl on Tuesday, March 11, 2008.

21 Responses to “You can’t always get what you want.”

  1. Sending you a virtual hug and huge pat on the back.
    I was tearing up reading your story. I am sorry the people you asked to help were so useless and made you feel so inadequate. The tongue tie should have been noticed and discussed.Poor MJ and you for all that you endured -unnecessarily.
    The LC at the very least should have noticed -though the difference in hindsight may not have been much but it would have saved much emotional trauma or been able to be fixed if that is what you decided if you knew.(hope that makes sense)
    I am in awe of you that you tried to nurse so hard – others would have given in earlier.You are an awesome mother.
    I also hated the looks (judgement) when I was breastfeeding one twin and feeding the other expressed milk – I always felt i had to explain (breast refusal till 5 months)
    I am also sorry that people seem to look down on mothers who bottlefeed and make them feel more guilty and ashamed – when really they have no idea of your story and determination.

    thanks for visiting me
    My Little Drummer boys

  2. I think you have to do what is best for you. And, you should not be upset with yourself for doing that. You really were embarassed about bottle feeding? I have only known a handful of people who didn’t bottle feed. And, I’m sorry LLL was so snitty to you. Telling a new mother what that woman did is unacceptable.

  3. Remembering that difficult time, I know you did the right thing. It was about MJ. Not anyone else. She’s beautiful and loved by all.

  4. You are an amazing mom and MJ is obviously so loved. I admire your determination to BF.

  5. I got all choked up and teary reading your post. I had a lot of frustration with Punkin, but nothing as bad as you had.

    I totally understand the embarrassment of formula feeding. Punkin self-weaned at 8 months, and people became horrible to me. They told me I was obviously doing something wrong if she suddenly ‘went off the tit’ because babies never self-wean that young, and that I should just spend more time expressing and pumping and it would come back.

    Except that Punkin wanted nothing to do with my boobs anymore. She was finding the world much more interesting and was only nursing for about a minute on each breast – totally wasn’t getting anything out of nursing at that point.

    You’re welcome to adopt my motto – “Next baby… Next baby, I’ll know better.”

  6. I remember those times. How frustrating and devastating, and I was only your friend. I can only begin to imagine how bad ti was for you. It is just a small part of the beginning of her life, and she is a happy and healthy baby now. You did everything you could, above and beyond. You absolutely made the right choice to use the SNS – she was not gaining weight. Anyone from LLL who berated you can kiss my ass. I am upset that the midwife did not diagnose the short frenulum – I had seen her “fix” them in newborns before. I don’t think she gave you the attention you deserved.

  7. {{{hugs}}}

  8. I’m not a mother, so these carnivals going on right now are leaving me feeling left out and sort of sad. I wish I had an experience to share, but I don’t right now. I do know that I enjoyed reading your post. It’s heartfelt and honest and I’m glad when it came down to it that you were able to let go of the guilt and appreciate your child.

  9. my son is a bottle fed baby and is a happy, healthy 13 mos old now. i keep wondering about all the breastfed vs bottlefed people in the world. i mean, can you tell the difference?

    trying to breastfeed threw me into a terrible depression that affected my ability to care and love my newborn. like you, it took a while to get over the guilt i felt – what was wrong with me as a woman and mother? unlike you, i didn’t have your determination and gave up pretty quickly. i had to let it go because while it wasn’t an ideal situation, it was in the best interest of my son, which, at the end of the day is all that matters.

    i’m going to try nursing again with the next one, but at least i know now that the alternative is a good one and i won’t feel guilty about making sure my child doesn’t starve.

  10. I completely identify with the “one biological purpose” and not being able to do it. Only my failure was giving birth/carrying a baby to term. So much of what you said, reminded me of those dark times when I knew I was failing as a woman. As a wife.

    It’s amazing the pressures we put on ourselves, as women, isn’t it? And when that horribly dark time has passed, the problem tends to be a minor one discovered by someone in passing. Your situation being your beautiful daughter’s tongue/sucking issue. Mine was a vitamin deficiency discovered too late.

    Never a result of our failure at all. And somehow, even though those are dark and horrible times, the sun shines again and our world is beautiful.

    I love that you shared your story! You are a GREAT mom, i am sure of it. To be that determined and focussed, even when you were in so much pain… Your daughter is likely the luckiest little girl around!

  11. I’m so sorry that assholes made you feel that way.
    That was an awesome story. Your daughter has an awesome mom. 🙂

  12. I am so sorry that you had to go through that! But you are an amazing woman and MOTHER for trying so hard! I really admire that!

  13. I am sorry you struggled so much and that so much of it could have been helped, if not explained, if the doctor had said something sooner. I never knew all the details until I read this. I hope writing about it helped. Hugs to you.

  14. another thing. i also had similar reactions with lll and other lc’s – made to feel guilty about supplementing. and then a wonderful nurse/angel snapped me back to my senses by saying “don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty for wanting to feed your child.”

  15. I so agree with the last comment! As you know, I had a terrible time with breastfeeding. I can only remember the first few weeks of my older son’s life as a black hole. I can emphasize with what you went through. All I can say is that it’s been a really long time, as in at least a year probably almost close to two, since anyone has asked me about breastfeeding.

  16. So sorry about what that woman said to you about it being your fault – it was judgemental and not based on any fact. She should have been chucked out of LL.

    The story about your baby being tongue-tied is exactly what frustrates me about the medical profession: we don’t know what questions to ask, therefore they don’t give us the answers. GAH!

    Thanks for sharing.

  17. Boy, CG, I had a very similar experience, and it wasn’t because C was tongue-tied, I just couldn’t produce. And I’d have a hard, hard time writing about it. But I also have to say, that at almost 15, C has almost never been sick other than a couple of ear infections between 6 mos. and 1 year. He’s vibrant, happy and healthy. Huge hugs to you. I wish this was something we HADN’T shared, for a change.

  18. what a story! omg. and you write so clearly about your emotions through all of it. I have a lot to say about the whole breast v. bottle debate. of course, we all know breastmilk is great but it’s not what makes a great child and as my child grows, that becomes clearer and clearer to me. I wrote something called “breastmilk, it’s not just for breakfast anymore” about the pressures of breastfeeding when all we really need as new mothers is support. your tenacity is amazing and that is a better gift to give to a child than any breastmilk! thanks for sharing.

  19. wow – this is a very painful story on so many levels. how difficult for you!

  20. I’m late to this post, but I just wanted to tell you that that is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story. I’m glad it was cathartic for you. I know how depressing it can be when circumstances get in the way of the things we plan in regards to pregnancy, birthing, and mothering. I’m so sorry LLL treated you that way.

  21. Dag, yo. Moral of THAT story? Moms know. You knew. I am proud of you for all of it.

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