We slept maybe three or four hours that first night home from the hospital. P hadn’t eaten in hours. In fact, since we arrived home from the hospital, P hadn’t really wanted anything to do with me. Every time I attempted to breastfeed, she would howl, turn her face away from me, and arch her back. After struggling to hold her head in place for 20 minutes, for the tenth or so time since getting home, I decided I needed help. I called the lactation consultant I’d met before leaving the hospital. She listened politely as I regaled her with the going-ons of our first night home.
“Could you tell me what you ate yesterday?” she asked.
I tried to remember. “Well, there was that small bowl of cereal, a few strawberries..”
“Strawberries?” “You ate strawberries?”
I swallowed hard, silently scolding myself for not knowing I wasn’t supposed to eat strawberries while breastfeeding. The lactation consultant continued,
“Honey, that is one of the worst things you can eat while breastfeeding. They can give infants terrible gas. That is probably why she wouldn’t eat. And, due to your family history of sensitivity to milk products, it may be a good idea to cut dairy from your diet, too.”
Mentally, I compiled a list of every dairy product I could think of: milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, cream cheese, and ice cream. Some of my very favorite things, the most important being milk- I needed milk in my coffee. Soy would not cut it, neither would non-dairy creamer. You see, coffee (with milk) wasn’t just a once a day thing for me (and still isn’t). I relish my three to four cups of coffee each day, the smell, the taste, and its silky warmth. “No. No. No,” I told myself. I couldn’t be selfish. I had to try to breastfeed; after all, “Breast is best.”
Subsequent feeding attempts were just as unsuccessful as they had been that first night. If I couldn’t get P to breastfeed directly, I at least had to try to pump.
After staring at the pumping equipment scattered on the floor in front of me, and a thorough review of the directions (I’m convinced a woman did not write them), I set to work. Attach the pump here, flip this switch there, and wait. After an uncomfortable fifteen minutes, I flipped the switch, removed the pump, and looked down. What I saw was a very angry, swollen, breast, and about an eighth of an ounce of milk. Exhausted, overwhelmed, and hungry, I tried to imagine what the future would look like if I continued to breastfeed/pump: a potential screaming infant at each feeding, me, without coffee (and cheese), and pumping sessions in the stall of my workplace bathroom. I shook my head; it wasn’t going to happen. I felt very guilty at the time, and for several months after, but have since made peace with my decision. In my mind, I could be a better mother to P if I eliminated the tremendous amount of stress breastfeeding brought on. I could be caffeinated (and therefore, much more happy!), my husband, Chad, could help with feedings, and I wouldn’t worry every time I ate or drank something that my breast milk would be affected. It would also prove to be a fortunate decision when, at 14 days post-postpartum, my maternity leave request was denied, and I was given three days’ notice that I would either need to return to work, or resign. More on that in a minute.
We started bottle-feeding the next day. Due to our family histories of milk sensitivity, we started with soy formula, which worked well for a few weeks. Then came the call. About one month before P’s birth, I had signed my first work contract. Fresh out of graduate school, it was going to be my first year as a school psychologist. I signed the contract with the understanding that I would take six weeks of unpaid maternity leave. This turned out not to be the case, and due to our finances, I had to return to work. I was angry, disappointed, and brokenhearted, but what was I supposed to do? Since P couldn’t attend daycare until she reached six weeks of age, I had to figure out childcare arrangements, and I didn’t have much time. We were extremely fortunate that my mother and mother-in-law could take time away from their own jobs (out-of-state), to come and help us. My mother covered my first week back at work, Chad’s mother covered the following two weeks, and Chad covered the last week.
I have only hazy memories of my first few weeks at work, maybe because of the fatigue, or stress. Some of my co-workers were angry on my behalf. They offered sympathetic smiles, hugged me, and asked how I was doing. A few of them remarked that they could “never do it.” I knew my co-workers were trying to be supportive, and they cared about me, but truthfully, I grew tired of hearing the same questions. I had to be okay. There was nothing I could do about the situation. I had to work because we needed the money. The day I received that phone call I cried, I felt sorry for myself, and then I moved on. Wondering why, or wishing things had worked out differently was only going to make me feel worse than I already did.
If I shared the details of all the challenges Chad and I faced that first year, I estimate this post would be about ten pages long. So, I’ll try to be brief. P eventually developed “tummy issues” with the soy formula. After trying several other formulas, we found that she only did well with a special formula developed for infants with milk protein allergy/sensitivity. Later, we learned P suffered from acid reflux. The first medication she was prescribed did not help her; thankfully, the second one did. There were also the painful, persistent, ear infections. We ran out of options to treat them, at least with regard to antibiotics, so P eventually had ear tubes inserted. When in pain, or upset, P was not easily soothed. She detested riding in the stroller and car-seat, being in a baby carrier (e.g. Baby Bjorn, Ergo, etc.), and sitting in the swing or vibrating seat. The only moderately effective soothing methods we could find were: pacing around our apartment (with her facing outward, so she could see everything), and bouncing with her (still facing outward) on an exercise ball (my thighs have never been more toned). At about eight months, P finally started sleeping through the night, a fact that Chad rejoiced in, as he handled the majority of night-time wakings. Just a little aside: for those of you who don’t know my husband, Chad, you should know that he is a phenomenal man, and human being. He takes on half, if not more, of all the household responsibilities and baby wrangling, and handles it like a boss.
Chad and I also experienced a few personal/work challenges that first year. On my way to lunch, when P was about four weeks old, I was hit by a large truck, which destroyed my car (don’t worry, P wasn’t with me, and I wasn’t physically hurt), I commuted 70+ miles (round-trip) to work, daily (DC traffic, ‘nuff said), I missed so much work due to P’s doctor’s appointments, that I worked for hours many nights after she went to sleep, Chad was promoted to a position that often required 12-13 hour work days, we moved (due to our neighbor’s penchant for partying, and the man who lived below us with a severe hearing impairment. We didn’t have the heart to ask him to turn his television or radio down), and my biological father’s unexpected passing, among a few other things.
Then, when P was about ten months of age (about the same time her ear tubes were put in), life became much more enjoyable. The time she spent smiling and laughing far exceeded the time she spent crying. I wouldn’t say P liked riding in her car-seat or stroller, but she began to tolerate both. And, we were gradually able to accustom her to regular, milk-based formula, which was a relief, especially to our wallets.
Over the course of P’s first year, there were times I felt sorry for us, and for myself. I wondered why just one thing couldn’t be easy. I’m certain I whined to friends and family (and maybe a few strangers) about it. But, please understand, I’m not putting all of this personal information out there to elicit pity or sympathy. I wake up each morning happy and thankful for my beautiful family. I would not trade our life together for anyone else’s. I’m putting our story out there because I want mothers, soon-to-be-mothers, and future mothers to know that you can work through the crappiest of situations. When life hurled lemons at us, we learned that the bravest, most productive thing we could do was decide to keep going. There seems to be this belief that unfortunate things don’t happen to “good people,” but they do, all of the time. In fact, many wonderful people experience challenges far greater than ours. We realized soon after P was born that in parenthood, and in life, there are no guarantees of fairness or fortune. All you can do is put on a brave face, and keep going.