Before my daughter was born, I was so worried I would hate breastfeeding. Like many young women, I saw my breasts as an accessory. They were something to be pushed up and smooshed together in a cute dress… How weird would it be to have a tiny person sucking on them, like all the time!? I was sure it would be uncomfortable, even invasive to share that part of myself with the baby. Sure, she was inside my body currently, but nursing seemed like it would be different. Despite this fear, I was determined to exclusively breastfeed my little girl. I had been thoroughly indoctrinated into the “breast is best” mantra, and was well-informed on all its benefits versus formula feeding, plus, it’s free… Even for that reason alone, it was clearly my best option.
Felicity Hazel was born via C-section at 4:24pm on a Friday, and was immediately rushed to the NICU at another hospital for meconium aspiration. I didn’t have the opportunity to nurse or even hold her following her birth and I knew this would make breastfeeding harder for us. I pushed that to the back of my mind. My husband followed Felicity’s ambulance to the next town, and he called the next morning to update me on her condition, as well as to ask if she could be given a bottle of formula. “Of course,” I said “if she is hungry, you have to feed her.” Intellectually, I knew that was true but the words broke my heart. My hope of exclusively breastfeeding was dashed, and so soon. No matter how successful we were in the future, I would always know that she wasn’t made entirely of Mama-milk. There are millions of wonderful mothers with healthy, happy, formula-fed babies, but that was not what I dreamed for my little one.
Shortly after I hung up the phone, my nurse brought in a breast pump for me. I was equal parts thrilled and terrified. I hadn’t even held my baby yet! What if my body hadn’t got the message to make milk? I had never “leaked” during pregnancy… What if I was broken?!
They say when your child is born, a switch flips in your mind and you become a parent. I can tell you that this is completely true. My feelings of conflict about my breasts’ purpose, and weirdness about breastfeeding were totally gone the moment I saw those little drips of colostrum collecting in the pump’s cup. Liquid gold. I was almost shocked to see my body doing what It was designed to do. I wasn’t broken, and I would be able to feed my daughter. Praise The Lord! I excitedly labeled my 7cc’s of colostrum and refrigerated it to take to my sweet girl later that day. She was still getting formula in the NICU but that would all be over once I arrived! Right?
After a nap, another pumping session, and another dose of IV pain meds, I was finally released. The bumpy ride to the next town was less than fun at only 22 hours post C-section, but all I could think about was finally holding my baby.
My husband met me at the hospital’s entrance with a wheel chair and whisked me (gently but speedily- thanks honey!) down to the NICU, cooler bag of colostrum in hand. “You must be Felicity’s mommy!” the receptionist said cheerily – they knew I was coming. My husband informed me she hadn’t eaten in about 2 hours, and was starting to root and show hunger signs, so I was just in time to feed her. As I shuffled into the unit, I could barely contain myself- the emotion was overwhelming. There she was, my giant 8lb11oz girl, snug in her isolette. Our wonderful nurse Joy got her out and wrapped her up before placing her in my arms for the first time. The tears flowed freely. Here she was. Finally. She had tubes and monitors seemingly everywhere, but she was all mine.
Sure enough, she started rooting around right away! Since Felicity was mostly healthy now, breathing was stable, she was off of her CPAP machine and allowed to breastfeed if possible. I excitedly pushed my tank top aside and unsnapped my nursing bra. To say is was nervous would be an understatement. I held her football style just like they taught in breastfeeding class, and waited for the big open mouth so she could latch on. No dice. She seemed confused. Nurse Joy sat patiently with an eye dropper full of my pumped colostrum, dripping some across my nipple into Felicity’s waiting mouth every few seconds. “This is where it comes from baby girl!” she said softly. We kept trying for a few more minutes. Felicity would frantically lap up the drips of colostrum but didn’t know what else to do. No latch, no wide mouth. Eventually it was clear that it was just not going to happen this time. “Now, don’t think your daughter is nipple confused when you see how she goes at this bottle,” Joy told me, “she just likes to eat!” I have never seen a baby suck down a bottle as fast as my brand new bundle did. She guzzled down that Similac like it was going out of style. With every gulp my heart sank a little more. Not only was I robbed of the natural birth I had planned and prepared for, I couldn’t even feed my starving baby. We continued these eye-dropper feelings each time I would visit, but got the same confused result each time. Some mother I was! I knew that she needed to eat, and I don’t regret giving her the formula, but feeding her was MY job, and I planned to fix that as soon as possible.
On our third day in the NICU, the hospital’s internationally board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) met with us to help get Felicity latched on. Within seconds of using the nipple shield she gave us, Felicity was happily feeding! I couldn’t believe it! I cried, I took pictures. We were doing it! She didn’t feed for long but I knew she got a belly full because she refused to finish the bottle of formula our nurses encouraged us to offer. That first Mama-milk coma face was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen! The nurses still had to feed Felicity formula when I wasn’t around, but from then on, she got most of her feedings from me.
We finally packed up on Monday morning- Felicity was given the ‘all clear’ her blood cultures came back free of any infection, and she was ready to come home. Our kind nurses packed up lots of formula to go home with us- they were sure that we would still have to supplement to fill our little piglet’s belly. By this point I was resigned to that fact, and I took the free formula as a blessing. But that night at 2am, when I offered the formula as instructed, Felicity would have none of it. I wish I had taken a photo of her grimace- she wanted the good stuff, and the good stuff only! Since then, our little sweetheart has taken every feeding from me and never looked back.
I cherish the sweet snuggles while she nurses. I love the smell of her milky breath when she pops off, satisfied. I love the relieved look on her face when my husband hands her over for a meal. She needs me, for comfort, for food, for things only a mother can provide. I have been the only one who can feed her, all day and at night, for most of her young life. We have had our share of struggles, we have pressed through sore nipples, clogged ducts, engorgement and so on. Through all of it I remember the fear, the worry that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed at all. For Felicity and me, it was a hard won prize, and every ounce she drinks makes me proud of us both.