Having Peace — When things don’t go as planned.

Posted by  | Friday, November 30, 2007  at 8:50 AM  
Hi, my name is Jen Potter. I am a friend of Leah’s, and she asked me to do a guest post on this topic. I have three kids, ages 3, 2 & 10 months, and have had three very different feeding experiences. I have really enjoyed following this blog, so I hope sharing my perspective and experiences will encourage other mothers in their goal of doing what’s best for their babies, their families and themselves.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful thing. As the other ladies have cited, there are so many God-given, God-planned benefits, it seems like a no-brainer. I really enjoyed breastfeeding. But my daughter (my second child) was the only one I breast fed for an extended time (8 mo). If things had gone differently, I would have loved having that same experience with my other two. But sometimes things don’t work out like we plan, do they? So here’s my story:

I feel like I had a pretty realistic and balanced understanding of breastfeeding before my oldest son, Liam, was born. I had always wanted to breastfeed my children and sought to be as prepared as I could be before his arrival. I read books, talked to lots of other mothers, and went to a breastfeeding class. I remember telling my friend as we left the breastfeeding class that I thought the instructor had painted a little too rosy a picture for this group of first time moms. She focused on how babies ALWAYS know just what to do, and how it would all come NATURALLY to us as well. “It will be so EASY.” While I believed that it might be true for many people, I personally knew too many women who had a less than “easy” experience. I didn’t think she gave justice to that fact.

One friend struggled for months and months to breastfeed her baby girl who had a weak suck. She went to classes and support groups and practically joined the LaLeache league in her effort to have “success” at breastfeeding. She (the mother) in this case was doing everything right—everything she could—and yet it still didn’t work. Through no fault of her own, her baby just wouldn’t nurse effectively. I admired this friend for her persistence in trying to do what she believed was best for her child. She persevered for months. In the end her experience was nothing like she had planned. But she was content knowing she had tried her best. I was thankful for her example. It prepared me for the possibility that it could be REALLY hard. Was I committed enough to slug it through like her?

I knew breastfeeding was often hard (I’d now say more often than not). I had heard plenty of stories of sore nipples, latch on issues, thrush, low milk supply, poor let down. It was so helpful to hear how each mother dealt with the obstacles that arose as they pursued their goal of breastfeeding. It meant so much to know that if I had issues, and things didn’t go as I planned, that I was not alone. I was comforted too by the fact that all of these women’s children—no matter how long, or even IF, they were breastfed—were all happy healthy babies, toddlers and kids. In fact, I also had a friend who flat out and unashamedly decided breastfeeding was not for her. She gave it a try, her baby did great, yet she just didn’t like it. She gave herself permission for that to be okay, in the face of horrified family and friends who couldn’t believe a stay-at-home mom would CHOOSE such a thing. And it WAS okay. It was the right choice for her. I was thankful for her example of not letting others make her feel guilty for making a choice that was right for her and her family.

So when Liam was born in February 2004 everything seemed to be going great. I brought him to the breast shortly after birth and he did well. I tried again a few hours later when the lactation consultant was there. She was pleased with how Liam was latching on and was amazed that this was my first baby—that I seemed to know what I was doing. I asked her lots of questions and got a few pointers etc., and asked her to come back for the next feeding. I was excited to be off to what seemed like a good start. That all changed however when he was about 8 hours old. I was holding him on my lap when he let out a loud cry then suddenly turned deep purple. I immediately buzzed the nurses’ station. All I had to say was, “My baby’s purple” and a slew of them came literally running. He was rushed off to the NICU. Long story short, he was diagnosed with a heart defect called valvular pulmonary stenosis. (He is doing great now.) Anyway, they really wanted to give him some formula. I can’t exactly remember now what their “very important” reason was. But in the midst of that scary situation I said it was fine. I told them I intended to nurse. They assured me one bottle wouldn’t cause a problem, which I knew. Here’s where I should have asked for the lactation consultant again. Although when your baby’s health and life are at stake, somehow your ideals on breastfeeding get pushed aside a little. In the following days (Liam was in the NICU for 1 week) I was able to nurse him during the day, but at night he received bottles. After I was discharged, there was no where for me to stay at the hospital, so to get some rest we drove 20 minutes home after his evening feeding every night and came back for his first feeding the next day. The doctors were very concerned with knowing how much nourishment he was getting and I think they had me supplement with bottles some during the day. Well it wasn’t too long before Liam realized which he preferred! He definitely knew he could get a full tummy with a lot less effort with the bottle. So they gave me the lovely nipple shield. And that was the beginning of the end for us. I managed to keep nursing/pumping for about 6 weeks until my milk supply was so low and I was so sick of pumping, that I didn’t see any point in continuing. The day I gave myself permission to be done was a good one. I felt like I had done my best and that 6 weeks was better than nothing. I also didn’t have a big problem with formula necessarily. I think you would be hard-pressed to argue that formula is the better choice over breast milk. But I don’t think it is bad alternative. But I’ll save that discussion for another day. Suffice it to say, I think it is important to be at peace with your choices no matter what they are. It would be bad to heap guilt upon yourself every time your child gets a cold. “If only I had kept pumping. If only I had been able to nurse.” It would be equally as bad to feel bitter being chained to the pump for months on end if your heart wasn’t in it. My point is, it is YOUR choice and YOU need to be okay with it.

If I had the chance to do it over again there are some things I would have done differently. So maybe someone can learn from my experience. One thing they kept saying was, “It’s either a bottle or we have to put a tube down his throat.” In retrospect the tube would have been the better option. It seemed scary at the time and an awful thing to put my newborn through. But it really isn’t as bad as it sounds. I realize this even more now after 5 months of personally putting a Nasal Gastric Feeding Tube down my third child’s nose and throat. Another great option a friend told me about after the fact would have been to insist we give him the supplement feedings with a syringe. It wasn’t the extra nourishment I was against, or even the formula per se, but the nipple confusion ended up being a big problem for us. I think things would have been different if I had already had a successful nursing experience. I would have realized much sooner the problems the nipple shield was perpetuating instead of “helping” as the nurses were suggesting. Again, I wish I sought help from the LaLeache League or something after we went home and gotten some advice from a different perspective. I think almost all the “support” I got at the hospital was not as pro-breastfeeding as would have been necessary to get us successfully nursing. Overall, bottles were really pushed. All in the name of my child’s health I might add.

Well on to story of kid #2. Kate was born in July of 2005. I was determined this time to be as pushy as I needed to be to get those lactation nurses in there to help me until I got it right and was completely comfortable. Kate had some problems with proper latch on, but I kept at it and she was doing great rather quickly. “If it hurts, they’re probably not latched on correctly,” was great advice. But you need to know what a good latch looks like to be successful. Again, ask for help. I am so glad I did. Kate and I had a wonderful nursing experience for 8 months, when I weaned her because we wanted to start trying again and I hadn’t gotten my cycle back. Now I would say I think Kate had just as many colds as Liam did as an infant. So take that for what you will. I don’t know if he was bringing home more colds and giving them to her or what. Although I enjoyed nursing Kate there were definitely advantages to bottle-feeding that I missed. I for one really liked it that my husband could share the feeding responsibilities with Liam. With Kate I was the one who had to get up in the middle of the night and early in the morning EVERY TIME. Also, I think other family members had really enjoyed being able to spend special time feeding Liam. And he was able to stay for longer periods during the day and stay overnight with grandparents. Kate was not able to as frequently. She had to be with me, or I had to pump. I only did that when I had to. She did switch well between breast and bottle (of breast milk). For several months I pumped every morning after her feeding and froze the milk. I used the frozen milk for Thursday afternoons when she was at the babysitter’s while I worked. That stash lasted us 2 weeks after she was weaned. It would have been longer, except my entire stash had been wiped out when our electricity was out for 13+ hours when she was 5 months old. Our poor old freezer couldn’t keep it cool enough. They all thawed. It was so painful to dump all that out.

So now on to the curve ball... Kid #3, Owen. God has used Owen to teach me a lot about Himself and His amazing peace. I was looking forward to breastfeeding again, but it was not meant to be. We found out at 25 weeks that Owen had bi-lateral cleft lip and palate, spina bifida and hydrocephalus. At first the perinatologist was sure he had some fatal genetic syndrome. But both spina bifida and cleft palate are present in my husband’s family. Long story short, as we suspected, Owen just happened to get both things. His chromosomes came back normal. So I spent the remainder of my pregnancy preparing to care for this child with his many special needs. We were already somewhat familiar with his problems, so that helped. But a lot of things have changed in the medical world since Eric’s brother was born with cleft lip and palate. My mother-in-law wasn’t even given the option of pumping and giving him breast milk. They just told her she had to give him formula. The problem is babies with a cleft palate cannot suck. Imagine having no roof of your mouth, air flowing freely between your mouth and nose. They end up having to more or less chew a bottle nipple to eat. It can be very exhausting for them. They had all kinds of problems feeding Eric’s brother. I read everything I could about it and was pleasantly surprised to read that some people have had success nursing babies with clefts. But usually they only had a unilateral cleft lip and/or only a cleft in the soft palate not the hard palate. Owen had the worst possible scenario for nursing to be a possibility. I had a really hard time this time letting go of the thought of being able to nurse. I held out hope until I actually heard the developmental peds nurse practitioner tell me, “He will never be able to suck enough to nurse until his palate is repaired.” I pumped from day one for him. And in the back of my mind kept the possibility that if only I could pump until his palate repair, maybe I could teach him to nurse then. Of course palate repair surgery is usually done between 12 and 14 months. But he would not be able to suck a bottle until then either so he’d have to relearn sucking anyway. And I theorized, why not learn how to nurse at that point. I knew it would be a little old to start nursing him and highly unlikely that I would succeed in this endeavor. That is just how desperately I didn’t want to give up and say it couldn’t be done. So I committed to pump for as long as I could. We rented a Medela Symphony, which truly is the Cadillac of breast pumps. The other hospital grade pump just didn’t work as well for me. I pumped every 3-4 hours and 6 at night. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for 15 days. I took the pump home with us and kept it up, but it was a real chore. I have so much respect and admiration for those moms who can make this work! Our lives were anything but normal at that time and pumping was taking my last vestiges of normality away. Try pumping for 15-20 minutes while your 1½ year old and 3 year old want you to play. Then rig up the feeding tube to feed your infant, who is also on oxygen and a heart monitor. Then washing everything. It all got to be too much when Owen was about a month old. I had to quit pumping for my sanity and the sake of my other kids. And as laborious as it was at home, it made my already all too frequent trips to Indy even more complicated. Pump, drive, pump, doctors appointments, pump, drive, pump. Yeah right! Plus you can’t pump in public very easily. It’s not like you can easily sit and just cover up. I wasn’t about to take my three kids into a public restroom to do it.All in all, it just wasn’t worth it for me. And in the end, it was the right thing for me to do and I was, and am, okay with that decision. I gave my son 4 weeks of God’s perfect milk and that was a great gift. One thing I did want to add though, I did enjoy using some non-nutritive feeding techniques early on. Non-nutritive feeding means letting him suckle at the breast knowing he won’t get any nourishment from it. Doing it solely for the benefits of closeness for him and to increase my milk supply. I really only did it a handful of times. Selfishly it was a good way for me to say goodbye to breastfeeding. Owen was fed completely by NG tube for 5 months. We diligently dipped his pacifier in milk or formula while he received his tube feedings so he would associate sucking and the taste with getting a full belly. Remaining faithful in that has helped us along the way as he has increased his feeding skills. Owen has had many feeding issues as you can imagine. He now can take about 6 oz by mouth, 2x a day with a special feeder bottle (the rest is through his G-tube). He uses a mix of chewing and sucking, but he gets the job done. He has learned how to keep it from going up his nose. At 5 months we had a G-tube put in, which is like a little beach ball valve that goes directly into his stomach. Hopefully we will get that removed sometime next year when he is able to take all his food by mouth. I tried to limit my comments on Owen to breastfeeding here. If you want to read more about Owen’s journey you can check out our caringbridge site: www.caringbridge.org/visit/owenpotter

In closing, I think it is important to keep perspective on life. Be thankful for healthy children. Be respectful of each other’s choices. Be at peace with your parenting decisions. Know that even when things don’t go the way we’d like, God has a plan. He is in control. He is faithful even when we’re not. He is capable of doing more than we could ask or imagine. He loves our children even more than we do. Ask for help. Seek wise counsel. Get support. Reach out to others. God uses us. We are his hands and feet in the lives of our children and those around us.


KK said...

Great post Jen. Thanks for sharing so candidly. It is amazing how each child is uniquely different, though all from the "same mold." Our parenting approaches have been challenged and refined for each child. When our third son was diagnosed and then born with severe defects, I didn't have the option of feeding him. He died in my arms almost 2 hours after birth and I can say that the hardest part of coming home and life settling down was my bodies constant reminder (let down) that he was not here to nurse. I had good experiences with my other two sons and felt really jipped of these precious minutes to be alone with my baby. I remember it being a great excuse to get away in a quiet place and let everything else that was on my mind go! It true missed that special bond between mom and baby. Anyways, several months later I was asked by a lactation consultant if I would have been willing to pump and donate my milk to a milk bank. Just curious if any other moms would give their baby another moms milk in lue of formula?

Leah said...

Thanks so much for posting Jen. I knew that you would have a lot to add to the discussion. It is obvious that God has taught you much through these past 5 years - and He has taught me a lot through you as well.

I would give my baby another mom's milk b/c I know the benefits it has. I also think that if we were gifted with the opportunity to adopt a newborn, I would try to breastfeed that child as well. To be honest, though, I don't know if I could handle pumping milk to donate after losing my child. I suppose if it was a comfort to know that I am helping another family, and that my baby's milk could be used to help someone else, then I would do it. That is definitely a tough call, though, that I think can only be answered by someone in the situation. I am sorry to hear about you losing your baby - and also for the physical reminder of that loss after you came home. I really pray that God will continue to sustain you.

Shannon said...

My prayers are with you as well. No one should have to go through that tragedy. If you decide to donate your milk, what a wonderful gift you will be giving to another life. If I were not able to nurse, I would be so grateful to another mom for donating.

And Jen, I was amazed at reading your post. It is really good for other moms and moms-to-be to know about all the challenges that can come in BF'ing. It helps to be well-informed by other's experiences. Reading about your challenges also reminded me of how grateful I should be that I have been able to nurse my two so easily. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your stories of breastfeeding. I love the fact that you state over and over that it is a personal preference and that you should be ok with whatever you decide regardless of what others think. It is nice to hear that side of breastfeeding and knowing that it doesn't work for everyone!!

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