It is easy to look online and find inspiring stories of women who breastfed for many years with no problems. There are also tales of motherhood, women who overcame obstacles in the beginning and went on to have wonderful breastfeeding relationships after a few months of hardship. But what about the Moms who want to breastfeed, but are unable to? Their stories are just as important. I would like to share with you the journey a dear friend of mine is embarking on with motherhood. It is a tale of expectations, disappointment, and sadness, but it is also a tale of discovery, courage, and unconditional love. I hope that it will inspire and encourage a few new mothers out there who might be struggling, the same way it has inspired and touched me. 

One Mother’s Story: How to Cope With Motherhood when Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work Out

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The Haviland Family- Kati, Vivian and Jared

My first five months postpartum were some of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced. As a person who had long wanted a child, I had a completely different vision in my head of how motherhood would be but reality kicked me in the ass quickly:

My husband and Mom were there to coach and help me through the pain of delivery. I had asked for an epidural halfway through labor but I kept being held off because the on-call midwife “didn’t want me to set myself up for a C-section.” I was angry because I felt as though she wasn’t taking my pain seriously. When I finally got an epidural, of course I was fully dilated, so I pushed for nearly 4 hours only to end up needing an emergency C-section anyway. I was beyond exhausted and I just wanted my baby to be safe and healthy.

katihospital

The first two days in the hospital I was in a lot of pain but I was managing. Vivian and I were working on breastfeeding with the help of a lactation consultant, and my husband, Jared, would help when she wasn’t there. It wasn’t easy and hurt like hell but I had hope that it would improve as time went on. By the third day Vivian had jaundice so instead of going home she was sent to the NICU for light therapy. I was devastated.

There is no worse feeling than seeing your baby hooked up to a million wires and not being able to hold her. I cried and cried and cried, not just from the stress of seeing her in that state, but from the physical pain my body was in after such a grueling labor and delivery. Breastfeeding started to become very difficult at this point for us. I knew I had plenty of milk supply but Vivian was crying and struggling to latch and I was crying out of pain and frustration. A nurse offered a small bottle of formula and I gladly accepted.

After nearly 6 days in the hospital, we were finally able to go home. I hadn’t seen the outside world for nearly a week. My body was horribly swollen from all the drugs that had been pumped into my system. I remember the relief I felt as soon as I stepped inside my house. I had thought everything would get better once I was home but again, the universe had different plans.

kati1month

Breastfeeding continued to be a struggle. My nipples were cracked and bleeding. Even water hitting them while taking a shower was horribly painful. Vivian would cry every time (as would I) and when I did get her to latch, she would fall asleep fairly quickly. She still suckled while her eyes were closed so I assumed she was getting enough to eat. When I took her to her first doctor appointment, she had only gained an ounce over a week. Mentally everything was taking a big toll, so the doctor sent me home with several types of formula to supplement with.  I felt like a huge failure.

I didn’t want Vivian associating eating with stress so I decided to try pumping to make things easier, but it was harder. I would sleep through alarms I had set at night to get up to pump, and when Jared was back at work, I had no clue how to pump and hold the baby. I would only pump 3 to 4 times in the evening while he was home and started doing half formula and half breastmilk. I did this for five weeks and then made the choice to do straight formula. Her next several doctor appointments were amazing –  she was gaining weight, growing steadily, and advancing mentally just as she should be. Her doctor reassured me that I was doing great with her. Because I had always planned on breastfeeding, I felt like a huge failure again even though she was doing so well. I had a huge fear of being judged by others because I was formula feeding my baby.

Jared was only able to have a week off of work so once he went back, I was absolutely terrified. My dad was able to come over in the mornings to help me but I cried constantly during the day being alone with Vivian and every evening when Jared got home, I’d cry again. I loved my baby but didn’t feel connected to her. I found myself waking up everyday feeling like I wanted to die. I would sob to my mom that maybe I had made the wrong choice in having a child. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a mother. My mental state was getting darker and darker and I didn’t know what to do. Poor Jared, who had been through all of this right alongside me, kept urging me to get help. He knew this was not who I was and I knew it was taking a huge toll on him.

At four months postpartum, I began seeing my counselor. I had seen her in the past when my grandma passed away so she knew me and my history well. After a few sessions, I was diagnosed with not only postpartum depression but also anxiety and PTSD from my traumatic labor and delivery. I tried anti-depressants for a short period but stopped them due to side effects. I started exercise again recently and plan to use that as my outlet to help me heal. I continue to get better everyday and know that I can get past everything.

Bottle feeding is beautiful, too.
Bottle feeding is beautiful, too.

I’m just now accepting the fact that it’s ok that I couldn’t breastfeed. I have a beautiful, healthy, HAPPY baby girl who is growing perfectly.

So what have I learned?
1. ASK FOR HELP. I was too stubborn and ashamed to admit to anyone but Jared that I was badly struggling with EVERYTHING. It’s possible that had I asked for more help, I may have had a better chance in being successful in breastfeeding.
2. It’s ok that I couldn’t breastfeed. Feeding my baby formula does not make me a bad mother. She’s fed, end of story.
3. I should have educated myself more on postpartum depression.
4. Motherhood is not all beautiful and fun and games as society likes to think. It’s really hard.
5. I should have been nicer to myself and learned to relax. It would have saved Jared and I both a lot of grief.
6. Jared and I have a much stronger relationship than I ever truly realized.
7. Crazy as it sounds, I’d go through it all again for my baby because I love her that much.
8. I am a great mother.

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Lissa James
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Lissa James

Mommy & Blogger at Bumblebee Lullabies
Hi! I'm Lissa James, currently living and loving in Seattle, Wa. I blog mainly about my experience breastfeeding, as well as attachment parenting, and postpartum anxiety and depression. I hope to encourage and empower other women through my writing. I am a Potterhead/The X-Files junkie, and I love to read and paint. I am currently writing and illustrating a children's book about breastfeeding! Find me on instagram @bumblebeelullabies and find my mama mermaid art @mermamame!
Lissa James
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