Monday, August 29, 2011

I've struggled for months on whether or not I wanted to/should write this post. Quite frankly, it's a private matter for me and one that I still find myself having trouble coming to terms with. However, I've realized that if my honesty and openness can help even ONE person, then it is the right thing to do. So, here goes... I am not breastfeeding L. More specifically put, I am not able to breastfeed her.

About twelve years ago, I had a breast reduction. At nineteen I was still growing out of my bras, I was incredibly uncomfortable, I had the hardest time finding clothes that fit, and I was tired of being "the girl with the boobs". I'd been that girl since the fifth grade. After doing lots of research and finding the surgeon I wanted, I mustered up the courage to tell my mom. I was surprised at how supportive she was, but then again, she could relate. People (mostly my male friends) were shocked with the decision I'd made... "but all girls want big boobs"... "what about the scars, you'll have them forever". But none of that phased me; I would look at women with a smaller chest size and wonder if they had any idea how good they had it, and as for the scarring, I knew if that kind of thing was going to bother a guy, then he was not the kind of guy I wanted anything to do with anyway. None of that petty crap was going to stop me from doing what I knew was right for me. The day before the procedure, my doctor used a marker to draw incision lines on my breasts . He went over all the possible complications and side effects I could encounter down the line. One of the things he mentioned was that I'd probably have trouble breastfeeding and that some women reported not being able to breastfeed at all after the surgery. I have to admit, at nineteen, quite possibly the furthest thing from my mind was breastfeeding. I often wonder, had I known what I know now, would it have swayed my decision? I don't know... maybe I wouldn't have gone through with it, but at the same time, I've never once regretted the choice I made.

The operation went incredibly well and years went by before I even gave the whole breastfeeding thing a second thought. When I got pregnant we had just moved to Oakland and I didn't even have an OB. I finally found a doctor that I really liked an felt comfortable with. At my first prenatal visit, she brought up the whole breastfeeding issue. I explained that I was well aware of the situation, and she suggested that I see a lactation consultant as soon as one was available at the hospital. The months went on and as I got closer and closer to my due date, I knew my chances were low but I still became hopeful that I would be able to breastfeed, even if I'd also have to supplement. I tried to be as levelheaded about it as possible... always the realist, the last thing I wanted to do was set myself up for disappointment.

At 8 months, my mom threw a shower for me in LA. On the flight home, I sat next to a woman who was inquisitive of my pregnancy and explained that she had a two year old at home. I'm not sure how the conversation steered in this direction, but she shared her immense struggles with breastfeeding, and how after countless efforts and many tears shed, she finally had to throw in the towel when her son was just 3 months old. I could tell that her experience had wounded her deeply. It felt as she was trying to explain herself to me, a perfect stranger, and I couldn't understand why. I assured her that those kinds of things happen and that I, myself, would be faced with a similar battle. I came home and told Joe the story. I felt lucky that at least I *knew* what I was in for, that I had had fair warning.

Since Lucia was a cesarian baby, she didn't get to actually attempt to breastfeed until about an hour after she was born. The nurse put her on my chest and helped me direct my nipple into her mouth. She latched INSTANTLY. It was as if she had been doing it a whole lifetime. I had a feeling I was growing a little genius inside of me, so I was not surprised at all. I nursed her with ease for the rest of the day and things were starting to look pretty good. That night was when everything went south. She would latch, stay on for about half a minute and then pull off screaming and frustrated. I couldn't understand what was happening since it all seemed to be working splendidly before. The next morning, our nurse sat with me for an hour trying to get her to hold the latch, but it just seemed to be getting more and more impossible. The hospital ran some tests and I learned that my colostrum levels were extremely low and that L had developed low blood sugar and she was at risk for jaundice. We would have to supplement with formula and hope that my milk would come in soon. I had a meeting with a lactation consultant the next day, and by this point something had changed. Even though I understood why all of this was happening, I was DETERMINED to breastfeed and I was going to do everything it took to make it happen. It's funny how certain things don't seem like such a big deal until we're actually presented with the reality.

When we met with the lactation consultant, she introduced us to SNS. For those of you who aren't familiar, it's basically a way of supplementing formula while still familiarizing a baby with the breast by feeding a capillary tube into their mouth while nursing. It's kind of a nightmare. I would get L to latch, and Joe would carefully insert the tube alongside my breast into her mouth while slowly pumping a tube of formula. We'd have to be sneaky about it because she hated it, and I can't say I blame her. I was also instructed to pump regularly in order to get my milk to come in. For two days I pumped and got absolutely nothing. I was becoming a total stress case. Our pediatrician came by for L's routine checkup in the hospital, and knowing what I was up against, asked how I was handling it all. I broke down. I explained how desperately I wanted to breastfeed and how it was looking incredibly unpromising, and how I felt so helpless. She told me that she, too, had had very low milk supply and that after a couple months of SNS she decided she had put herself under too much pressure. "Don't lose sight of your baby, Celia... this time should be joyful", was what she said to me. Logically, I knew exactly what she was trying to tell me, because the truth is, I was losing sight. But when you've just had a baby, all logic gets thrown out the window.

After five days in the hospital, we took L home along with a rented breast pump. It took about a week, but I finally started getting results. And by results, I mean I was able to pump almost four ounces in the first two days we were home. Now I know that's barely anything at all, but seeing as I had come from producing absolutely nothing, I was elated at the prospect. So I pumped and pumped and gave L whatever I could in a bottle. I would hold the pump to my breasts and Joe would massage them trying to get every possible drop out, all while my mom was watching TV on the sofa next to us. Sexy, right? When I got to pumping three ounces in one day, I felt like a breastfeeding champ. Yes, that's still not very much, but beggars can't exactly be choosers. Joe returned to work and I continued to pump. I would gather all of my milk from one day in order to keep track. One day, I had gone from pumping three ounces to only pumping two. I tried not to worry and stay positive that I would be back up to three in no time. But the next day, I barely pumped one and a half ounces. I felt frustrated and ashamed, and I didn't know how to tell Joe what was happening.

On one of his nights off, I sat next to him while I pumped. I pumped for fifteen minutes and absolutely nothing came out. He massaged my breasts the way he had before and still, nothing. I kept the pump on for half an hour waiting for ANYTHING to happen, but just ended up sitting there with dry cups. I looked at him and I knew that it was over; I knew that I had lost. He took the pump out of my hands and just hugged me. I let out one of those cries where your heart is filled with so much hurt that your body can't even make a sound. And then I sobbed, and he held me the whole time telling me that it was ok and that I was amazing for trying so hard.

I've spent the last few months trying my best to get past this. At first, it was extremely difficult for me. When even formula companies are heavily promoting breastfeeding on their websites, it becomes difficult to let go. When the first question out of practically everyone's mouth is whether or not I'm nursing, I find myself wanting to search out the closest corner to hide in. I often think about the woman I met on the plane and I *get it* now. She felt the need to come clean to me before I started interrogating her, because EVERYONE interrogates her. I, too, feel like I have to tell strangers my whole background story so that I'm not deemed a horrible mother who took the easy way out. By the way, just in case you're wondering, formula feeding is it's own kind of monster. I spent weeks researching formulas, and all I'd ever come up with were the effects of not breastfeeding... according to the AAP, I'll probably end up with a child with learning disabilities that isn't properly bonding with me. Just try and feel good about yourself after reading that load of crap.

After reading Jamie's post about Henry's birth, I couldn't help but relate it to my situation. I could see how as mothers, women set themselves to an unattainable standard. EVERYTHING involving birth and raising a child is a struggle in one way or another, and shouldn't we pat ourselves on the back if we can accomplish any of it? Yet, we want to be phenomenal, we want to do everything right, we want it all to work out perfectly as planned. But truth be told, that simply isn't the way life works out sometimes. And I bet if you look really hard, there is beauty in those imperfections... like our babies.


  1. i am far away from having a baby, but i love reading these posts. thanks to you and jamie for being brave enough to share the hard stuff.

  2. I am so sorry you had to go through that. I am a couple years away from having a baby myself, but I know the stories you guys share will help me and so many others look for the positive and beautiful things that can come out of unexpected situations. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I'm not a mum, but hope to be one day, and I just wanted to say thank you so much for sharing this. I think fear of "doing things wrong" is a big part of my general anxiety about potential motherhood, but then I read stories like yours and like Jamie's and it reminds me that all the "should do this" and "must do that" chatter is just crap. All we can ever do is our best, and your beautiful wee girl doesn't look like she gives two hoots whether she's fed breast milk or formula - she just looks happy, healthy and cute as a button.

    Anyway, thank you again for being honest and brave enough to share this. Little L is lucky to have such a loving, caring mum ♥

  4. Aww that brought tears to my eyes. I'm so sorry that this has been such a struggle. This post really meant a lot to me. Reading this just gives me more reason not to judge people. I recently considered having a breast reduction (seriously, I HATE being the boob girl and it's so obnoxious when people say "you're so lucky though!"-- shut up) but was freaked out about the breastfeeding. I've been going back and forth on it for a while. I'm 28 though and we have been talking about getting pregnant in the next few years. If I was 19 I doubt I would have given it a second thought.

    You're a great mom and I'm sure L will understand. Thank you for your honesty.

  5. Wow... I am crying over here. You ARE amazing for trying so hard, and L. is so lucky to have you.

    I noticed Alyson had similar issues (with SNS); she blogged about it over here. And Rebecca aka Girl's Gone Child had a breast reduction which affected breastfeeding, too. This is all to say: You are not alone in this. Hang in there. I cannot imagine the insane amount of pressure you put on yourselves (as mamas) to do everything "right." Like Kirsty said, you ARE doing everything right, because L. is happy and healthy, and that's all that matters! xo.

  6. you have balls of steel, celia c, and your sharing this with us will help other women immeasurably; i'm so proud of you.

    i had an unexpected conversation with my mother a few months ago when she was visiting us here in new york; i have no idea how we got to breastfeeding, but we did, and she mentioned (while practically ducking as if to defend herself, which is something my mother NEVER does) that she stopped breastfeeding me shortly after i was born. i assured her that my scorn for authority figures and deep, dark love for artificial fruit flavors are entirely self-generated, and that i wouldn't have been raised any other way.

  7. What a heartfelt post. Don't beat yourself up over it. What your ped said was the best, you musn't lose sight of your baby. A loving and caring mother is what matters in the end.

  8. i just fell in love with you guys even more. bryan does the same thing for me when with breastfeeding and there is something about our men taking care of us while we try so hard to be the perfect mom we think we're supposed to be and then to sit there and hug us and love us and tell us how amazing we are when we feel like we're failing. i love and miss you guys.

  9. Oh Celia! My best friend was in exactly the same situation (she had a boob reduction while we were in college) and she struggled for months, pumping and nursing and SNS-ing and washing bottles and supplementing, and generally feeling crappy about herself for not being able to do what she most wanted. She'd be up at night for hours at a time nursing, then supplementing then pumping, etc etc. And finally it all ends the same... she realized that like your pediatrician so wisely advised, she was missing out on the joy and spending far too much time crying over something that she couldn't control.

    I remember how heartbreaking it was for her too. So know that you are not alone!

    A huge part of motherhood is learning that many things don't go according to plan. And you sharing this is going to give other mamas permission to be okay with however they are able to feed their babies. And um, Cheech is perfect, which is REALLY what matters.

  10. My mother recently told me that she could only have me feed from one breast, because the other one was constantly leaking. She felt so guilty telling me about how she would soak through rags and rags, and how they were so hard to wash because of all the fat content in the milk, all of it washing down the drain. After 1 month she moved to formula, and at 3 months my family moved from Taiwan to the states. After I finished all the formula we had brought over, I refused every American brand and every bottle nipple available. She eventually had to cook rice down into a thin porridge and somehow get that into me.

    Plus most mothers from my peer group exclusively formula fed, because back then it was pushed as the "perfect science." We're all fine. I think the current "breast is best" hype is blown way out of proportion. Sure, it might be best, but what I think is even better than best is to simply feed your child. The guilt that is generated by not breastfeeding is unnecessary. Your dr was right, it's better to focus on the fact that you are providing a loving and healthy place for Cheech to grow. Judging from her wonderfully tubby cuteness, she seems to be thriving, and you're a fantastic mother for that.

  11. This is such an important and well-written post, Celia. Thank you for sharing it with us! The things that we all do as mothers just blows my mind. We are all so strong, like where did this strength and determination come from??!

    I, for one, was formula-fed, and I'm brilliant! Hahahah. Just sayin' though. And I totally love my mom.

  12. It sounds to me like you are such a great mom. You are doing your very best, and that's all that any baby can hope for! My mom didn't breastfeed my brother and me (she said that she didn't even know anyone who breastfed; it was the 80's) and he went to Harvard Law and I went to Notre Dame. :) Breastfeeding is great if it's possible, but so many of those studies that say it's great don't control for all sorts of other variables. So you do what you can, and that is enough!

  13. I was just talking to some mom-friends the other day (I'm not a mom, yet, but wow its amazing talking to people about this stuff, I feel so much better prepared!) One friend who had terrible mastitis and couldn't breast feed at all said that when she was out with mom-group friends she'd pretend to breast feed and then come home and give her baby formula. It makes me feel so sad that all these women are feeling so judged by each other but I totally get it... another friend had twins and 'confessed' to me that she was supplementing with formula because she had very little milk like it was a crime! Not having babies I think I don't really get how hard (and hormonal) this stuff is but I really feel for my friends, trying so hard to be good moms and totally succeeding but yet still feeling judged by people...

    all that to say, you're doing wonderful things for your baby and sound like you're a great mom. so sorry about all the awful judgement out there!

  14. You are an amazing mom and you should be super proud of everything that you are doing. Nothing is perfect and, obviously, it sucks! But is your baby happy? I'm sure she is. As my doula told me: "moving on, even if it seems difficult, is often the best option". You rock lady, you totally do xox

  15. thank you for sharing. it's a great lesson for moms who judge others for not doing things in a way they see as correct. and I'm sorry you've struggled with this.

  16. oh Celia... you know I can relate. but for the opposite reason... not enough boob to begin with! thank you for sharing your story. and as you know, happy mama, happy baby.

    and yes, Cheech is perfection.. xoxo

  17. There seems to be a big push at the moment to promote breast feeding - which is a good thing, it's natural and if it all happens without dramas is the best way to feed your baby.
    However it sort of makes it sound like feeding your child with formula is like giving them vodka or something. I think we've all lost sight of the fact that formula is a very close second best, and still gives your bub the nutrition they need, and if you're having problems breast feeding and being a stressed out miserable mum, then formula is best for all concerned. And you shouldn't have to apologize for it.
    Having said that when my baby arrives in 10-ish weeks or so, I hope I can breast feed. But if I can't, I hope I can accept that and move to formula without feeling like the worst mother in the universe (remind me of this when I totally lose the plot).
    Thanks for your honesty, you're doing a top job, and you've done the best you can do for your girl (who looks very healthy to me!). Now stop feeling guilty, and if tell anyone who questions you to bugger off.

  18. Oh Celia, I am so sorry. I didn't have a reduction when I was 19 because I was afraid of not being able to breastfeed and now I have meltdowns because these giant boobs I've lugged around (and which have gotten bigger throughout my life and gained 4 cup sizes since I got pregnant) are actually making it difficult. I actually have considered weaning but you're right the dialogue around breastfeeding makes you feel awful for even thinking "formula." I just keep thinking how many adults we know were raised on formula and turned out just fine, loveable, happy, smart people.

    I don't know if this is the right thing to say, but your story will make getting through breastfeeding easier since I'm thankful that while it is difficult I can do it. It doesn't mean I won't count the days until a reduction though. And I bet you a million bucks that in ten years our kids will have similar test scores and smiles and hugs for their mamas.

  19. Celia, my girl, we have more in common than I'd even thought. Let's just say there have been MANY tearful nights in my house...for all the reasons you can imagine. Sigh. Thanks, once again, for making me feel a little more normal. XOXO!!

  20. Well, this post has me crying.

    You sound like an amazing Mom. Truly. I am in awe of how you perservered for your baby. I am in awe of you husband too.

    I wrote this post a few weeks ago that touches this topic:

    Hold your head high Mama, you are doing a fantastic job.

  21. i love the thought of you and joe and your mom all on the couch pumping and massaging. all modesty sure goes out the window after giving birth, huh? :)

    i'm so sorry you had to go through this C, but so proud of you for having the strength to give it all you could, and the strength to know when there were better ways to make you and lucia healthy & happy.

    well done you.

  22. Like you, I had a reduction as a teenager. Would I go back in time and not have it? Nope.

    But I have a 2.5 week old baby boy and those have been 2.5 weeks of BF hell. I'm producing milk—but the shape of my nipple and the shape of my baby's mouth are not compatible (according to the awesome LC I saw). I'm supplementing with formula and pumping, but the act of pumping is SO painful, and leaves me frustrated and cranky and annoyed that I can't just bring my boy to my boob that I'm dangerously close to just saying "f it, we're going formula only." As someone said above, I want to enjoy this time, not resent it.


  23. I just have to comment and say thank you. Your honesty and emotion in this post are raw and beautiful. Just when I'd decided to stop reading mama blogs because I let the soapboxing by total strangers chip away at my self esteem, I read this utterly heartfelt post by you and it changes my mind.
    I never knew how judgemental mamas were until I became one. We all have those pangs of guilt, and feelings of worthlessness wash over us on an almost-daily basis. But our little babies love us, and that really IS enough! You are a rock star, in my eyes, mama. Blessings to you and your sweet girl.

  24. Thank you four your openness. So sorry you had to go through this. You're doing a great job and your baby will grow up and be perfectly healthy... I am all about breastfeeding, but I myself was formula fed! And I seem just fine... :) ... And they have better formulas these days.

    This was especially interesting to me because I really, REALLY, want a breast reduction. All those feelings you had at 19, I have them now and it bothers me DAILY. My husband doesn't understand, but EVERY girl I talk to understands... Seriously, these breasts of mine make a scene they are so huge and I HATE IT... I could cry :( I hope I can get a breast reduction as soon as the right time allows. Thank you for sharing your story!

  25. Thank you for sharing your story. I can promise you that this is incredibly helpful and validating for so many mothers. I am truly sorry for your hurt. This parenting business is just so complex and big! Your baby girl is very lucky to have you!

  26. I'm one of three kids and the only one who was formula fed. My Mum still feels guilty that she couldn't feed me but even more she feels guilty that she didn't realise she wasn't feeding me (too distracted by my sister who was the embodiment of terrible two), she thought I was quietly feeding for the first month or so and told the health visitor how good and quiet I was. The health visitor weighed me and came out with the crushing words 'I'm not surprised she's quiet, she probably hasn't got the strength to cry'. Yikes. Anyway, I'm a 5'11" tall graduate and I'm incredibly close to my Mum so it clearly didn't do me any harm!

    I suppose I just want to say how sorry I am that you have had such a tough time and how much I appreciate you writing about it.


  27. This is such an incredibly heartfelt post, as well as such an important one for moms, or future moms, to read. Giving a bottle of formula doesn't mean that you didn't try to breastfeed, nor does it mean that you didn't care about breastfeeding.

    My story is a little different. While I had a good initial milk supply, my milk suddenly dried up at 6 months with both of my boys and they were given formula up until a year. And, I'm a lactation, I am the lactation consultant who gave her babies formula, and you know what? That's why formula was created! To help out us mamas that are unable to produce breastmilk! It is the substitute that helps our babies survive.

    You should be so proud of yourself for trying so dilligently to bring in your milk supply. You did everything right...latched on within an hour, hired a lactation consultant, used SNS, and pumped. You are a rockstar! And, it sounds like you made your decision at the exact right point. It is so important to be present and sane around our kids, so removing unnecessary stress is key.

    Thank you for sharing your soul in this post. I can tell that you are an incredible mom!


  28. I know I'm late to post a comment, but I just happened upon this blog tonight for the first time. I have to tell you I LOVED this post. I had a 4.5 month-long struggle similar to yours...waking every 3-4 hours to pump even if baby slept through, getting very little milk and hospital staff who told us our baby needed formula asap in her first week of life because I wasn't producing enough to sustain her. . We did SNS, finger-feeding, breastfeeding in the bath, Fenugreek supplements and prescription drugs to increase milk supply (with the promise that it will work because mothers who adopt can produce milk with this drug + pumping!) and I was producing less milk day-by-day, not more. It is crushing; I cried often each day for 2 weeks and carried guilt around for months and months. You are not alone. I experienced plenty of questioning too and took my 10 minutes to explain it and how hard I tried to breastfeed and finally I gave up explaining. I eventually started answering, "yes" to the "are you nursing?" (really, nursing is so much more than a breast providing's soft talking, caresses, eye contact. If a woman breastfeeding a baby while watching TV is considered to be "nursing" than surely that term can extend to intimate bottle feeding like I was doing). I know this comment is already close to rivaling the length of the post itself (sorry!), but I wanted to add that our daughter is now 2.5 years old and she is perfectly healthy, clever as a whip, and we are extremely well-bonded and affectionate. Being unable to breastfeed will not adversely affect your daughter in any way. Thanks again for writing this brought tears to my eyes.