I love being a mom! It is more wonderful than I could have ever dreamed, but my first month of motherhood is one that I will never forget. It’s hard to say this, but it was one of the hardest times of my life. I felt so alone, confused, and ashamed for feeling sad when I should’ve felt so happy. That’s why I’m sharing my story with you. You see, nothing about my story is really all that unique. I wasn’t alone in my struggle, but I just hadn’t heard it talked about before. So, here goes…
I felt as prepared as I could have been to have a baby. I knew it would be hard. There would be labor and delivery, followed by long sleepless nights, but I had a plan to get through those and expected it to mainly be cute squishy baby cuddles filled with sweet memories and picture-perfect moments. I really think for some people it is that way, but obviously that wasn’t my experience.
My son, Graham, was born at Brookwood at 41 weeks after a long labor and weighed 8 pounds 8 ounces. He was taken to the NICU for low oxygen levels, where he remained for 5 days. Our NICU stay was actually a really good experience. Those amazing nurses gave me confidence in showing me how to breastfeed, bathe, and change my new baby boy. Graham was a happy baby in the NICU and because of his IV fluids, bottle feeds, and nursing sessions, he left weighing over nine pounds!
The nurses had him on a feeding schedule of every three hours. Once we got home, I started nursing him every two hours because he immediately seemed to be hungrier.
After a couple of days, my happy baby wasn’t quite as happy anymore. He started crying a lot. I started nursing him more often. After we had been home from the hospital for one week, he cried almost constantly. I knew that babies cried a lot, but was it normal for a baby to cry until he passed out from exhaustion?
Graham would nurse for only a minute or two on each side and then begin to scream again. All my efforts to help him continue to nurse longer only made him more and more frustrated. I suspected a low milk supply, so I started pumping after each feed. While I rocked screaming Graham in the bouncer with one foot, I pumped, and pumped, and pumped some more, but only to produce drops.
I did research, called nursing clinics, leagues, and hotlines. All responses were the same.
“You are a woman. You are a mom. You were made for this! Every woman can breastfeed if you try hard enough. Keep going! You are doing great!”
I took all the advice I was given. I ate certain foods to increase my supply and took recommended supplements. I started triple feeding and power pumping and despite all my efforts, I never produced more than a tablespoon of milk in a five-hour period.
Not only did Graham
cry scream constantly, now I was crying too. Everyday. For the next 4 weeks.
My happy, chunky baby was not so happy and not so chunky anymore.
As I prayed that God would give me wisdom on how to take care of my child, I remembered a new mom I had met at church before Graham was born. She told me, “The first month was so much harder than I had thought it would be.” Remembering her comment, I messaged her on Facebook and in our conversation she recommended the Brookwood Breastfeeding support groups.
There are four support groups in Birmingham and I went the next day to the one closest to me. I walked into the church room where this support group met, and there were several moms sitting together nursing and talking. I met the Brookwood Lactation specialists who run the groups and they helped me get started. First, they weighed Graham to get a starting point. I was shocked to find out that at five weeks old, he weighed 8 pounds and 10 ounces. Despite nursing around the clock, he had lost 7 ounces in the last four weeks. (I have a feeling the 2 bottles of gripe water we went through were really the only thing keeping him from losing more during that time.)
After weighing him, the specialists examined our nursing routine. They were confident that his latch was good and that everything looked normal. After nursing one side they weighed him again and there was no change in weight. They let me know that wasn’t normal. I nursed the other side and we weighed the baby again. This time, the scale moved less than half an ounce.
The next few minutes are moments I will never forget. The head of the lactation team sat me down and gave me a sweet hug and said, “Honey, you are doing a great job, because your intuition was correct. This isn’t enough to sustain life for your son. We don’t tell people this often, but you need to supplement with formula. You are not a failure. It isn’t true what they say. Not every woman can breastfeed. I know that’s not fair, but it is true. You have been brave.”
I finally had answers for my child, and I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Although my baby was screaming through the store from hunger, I was embarrassed for a minute to be buying formula. I felt like a failure and that everyone was looking at me and thinking I was giving up right there in Target.
I took one look at my precious, helpless baby and pushed aside all my foolishness to make the best purchase I had ever made. I sat down and immediately fed my crying baby. And just like that, he stopped crying, he drank his bottle, and then he looked up at me and smiled for the first time. That moment melted my heart forever. The beautiful moment continued when he fell asleep in my arms, full, and fully content.
Everything changed! I was feeding my baby. Not the way I had planned or hoped, but he was fed and he was happy and so was I. And there was sleep! Sleep for everyone!
Since that time I’ve shared my experiences with other moms, and there have been many well-meaning people tell me all the things I should have done differently or how I should have pushed through longer. Maybe. I just let it all roll off my back because I have a happy, healthy, and smart little three-year-old boy. I truly feel that his life was saved by that sweet lactation nurse and the formula that was worth its weight in gold to me. I would gladly let my pride die over and over so my child could live. With each child I have I will attempt to nurse again, but in the end, fed is best for us.
If you are a struggling new mom reading this blog post, you are not alone! You are a good mommy. You were made for this, but caring for your baby may look just a little different than you had planned. Be flexible. Be patient. Forgive yourself when you need to, and move on.
A wise mom once told me, “Don’t measure your success as a mother by your first month of motherhood.”
Man, was she right!
(Courtesy Birmingham Moms Blog)
Rebekah McKee is a stay-at-home mother in Calera and a contributing writer at Birmingham Moms Blog