I, like most new mothers, couldn’t wait to breastfeed my baby. As if the process of growing and sustaining a life inside of me wasn’t enough, I could even keep it alive with my body! During pregnancy, I went to several La Leche League meetings, read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding. I even took 2 classes! I am the first in my family to breastfeed and I personally had never even seen a woman breastfeed a baby in person until that first LLL meeting. It was all foreign to me, but like an unmedicated birth, it was a non-negotiable choice.
I spent way too much time online researching EVERYTHING. I was overwhelmed with the amount of negative comments and experiences of breastfeeding! I started to have “what if” thoughts. What if my body won’t work? What if my milk never comes in? What if I don’t have enough milk? What if it hurts too badly? What if… I combated my doubts with more information and success stories until I believed I would be one of them.
All of my worries and fears melted away after birth when my daughter’s tiny face rooted for my breast and latched on. You would have thought streamers were flying behind me! I was so relieved! I CAN do this! My doula even commented that she was nursing like a champ. And so my journey begins.
Nursing was awkward and I kept forgetting to keep her tummy to tummy. Positions didn't feel organic. Kaylen didn’t have much quiet, alert time. She was either sleeping or crying to nurse or at the breast. I had the hospital lactation consultant come to my room several times to make sure I had it down before going home but despite my best efforts by the second day my nipples were bleeding. I was given lanolin and a nipple shield and sent on my way. At our first pediatrician appointment, Kaylen had lost 13% of her birth weight. I was devastated. She nursed all the time! I was in terrible pain and barely sleeping. The on staff LC came in and gave me the first of many talks about supplementing with formula. I began sobbing uncontrollably.
I was at the pediatrician’s office daily for weight checks. More weight loss. More samples of formula given. After being diagnosed by an ENT with a minor lip tie, I consented to let him clip it. I was desperate to feed my baby, but it didn’t work. I was still in pain, she was still hungry and no one was sleeping. I got the sample of formula out of the cabinet and poured it into a bottle. I handed it to my husband and walked away crying. I started to mourn the breastfeeding relationship I had envisioned. It was replaced with a cycle of nursing, pumping, feeding a bottle, 30 minutes of sleep and repeat. I sought out a different LC with a different hospital that could see me right away and I had 2 standing appointments with her every week. I was told that I was causing my baby to be "happy to starve" and that I should be limiting her time at the breast. Complete contradictory information from what I had read and what I was told by LLL. I was so confused. All I wanted to do was feed my baby.
Feeling sorry for myself, I began reading about others experiences with ties and supplementing. I came across a post about breast milk jewelry and I was curious. Before a mother decided she was done fighting the good fight with breastfeeding she expressed a few ounces of milk and had it made into a bead that she could wear. The service was offered by a WAHM in Australia who had a small Etsy shop called Beyond the Willow Tree. I had to have one. This was going to be my closure. I had tried so hard but nursing just wasn’t in the cards for me. I was ready to give up but I held on long enough to pump enough milk to use for the bead. It took me 3 weeks to build up a reserve of 2 ounces to send to the jewelry maker. The creation process of making breast milk into jewelry takes months, so it was my hope that by the time the finished product was returned to me I would be ready to move on.
To prepare myself for the end of my breastfeeding journey I attended one last LLL meeting that was specifically for low supply mothers. It was at this meeting that I heard other lip/tongue tie stories and didn’t feel so alone in my struggle. I also met Cassidy Hotz, a private practice IBCLC. I hired her the following week. She not only diagnosed Kaylen with an upper lip/tongue tie (it reattached) and a bubble pallet, she gave me hope! I was able to share with her all the bad advice I was given and how I felt defective. She took her time with me and listened with empathy and compassion. She believed in me. With her guidance, we went to OKC for laser revision of Kaylen’s ties and for the first time I heard my baby gulp.
I never gave up. I pushed even harder to make it work. As the weeks passed and my precious drops of milk were being memorialized I was taking Kaylen in for bodywork multiple times a week (chiropractic, myofascial and craniosacral). Her latch improved. My nipples healed and she started to slowly stabilize. At each in home visit, Cassidy would do a pre and post feeding weight and we both celebrated as the number of ounces transferred increased. I was given the gift of donor breast milk while I worked hard to rebuild my supply and Kaylen was finally gaining weight. With scheduled pumping, herbal supplements and a lot of positive thinking my supply gradually started to build. We made 2 trips to Kansas City for myofascial release bodywork and I donated my formula samples.
I was so busy with pumping, nursing, LLL meetings and weight checks, I had actually forgotten about the jewelry. It finally arrived. I opened the small box and 3 beads rolled out into my hand. I had expressed enough milk for 2 breast milk beads and I also had one made from one of my encapsulated placenta capsules. New tears. Happy tears. The beads no longer served the purpose of memorializing a breastfeeding relationship that I gave up on. I kept fighting and with the right professional help and support, we had made it. I was feeding my baby. Instead of looking down at the white beads with sadness I wear them with pride. They represent my story, my struggle, and my success.
I am happy to say that Kaylen is almost 14 months old and we are still nursing with no end in sight. Never give up on a bad day. Get connected with trained professionals and talk with other moms who have been there. Reach out. Ask for help. If I can do it, so can you.