Sunday, October 31, 2010

The one where things get personal

This will probably be one of the hardest posts I'll ever have to write, but I feel it needs to be written.

Today is Hallowe'en 2010. Today Charlotte is 17 days old. Today is the day that I made the decision to give up breastfeeding.

The tears are falling as I type. I hate that I had to make this decision. I'm angry. I'm devastated. I feel horrible, guilty, like a failure. This is not what I wanted at all. Not at all.

Breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for your baby, they say. There's nothing in the world like a breastfeeding relationship, they say. You are giving your baby the best start in life, they say. I know all of this. Breastfeeding was always the plan. Always. I never even thought about having to bottle feed my baby. I wanted to breastfeed. I was going to breastfeed.

I knew it might not come easy. I knew it might take some learning. I was prepared for that. I was not prepared for the reality of what our breastfeeding relationship became. We had issues in the hospital. Charlotte's latch wasn't what it should be. Lines of blisters began forming on my lipstick-shaped nipples. No, her latch wasn't what it should be at all. The nurses came in to help me. Pull her in this way, hold her head that way, push her body in this way, pull her chin down, pull her lip out, her tongue needs to be over her gums, hold her body that way. It was always something and it was always something different from different nurses. She wasn't latching right but I just couldn't fix it.

We were released from the hospital regardless because I guess our issues weren't enough to keep us longer to get help. Sore nipples are common, they'll heal, her diapers were wet, she was pooping, so I guess all was fine. We came home and it just got worse. The blisters turned into bleeding wounds that turned into black scabs. I called Public Health for help and had a nurse come in to see us. She was helpful and gave me some hope that we could keep going with breastfeeding despite the bumps we were having. But, days later, her latch still wasn't improving and the pain I felt from feeding her was absolutely excruciating. I called the nurse again to come and help. She came again and showed me the same things she had shown me before. Things still weren't improving. Whenever I thought I'd have her latched properly, Charlotte would shift and pull her bottom lip in. I'd pull her chin and lip down, attempting to correct it. It didn't work. Unlatching her and trying to relatch hurt more than leaving her on poorly latched. Her diapers were still showing that she was getting enough milk and her weight gain was on track so I knew it wasn't a supply problem. She just wasn't positioned properly. I visited the websites. I watched the videos. I read the booklets. I knew how to get to her latch properly, but I couldn't get her to do it. We had our 10 day doctor's appointment and my doctor was not happy with the condition of my nipples. He told me to try a nipple shield and said that I'd have to do something if I wanted to continue with breastfeeding. We went that night to pick up a shield. I put it on and Charlotte's little tongue bent the plastic.

I sobbed. I cried for the first week and a half of her life. Every little noise she made made my heart race. Please don't need to be fed. I dreaded feeding her. The thought of having to deal with the pain again made me hysterical. I wiped my own tears off my newborn daughter's face as I fed her. I didn't feel that life-changing connection that breastfeeding is supposed to offer. I felt searing pain and growing resentment. I felt angry that other people get to enjoy their babies and all I could think was please hurry up and finish eating so I can take you off me. It was getting in the way of me bonding with her. Her being awake and with me meant pain. I love her so much, but I wanted little to do with her. Admitting that absolutely breaks my heart.

We made the decision to take her off the breast to let me heal. I pumped as much as I could and supplemented with formula for four days. I held her close and bottle fed her. I looked into her eyes and talked to her while she looked up at me. I started to feel happier about feedings. Yet, at the same time, it was horrible. She became constipated. She barfed constantly. She smelled like throw up and she was miserable because of her tummy issues. I hated what it was doing to our once-happy baby. So once the black scabs fell off and my nipples looked normal again, I put her back on the breast. For a couple of days, everything seemed to be going great. It hardly hurt anymore. She had a nice big poop and wasn't spitting up as much. Things were looking up.

Then it started again. The blisters came back. The misshapen nipples came back. The horrible horrible pain came back. The feelings of dread came back. The guilt came back. The tears came back. I sobbed over her as she fed. I was determined to stick it out, though. It hurts but it'll get better. Everyone says it gets better. The first few weeks are the worst. Stick it out.

This morning, my daughter ripped a blister off my nipple with her tongue. It was pain like I had never felt in my life. Words can't even describe it. I swore. I sobbed. I took her off me immediately, gave her a bottle of expressed breast milk, and knew that I just couldn't do it anymore. Nothing made me sicker than burping my daughter and seeing a bloody piece of my body come up with her spit-up.

Now I have to deal with the guilt. I have to deal with the judgments. I have to deal with the fact that I'm a quitter. People will look at me and say that I chose not to give my baby the best in life. Breastfeeding is infinitely superior to formula feeding and how dare I make that choice. Now my baby will be sick all the time, or stupid, or just somehow inferior to what she could have been had she been breastfed. Now I'm a bad mother because I couldn't make the sacrifice for her. I'm a bad mother because I can produce milk but I'm not breastfeeding.

This is so unfair.

I want to do it. I so want to. But I want to enjoy my baby. I want to bond with her like I'm supposed to. I want to hold her close. I want to look forward to her waking up. I want to be happy to be a mother. Breastfeeding didn't allow any of that. So what's more important?

I will continue pumping and feeding her expressed breast milk as long as I can get enough out. We will feed her the rest of the time with formula. I will hold her in my arms, stare down at her, talk to her, kiss her head, and feed her from a bottle. I will not soak her hair with my tears anymore. I will not dread her waking up anymore. If that makes me selfish, a bad person, a bad mother, a quitter, then so be it. In the long run, I hope Charlotte appreciates having a strong bond with her mommy over the fact that I had to feed her with a bottle.

To me, that's the most important.


  1. Lisa, You are doing what is best for you and Charlotte. I too had to give up on breastfeeding with Charlotte's mom and you did not turn out stupid or any of the other items you have mentioned. This I know was a very hard decision for you ans I too had to make that same decision 27 years ago. You are a great person and a good mother. Don't let any one tell you otherwise.

    Love your baby and be happy. There will always be judgemental people saying your doing this right or that right. Be true to yourself.

    love you

  2. Hey Lisa,

    I also made the decision you just made. You lasted longer than I did. My daughters are smart, happy and healthy. I remember feeling I would be judged as well but I got to the point where I said to myself, that is THEIR problem and not mine. Jen and Stephanie could not be closer to me even if I had breast fed. You are a GREAT Mom for trying as much as you did. Charlotte will love you and feel happier knowing you are enjoying the feedings as well.

    You love your daughter and she will feel that from you. That is the MOST important thing. Try a formula for sensitive babies. Stephanie went through this with Connor. She tried many different formulas to find the one that worked best for him. Give her a couple weeks to adjust before you change. Unfortunately, all these beautiful children are different and it will be a trail and error thing. Both my girls had to be on Soy formula and that did not work for Conner.

    I love you and wish the best for you both.

    Love Aunt Kim

  3. Lisa
    You are such a terrific mom and Charlotte knows that. I stopped breastfeeding H+O early b/c I wasn't producing enough milk and honestly, I breastfed J until 12 months and quit early with the twins and I don't notice a diffence in the boys intellectually - formula these days are filled with so many nutrients and Charlotte will do amazing, H+O did and you know them better than anyone!!! I know how hard this is and I remember when I quit with them so I feel your pain but honestly please know you are doing a wonderful job and this will help you also not to be in so much pain. If you need anything let us know. Here's some big hugs and kisses from your boys XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX
    take care

  4. Hun,
    There is no "right" and "wrong" about these kinds of things. I talk to SO many moms who have the same feelings you do about breastfeeding, as well as other issues. Bed time routines, security toys, potty training, etc - every child and parent is different and you have to make the right decisions that work for YOU guys. And I think that is exactly what you've done. You didn't give up - you stuck it out for as long as you could. And you made the right choice for you and your daughter. The most important thing you can give her isn't your milk, it is the ability to make those decisions carefully and with thought, which you clearly have done. I am so proud of you.
    Lots of love!

  5. I'm going to say what everyone else is saying and my baby's not even born yet (21 weeks today!): You aren't a failure. My mother couldn't breast feed me, only it was for medical reasons, not that she couldn't. She wasn't allowed. I turned out fine, and we've always been close. I don't think not breast feeding makes you a bad mom, it makes you a mom who knew when to stop torturing herself and start being a mom.

    I fully expect to try to breast feed my baby when he/she comes. But I'm well aware of the fact that it might not work and I may have to do exactly what you're doing right now: pumping and using formula. And if I have to do that as well, then that's what I'll do. Will I be disappointed? I imagine so. But in the long run, we have to do what's right for us and for our babies. You're doing what's right for you and your beautiful daughter, and don't ever let anybody tell you otherwise or judge you poorly because of it.

    Love you,

  6. Oh geeze, Lisa... my heart honestly broke while reading this. I feel for you, even though I can't empathize, since I haven't yet been through the whole being a mom thing.

    It sounds like you have absolutely made the right decision for you and Charlotte. Having a mother who knows when to say "no", who is intelligent, who loves her daughter and wants to do the right thing, is SO much more important for Charlotte's outcome than breastfeeding would have been.

    You are amazing, and you deserve to be proud of yourself and your freaking beautiful daughter.

    -Lauren :)

  7. Hey there - I recently came upon your blog. I'm a friend of Melissa (Vegas Girl). I know you wrote this post a few months ago but I just wanted to throw out some support to you. I had a similar experience with breastfeeding and felt extremely saddened that it didnt' work out for me. But I was able to focus on getting to know my baby and enjoying him.
    I hope you are freeing yourself of the guilt.
    It still sucks being around other dutiful breastfeeding momma's ... but I try to surround myself with friends who were supportive of me.

    Your daughter is adorable!