As most followers of this blog know, Charlotte and I were never able to sustain a breastfeeding relationship. As outlined in this post, we struggled with severe pain and damage on my end and latching problems on her end. She was evaluated for tongue-tie a couple of times and it was found that she was fine. We had no real explanation for why she had such a poor latch, why she would jerk her head around until she had a shallow latch, why she couldn't latch onto a nipple shield, why she drank from bottles and left the nipple bent when she was through.
A few weeks ago, I came across a blog posted in one of my formula-friendly Facebook pages from a breastfeeding mother desperately seeking help. Her blog brought me to something that I had never ever heard of before: abnormal attachment of the maxillary frenum. I read about it, looked at the photos, and a light bulb went off in my head. In the very early months of Charlotte's life, I clearly remember looking at her smiling and asking Boyd "do you think she's going to have a gap between her front teeth because of that bump there?" That "bump there" is where her maxillary frenulum connects to her gums and goes all the way back to her soft palate. We all have upper and lower frenulums, but it's how they're attached that makes a difference. Just like some babies are tongue-tied (i.e. their lower frenulums are too tightly attached) there are some babies who have an upper lip tie (their upper frenulums are too tightly attached). And I was positive my baby was one of them.
I immediately made a dentist appointment for her to have her checked out. I brought her in, the dentist and nurses oohed and ahhed over the cute baby, stuck a finger in her mouth, and proclaimed her fine. "See you when she's three!" Mother's intuition kicked in and I really just didn't think she was "fine". Perhaps if they had spent more time examining her rather than cooing over her, I might have been able to accept their diagnosis. But I didn't. I didn't really know what else to do until I came across a "Contact Us" form on Dr. Lawrence Kotlow's website. Might as well go directly to the source, right? This is exactly what Dr. Kotlow specializes in. I sent him a request to have a look at Charlotte's mouth and hoped that he might take the time to do it.
I sent him this photo that I was able to quickly snap one day:
and I immediately got the following reply:
"Without a doubt according to my criteria a class 4 lip tie which can cause breastfeeding problems due to a poor latch. Dr.K"
The emotions that I'm feeling right now are overwhelming. A strong mix of relief and anger all at once. Until you're a mother who has "failed" at breastfeeding, you can never understand the feelings that come along with that. Thankfully, I've done my own research these last nine months and I have a very different outlook now regarding infant feeding, but it's still very difficult to hear things like "everything about your baby is unnatural" or "you're too selfish to give your baby the best" and not feel bad about yourself and your ability to be a good parent. Even though I know that we made the best decision we could, I would still often wonder in the back of my mind whether or not we had "given up" too quickly, would it have gotten better as time went on, would we have been successful had I stuck through the pain?
The answer, as I know now, is no. No. Unless someone had discovered this when Charlotte was a newborn and we had had it fixed, no. Her latch would not have improved. Every feed would still have been torturous. She would still have been ripping my nipples to shreds every time she ate.
There's nothing that can be done now. Had I known about this nine months ago, things would have been very different. The thing is, I had no idea this was even a thing. Upper lip tie? Not even on my radar. No doctor, nurse, midwife, public health nurse, or lactation consultant ever made mention of it. Googling it brings up a handful of results. Even kellymom.com, one of the best breastfeeding resources online, makes ONE mention of it in the "tongue-tie" section ("This story is about a child who had a tight upper (labial) frenulum, which can also cause problems.") It's not well-known as a possible breastfeeding issue but it is a very real issue. So even though I sought help in the early weeks of Charlotte's life, no one helped me because it seems no one knew.
I'm just happy that I have some closure now. I know, without a doubt now, that we did what we could. I know that there was a very REAL, physical reason that my daughter could not breastfeed. It wasn't because I was "lazy" or "selfish" or too stupid to not fall for some "booby trap" like some lactivists like to believe of all formula feeding mothers. I recently posted my story to one of my favourite blogs, the Fearless Formula Feeder, and what the author wrote of my story is so very very true. She wrote:
"Lisa's FFF Friday submission is superbly written (her last paragraph is one of the most beautiful things I've read about formula feeding), but beyond that, I think it speaks powerfully to the common misconception that women who "fail" at breastfeeding were simply lacking support, motivation or information. However, there's a caveat to Lisa's story, which I have included, and this suggests that the biggest booby trap might be a refusal of the medical profession to acknowledge rare, but very real, breastfeeding difficulties."
Our breastfeeding struggles boil down to a mother that wanted to but a baby that couldn't. I'm happy to finally put an end to the emotional turmoil this whole thing has caused and I really wish that, in the future, all babies have their whole mouths examined when breastfeeding issues are present. I'm sure it would save some women out there a whole lot of heartache.