Thursday, May 26, 2011

Zen and the Art of Breastfeeding Mechanics

I admit it. My child is formula fed.
I clearly have some issues with that – though I know I shouldn’t. My mom fed me and my sisters formula and we all became successful, independent, strong, loving women with our own families, but I still get nervous that someone will notice the bottle containing powder in my diaper bag and judge …Sometimes I feel like I am wearing a scarlet F on my back.

I started off breastfeeding and I didn’t have any of the problems that often accompany those early learning days. Zero discomfort. No cracked nipples. Latch problem? Heck no, Little S was a champ from day one, showing Mama K how it is done. That being said, I wasn’t exactly enjoying the experience. Every day (or, more accurately, every 2 hours) I reminded myself that I was doing something important for my daughter’s health – I was giving her the best of me. But, feedings were still stress city for both Little S and me.

I often stared longingly as some other mamas breastfed their babies at a new mamas’ group. There appeared to be this total Zen relationship that was the exact opposite of the frantic one that Little S and I shared. I would watch as the babies, beautifully wrapped in the perfectly arranged sling (seriously, how do you achieve that?), would look up at their mamas with a sweet, knowing look. Mamas smiled sweetly at the little ones and knew exactly what that “look” meant. The mamas then started immediately feeding their children, without even exposing a centimeter of skin. There was no crying, no wailing, no spit-up – just total contentment and satisfaction. (Sure – there might be some element of exaggeration in this story – but I swear, from where I was sitting, I could hear angels singing.)

While I watched this totally beautiful breastfeeding miracle, I looked down at my sleeping child (in her carseat – not a sling by the way), praying that she wouldn’t wakeup while we were at the group. Because I knew that the second she woke, she would realize she was hungry and start to wail – and I mean really wail. I would then fumble with my wrap, breastfeeding tank, and dripping boobs, while her shrieking continued, undoubtedly exposing my entire boob and a good deal of my belly. (Heck – why not throw in the C-section scar while I am at it?) Then, Little S would attack my boob and start sucking…seriously sucking and gulping. You could hear the gulps from outside but at least I could breathe a sigh of relief for a second. I was breastfeeding.

And, then came the gagging…Little S is now off the boob – struggling for air – I start to burp her and calm her down and the screaming starts again. She wants more food –but she can’t really breathe yet. What’s a girl to do?! Then – wait for it – the spit-up fest. Ok, ladies, I know “spit happens” – I think those bibs and shirts are cute too. Spit-up really doesn’t bother me – but this was no ordinary spit up. We’re talking two burp cloths a feed and I would be drenched along with Little S. There was no Zen anything happening here. By the time it was all over, Little S was so exhausted that she was back to sleep, and I was giving myself a pep talk for the next feed.

I realize some kids eat like Little S, and I was happy that she was growing fast and furiously, but I yearned for the experience of the other mamas (who surely were exhausted and had plenty of complaints of their own, but in my eyes, were totally amazing). I started to think that maybe something was actually wrong when Little S would turn bright red from head to toe while feeding, arch her back, and scream like a hyena. In the end, we discovered that she had acid reflux and a milk allergy. I immediately started pumping and eating a dairy-free diet while she tried the super-duper hypoallergenic formula (nothing average for Little S), but pumping 8x a day to keep up with her feeds, pushed me to my limit, and I said farewell to breastfeeding. Little S was now (and still is) thriving on manmade formula.

Amazingly, the night before we found out about her milk allergy, Little S and I had a beautiful moment. We were playing together and she gave me a look. I had a friend over, so I quickly adjusted my wrap, and Little S began to eat, quietly, gently and beautifully. I was amazed and happy. She was happy. And, surprisingly, when I feed her bottles now, I sometimes wish I could give it another go and that I had pushed through a little longer or found some compromise. But, we’re all doing just fine. (And, no matter what you are doing, you and your kid will be ok too).

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