Victory and defeat
Or James’ alternative title: Liberation and Speedbumps
Having a baby is a bit like being bipolar; you’re up one minute and down the next. And so it has been this week. Saturday’s tears over breastfeeding were followed by Tuesday’s jubilation at sorting out Baby’s suckling issues with Clare. And Tuesday’s jubilation was followed by Wednesday, a day of huge highs and massive lows for me.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to share and to give a true account of new motherhood. People are constantly commenting on my honesty, which is why I’m sorry to say I almost considered not telling you this next bit: I gave my baby formula yesterday.
The woes started at midnight and lasted until noon the next day, when I did the deed. Within that 12-hour period, she spent 8 of them on my breast: four hours from midnight until 4am and then again from 7:30am until 11:30. Every time I tried to take her off, thinking surely she’d had enough (after all, she’d never fed for more than 1-1.5 hours at a trot before), she acted like a crazed milk junkie – screaming, rooting for my breast, sucking on her fists, and rolling her eyes like a mad cow. This was a baby who wanted a food fix.
I could see that there was definitely milk at the beginning of the feed; it was rolling down her cheeks in plenitude and she was gulping audibly and regularly. But as the feed went on over four hours, I got the distinct feeling I was running on empty. She was sucking, but there was nothing there. Or it wasn’t coming out fast enough.
I felt like a human pacifier. And, of course, both James and I were crying in exhaustion and frustration in the middle of the night when we just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her.
After the first four hours, she finally fell into an exhausted sleep, only to wake up at 7:30, wailing. I’d also like to point out that this is extremely odd behaviour for Baby. She usually sleeps like the proverbial baby between her feeds at night, letting James and me get a couple hours of shuteye in between each one. This dramatic turn was new behaviour, but as our friends have told us: just when you think you have the hang of this parenting thing, the little blighters go and change the playing field.
On top of this, we received a phone call from my father and step-mother, who were in Paris for three weeks before eventually coming back to us for the last week in June. My father was sick. They were catching a Eurostar back to London that day and would be with us by 15:00. They would then be booking the next flight they could find back to the USA because my father wanted to see his own doctor.
This did nothing to improve my state of mind. As it was James’ first day back full-time in the office as well, I was left on my own to contemplate my screaming, milk-addicted daughter. It dawned on me that something else might be wrong with her. She had never acted this way before. I briefly wondered whether it was because I had started to wear nipple shields, but if anything, this had helped with the milk flow, not hindered it. I needed to find out if hunger was indeed the issue or if I needed to consider taking her to A&E.
So I did it. Once I made the decision, it was actually really easy. I snipped open the Aptamil, sterilised a bottle, warmed it up in some hot water and put it to Baby’s mouth. Two and a half ounces went in a heartbeat. I waited for Baby to grow horns or for a hole open up in the floor and swallow me, relegating me to whichever circle of hell that Dante reserved for bad mothers, but nothing happened.
James was on the phone, asking if I needed him to come home. But I said no. I felt strangely calm about the whole situation. Baby had immediately stopped crying after inhaling the formula. She was making all the right signs of heading off for a nap. It looked as though hunger had indeed been the problem.
On one hand, this was great to know. She wasn’t sick; just really hungry. On the other hand, it confirmed something I had started to suspect: my body wasn’t making enough milk to keep her satisfied.
Taking advantage of her deep slumber, I decided to try expressing with my new Medela Freestyle Pump. At least I could try to get enough out of me so that James could give her a Dream Feed at 23:00 with breastmilk in a bottle. Our plan going forward was for James to take this slot so I could sleep straight until the 3:00 feed.
With Baby in her Moses basket on the table, I spread out the contents of the pump box, read the instructions, sterilised the relevant bits, and attached my hands-free bustier. I may have looked like a cow, but I got 1.5 ounces out in fifteen minutes before my milk stopped and it didn’t hurt either. I’ve been expressing at every opportunity since then.
We entered into last night with trepidation. Would we be dealing with Demon Milk Addict Baby or Angel Baby Who Sleeps Between Feeds? Thankfully, she was in an angelic mood. We went to bed at 22:00, James took the 23:00 feed and I took the 3:00 feed. We all woke at 7:00, refreshed and ready to face a new day of parenthood.
As it turns out, Baby was in a hungry mood again this morning and needed loads of feeding (breastmilk and formula). Then she went down for the count, thus allowing me to write this post.
The question is: do I feel guilty? And the answer is complicated. It depends on which minute you ask me. I desperately want to be a good mother and I honestly feel that the decision I made was towards that aim. Is letting my baby be hungry when I can do something about it being a good mother? Like everyone else, I’m just trying to do the best I can. But, by the same token, I wanted Baby to be exclusively breastfed. I only lasted 16 days and I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed in some way.
After a chat with his cousin, who had a baby last year, James told me they had a similar issue. They consulted doctors and midwives to figure out what was wrong with their baby, only to be told the good news: their baby was hungry because he was in a growth spurt. He was also cluster feeding. Ironically, I’ve just looked this up now on kellymom.com and it says I did exactly the wrong thing. Now I feel guilty again. But at least I expressed instead so that my body doesn’t think I don’t need the milk. Sigh. I think this is predictive of my future life as a parent: no matter what decision I make, I’ll wonder if it was the right one, whether it has to do with feeding, behavioural issues and naughty steps, or whether she can go with that boy to the Prom.
Baby is stirring. I’m going to attempt to get her back onto her night schedule now and start over again in the morning. After all, in the timeless words of Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”