Early Breastfeeding Struggles

At some point during my pregnancy, I had decided that I wanted to breastfeed. Knowing that it was possible I might face some challenges with this given my “advanced maternal age” and PCOS, I did early research, sought help before the baby was born and requested a lactation consultant visit me when I checked in at the hospital. When I decided to breastfeed, knowing in advance that I might not be able to, I told myself I would try but I wouldn’t be upset if it didn’t work out.

Well, somewhere between that conversation with myself and the birth of my daughter I became passionate about breastfeeding. I think it was because so many things about my pregnancy and birth experience didn’t go as I’d expected that this one thing became so important to me. I didn’t get my skin to skin right after my c-section, they gave our daughter to my husband and I barely got a glimpse of her. Despite that, as soon as she was with me she latched and started nursing immediately. And in my mind that seemed to seal the deal. I had to do this.

During our two day stay in the hospital, Kerrigan wanted to nurse very frequently. Because of her size her blood sugar was monitored during the first day (it was fine). She cried a lot, slept a lot and nursed a lot. That was the extent of her existence during those early days. When they checked her weight the day following her birth, the doctor commented that she’d lost more than expected but didn’t seem to worried about it. The doctor the following day also commented on how much she’d lost, but didn’t seem overly concerned and signed off on discharging her. We had a follow up appointment with the mother and baby center at the hospital four days after her birth, and they would recheck her weight then. We didn’t think very much of it as they discharged us and sent us on our way.

In the days following our discharge, Kerrigan nursed constantly and continued to cry a lot. Being new parents, we just assumed that this was normal for babies. I mean, they are hungry and they cry, right?

Fast forward a couple of days to our follow up appointment at the hospital. That morning my milk had FINALLY come in! We could tell because I looked like I’d exploded overnight and when I hand expressed there was finally milk instead of colostrum. Hooray! Unfortunately, that excitement was short lived. At our appointment we learned that Kerrigan had lost too much of her birth weight and there were concerns about how much she was getting to eat. We were immediately scheduled appointments with our pediatrician and a lactation consultant for the following day. We were also told we needed to supplement.

I was devastated.  

Robert and I stayed firm that we didn’t want Kerrigan to have formula. My milk had just come in, we told the nurse. We were confident that she didn’t need formula. We didn’t even have bottles other than those for the pump. Since Kerrigan received enough during her weighted feeding the nurse agreed we could try without formula, but that the pediatrician may advise us differently the following day. If we were sure we didn’t want to supplement with formula (we were sure) we needed to supplement with breast milk. She put us on a feeding schedule that had us feeding Kerrigan every two hours for the next 24 hours. I was to give her ten minutes on each breast and then pump for 15 minutes. We were to save the milk that was pumped and my  husband was to give it to her in a bottle after she nursed the next session, while I was pumping. She gave us a nipple she recommended instead of the ones that came with the pump bottles and wistfully sent us on our way.

The 24 hours following that appointment were probably some of the worst of my life. The entire feeding cycle, that we followed to a tee, took about an hour from start to finish. After nursing, I was able to pump an ounce of milk each time. If we were lucky we were able to rest for an hour before starting it all over again. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. And trying to recover from major surgery. 

I sobbed the first time my husband gave Kerrigan a bottle, as I sat there connected to the pump hoping to increase my supply. We’d always planned to have him give her one bottle a day, starting around 4 weeks, but it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Getting to nurse her was supposed to be my thing, dammit. I didn’t get my immediate skin to skin – that was given to him. I didn’t get the birth I was hoping for – that was dictated by her. But nursing was supposed to be in my control and now these moments were also being ripped away from me. I felt horrible for being upset. I felt horrible for resenting my husband for feeding our child. But I couldn’t stop the emotions or the tears. I was her mother. I was breastfeeding. This was supposed to be my experience.
Despite never having any problems latching, after her third bottle that night I strugled to get her to latch. I cried even harder. Despair set in and I was convinced that was it, I was done. I was a failure at breastfeeding, let’s just go buy the kid some formula and be done with it (the exact reason we specifically got rid of that freebie formula that was sent in the mail!). But knowing this was important to me, knowing it was best for Kerrigan, my husband pushed me to keep going. “We aren’t quitters in this house” he told me. And he was right. We didn’t quit trying to conceive when it got hard – why should I give up on this? And I am so grateful for that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever told him that – but I’m so glad that he held fast when I didn’t and pushed me to be strong.

Somehow we made it through those 24 hours, and despite our sleep deprivation, made it to the pediatrician’s office. The preceeding 24 hours were awful, and we both headed into the pediatrician’s office with the mindset that we were going to tell him we didn’t feel it necessary to keep at the pumping/bottle feeding. It was causing stress. My milk had just come in yesterday morning, we are sure she is getting enough to eat! The first thing they did was weigh Kerrigan, and then double checked her weight. The doctor came in and told us we could stop the feeding schedule the nurse the prior day put us on. He didn’t think it was necessary. In fact, he even went as far to say that he thought the scales at the hospital may have been off! Either that or Kerrigan had gained five ounces over night!

He agreed that she was getting enough to eat and told us if our appointment at the hospital had been a day later we probably wouldn’t even be sitting in his office because her weight would have been fine. We did admit that there was a positive to thse past 24 hours, and that was that we got to experience our baby with a full belly. And that she was actually a pretty content baby. And that was both great news and a hard pill for me to swallow because it meant that the reason she had been so upset before had been because she was hungry and not getting enough to eat. That realization broke my heart and still upsets me to this day.

We met with the lactation consultant later that day – and she was also amazed at how much weight Kerrigan had gained seemingly overnight and even more impressed that we supplemented with breastmilk and not formula. She admitted to having been prepared for problems with me breastfeeding, and had shared that she’d put a few red flags in my file: Age, PCOS, C-Section. But she was thrilled with how successful we’d been and was happy with how much Kerrigan was getting during her weighted feeding. She encouraged me to hold onto 2-3 of the pumpings, but indicated we didn’t need to provide extra milk after nursing sessions. She also requested that we come in and weigh her weekly over the next four weeks.

After that appointment we had two more appointments with lactation consultants. We also had an evaluation on a posterior tongue tie. But Kerrigan continued to grow and do very well. As it turns out, my supply is fine. In fact, I am blessed with an over supply such that I have a 900 ounce stash of milk in my freezer in case of an emergency. It seems that it was just the circumstances that I was presented with that caused our struggles – an almost 10 pound baby and a c-section delaying the arrival of my milk. In hindsight, I see now that Kerrigan likely never got enough colostrum to fill her belly. And was hungy for the first four days of her life. But I can’t change those things.

To this day I still have anxiety about Kerrigan gaining enough weight and getting enough to eat. I still take her regularly to the mom and baby center to use their scales and weigh her to ease my mind. I still worry about my supply, and anytime I have a lower pump at work I panic a little. I was unsettled when she dropped a feeding. I still pump after nursing twice a day on days that I don’t work. I do everything that I can to protect my supply at all costs. To say that this experience left a lasting impression on me would be an understatement; but I don’t have regrets about it. 

I am grateful that I am able to breastfeed. I am grateful that I overcame those early challenges and had a support system that helped me through those difficult times. Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but I am so grateful for the bond that only I have with my daughter when she nurses. As it turns out, I did get to keep this one thing. And it has been worth every tear shed and every struggle we endured.

My Birth Story

This story should probably start a couple of months before Kerrigan’s birth – mostly because I’m behind on posting here (and there is actually a draft in my folder on this period of time…but it’s not finished yet!). So, let’s go back in time a little bit to my pre-natal appointment at 33 weeks.

I went into this appointment seeing one of the midwives in my OB’s practice because he was not available that day (another story for another time). It was my first appointment with someone other than my OB. During this appointment they did the normal things: checked my urine, listened for a heartbeat, checked my fundal height, etc. Up until this point I had been measuring normal and there was nothing that raised any concerns. I’d been discharged from the MFM after our Fetal Echocardiogram and told that unless my OB wanted me to have additional testing/monitoring I didn’t need to return.

The day following my appointment with the midwife, my OBs nurse called me. My fundal height was suddenly measuring two weeks ahead. They wanted me to go in and have a growth scan to see what was going on with the baby, amniotic fluid, etc. So off I went, back to the MFM for some additional testing. The ultrasound revealed that the baby was measuring 36-37 weeks. The MFM recommended that I do weekly monitoring starting at 35 weeks – this included weekly Non-Stress Tests and Biometric Profiles. It was also recommended that I have another growth scan at the end of my pregnancy to see where things stood.

Fast forward to week 39. The Monday before my due date we had that second growth scan and it estimated the baby at 9 pounds 15 ounces in size. The scan was done at 8:30 in the morning. The MFM had said I was right on the cusp of where they’d recommend a c-section, but since I had a frame that looked like it could support birthing a larger baby, I might still be a candidate for a vaginal birth.

At 11:00 the nurse from my OB’s office called. The doctor wanted me to come in today if I was available to discuss the results of the growth scan.  I called Robert at work and we both headed back out to see the doctor.

After meeting with the doctor, we decided that we would give the baby until her due date to go into labor and try to deliver her on her own, but if she didn’t make it by her date we would have a c-section given her size and not being a great candidate for induction. The doctor did warn me that if we did a vaginal birth, it was going to be a challenging endeavor. Once the head was out, it was likely that it would be difficult to deliver the shoulders and given her size they would not want to utilize forceps or suction to assist with the delivery.

I was still game to try.

Throughout the week I tried everything to get her to come before Sunday, the date of our scheduled c-section, but it just wasn’t happening. Saturday night we had everything packed and ready to go for the morning. I got almost no sleep Saturday night and was just a bundle of nerves throughout the night- were we doing the right thing, was the c-section going to hurt, would the baby be okay. I cried, I laughed, I tried to convine myself that everything was going to be just fine and there was a reason that she hadn’t come yet. By the time we were set to leave Sunday I was a tired, exhaussted, nervous mess.

We got to the hospital at 7:00 am, with the surgery scheduled for 9:00 am. We got prepped and my doctor came in to chat with us (admittedly, one of the perks of a scheduled procedure is getting your doctor for the delivery – which I was grateful for!). He asked if we had questions, explained everything that was going to happen, what to expect, and how long it would take. He joked and asked if we wanted to take wagers on her actual size, and gave a lighthearted air to the room, which was much needed.

When he went to scrub up the anesthesiologist came in to chat with us and give us our options, along with the associatd risks, but recommended doing a spinal, which we agreed with. Once he left the nurses finished prepping us and had my husband get changed into his scrubs in preparation to be moved to the OR.

And then, we waited. What seemed like forever! It was nervewracking! There was an emergency c-section and the surgeon got called to assist. Finally around 9:40 they came and wheeled us back.

The Spinal was probably the worst part of the procedure. The doctor and nurses were great, but I don’t think there is a way to make someone shoving a needle into your back a pain free experience. Once that was done, my OB came in and chatted with us a little more while waiting for the spinal to take effect. Once I was fully numb we started the procedure.

As far as the c-section goes, it actually wasn’t as bad as I had worried it would be and it ws a relatively positive birth experience. It took maybe 10 minutes from the time they started until the baby was here. The weirdest part was feeling my stomach muscles jumping as they workedtheir way to my uterus -but my OB let me know to expect it before it started, so I was prepared for it.

Kerrigan came out screaming and didn’t stop until my husband went over to the table with the nurse. As soon as she heard his voice she calmed right down. Even though my OB told us I would get skin to skin time and could hold her while they stitched me up, the nurses brought her to my cheek for maybe 30 seconds and then gave her to my husband and zipped her into his scrubs. That 30 second window was the only glimpse of her that I got until we left surgery. This upset me quite a bit, but my husband was glowing and I tried really hard not to let it show despite  disappointment.

We had a beautiful, healthy baby girl. She weighed in at 9 pounds, 13 ounces and was 22 inches long. She was given a 9/9 APGAR score and the only concerns were that she was breathing quickly and was a little shake-y, but the NICU nurse determined that they weren’t bad enough to require anything but additional monitoring and were likely from the baby still needing to transition from the birth. I was so relieved that she got to stay with us and wasn’t taken off to the NICU.

As they were finishing stitching me up, the doctor talked to me and told me that he was glad we opted for the c-section. After seeing her, he didn’t think I’d have been able to get her shoulders out had we tried a vaginal birth. I was so happy he shared this, and relieved that we’d made the decision for the c-section. Despite originally being a little disappointed about the c-section, I no longer had regrets about giving birth to my baby this way and felt confident the best decision had been made for both Mom and Baby.

I was wheeled into recovery, and finally got to hold my little girl. She was amazing and beautiful; everything and more than I could have imagined or dreamed. After years of struggles and heartbreak, followed by nine stressed filled months, I was finally holding a piece of us and it was nirvana. She latched immediately, with no difficulty, as if she’d been practicing for that moment the entire time in my womb. I don’t really remember much more about the time in recovery – just Kerrigan. She filled every moment and memory I have of that time.

The days following the surgery were challenging. I needed assistance to get out of bed once I could, and it was painful to move at all. As a result, my husband and the nurses had to do almost everything while I laid in bed, and it was frustrating. However, Kerrigan was never more at peace than when she was with me and she spent most of her days (and nights) lying with me. The doctors actually said that this was good, as it helped her to transition and regulate her breathing, ease her shaking and calm her.

In the end, it wasn’t a perfect birth; but the result is so far past perfect that it’s easy to overlook everything else.

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The Stats!
Baby’s Name: Kerrigan Ivy

Date of Birth: May 10, 2015

Original Due Date: May 9, 2015

Weeks Pregnant: 40

Height/Weight of Baby: 9 pounds, 13 ounces. 22 inches long.