Aside from the sheer physical work of managing Gwen's latch and doing whatever I can to make sure as much breast milk goes into her as possible, this is bringing up all kinds of emotional issues for me.
When I first met with KG and learned about Gwen's latch issues, gag reflex and seal failure, I was elated. It explained so much. Her failure to seal means she is swallowing air constantly, which explains why she is such a gassy baby. Her latch issues explain why she can't take in enough milk to pile the weight on, and why my supply is poor, since she's not stimulating the nipple enough to signal my body to make more milk. Her gag reflex explains why she latches so shallowly, causing her to fall off constantly and feedings to take for-freaking-ever.
And yes, I knew it would be a hell of a lot of work to fix these things. But I dared to hope. I dared to dream.
I allowed myself just one evening of imagining that all the work was behind us, that Gwen became an efficient, contented eater. I imagined the gassiness gone. I imagined what it would be like to be able to nurse the baby and carry on a conversation at the same time. I imagined what it would be like to be able to tell, concretely, when a feeding was "done". I even imagined, for just the briefest moment, that I would get the breastfeeder's high, that incredible rush of blissful bonding that people talk about.
But before I can get there, there is work to do. I know that. I understand that, and I respect it. Slogging through a difficult time to reach a cherishable goal is something I'm familiar with and even good at. But there's another person on this journey with me, and she didn't have a choice in the matter.
Before I started on this mad scheme, a feeding might go like this: Feed Gwen on one side for awhile, till she starts to fuss. Try burping her. Repeat until she fusses as soon as she is put to the breast. If she is still unhappy and crying, get her a bottle.
Post-mad scheme, it was more like this: Feed Gwen on one side for awhile, till she starts to fuss. Try burping her. Feed her on the other side for awhile, until she starts to fuss. Try burping her. Repeat on first side, then second side, and so on back and forth until she fusses as soon as she is put to the breast. If she is still unhappy and crying, get her a bottle.
If you read between the lines, you might notice that the second scheme requires Gwen to cry nearly hysterically before she gets a bottle. It also ensures my nipples are getting as much stimulation as possible, the better to produce milk, but at what cost to Gwen's peace of mind? I told myself that feeding from a bottle is less work for her, so maybe she is not starving so much as simply lazy. Still, listening to her scream like that at every feeding really made me question my motivations. In a year, or five, or ten, will she care that she was fed formula instead of breastmilk some of the time?
It's times like these that I question whether I am doing this for the right reasons. Is it really that important to me to eliminate formula from Gwen's diet, and put her through all the crying and frustration to do so? Is it because I want what's best for her, or because I want some shred of bragging rights that I managed to overcome one more obstacle and finally get her off the formula?
The nurse who facilitates our Healthy Beginnings group said something a few weeks ago that just really resonates with me. She was speaking to another mom who was feeling pressure from her husband to pump milk so that he could feed the baby. The nurse advised her that if she wanted to pump and have a break, that was great, but if she wanted to turn down her husband's request, that was fine too. "Whatever you decide to do, just don't feel pressured, because no matter what, you will never get back that first year with your baby."
It's so true. Gwen is growing and changing right before my eyes. What will I regret in years to come? Will I wonder if I could have gotten her off formula if I just tried harder? Will I wish I'd spent less time stressing about it and just enjoyed her babyhood, no matter what she was eating? Or perhaps both?
I don't have all the answers yet. I know I want to keep breastfeeding, though I don't enjoy it for its own sake. I have ordered some fancy herbals online that will hopefully increase my supply. And continuing to work on Gwen's sucking skills and latch issues will certainly benefit her. But I don't think I'm going to sign on for any schemes that will cause her to scream through our feedings, either.
We have another meeting with KG next week. For the past few days, I have been taking an approach somewhat between the two above, and tracking Gwen's formula intake, which seems steady at about 4 ounces per day. If she continues to need a supplemental 4 ounces, good grief, that's hardly anything, and she probably won't even notice it disappearing once solids are established. If my supply responds to the herbals and we can get her off altogether, that's great too.
And okay. Maybe I'll never get the breastfeeder's high, and maybe I'll never have an easy, contented eater. But I can sure as heck keep her from being a starving hysterical one.