An Epic Tale Of When Your Shitty Titties Let You Down

 

I had always planned on breastfeeding. Years before becoming pregnant I realised that I was gay and that I would not get to make my baby the way most other people did. There was a sadness in that, but I had a long time to get my head around it. At least I had a shot at still having a baby, so it felt like it wasn’t so bad even if it would be a harder journey for me.

Breastfeeding was always a given for me . I remember being a young child and pretending to breastfeed my teddy bear. My mother would talk about how she breastfed me exclusively, how easy and beautiful it was. How she did it for 18 months until I started nipping like a little toothy demon from hell and I was promptly kicked off the boob.

As I grew older I became more acutely aware of the imagery around motherhood and breastfeeding. I told myself that one day that would be me sitting in a field of daisies wearing a white flowing dress effortlessly breastfeeding my contented little cherub. Of course I was not oblivious to the ‘Breast is Best’ message which is everywhere. I do not live under a rock. This helped to further cement the knowledge that breastfeeding my baby was a nonnegotiable part of motherhood. After working towards becoming a mother for what literally amounted to almost my entire life I was not going through IVF and a hellish pregnancy only to give my baby what is considered ‘second best’.

In an effort to ensure that my breastfeeding would be successful I undertook a great number of steps while pregnant to make sure I had this breastfeeding stuff in the bag. By the time my due date arrived I had more breast pumps than I did breasts. I had planned on pumping a lot of extra milk (we spent $1000 on a brand new freezer for this very purpose) and freezing it so I had a stash to give my daughter if I had to take strong medication I sometimes needed for my migraines. There were several times I almost caved while at the chemist and bought an emergency small tin of formula just in case of this situation arising. I walked around the chemist for over half an hour picking it up and then putting it down again. I had done this about five times and was almost going to buy it on the fifth time, but changed my mind as I was waiting in line to purchase my things and abandoned it on random shelf near the counter.

I was told to express colostrum antenatally as I had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I spent five weeks expressing twice a day, squeezing so hard that I felt like my boobs were bruised. For those 35 days I had a total of 21ml of colostrum to bring to the hospital should my daughter need it. Which I was sure she wouldn’t, but it was a good back up just in case I thought.

In short I did everything ‘right’. Doing everything right was not enough to save me from the reality that I have what I have affectionately named Shitty Titties. The medical term for it is Insufficient Glandular Tissue, aka IGT. I prefer to use the term Shitty Titties because honestly I got to a point where if I couldn’t laugh about some aspect of it I would cry. Plus I still find the term ‘Shitty Titties’ much kinder than anything with the word ‘insufficient’ in it. (SIDE NOTE: Do not Google the term ‘Shitty Titties’ or you will be traumatised with a definition from Urban Dictionary that can never be unseen.)

I remember being shocked to find that I did not have the right physiology to make anywhere near the amount of milk my daughter needed to not die. When pregnant I thought ahead to if I may encounter any breastfeeding issues after the birth I always imagined they would be pain related. I figured I could push through that and ultimately have a successful breastfeeding relationship. Hell, even if my baby didn’t latch and I had to exclusively express I would have been more ok with that than just outright having a ‘my body wants to kill my baby’ level of milk production.

Don’t get me wrong, there was pain in the beginning. A lot of pain. What we didn’t realise at the time was that because I had barely any milk in there my daughter was tugging for a let down the entire feed. One of the lactation consultants I saw later in my journey (there were several) compared it to a calf or lamb tugging at its mother’s udder to get the milk flowing. This was the best way I have heard it described, because the force my daughter used when doing whatever the hell she was doing to my nipples to get a let down felt about equivalent to that of a calf or lamb. For the first few weeks it was all I could do not to scream at her and rip her off me. When she was in the Special Care Nursery and I was feeding her the midwife had to gently unclench my fingers which kept digging further and further into my tiny newborn’s back. I was writhing around the bed in pain biting down on my lip so that I didn’t scream out an almighty FUUUCK that echoed through the hallways of the hospital. This was my tiny fragile little baby who I loved more than I ever knew possible, and yet it took every ounce of restraint I had in my body not to rip her off me and throw her across the room. This was not how I pictured breastfeeding.

After three days of my daughter being in Special Care Nursery with consistently low blood sugars it became increasingly evident that I was not producing anywhere near the amount of milk she needed. I was told by a doctor that if I wanted her out of the Special Care Nursery I needed to give her formula to help sustain her and stabilise her blood sugars, or else she would need to be in there indefinitely. Special Care Nursery is not really a fun time for a newborn or their parents with a lot of poking and prodding involved. By three days my daughter had learnt to anticipate the recurrent heel prick tests and would recoil when anyone went near her feet or changed her nappy. It broke my heart to think that after being warm and safe in my belly for nine months her first experiences of the outside world involved pain and being separated from me.

The plan was that she would receive formula ‘top ups’ until my full milk supply came in within a few days. I would be put on medication and continue to bring her to the breast for feeds and expressing after each and every feed. At the time I believed things would go to plan and that the formula thing would be temporary. Looking back I can remember the unease in the nurses and doctors faces and voices when they would ask how much milk I had expressed by day 4 and it was still at only around the 10ml mark. They knew something wasn’t right, though I was too naïve to entertain the idea that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed successfully.

I went home with a script for Domperidone and an appointment with the lactation consultant for two days after we left the hospital. Prior to the birth my partner and I had decided that we were going to keep ourselves in a little bubble and venture out as little as possible as we had a newborn in the middle of cold and flu season and wanted to avoid her getting sick. She got sick at three weeks old from attending a lactation consultant appointment. It was only a cold but being so little it hit her hard and we ended up at the hospital with her when she stopped eating. I felt horrible because at first when she stopped taking much of her formula and started sleeping longer I was so happy. I was told that was what would happen when my supply increased. Turns out she had gone off her food because of the virus. Cue mother guilt for not only failing to realise my baby had stopped eating enough for several days but actively rejoicing in what amounted to her starvation.

Days and weeks passed and it became evident that what we were dealing with was not a delay in my milk coming in. I managed to learn to push through the pain of her latching and get her on the breast at each feed. Once the milk dried after a few minutes I would offer her the bottle. I would then put her down to sleep and spend most of the time hand expressing. I got a total of 20mls in a 24 hour period. I was on the max dose of Domperidone and by a few weeks in I had exhausted the whole array of herbs, supplements, hospital grade breast pumps, lactation cookies and whatever else was meant to increase supply.

I spent several thousand dollars on things that I hoped would help me breastfeed. I went to a Breastfeeding Association meeting on low supply and proceeded to sob uncontrollably in front of a room full more than a dozen strangers. The sort of sobbing where you can’t even breathe deep enough to speak properly. Nothing anyone recommended helped to build my supply.

By around 8 weeks my daughter had started refusing the breast. Trying to get her on there felt like an act of cruelty. Trying to shove a tit into her unwilling screaming face while she pushed back against it and got more and more distressed felt wrong. It felt wrong because I was trying to force her into doing something she clearly hated. Not to mention it added insult to injury to the feeling of not being a good enough mum. My baby was supposed to want to go on the breast, here I am feeling like I am torturing her. I couldn’t help but feel like my daughter didn’t like me. In those moments she didn’t. I looked at her red screaming face fighting against my breast for many weeks. Each time a voice in my head said to me ‘your baby hates you’. After a while I started to believe it.

IMG_20150807_080954

This was her face as we fought each other. Not the contented images I had in my head of sitting in a field of daises breastfeeding serenely.

After a while of feeling like a horrible person for forcing my screaming daughter to the breast and then trying to shove my boob into her wide open screaming mouth while she pulled away from me, I decided I needed to stop trying to direct feed her. I switched to exclusively pumping 8-12 times a day. For anyone who has ever had a newborn you will know that it is incredibly difficult to commit to doing anything 8-12 times per day, especially something that you need to be relatively stationary for. All of my time not spent settling the baby I was pumping. In fact I managed to find a way to settle the baby while pumping  by rocking the bassinet with my feet to get her to sleep while holding the pump to my boob. At the beginning of the day I would get 20mls with each pump, towards the end I would be stretching it just to get 5-10ml.

All the while this was happening I was filled with guilt and shame. I refused to let my partner take photos of me bottle feeding our daughter, and I even put a few pictures of me successfully breastfeeding (back in the early days before the breast refusal) on Facebook. I was so filled with self hatred that I couldn’t breastfeed that I at least wanted to throw others off the scent of me being what I equated to a shit mum. I felt 1000 times more insecure bottle feeding my daughter in public than I ever did whipping out my boobs. When I would run into people I knew in public while bottle feeding my daughter my insides churned up with shame.

For the first six months of my daughter’s life I cried every single day because I couldn’t make the milk I thought she needed. My partner was constantly reassuring me that I was doing a great job and that our daughter was fine with being mainly formula fed. She worried that I would end up with Post Natal Depression because of it. I was a bit worried too. I did end up with Post Natal Anxiety, which I am sure wasn’t helped by my struggles with breastfeeding.

The idea that before formula my baby would have died at a few days old really fucked with my head. It didn’t make sense to me that after 9 months of growing her and giving her everything she needed to thrive that my body would just turn around and let her die when she was born. I felt so betrayed and confused. The whole experience aside from being devastating was bewildering. All I had ever heard was that almost all women can make enough milk for their babies if they just try hard enough (I call bullshit on this one) was deeply ingrained in me. I couldn’t understand how my body could just turn around and be like ‘Meh, not really that fond of this baby. I think I’ll just give this whole thing a miss and let it starve to death’.

Eventually I ended up seeing a psychologist who helped me to work through the mountain of shitty feelings I had about the whole thing. Each time I pumped (which as I mentioned above was a shit tonne of times in a day) I felt worse, so we decided that was something I needed to stop. I did stop eventually, but the process was emotionally really difficult and my partner copped the brunt of my outbursts. I was afraid that if I stopped pumping that I would regret it. I felt as long as I had some sort of supply there was still hope my milk may magically appear, even if we were well past the six week mark the lactation consultant gave as a guide to when my milk supply should settle/arrive late to the party.

I ended up writing a letter to my daughter/myself about all the different ways I loved her and things I did for her that had nothing to do with my milk. It helped. It didn’t take it all away, and even close to a year after stopping I still feel sadness when I think about it or see other women breastfeeding. Though it did help to see the multitude of ways in which I loved her that had nothing to do with my boobs. It felt good to put some of my energy into recognising what I could do instead of what I wasn’t able to do.

Not being able to breastfeed is the perfect mother guilt gift that just keeps on giving. I still have times now where I worry that she will at some point suffer some ailment that is linked to not being breastfeed during her lifetime and it will be all my fault.  I think a big reason breastfeeding troubles are such an immense source of stress, sadness and guilt for mothers is because breastfeeding is one of the first things you will do as a new mother. It’s a pretty shitty feeling messing up one of the first things you do as a mother. No one wants to feel like they have failed before they’ve even really gotten started, and with the immense pressure to breastfeed put on women not getting it right can feel like a massive failure in your motherhood experience.

I wish I had found a way to be more at peace with my situation and sooner. That I hadn’t spent every day of the first six months of my daughter’s life looking at her and crying because I felt I was letting her down. I wish I hadn’t spent 6 hours a day attached to a breast pump. I wish I’d worried less and soaked in that beautiful squishy newborn falling asleep on me, rather than looking at her and having my heart break apart a little more each time I thought of how I was letting her down.

I want to trade that time I spent feeling miserable for time I could just enjoy the beautiful little miracle that I grew inside me. I want more time marveling at the awesome little person my partner and I were raising. I want to trade my guilt and misery for more time spent looking at her and crying with joy because I am in awe of her tiny little fingers. I can’t do that of course. Though I like to think that for the next baby I will find peace sooner when I encounter the same situation again.

Maybe there is a mother out there reading this who feels the same way as I did and feels stuck in a cycle of feeling miserable and hopeless and guilty. Many people told me to just give up and that she was fine on the bottle and that is true, she was and continues to be absolutely fine. The problem was I just couldn’t move forward until I was ready and for me that took a long time.  It had to be my decision to chose when I would no longer continue to put myself and my daughter through a situation that was making us both unhappy.  If I had stopped before I was ready I know I would have regrets. I got to a point where I knew I wanted it to end but I was afraid to stop for fear of it feeling even worse than when I was in the cycle of expressing 12 times a day.

What I can tell you is this. When they are little feeding seems like such a big deal because that along with sleeping and shitting and crying is basically all they do. As they grow they do more stuff and how they are fed starts to move more towards the backburner. My daughter starting solids was a really positive step in her development as it meant that I could finally make her food (and it didn’t take me six hours a day to do so!).

Focus on the multitude of ways and things you do for them that expresses you love to your child. There are many non milk related things we do to care for our babies each day. Write a letter to yourself if you want, it helped me to see it all written out in front of me.

It’s OK to stop. I heard this so many times and kept pushing the words  out of my head because I wasn’t ready to stop. One day on a parenting message board where I posted yet another question about one of my many breastfeeding issues I got a response from another mother. She was a member who had been following along with my struggles through my previous posts. She very gently told me that I had done everything I could and it was OK to stop. Even though I’d heard it a hundred times before, something about hearing it that time resonated with me. It was finally time where I was willing to put down the gloves and stop fighting my body trying to make it do something it just wouldn’t do.

If you’re where I was I truly hope that whatever you decide to do, whether it be continuing to push through or deciding to stop that you find a way to be OK. You should know that so long as you love your baby you didn’t fail. We are all just trying to love our babies the best we can.

 

Advertisements

8 comments

    1. I am glad you enjoyed reading. Sorry you are dealing with Shitty Titties too, how much does it suck! One of the sad ironies for me was that my boobs were one of what I considered to be my best attributes before discovering they were mostly just ornamental. On top of all the emotions described above losing my love of a part of my body I previously thought was kind of nice was hard too. Suddenly they lost their status as lustful fun bags and were just a broken piece of equipment in my mind. I read a quote something along the lines of ‘ A mother’s worth isn’t measured in ounces’ when I was struggling IGT and this was something I carried with me and tried to remind myself of when I felt down. Good luck, remember the love we have for our babies comes from our hearts not our boobies🙂

      Like

      1. My premmie darling never could get a handle of breastfeeding. It devastated me. Exclusively expressed for 5 and a half months. Only to finally let it go. And breathe. And my little girl is well and good and it’s all ok. She wasn’t deeply traumatised. But I definitely was. Good girl syndrome kicks in. But all is well. Beautifully written mama! Our girls couldn’t care less. We’ve got to be kinder to ourselves. Easily said though.

        Like

      2. We definitely should be kinder to ourselves. I keep thinking how kind I would have been to my daughter if she grew up and had the same issues as me, or what I would say to a friend who was struggling. It would be WAY nicer than all the nasty things I said to myself. I’m sorry you had such a difficult experience with it also. I very pleased that you felt like you could breathe again after you stopped expressing. I was the same, it stopped consuming every part of my day and was such a relief. Our girls are both so beautiful and happy, and I really think that the way that both their parents love and adore them with each cell in their bodies is the reason for that. It really does show 😀

        Like

  1. I’m a friend of Heidi’s ^
    I breastfed my first two kids until they self-weaned. I was the mother in the daisy field. Then I had the third and 24 years later I STILL feel sad that breastfeeding did not ever happen for me and her.
    You have written a brilliant article! Thanks for so clearly articulating (nearly wrote “expressing”) the crazy, painful, sad, confused emotions of many of us.

    Like

    1. I am so pleased you enjoyed the article. I think when breastfeeding doesn’t work out it is such an emotional struggle (as well as a physical battle trying to MAKE it work out) and often women feel afraid of talking about it for fear of judgement from others. I have always tried to be quite open about my experience with others as I am an open sort of person, but also because I hoped that if there was another mum out there feeling as god awful about it as I was that perhaps hearing my story would help her to feel less alone. I think that the breastfeeding not working is probably going to always been a sore point for me. I still feel sad when I think about it, I get quite emotional talking about it still especially with my partner. I definitely don’t think you would be the only one who can still feel that sting of pain and disappointment of breastfeeding not working out many years later. My lactation consultant told me with tears in her eyes after six weeks of trying to build my supply that it was very unlikely I would make enough milk for my daughter ever. I think she felt really bad for me but also said she understood how horrible it was because she had the same problem 30 years ago and still remembered how painful it was.

      Like

  2. Thank you
    This made me so sad, but so proud of all the struggles we go through as Mums to feed and nurture our babies,
    You are a great mummy,only great mummies try so very hard and feel so very bad.
    Your grief at being unable to ‘feed’ your baby in that way just proves your love for her.
    A note to all mummies struggling out there-do what is best for you and your baby,fk the expectations of society and family and yes,even self.
    A loved and fed baby(boob and’or bottle) is a happy baby- and that is your only task.
    I wish all the mummies well.
    The way you feed your little one is NOT a reflection of your skill,or maternal attributes,
    The fact you feed and nourish your baby in the way that is best for both of you is all that matters,
    To those stuck in the moment-this too shall pass.
    I promise it gets better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very kind words from you Jasmine, thank you very much. You’re right, not being able to breastfeed is not a reflection of my skills or maternal abilities. I wish I had realised this sooner as really getting that point would have helped me at the time I think. It’s a real shame how breastfeeding is so interlinked with our confidence in our maternal abilities, so when it doesn’t work out we feel like we have failed as mothers. I often worry that when we have a second baby and I am faced with the same issues (which I will be, it’s not something that goes away or changes if you do things differently) I will feel the same way I did with my first. I am making a mental note to myself to come back and read your comment if and when that happens 🙂

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s