Sunday, August 3, 2008

Adoptive Breastfeeding Confessional

Today, Lucy/Teresa is one month old. I am sad. But, I am very happy for my brother-in-law and new sister-in-law, who had a beautiful wedding on Friday and are now honeymooning in Chile. J and I were in Minneapolis for the wedding this weekend and had a wonderful time with J's family there. We are back home now and have very few plans between now and the birth of Clio. Now that I'm in full waiting mode and have little to distract me, I'm starting to accept the reality of Clio and I'm confronting some decisions that need to be made. The primary issue is what I'm going to do about feeding her. So...

Another thing I haven't written about much, because I have felt very conflicted about it: my experience with preparing to breastfeed Lucy. The last I wrote about it was April 26, after getting my (stolen goods) hospital pump in the mail. I tried to post about it several times in May and June but I wanted to wait until I had something concrete to say, and then...well, here's what went down (warning, some of this is kinda TMI):

Late April through May: I used my pump between twice and five times per day, usually while watching TV. I am not a morning person and only at first was I able to make myself pump in the morning before work. After that, I'd pump after I got home from school and then before going to bed. The amount of time varied from 15 minutes to an hour (sometimes I'd be watching TV and the time would just slip away from me, I got used to the sound of the pump and it didn't bother me). On weekends I'd pump up to five times during the day. Because I did this in front of the TV, I started watching things like The Real Housewives of Orange County because I would empty out my Tivo "Now Playing" list so quickly. Sigh. The pump didn't hurt at first, but I noticed that around the time of my period I would have some pain and ended up getting advice from online friends to use olive oil as a lubricant. Giggle. After pumping, I'd use Lanisoh to prevent irritation and cracking, and the combination of olive oil and Lanisoh led to several of my shirts and tank tops having oil stains you-know-where. Just a warning to those of you who may follow suit, don't wear shirts you like. I had heard/read that nipple stimulation can lead to milk production without any other intervention, but because I've never been pregnant (and thus never had the associated breast changes) I wasn't surprised when all of this pumping got me exactly zero milk. I told myself, however, that I was toughening up my nipples for later. Yeah, right.

Mid-May: Because my pumping wasn't producing any milk, I decided to take the plunge and buy medication from an online pharmacy. I was wary at first of trying medication because I have allergies and asthma and already take medicine every day for those. I don't like adding pills to my regimen unless absolutely necessary. But, I decided to go ahead and try. Around this time I was diagnosed with my fibroid and need for surgery, so I kept the meds until after I recovered.

Early June: I began taking meds (while continuing to pump) and, after a week, began producing small amounts of milk. In April, I wrote that I refused to wake up in the middle of the night to pump, but as soon as I got those first few drops of milk while pumping, I went a little nutsy and started sleeping with my cell phone on vibrating alarm mode to wake me up in the middle of the night, so that I could pump every 3 hours without fail. I can't figure out how to describe accurately how it felt to see milk coming out of my nipples. It made me feel like a super-hero. It made me amazed at how God created women. It made me feel like a mother. All of those cliches and more. After about a week and a half of this, I was pumping a few milliliters from each breast each time. It doesn't seem like much, but it was better than nothing. Other mothers and the literature told me that I shouldn't worry; Lucy would be better than the pump at extracting milk and stimulating my breasts to produce more (J, the engineer, thought it was ridiculous to think that a newborn could do better than an expensive pump).

Mid-June: one night, I awoke to feel my heart pumping irregularly. It felt as though it were pumping from right to left in my chest, jumping from side to side. It was unlike anything I'd ever felt my heart do, and I knew immediately that it was a side effect of the medication. I talked to my dad about it (he's an MD) and he said that while it wasn't going to give me a heart attack, because I'm young and my heart is healthy, it is tiring for my heart to have an arrhythmia, and so I needed to stop the meds. So, I did. My heart immediately went back to normal. And, a few days later, although I kept up my 8x per day (middle of the night included) pumping schedule, I stopped producing milk.

Late June: I decided to stop pumping because without any milk it seemed silly to go through the motions, which would have been quite inconvenient to accomplish in the hospital during Lucy's birth, etc.

Now: I (of course) won't be taking meds again, and I think that without the meds it's very unlikely that I'll produce any milk. I have two choices:

1. Feed Clio with a bottle of formula and use nursing as a bonding experience only (I'll be a human pacifier, not a source of food). Pros: J can help with feeding and bottles are easier to clean; Cons: feeding from a bottle might give Clio what's called "nipple confusion" and make any sort of nursing relationship difficult or impossible.

2. Feed Clio with a Lact-Aid and hope that the stimulation helps my breasts produce milk. Pros: Clio will learn how to nurse and it will be a good bonding experience with her, plus, there are benefits for her ears and jaw development that come from nursing, not just from breast milk. Cons: using the Lact-Aid can be a PITA and a hassle to clean the tiny tubes between each feeding, especially while staying in a hotel in Kansas for a week.

I'm very conflicted right now. I know that many of you who read this will think I'm a bit crazy, or a lot crazy, for being so attached to the possibility of adoptive breastfeeding, and it's hard for me to explain how I feel about it. I'm not in denial, trying to pretend that I'm Clio's biological mother. I'm not trying to put enormous pressure on myself to be super-mother; I know that no mother is perfect. What I am trying to do is give myself and Clio this amazing, natural experience of mother-baby bonding through nursing. I've heard so many women talk about nursing a baby as one of the most wonderful and rewarding experiences of being a mother, and I feel (stubbornly) that I don't want to have to give that up. I feel gypped that I might never get to see a positive pregnancy test and feel a baby kick inside of me. I feel sad that I'll never have a natural childbirth. I'm still grieving the fact that I may never get to mother a kid whose genes are a combination of J and me. I don't want to add to that a feeling of remorse that I never experienced a breastfeeding relationship either.

I know that this subject can be controversial; it is one battle in the "mommy wars" that can rage between well-intentioned women who make different mothering choices. For the record, I don't at all judge or disapprove of women who choose to bottle feed. This is about me and Clio, not about anyone else.


  1. I totally get what you are saying. With my Ex we where about half way through the homestudy process and I was very into the adopted breastfeeding thing too. For all of the reasons you mentioned.
    Since it is so important to you I think you should probably try the aid for a little while. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work it out. I think you would regret not giving it a try.
    Just my .02.

  2. I think it's so amazing and admirable that you are going to such lengths to try to make this happen for you and Clio. I'm sorry the milk production option didn't work out, but it sounds like you did the safest thing by stopping the meds.

    I think both of the alternatives you suggested seem worth a shot. Even if the lact-aid doesn't work out, you can always do option #1 for sure, to get some portion of the bonding experience you're seeking.

    You have all my best wishes on this. *hugs*

  3. I understand what you're saying. I am not yet married, and so won't be having kids quite yet, but I really want to breastfeed when I do have kids. However, I have Crohn's disease, which makes it more likely I won't be able to keep a baby to term, and if I do, manage to breastfeed because of my medications.

    Anyone I talk to about my concerns about breastfeeding tell me that I don't even have a husband yet (as if I wasn't aware of that!) and I don't need to worry.

    Well, I am worried, so that's not helpful.

    Anyway, I think that the supplemental nursing system sounds awesome, and even if you never produce enough milk to feed Clio, you'll still be nursing her.

    Keep up the hope!

  4. I'm so glad you posted this. Now that we are actively waiting in the pool of adoptive parents, I've thought about all of this a lot too. I also feel very conflicted, and share many of your same thoughts about the reasons why you want to experience the breastfeeding relationship.

    I'm still undecided as to what I will do, and I suppose that will depend largely on when we actually get chosen and what else is going on at that time. It is a tough decision to make, but I appreciate you sharing your experiences with the pumping. Good luck in which ever way you decide to go!


  5. Wow. That is all really great info. I have considered this over and over again and I think all the pros are totally worth it. I greatly admire and respect your determination and persistence. I don't think I will pursue it simply because of the stress factor, but I think it is SO awesome that you are going to such lengths! I commend you!

  6. I think you should try the aid and attempt breastfeeding. It couldn't hurt, and if for whatever reason you no longer breastfeed, you will have had that experience.

    But one thing- please don't feel like you are a failure, or that you have failed your daughter if you use formula. My son thrived on it after my breasts got infected. I beat myself up for a long time until I realized that all moms just want the best for their kids.

    You will be such a fabulous mom. Good luck!

  7. i say give breast feeding a shot. It's not for everyone, but I love it!!! And you deservev at least that.

    I'm overjoyed you have another baby!! congrats.


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