On July 6, 2017 our world forever changed… for the better. We welcomed our sweet little girl, Devyn Rae Jones, into the world with open arms. Perfection. Pure perfection. She was, and is, perfect in His eyes.
July 8, 2017 – Do we get to go home?
After sleepless nights learning about this new human, plus confusion, frustrations, healing, recovering, and working with a lactation consultant, we waited for our doctor to release us. Then, the dreaded conversation happened: “Devyn has lost too much weight, and I’m going to need to see what is going on with your breastfeeding.” It’s normal for a baby to lose weight at birth, but Devyn had lost too much. “We cannot let you leave the hospital without supplementing,” our doctor said. My mind was spinning. “What does that mean?” I thought, “Supplementing with what? My milk has yet to come in, that’s all. She is getting the ‘liquid gold,’ right?” Whatever our thoughts and worries, we had to get her weight back up. Bottom line.
We sat there while our doctor taught us how my husband needed to drop formula onto my breast with a syringe. It would still allow for the motherly bond to be created with my daughter, but it would also provide the necessary nutrients that she required. That was it… the moment my first #momfail guilt set in. Immediately, I thought, “I’m not enough. I cannot provide for her. What did I do wrong? What am I doing wrong?”
My husband wasn’t sleeping, either. Every feeding, every latch, he was next to me dropping formula onto my breast, and saw me through every tear. He would even attend my three visits a week with a lactation consultant, and one visit a week with my doctor. They kept saying, “We have to give it time to come in. We have to wait for at least 14 days. What are we doing to get the milk to come in? What are we doing to increase supply? Are you eating enough calories? Are you drinking enough water? Let’s try supplements, Fenugreek, hot baths, manual compression, and breast pumping.” Yes, Yes, Yes! Check!
Week 1 –
Little Devyn is 7 days old at this point. My husband and I are still not sleeping, still using the syringe, and still pumping 7-8 times a day. We have to figure out how to get this milk to come in. Okay, there is a little change in color. We are getting some foremilk at the end of a pump. Finally! That’s good, right?
Then, however, complications set in. For me. “What is this pain? Why am I so cold? I feel like I have the flu. Why is my breast red and throbbing?” Mastitis, apparently. “What on earth is that? How can I have mastitis when my milk isn’t even in yet?”
Week 2 –
It was time to get serious. I purchased the money back-guarantee supplements! My milk bound to come in now! Three days later, still no change. Five days later, still no change. After feeding her, I would keeping pumping for 20 minutes on each side to try to trick my body into thinking she needed more. I repeated this cycle every two hours. Tired didn’t begin to explain what I felt. Normally, you would be able to nap when the baby napped, but I had to pump. And still, no milk.
Something has to be “off.” The doctor wanted to test my progesterone levels. “What do you mean?” I asked, “I guess I don’t know what that hormone does.” Apparently, it’s a vital component, affecting your body’s ability to produce milk. “Wait, you have thyroid problems, too? We have to get this all checked out.” Then, “Results are in,” the doctor says, “Your progesterone levels are amazing, but there is bad news. Your thyroid levels are too low, again, so we have to increase your Synthroid dosage to get that back on track.” At this point, my lactation consultant and my doctor butted heads. “Your thyroid has nothing to do with your milk not coming in,” said my doctor, “but, at this point, I honestly think you need to give up trying.” I breathed a sigh of relief, though I was a little off-put by my doctor’s recommendation to quit trying to breastfeed. It was going to come in! At least it’s not my thyroid!
We then went to our next LC appointment, only to find that “Your thyroid has everything to do with the fact that you have no milk supply! The only cases we have ever seen where milk supply could not be boosted had to do with patients whose thyroids were uncontrolled. Maybe it’s time to stop putting yourself through this?” I didn’t agree. I wasn’t ready to give up, no matter what either of them said. I cried the entire way home after that appointment. My heart was broken.
Week 3 –
Daddy had to go back to work, so we began a Supplemental Nursing System. SNS is a system that drips formula through a tiny hose, which itself runs through one of the tiny holes in your nipple shield. If you have ever seen an SNS system, or used one, you know it takes a whole lot of patience, or several hands, to help get it in place, for it to just fall apart once the baby latches.
Right around the time we introduced this new feeding method to our baby, she turned into a fussy baby. I mean, a crying all through the night baby. Apparently, too much air was getting into her stomach through the SNS system, in addition to sensitivity to the formula we were using. Seven formulas later we found one that no longer caused discomfort, but–welcome to the world of baby spit-up!
Week 4 –
I’m still broken, exhausted, and feeling like a complete failure. On top of everything, while I was pregnant, one of my dogs was diagnosed with cancer. She had been on chemo for four months, and had been doing so well. She was thirteen years old, and she was all that I had had for many years. This was the week, however, that her health started a slow decline. I didn’t know what to do, and mental darkness was starting to get to me. My LC said, “Let’s take some of this pressure off of you. Let’s go to pumping eight times a day, and letting her latch at least 2-3 times. We don’t want her to forget how to latch while we are waiting for the supply to fully come in. Pump for one full hour every morning, and then do 30-minute pumps the rest of the day.” At this point, I was getting ONE OUNCE of foremilk for every day and a half of pumping. That is eleven pumps (1-hour pump + 10 half-hour pumps = 6 hours a day) to get one ounce. My baby was eating 2-3 ounces every two hours by this point, so how would I ever be enough? Still, I decided to stick with it.
Week 5 –
Time to check thyroid levels again! “That change in medication should be kicking in by now, so hopefully we will be seeing an increase in your milk any day now.” It takes four weeks for thyroids to level out after a dosage change, so we were anxiously awaiting the results. Then, the doctor said, “Well, it looks like your thyroid is over-producing now. Your body is burning too many calories.” What do you mean, my under-active thyroid is over-producing now? How is that even possible? What now? Oh, another medication change. Right. And when will we see results? 4 more weeks? Still, I knew that my milk would come in. It had to.
Week 6 –
This week was a tough one. This was the week that I had to say goodbye to my dog. She had been my best friend for thirteen years, and she was a good one. A constant one. Over the past six weeks, I had been wrapped up in such a wonderful life change that I did not get to spend the quality time with her that I once had. I started to feel the guilt of not being there for her. I slowed down this week, and stayed home with Devyn and the pups. The small, steady supply of milk I was producing started to diminish. In between pumping and feeding, I would lay on the couch, crying while snuggling all of my babies. Somehow, I was still hopeful that my milk would show up.
Week 7 –
At this point, I had been through every single emotion that I have – quite a few – but, it was time to start trying to get back to working. I own a women’s boutique in downtown Bentonville, and, while my amazing staff covered for me as much as possible, there is a certain level of responsibility that a business owner has, and feels, to make sure that the wheels don’t fall off of the bus. When you write your own paycheck, you don’t get the amazing maternity leave that a lot of lucky women get. Though, let’s be honest, the maternity leave people get still isn’t long enough. Regardless, it felt like I was trying to juggle being productive, managing the staff, making decisions, and then, oh wait, time to feed baby and pump again. Now, re-start project we were working on 45 minutes earlier. Where were we? I kept feeling like I was failing as mom, a wife, and now, a boss.
Week 8 –
Devyn was smiling and starting to giggle at this point. She was changing so fast that I didn’t want to miss anything. I’ll never forget that final morning I pumped. I always woke up early so I could get that hour pump in before Devyn woke up for the day. One hour with that horrible machine. One hour of power pumping. How much did I get? .1 oz. One hour for .1 oz. I cried. I cried hard. I cried for two solid hours. Eight weeks and only five ounces of foremilk saved in the freezer. It took eight weeks to slowly accumulate 5 oz. I cleaned all of the parts, put away the pump, and I haven’t opened it again.
Week 18 –
While I am glad that I worked so hard at breastfeeding, I spent the first four months of my baby’s life living in fear that she would not love me like other babies love their mamas. I thought that I was some how failing her, my husband, and our family. I was ashamed to make her a bottle in public. It felt like I had to tell everyone why she was formula fed. I saw the looks from other people. I knew what they meant. I was so afraid she would be behind because of me. That she would somehow be unhealthy. I thought all of these things because of the pressure surrounding us. Slogans like “Breastfed Is Best” are everywhere these days. The reality that I now fully understand, and completely agree, with is that Fed Is Best.
It wasn’t until we had a change in our routines that my eyes were opened and my depression was lifted. We moved Devyn to her nursery this week. That was the turning point. We placed the Owlet monitor on her foot, as we did every night. I bundled her up in her swaddle and started rocking her to sleep. I sat there in her room, rocking her, with no lights on. A realization hit me like a ton of bricks–a wave of emotion that wouldn’t stop. I have two dear friends, Wes and Ella Shelton, that lost their little boy, Taylor, to Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC). As I sat there rocking Devyn, I cried for Ella. I cried for all the nights she hasn’t gotten to rock her baby boy to sleep and place him in his crib. I cried for the morning she found him.
It was a moment I’ll never forget… because I realized this journey has been a gift from God, breastfeeding or not. I had Devyn. I get to hold her, to watch her learn, to watch her grow, to rock her to sleep. I had to go through the deep valley to get to where I am today. I know that our baby girl is healthy, happy, and oh so beautiful, no matter what type of milk she is getting.
If you don’t know Wes and Ella’s story, I encourage you to read it. I encourage you to get to know Taylor McKeen Shelton. www.taylormckeen.com I know that that little boy’s perfect eyes come to my mind daily. It reminds me that when I get frustrated with Devyn, I have her to be frustrated with, and that is a huge blessing.
Soon-to-be mamas, don’t stress it. If you are able to breastfeed, that is a wonderful thing. Do it. If not, then don’t. You can survive the craziness. You can endure. You can still share a truly wonderful bond with your baby. I know.
Adoption mamas: that baby longs for you, just the same. The bond is there. It is called love.
Mamas, lets all be kind to one another. We don’t know everyone’s story.