Wednesday, August 1, 2007

We've Only Just Begun

In a morphine haze and darkened room, I struggle to hold open my eyes as the nurse and my husband put Peter's cheek to my breast for the first time. His eyes are wide. So is his mouth. He eagerly finds the nipple and latches. My husband and the nurse, both still holding the baby as I lay there helpless, laud his technique.

Having only slept one hour of the past 48, I doze, then fight to awaken. When would this kid be through? Couldn't they just let me sleep?

That whole first week of breastfeeding, it was as if someone had shot me with a tranquilizer every time Peter suckled. It would have been nice to nurse lying down, but I didn't know how. Besides, I was in too much pain to move.

Ah, the first week of motherhood. Gotta love it.

Peter did not want to leave my breast. This was confusing to visitors. My mother, who fed me formula back in the era when that's just what a God-fearing Southern lady did, expected him to eat every four hours. My friend A, who breastfed twins, was used to newborns who wanted to sleep more than eat. My friend D, who did breastfeed on demand, had the rare baby who only demanded it every three hours. "Didn't you just feed him?" became a common refrain in the room.

And so I would think, "Didn't I just feed him? Why does he cry every time I lay him down?"

The lactation consultant and in-house pediatrician assured me that my colostrum was sufficient, that my milk would be there by time he needed it, and to feed him frequently-- "every hour if he wants it."

On day four, when I still had no milk, when my son hadn't produced a wet diaper in over 24 hours, when his lips were peeling and he had lost over a pound, the pediatrician told me to give him some purified water through a syringe, followed by some formula through a syringe, until we saw a wet diaper. "I just want to be sure his kidneys are working well," she said.

I felt demoralized feeding my son like an orphaned baby bird and pictured cans of formula on my kitchen shelves, but I couldn't watch him gnaw his fist. And maybe now he'd sleep! As far as I knew, I had the first newborn on the planet who didn't sleep, and surely this would solve our problems.

When Peter wasn't sleeping by midnight, Tom and I called a nurse for more formula. Tired of the syringe, we bottlefed. When that didn't put him to sleep, we called a nurse for a pacifier. When that didn't work, we called the nursery, where he went to sleep in a heated bed. In a span of 24 hours, I had done every thing I said I'd never do.

The next morning, the pediatrician's eyes visibly widened when she walked through our door. It looked as if Similac had planted a bomb, scattering silicon nipples, bottles, and wrappers across the room. "No more supplementing," she ordered. "He had a wet diaper, and we know his system is working. Your milk will come, and your colostrum will increase until it does."

I spent the rest of that day re-training an angry infant, who'd grown accustomed to the bottle literally overnight, back to my breast.

When we left the hospital, my milk had still not arrived. "Stick with it," begged several nurses as we left. "We see this all the time with the c-section moms, and a lot of them give up even before they leave the hospital. But you can do this."

Well, as my nursing 18-month-old proves, I could and I would and I did.

If I have another c-section, I can do it again. But one of the reasons I'd really love a VBAC is this:

Click to see a minutes-old infant crawl to his mother's breast and eat.

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