A few weeks after I gave birth to Edith, another new mom I was acquainted with took a bottle out of her diaper bag and began to feed her baby. I was a bit surprised because formula feeding isn’t terribly common among Portland liberals. But later she described how she had come to pumping and feeding her newborn both at the breast and at the bottle: At her baby’s two-week pediatric visit, they discovered the little one had continued to lose weight, and her milk supply had decreased. Her pain showed through her quavering voice and trembling lip.
My heart reached out to her then, but I now know how she felt.
Last Monday, Eric was out of town for work and I knew I’d be on my own for two days, so I checked out a new moms group nearby. When it was my turn, I shared how Edith had had two fussy and sleepless nights in a row and that I was still looking forward to the day when nursing wouldn’t hurt so terribly. The other moms encouraged me to go straight to the lactation clinic and get help. “It’s not right for you to be hurting so much at three weeks,” someone said.
After a disheartening visit to the nurse there, I was sent home with a loaner pump and instructions to nurse only from one side to give the other a chance to heal. After Edith had eaten, I set up the pump, a blue monstrosity with a piston that looked more like a torture device than anything. But the moment I tried to use it, Edith began to wail
She was hungry. And I couldn’t feed her.
The night only worsened. At one point, I was rocking Edith in her bassinet with my foot while she wailed, pumping and sobbing. “I’m sorry,” I kept saying. The machine’s wheezing competed with our cries in one of the more heartbreaking symphonies that could exist.
The next day was barely better. At my follow-up appointment, I learned that Edith had stopped gaining weight since her pediatric visit the previous week. Not only was I letting my child go hungry, I was starving her. Apparently, more than three weeks of inflammation, clogged ducts and pain had taken its toll on my milk supply.
When I first started nursing, I used to apologize to Edie for dripping milk all over her. The night I found out she had lost weight, I apologized for not being able to feed her properly and dripped my tears onto the top of her head as I tried to sway and soothe her
I’ve never felt like such a failure, especially not in something so important. I had been tasked with the most fundamental of jobs—feed your baby—but couldn’t deliver. Every time I sat down with that blue pump or fed her from a bottle was a reminder that I couldn’t cut it and was letting down my beautiful baby girl. I felt unfit as a mother.
On Friday at yet another follow-up visit with a lactation nurse, Nancy—a spunky breast cancer survivor with a Jersey accent—took one look at Edith and told me I had nothing to worry about. “She’s a Buddha baby. Look at that belly!” Even better than her proclamation was the scale’s testimony: Edith had gained six ounces in four days. I could have fainted I was so relieved. Nancy also told me my milk supply was fine: “You’re like a fire hydrant! You have beautiful equipment. Just ask your husband.” And when Edith pooped all over the scale, Nancy was elated. “Look at that gorgeous poop!”
I needed a laugh.
Even better was Nancy’s diagnosis. It turns out that Edith has tongue tie, which means the membrane that connects her tongue to the bottom of her mouth is unusually tight. It restricts her tongue’s movement and makes it scrape against my nipples with every suck. No wonder my boobs look and feel like a battlefield.
A diagnosis, even one whose treatment involves clipping part of my baby’s tongue with scissors, was encouraging: Maybe we can fix this.