by Mary Ashley Parrish

I had just found out I was pregnant when the breastfeeding anxiety began. I had read everything about how a woman is supposed to feel during pregnancy, and what changes are supposed to happen to her body. I hardly experienced any of the classic pregnancy symptoms. No nausea (hallelujah!) and no breast sensitivity. In fact, my breasts never grew or changed at all while I was pregnant. Never having the need to buy a maternity bra is what ultimately led me to my first visit with Katie at 36 weeks.

During that visit, we talked about what I would do if my body did not make what was needed to feed my baby. My personality demands having a plan and being prepared. That day, I picked out a formula to have on hand just in case we needed it. I also started to mentally prepare myself in the event that my dreams of breastfeeding did not come true. Turns out, having this plan was super helpful, but for reasons I never expected.

Two weeks after that appointment, Rowan was born.  He immediately latched, and the first 24 hours were a dream come true. Two days later, I started to see the first drops of milk. It was happening! I was breastfeeding my son like I had always dreamed of doing… except it hurt. It hurt so much. I had taken a breastfeeding class at The Birth Center so I knew the level of pain I was experiencing wasn’t normal.  I wasn’t supposed to have cracked, bleeding nipples.

When Rowan was five days old, we went to see Katie for the first time together.  I learned that Rowan had a tongue and lip tie and that he wasn’t latching correctly. This was causing the dreadful pain. I left the office that day with a nipple shield and all was right with the world again. A few days later, Rowan’s tongue and lip tie were revised. I was so hopeful he would begin to latch correctly on his own.

Even with the rocky start, my anxieties about breastfeeding that I had during pregnancy weren’t nearly as bad postpartum as I had expected. I attended the Friday Breastfeeding Support Group at The Birth Center and had gotten to hear so many different stories of breastfeeding challenges and successes. I met other moms who were also working to figure out life with a new baby. I was feeling more positive, confident, and much less anxious about breastfeeding than ever before.

After weeks of tongue exercises, Rowan was still unable to maintain a latch. Nursing sessions had become wrestling matches and I began pumping and bottle-feeding to make sure he was getting enough to eat each day. I pumped, and I pumped, and I pumped some more. Each time he ate, I was pumping. At each feeding, we would attempt to nurse (unsuccessfully), then pump, then bottle feed, and then clean everything. Less than two hours later, we’d start the process all over again.

I was exhausted. My husband was exhausted. We needed sleep. We needed help. Since the process to feed Rowan was so long and intense, we both woke up at all hours of the night to tackle it together. We were new to Delaware and hardly knew anyone. We had no family within hundreds of miles, and the two weeks my mom was in town to help flew by so quickly.

The clock was ticking to get nursing back on track. I was starting back to work six weeks in to being a new mom. I work from home and planned to keep Rowan with me. My maternity leave was over before I knew it. I wasn’t ready to start back to work. How am I going to nurse, pump, and bottle-feed my baby while trying to work at the same time? When will I meet with my coworkers and bosses? Will they hear my pump in the background, not to mention my screaming baby? When will I feed myself? When am I going to shower and use the bathroom? These were just a few of the questions swirling around in my head.

I knew that being able to quickly and easily feed my baby was going to be crucial to my sanity and ability to make this plan work. I took Rowan to Katie’s on a regular basis. We tried different positions, different holds, shield versus no shield, and had some successful nursing sessions with Katie’s help. However, Rowan was still unable to consistently latch well enough to complete a feeding.

On top of all of the nursing struggles, Rowan also had issues bottle-feeding, and was diagnosed with silent reflux. A single feeding could take 45 minutes to an hour. Each feeding consisted of walking around, singing songs, and doing all other sorts of shenanigans just to try and get him to take the very minimum of milk each day.

After several weeks back to work, I was so exhausted and behind at work. I knew I could no longer keep up with the process of nursing, pumping, and bottle-feeding eight times a day. I eventually decided to become and Exclusive Pumper.  I attempted to nurse Rowan one last time, and then had to let go of what I originally dreamed my breastfeeding journey would look like.

At first, I felt angry and defeated. Every time I sat down to pump, all I could think about was how disappointing it was to not be breastfeeding my baby the way that I wanted. These painful feelings multiplied when Rowan would cry while I was pumping. All I wanted to do was nurse him for comfort, but instead, I could hardly hold him while wearing all of the pumping gear.

It was chaotic keeping up with all that is involved with exclusively pumping. My husband was a huge help at night, and Katie helped me figure out a pumping schedule that helped make my workday feel less stressful. I set short-term goals of pumping for two more weeks, then I would extend that goal to the end of the month, then another month, and so on.

As I settled into my role as an Exclusive Pumper, I started to feel like superwoman. I learned how to do all sorts of activities while pumping. I changed diapers, fed dogs, cooked dinner, and met with coworkers all while making future meals for my baby. My anger and disappointment over not being able to nurse Rowan slowly started to fade.

My long-term goal was to be able to give Rowan breast milk for six months. By the time Rowan was four months old, I had enough milk in the freezer that I could continue to give it to him for the next two to three months. It was then that I decided I could dump the pump and call this breastfeeding journey an overall success! However, Rowan continued to struggle with bottle-feeding, and doctors started questioning whether or not he might have a food allergy.

I was devastated. I cried in the pediatrician’s office. I cried in Katie’s office. I cried to my mom on the phone. All of that milk in the freezer that I had worked so hard for—was he not even going to be able to have it?! That was definitely not the plan.

After lots of testing and experimenting with hypoallergenic formula, whether or not food allergy played a role in Rowan’s eating issues remains a mystery. We suspect the silent reflux caused a behavioral aversion to eating, but we may never know that for sure.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and six-month-old Rowan is now happily eating (make that chugging) breast milk from the freezer stash, and I am living a pump-free life. Thanks to Katie, and other moms I connected with at breastfeeding support group, I feel good about what we were able to accomplish.

While my breastfeeding journey was far from what I had imagined or wanted it to look like, I still feel an overwhelming feeling of success. I learned that I can do really hard things, make it through really difficult times, and make really tough decisions. I learned that I have the power to turn lemons into lemonade. I’m proud of myself and more confident than I’ve ever been. I did it. I breastfed my son.