Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Out of sync

"Head over heels, how could I know / Can't stop myself, out of control / Head over heels, no time to think / It's like the whole world's out of sync"

(Everyone needs a little Go-Go's now and then, non?)

Breastfeeding is a culturally loaded practice: to boob or not to boob, when and where, for how long, if and how come (or why not), covered or uncovered, how much and how often. These are just some of the questions that swirl around the topic, and Mad Hatter has eloquently shared her own fraught experiences. Ambivalence abounds. My own Mom tried to breastfeed me, but she had no support and I was jaundiced and had to stay in the hospital so she gave up for lack of help and direction. My sister breastfed her second son, but not her first: the second time around, she was an adult, in a stable relationship, and better educated on the whole business of mommydom. Only since I had Miss Baby has she confided that when she weaned her constant-snacker cold turkey at 5 months, she suffered a pretty serious depression all the while feeling relieved that her husband could now share the burden.

For me, breastfeeding has been really, really easy. My 34H cups runneth over (quite literally ... sigh) daily, and I never worried about supply, but sometimes about choking my poor little newborn. Miss Baby had a good latch from the get-go, and a wondrous combination of strong appetite and a capacity to sleep unfed for long stretches at night. For a while, though, she was unwilling to sleep or nap without a boobin' and so I was becoming pretty anxious both for sleep-training and for the introduction of boobie-milk-in-a-bottle. But still, I'm very thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that breast is best, and any threat to the breastfeeding relationship sees me go into momma-bear mode. I have expressed (har-har) some of my reservations about pumping elsewhere on this blog, while still noting my relief and gratitude for The Dada and the Medela Pump-'n'-Style.

The electric, daily-use breastpump is an engineering and a cultural marvel: this portable, dependable, discreet machine allows me to work outside my home without having to wean my daughter. I carry it around in a little backpack, and store little containers of mommy-goodness in a cooler pack. A marvel, I tell you! But lately, I'm feeling a little out of sync, just like those chirpy Go-Go's.

It's possible I'm overthinking this. But hear me out.

Breastfeeding is satisfying in part because of the synchronicity it fosters between mother and baby. In the early days, milk supply is determined partly by suckling, but largely by hormones. Full boobies are sore boobies, and to latch the little milk vampire on is to experience sweet sweet relief. Mommy needs it and baby is learning to need it. Later on, milk supply responds directly to baby's hunger: more sucking means more milk. Bodies adjust, and it was a real wonder to me to notice that I got fuller during the day than I did at night. How do the Magic Boobies know that Miss Baby sleeps at night and eats during the day? Can they tell time? The milk was always there when she needed it, and not there when she didn't--or at least not there in quantities enough to cause me lumps, leaks, and discomfort. The breastfeeding relationship is interactive--each party influencing the other--and symbiotic. She needs to eat, and I need to Make The Throbbing Stop.

But. The boobies have gone haywire this past week, and I blame that interloper into the relationship, the Medela Pump-'n'-Style. And I'm going into momma-bear mode. I'm teaching again, in three-hour blocks that interrupt my pumping schedule. Last week, we travelled two time zones away where I had work obligations that seriously disrupted the pumping schedule. So Miss Baby was eating at all the same time, but I was pumping at really different times--say, right after giving her her morning or bedtime feed, in the middle of my own lunch, after a long highway commute and before a meeting, etc. And the boobies are protesting: producing more on one side than on the other, producing lots in the middle of the night, spontaneously letting down at odd moments, going dry at others. ("The Mama? Are you done? I'm hungry!")

I gotta say: removed from the immediate and undeniable stimulus of a hungry baby daughter, I don't hold up my end of the partnership as consistently as I ought to. I pump when it's convenient (or, to be fair, simply possible in this crazy, oversheduled week). So now I wake up at 4am with rock-solid breasts. Or I fruitlessly pump at 11am.

As they say, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and as it's been work and lunch and travel and commuting that's been squeaking loudest this week, I've been neglecting scheduled maintenance on my breastfeeding relationship.

My mom, when I was complaining to her about having to take the breast pump as carry on on our flight to Edmonton, told me to not feel bad about giving up breastfeeding. I was offended that she thought I was a quitter. But that's not what she meant: she meant to say that just because it was theoretically possible to do it all, didn't mean I was obligated to do so. Certainly, the very existence of daily-use breast pumps seems to imply that you are required to pump daily and for some time. The machine, that is, is at once an enabler of a particular relationship to my child, and a reproach against the termination of that relationship: there is a pump, you should pump, if you don't pump, that's your (poor) choice. God bless my Mom for recognizing the pressure, and for excusing me from it.

For now, though, I'm going to try to get back on track. I really do love nursing Miss Baby, and if that means rescheduling some meetings to get my groove back, so be it.


Beck said...

When my mom went back to work when my brother was 3 months old, she continued nursing him just in the morning and evening for another 6 months. So you could maybe do that?
When my first child was born, she had big health-related issues with nursing and couldn't tolerate formula.... so we rented a hosptial pump and she was exclusivly breastmilk-fed for seven months. I would NOT want to do that again, and I pretty much never left the house - but it kept her alive.

kittenpie said...

That's interesting - we never got a latch, so I pumped for a year, which menas I never had a comparison. Becase I got to be home for that year, I was able to be really dedicated about my schedule, pumping frequently and for long 20-30 minute stretches, which I guess made all the difference. It did mean that I had to pay attention to her rhythms myself so I could adjust my pumping accordingly - if she was in plump-up mode leading up to a growth spurt, I'd have to throw in a few extra pumpings too increase supply and keep pace. But I guess the luxury of time meant I could pretty closely approximate what my body and her would have worked out naturally.

btw thanks for stopping by Life of 'Pie, too. Always nice to see a new face!

Mad Hatter said...

Yes, no matter how well it goes, there is a weight, an at times almost unbearable weight to it all. Alongisde the beauty.

bubandpie said...

You're not kidding about the lack of support back in the day. My mom weaned me cold turkey at three months (ouch!) because a doctor (irrationally) blamed breastfeeding for the TMJ problems she was experiencing at the time.

With both my children I was doggedly - some might say irrationally - opposed to using a pump. The first time around, I had one in my closet (not a very good one, I think), a loaner from a friend that I never even attempted to use. By the time the Pie was born, I'd returned the loaner and I never looked into buying or renting another pump (not even when the PIe went from three feedings a day to self-weaning, cold turkey).

For me, that balance you describe was very, very precarious - any alteration in the number and timing of feedings would trigger a rollercoaster of over-supply and plugged ducts, followed by a precipitous drop in supply (with all the joyous hormonal fluctuations that always attended such drops for me). So I guarded my breastfeeding schedule quite zealously - when I first introduced a bottle, it was not to offer an occasional break, but rather as a permanent part of the daily schedule.

But for all these problems, the symbiosis you describe was there - it was just as moving as you've described.

ewe are here said...

Breastfeeding is most definitely a loaded topic. I'm really really glad it worked so well for you and Miss Baby. It's not always so easy.

I couldn't breastfeed MF --there just wasn't enough there, he knew it and wouldn't latch-- so I pumped as much as I could to supplement his formula for the first three months. (My goal was to get breastmilk into him at least as far as his initial vaccinations.) Luckily, it seemed to do the trick; he's been incredibly healthy.

Because it worked out so well, and trying with MF was such a total disaster, I'll probably do the same thing with the next one.

Jenifer G. said...

I am so enjoying your blog, popped over via Alpha Dogma.

A little late to the comment party but, just had to comment.

This is the single-most regret I have about my kids. My first was born 4 week early and was in the Special Care Nursery. By the time I could get to her (think over 50 stitches) they had tube fed her for a night then started a bottle. They wheeled in a huge pumping machine my first morning at about 6am and attempted to "hook me up." After a few attempts I kicked everyone out of my room.

Needless to say I did not nurse her at all. I tried so hard with daughter number two. She was breech so we had to have a c-section then I suffered a spinal migraine but, still I tried.

The problem was my milk had not come in and she was losing weight and hungry. For every feeding in the hospital I had to fill a syringe attached to a tube with formula, tape the tube to my breast, and someone else had to hold the syringe in air while she nursed and sucked from the tube tucked into her mouth.

It took minimum 2 people to complete this process. We tried to do this at home and between the migraine and ordeal I just could do it. Pumping produced milk so red from my bleeding nipples it made me ill just looking at it.

Finally, my Mom stepped in and sent me to bed and gave her a bottle which she happily sucked back.

I so wish things were different and if I ever have another I vow to try again. It really is my only real regret. I am so glad it is working out for you. It gives me hope I could try again.

Lovely blog, I plan to catch up on your archives one of these days.