Avery will be two in a couple of weeks. She hasn’t breast fed since she was four months old, although I continued pumping five times a day until she was 10 months old. It’s complicated. Well, it was. I suppose it isn’t now.
Where to begin? I breast fed my son for only about six weeks. From the beginning, I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what. He knew what to do, and would nurse for 45 minutes per breast. The trouble was, he’d finish and would still be hungry. I gave it a chance. I encouraged him. Tried and tried again. But I knew in my heart that something just wasn’t right. Made an appointment with a lactation specialist, who looked at my breasts, felt me up (technically speaking), watched me nurse and then attached a pump to me. Modesty? Ha! In the end she said based on the shape of my breasts and what she had observed, she believed that I was struggling because I had Insufficient Glandular Tissue, or IGT. No, it didn’t mean I had small breasts… the trouble was on the inside. I was lacking the glandular tissue that produces milk. I had some, but not enough to produce a full milk supply. I could try pumping to increase what I had, but I was gently told it would likely never be enough. Braeden was two weeks old. I was initially relieved to learn that I wasn’t crazy and that this wasn’t “just one of those things” all new moms go through. I now knew it wasn’t just something to “figure out.” There was a reason both Braeden and I had been so miserable. After the relief subsided, though, the emotion hit, and hit hard. I couldn’t feed my own child. I felt broken, and like I wasn’t feminine enough (a strange feeling to encounter so soon after giving birth, but there it is). Everywhere I went there seemed to be moms nursing, or talking about nursing. They were talking about their breasts being overfull, so not a problem I’d experienced. I felt like I was eavesdropping in a club I wasn’t a member of. Braeden gave up nursing a month later. I pumped for about a month, but with little quantitative success. It was a lot of work and numbingly little reward. I gave up, and tried to forget.
Eight years later, I had Avery. In the intervening years, I’d heard about different supplements I could try. Shortly after having Avery, I met with another lactation consultant. After discussing my situation with her (and another exam, viewed nursing session and pumping), she concurred with the original diagnosis. I went on supplements, pumped five times a day for 30 minutes at a time, continued to nurse when Avery was willing, and bottle fed when she wasn’t. She was four months old when she realized the boob was never going to fill her the way the bottle did. She quit; I didn’t. I pumped, sometimes as much as 45 minutes a session, trying to stimulate a second let down. With all of this effort I was able to provide about 20% of what she drank in a day. It was hard. It was lonely. Discussions about nursing left me feeling left out and “broken.” I would have helpful thoughts like, “If this was back in the caveman period, Avery wouldn’t have survived because I am not normal.” I was so determined that I could provide her with milk, my milk, any milk, that I kept trying in spite of the obstacles. The supplements helped marginally but made me smell like maple syrup and made my heart race. Finally, when she was 10 months old, I stopped. It should have been an easy decision, but it wasn’t. I still felt like a quitter.
So now here it is, nearly 14 months later. Why, you might ask, am I thinking about this now? A few reasons. One is that I think about it occasionally just because. More recently, I was at someone’s house, opened the freezer and saw bag after bag after bag of breast milk. It hit me yet again how little I had ultimately produced, in spite of my dedicated efforts. I couldn’t have produced that much milk had I saved it all for months; I never even produced enough to freeze any of it. Also, I regularly see pro-breastfeeding posts on my Facebook feed. They always get to me a bit, even now. When I was going through all of this for the second time, I did a fair amount of internet research. One study labeled my breast type as “abnormal,” which I thought was awful enough until I read that in the U.K. it’s actually considered a deformity – the shape associated with IGT (more “tubular” than round – although personally I consider myself more conical, thanks – and with a significant space between the breasts), not the lack of milk production. If I lived there I could possibly score free implants based on my so-called deformity. Lovely. And not at all a mind fuck, oh no, not at all. Ask me again why I still think about this?
I am obviously pro-breastfeeding, in spite of my own struggles. I did run into a fair amount of insensitivity from the pro-breastfeeding contingent, unfortunately. It was repeatedly suggested that I just hadn’t tried the “right” thing to make it work, whatever that meant. Right supplement? I tried them all, save for the illegal ones. Right lactation consultant? I tried two, both highly respected in their fields. I pumped so much I felt like a cow on display at the farm section of a zoo, but still my milk production maxed out at a fairly small number of ounces. I tried it all, researched it all. It killed me every time some woman would suggest I could have made it work if only…. I found it ironic that some of the same people who complained at the top of their lungs about other people’s intolerance toward breastfeeding refused to recognize their own.
So here I am. Even if breastfeeding had gone perfectly, I’d have been done by now. I don’t make judgments about how long anyone else should nurse; it’s clearly a personal decision. For me, though, it would have ended around the time speech set in. I once heard a hilarious story about a toddler chasing his mother across the room yelling, “My boob! MY BOOB!” at the top of his lungs. Funny, yes, but not for me. If a request for “boob” can be verbalized the kid can handle a cup, as far as I am concerned. Again, no judgment. Your boob, your decision. It’s all good.
I’m sure someday I will stop feeling that twinge every time the subject comes up, or I’m around a nursing mother, or I read yet another Facebook post. That day hasn’t come, but I have faith that it will.