You know when your Monday starts off with you waking up to your 80 pound dog falling out of your bed that is 4 feet off the ground, with a stumbling crash, followed up by your oatmeal exploding in the microwave, that it probably is going to be an off day. You probably would be better served heading back to bed. But you have a newborn, so going back to bed and starting off on a different side, perhaps, the right side, is not an option.
Nobody told us at our breastfeeding class in the hospital, what to do if you didn’t make any milk. All they told us is “breast is best.” If you don’t breastfeed and you formula feed then your baby will have a fucked up gut and none of the good bacterias for a healthy intestine and your baby will grow up maladjusted to life and probably become an alcoholic. (They didn’t say the alcoholic part, but being that that is in her DNA, everything that could disrupt her peaceful existence, results in alcoholism in my mind).
In the hospital we had problems with latching. The sweetest lactation consultant lady called Rosemary came by and tried to help but the day Olive was born was a very busy day for babies being born in the hospital so Rosemary was being pulled this way and that and she didn’t get to spend too much time with us. When we weren’t getting the latch right, Rosemary showed us how to hand express the colostrum into a spoon. She yanked and pulled and squeezed on my boobs for about 45 minutes and that produced less than a teaspoon of colostrum which was then sucked up into the tiniest syringe you have ever seen. Sam then sterilized his hands and stuck his pinky in Olive’s mouth and every time she would suck he would squeeze out one tiny hash mark of the syringe into her mouth. This whole process took possibly hours, I don’t know, but we continued to do it at every feeding. By the time we got home from the hospital we were getting a couple teaspoons of colostrum at every feeding and a few syringes full to give to her but my milk did not come in.
Sam called Rosemary at the hospital and she said we needed to start pumping right away, even if only a drop came out, this would start generating milk. Here was her suggestion, which we followed, diligently. Feed baby on each boob until she falls asleep or stops sucking, then pump for 20 minutes, then give baby whatever you pumped, as she may not have gotten anything out of boob when feeding. I hadn’t even sterilized my pump yet or looked at the directions on how to use it. I was so emotional, reading directions seemed overwhelming. Sam facetimed Veronica and asked her how to setup and use the pump. Veronica very patiently walked us through everything, as I very frantically tried to follow her guidance. I was crying during this also, and Veronica panned the camera over to her 6 month old daughter Violet, who was sitting next to her, watching this whole ordeal unfold with amusement. Now here is a little backstory on Violet, the girl likes to eat. She has had a voracious appetite since birth. She recently started solid foods, but she still loves milk and would not scoff at any form of food. I was sitting on my bed, with my boobs out, trying to figure out the archaic looking torture chamber pump, adrenalin pumping, because obviously the quicker this happened, the quicker my baby could eat. Meanwhile Veronica tried to explain everything to Sam, tears were streaming down my defeated face that had disappointed my baby by not being able to provide for her and Veronica panned over to Violet’s face and she was looking directly at my boobs that were hanging out and drool started dribbling down her chubby little chin. Violet was dissapointed, if only she knew, “Oh Vi, they are empty, you wouldn’t enjoy them as much as you think you might, they are like cotton candy, they look really good, but just empty calories.” Sam and I and Veronica were reduced to hysterical laughter watching that drool drip down her face. I was laughing and crying and pumping. The whole process Rosemary suggested to us took anywhere between 2 and 3 hours, and because you are supposed to feed baby every 3 hours from start to start, we would finish the process and then have a 5 minute nap and have to start again.
We were home from the hospital for 24 hours with no wet diapers when we called the pediatrician’s office, quite concerned. Actually, Sam called the office while I was taking a nap. By the time I had woken up from my nap, Sam had spoken to them, they had said he needed to start formula because she wasn’t getting enough fluids, and he had been to the office and back home with about 64 free samples of different formulas for her. That was around 3PM. I woke up to this news and just wept. I cried for hours. I was a failure. Our baby’s tummy would be ruined and she would have chronic stomach problems for life.I refused to give her the formula. We would wait. My milk was coming. I told Sam we needed to wait a few hours, he just wanted to feed our baby. We waited, but it didn’t come. At midnight, 9 hours later, I was in hysterics and finally conceded that we must give her formula. I was told by a trusted friend that up until 10 years ago, breastfeeding was for the poor people and all the wealthy people used formula and there was nothing wrong with that (I thought of all the rich people that went through rehabs I worked at and figured it was probably because they were formula fed, of course it was, I had discovered one of the leading causes of alcoholism and a great scientific paper would be written on my discovery). She also asked me if I would rather starve my baby than give her formula, that got through my thick skull. Olive peed about 3 hours after starting the formula and I cried again, with joy.
I called a lactation specialist the next morning. The second they picked up the phone I started blubbering crying. Somehow, the angel of a lady on the other line, worked out what I was trying to say through my tears. I imagine this wasn’t the first call of this nature she had gotten. She told me they would send someone out the next day, she told me not to distress, that my “ milk fairy” would come in that night and I’d wake up the next morning looking like Pamela Anderson, these were her words, not mine. I didn’t believe her, but she had a lot of conviction in her voice, and I could tell, she believed it.
I woke up the next morning to milk soaking through my tank top and my sheets. That was the most milk I made for a while. The lactation consultant arrived, she was brilliant, and I do believe, a whole blog could be written on that experience, so I will save it, but I have to say she had many amazing phrases such as “your baby is going to eat at the Breastaurant, let’s make this an enjoyable experience for her!” And, a good way to remember how to feed her was one boob was the “appetizer” then you switched and gave the “entree and dessert” on the next boob, then the next time you pumped, start on the opposite boob. It’s all very scientific. Sam spoke to his friend and fellow dad Chris, who told Sam he doesn’t look at boobs the same way anymore, he has come to believe that boobs are very “utilitarian.”
I had trouble making enough milk and when we would run out, instead of freaking out and starving my baby, I would run for the formula and get it in her as soon as possible. I started taking Fenugreek and eating different foods to help with milk production and doing everything possible to become a milk producing factory. Apparently Guinness is good for milk production but that may be taking it a little too far I figured, since in less than a month I would have 11 years sober, although it would make for the most interesting relapse story I ever heard. So I also started Brewer’s Yeast on my oatmeal along with a few other milk making disgusting tasting cardboardy food items. Turns out our baby is colicky and one of the number one colic causing foods is Brewer’s Yeast, so that had to be taken out of the regimen. I started drinking Mother’s Milk tea with every meal and between every meal, I basically was on an IV drip of the stuff. Slowly but surely, I started making enough to feed our baby. I didn’t have extras like a lot of people I knew who were able to freeze some, but I made just enough everyday to feed her. I did do something sacrilegious the other day. We ran out of milk and I put the little extra breast milk I had in case of growth spurts, in my coffee and oatmeal. It did seem a little cannibalistic, but I just tried to look at it as me becoming very resourceful. I hope she doesn’t need that milk this week.
I took out the diaper trash can a couple days later and found my wilted and withering orchid on top of the trash bin outside. I had kept that orchid alive longer than any other plant I ever had. Sam had given it to me for Valentine’s day this year and it had survived, it was a survivor. I read up about how to keep an orchid alive and it said one ice cube a week, so I did just that, all the way up until moving to the new house. Then when we had to vacate our house for the whole summer, I left my poor orchid behind and it died without it’s weekly ice cube feedings. When your house floods with shit, I imagine it’s similar to any other natural disaster, you get the bare necessities, the photo albums, the favorite clothes that you can’t live without, the important documents from the file cabinet...you don’t think to bring the orchid. I immediately grabbed my poor forlorn orchid out of the trash heap and brought it inside the house, determined to resurrect it back to life. I must feed my orchid!!
I have four plants now that I tend to. I have a mini rose that my mom brought me when I was on bed rest in the apartment, he is really struggling. I have a bonsai Olive tree that one of Sam’s mom, Jane, art curator type friends/clients gave Olive as a welcome home present. I have a baby Olive tree that Jane gave us. The Bonsai Olive and the Olive seem to be thriving. And I have an orchid, and I really hope I can save her. All of a sudden all lives matter. Plant lives matter. I want to feed everyone in the world and start with everyone in this house. I find myself watering the babies and speaking to them, in the strange manner that I used to watch Sam’s grandma Ann speak to all her plants. I never understood why she did that, but Ann wasn’t a woman that you questioned. Now I get it, she was encouraging them to grow. I ask them what they need and speak to them and tell them good morning, because nobody wants to be ignored, that would be very lonely. My poor orchid almost perished this summer because she was all alone.
My boobs were killing me the past few days and I was pretty sure if it wasn’t mastitis then it was definitely engorgement and I read online that you could solve this problem with wet or dry heat prior to pumping or feeding. So after the 4am feeding I saw an opportunity in Stewie. He was laying on Sam’s side of the bed, keeping it warm while Sam was trying to put Olive to sleep, (which involves clocking miles walking back and forth through our house while bouncing and shsssing the baby until she drifts off). Sam finally came back in the room and I asked him if he’d mind pushing Stewie around to face the other way so I could spoon him. Spooning would kill two birds with one stone, I could give Stewie a cuddle, which were few and far between and not nearly as often as they used to be (it would alleviate some of my guilt), and I could take advantage of his dry heat to keep my boobs warm, sort of a symbiotic relationship. A couple hours later, I woke up to my poor dog crashing to the floor, I didn’t even know what was happening until I heard the crash. Sam had just left for work and Stewie was jumping out of bed to run and look out the front window and watch him drive away, which is his way of saying goodbye to daddy until he comes home later. He had been right on the edge of the bed because I was so selfish, and was using him to ease my conscience and my boobs and he misjudged where he was and fell out of the fucking bed. I ran after Stewie to see if he was okay, he looked okay, no limping, no yelping. I decided I should get started on the day as the crashing commotion had the baby stirring already. I put my oatmeal (a great milk producer according to all the important sources), in the glass dish that it always explodes over in, and I always forget that it does that. I made my coffee. I opened the microwave to doctor my oatmeal with flaxseed and coconut oil (also milk producers) sans Brewer’s Yeast, and found it exploded everywhere. This is when I realized if I didn’t have a baby I would probably go back to bed and start my day over in an hour. Instead, I sat down at the table with my sticky bowl of oatmeal and began to do my morning pump. I got 7 ounces. If you don’t know anything about breastfeeding, trust that that is a good harvest! It must have been Stewie’s dry heat. La Leche League should add that tip to their website, “If you have a dog, spoon him before a feeding, just please make sure he is not on the edge of the bed.”