Wisconsin Milk Runs

I really cannot believe that my little Turkey Girl is six months old today. How has it been a half a year since I gave birth to her on my bedroom floor? I swear my two year old’s first year went much, much slower. We’ll be celebrating Adelynn’s first birthday in a blink. Sigh. It really does all go so fast.

You can read all about the start of Adelynn and my breastfeeding relationship at One Yawn It was rocky. I was depressed and stressed. Shane was in Alaska until she was nearly 11 weeks old and Flynn was having a very hard time with him being gone and all the attention I needed to give to his new little sister. I wish I wouldn’t have starved my daughter, but I suppose it was very difficult for me to even realize what was happening. Time was excruciatingly slow when it came to counting down the weeks until Shane returned, but when it came to Adelynn and her weight gain, time was slipping by barely noticed. I can’t even look at pictures of her from a chunk of time in her first and second month without feeling a huge pang of regret and guilt. I just didn’t see it happening in front of me.

I have so many things to be thankful for; a super supportive, understanding, breastfeeding and milksharing friendly family doctor who helped me get back on track (and did her best to allay my guilt), an IBCLC with experience working with PCOS moms (although her knowledge of IGT is limited) and, most of all, 21 milk donors.

The first bits came from a few friends who had some extra bags stashed away in the freezer. Then we started tracking down milk through friends of friends and Facebook pages like Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets. We have driven over 1100 miles on milk runs that have taken us clear across Wisconsin. I have made friends all over the state who are now bonded to my daughter in a way that most can’t claim. All of our milk donors mean something to me, simply for stepping up to the plate and doing something I just couldn’t do for my daughter.

I failed my daughter. I may not have had any control over it, but I still failed her by being so biologically incapable of providing for the life I created. You cannot imagine the heavy guilt that comes with this knowledge.

When I had troubles with my son, I blamed the hospital. I was sure they messed something up in the beginning (he was taken to the NICU after a traumatic birth, I was not brought a pump for 36 hours or offered any real support until discharge three days later). I tried so hard to bring my supply up for him, but I just couldn’t. I hadn’t heard of IGT, though I knew PCOS could negatively impact my supply. I was maybe producing 4-5 ounces a day for him.

I was sure I would do better with my daughter. At this point, I had heard of IGT but was having a hard time finding any information about it or even finding help getting a diagnosis. I followed all the traditional breastfeeding advice after she was born. I was still failing her. And I didn’t even notice her wasting away in front of me. I could blame hardheadedness, but more likely, it was hope with a heavy dose of postpartum depression that got in the way. To be fair, Adelynn spit up, sometimes after just nursing from me, but especially as I added supplementation through an SNS. She would taken only about 3-4 ounces a day through the SNS and usually spit up after her feedings. I assumed she was getting enough.

She had a terrible latch, to boot. Thanks, in part, to a severe upper lip tie, her latch was shallow and ineffective. Craniosacral therapy helped immensely, but I saw a real improvement after finally having it clipped at about six weeks. I fear it was far too late at that point.

I pumped. I took various supplements. I ate lactogenic foods. I spent countless hours (days, really) skin to skin with Adelynn. I massaged my breasts and visualized milk flowing from them. Adelynn never recovered her birth weight. When the supervising doctor at the IBCLC’s office lectured me on the state of my baby’s weight, I bawled uncontrollably. Thankfully, my family doctor had a better bedside manner.

I nearly threw in the towel. My GP wanted me to force feed her. I was to follow up nursing sessions with a bottle and continue to offer until she would positively take no more. Her spitting up (due to reflux, according to the doctor) worsened. I hated to waste the breast milk, especially when I knew some of it was mine. I tracked her ins and outs on a chart and watched as her supplementation went up from 1.5-2 ounces to 3-3.5 ounces. She began gaining immediately. She was thriving and pinking up. I should have been delighted when she recovered her birth weight, but I was only thrown deeper into depression.

This was something I just could not do for my daughter.

I nearly gave up nursing all together, but Adelynn still liked to do it. She would bounce her face off my chest (I would sometimes wake up to it), and nursed happily, though I doubted much was coming through for her. I realized that nursing was more than food. I knew that, I really did, but I needed to really realize it with her. She would pop off the breast and smile at me and my heart would melt. This is what nursing is all about. It’s not just nourishment for the body, it’s so much more than that.

We went to using an SNS or Lact-Aid system for almost all feedings around 14 weeks. I wanted to preserve our breastfeeding relationship for as long as possible, even if it was mostly ‘artificial’. I got brave about nursing in public with the Lact-Aid bag nestled between my breasts under a shirt. I’ve never felt odd about nursing in public, but it was a learning process to use a supplemental system at the same time.

We’ve received so much support through milksharing that at six months old, Adelynn has never had a drop of anything but human milk. She has many milk siblings, some of her milk even came from donors who also donated to Flynn. She has even gotten milk from my niece. I’ve had so many people tell me, “It’s not much, I’m sorry” and hand me a grocery bag full or half full of milk. But if all those people hadn’t given me their ‘not much’, Adelynn would not have been so well supplied with human milk. Every drop is like gold to us.

More than milk though, we have had such an outpouring of support from friends, both ‘in real life’ and through Facebook. Followers on my blog’s fan page (The Crunchy Convert) send me messages with links to posts on Craigslist for milk up for grabs and post offers for milk (we once had milk shipped in from Wyoming from a TCC fan).

I truly wish I could just have normal breasts and a normal breastfeeding relationship with my babies. I long to nurse a baby full term because I know that is what is right. I wish I never had to consider formula because I know just how awful it is. I wish I could complain about endless night nursing sessions instead of getting up to prepare a bottle in the middle of the night. I wish I didn’t have to estimate how much milk to bring with us on an outing.

But I have been dealt a different hand. I don’t want to be a martyr for anything, but, at the same time, I feel that I have been given this humbling experience so that I can share what I’ve learned with others and so I can do my part to not only normalize breastfeeding, but also to raise awareness about things like milksharing and biological causes for low supply.

The up side of all of this is that many women with IGT are able to EBF their third baby. I’m hopeful that with the knowledge I’ve gained with the first two babies and all the resources I’ve gathered, I’ll have a better chance of fully breastfeeding this third baby. But only time will tell and I’m not currently holding my hopes too high, just in case, because I really cannot handle another round of guilt and disappointment like I’ve known over the last several months.

Story By Chelsie T, The Crunchy Convert

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