The Old Grey Mare




Last night I was struggling (yet again) to get Dory to sleep. After nursing her on both sides and her continuing to head butt me for more milk, I finally got out of bed and made her a 4 oz. bottle. She sucked it down, and with each contented slurp I felt both relieved and betrayed.

Confession: I need to supplement my milk for Dory, and I feel guilty about it. This is the first time I have needed to supplement, and what an enlightening experience it has been. When I first started breast feeding I sought out support from a local La Leche League group. While they were great in helping me correct Melanie’s latch and being supportive of breastfeeding in general, they were also incredibly vocal about breast milk being the only right thing to feed a baby. According to the group I attended (hopefully this isn’t how all La Leche League groups behave) mothers who didn’t breastfeed their babies were selfish and in the long run harming their child.

I took everything they said with a grain of salt. After all, I was intending to feed Melanie formula in just a few short months. As you know, that never actually happened, so I never had to deal with the thoughts that were lurking in my subconscious.

After successfully exclusively breastfeeding 6 of my kids through their first year of life I expected to do the same with number 7. But in breastfeeding, as in most things with Dory, things didn’t turn out the way I had planned.

To start with, I couldn’t get her to latch correctly. I tried every trick in the book, and it just didn’t work. When Dory was a week old, I made a desperate run to Wal-Mart at 2 a.m. to buy a breast pump. My chest was so engorged and my nipples were just chewed to pieces by my teeny tiny. I had to find a way to get the milk out without Dory touching me. Shortly thereafter I would visit a lactation consultant and she would try, unsuccessfully, to get Dory latched on correctly.

I left the consultation with a hospital grade breast pump and the instructions to try to feed Dory on the breast, then to pump afterward. After pumping I would bottle feed her what I managed to pump. After nursing her 20 minutes on each side, then pumping 20 minutes on each side, then bottle feeding and finally washing all the pump parts, every feeding took me over an hour and a half. It was exhausting, but I shouldered on in the hopes that eventually Dory would get her latch right and we could skip the pumping madness.

About that time Dory’s liver issues came to a peak. She had blood in her stool and I was told to stop nursing her and put her on a special formula. Her GI doctor was hopeful that the change would be temporary, so I continued to pump. After a few weeks we were able to go back to breast feeding, but along with her liver issues, Dory wasn’t gaining weight as she should. She gained well while on the formula, but once back on the breast she stopped gaining as well.

When Dory’s pediatrician told me I needed to supplement with formula, I said fine, but in my head I kept thinking, “Why? So she’s in the 5th percentile for weight, so what? Every child is different. We’re not all going to be huge. As long as she is drinking from me, she’s getting what she needs.” I was also hearing in my head the voice of one of the La Leche League leaders saying that once you supplement you are on the road to weaning. Any formula you give your baby is reducing your own supply and it is nowhere near as good as what nature has given us for babies.

Even though I was mentally resistant to the idea, I still followed orders and supplemented 2 ounces of formula after every feeding. She drank every bit of it. She also wasn’t as fussy and slept better. Apparently for Dory, when she was fussy, she was really just hungry.

As we’ve continued on this journey, I still find myself battling feelings of guilt. I feel as though I have failed her by not being able to feed her from my body. And at the same time I feel ridiculous for feeling that way. I have long been baffled by women who claim to feel less-than because they had to have a C-section instead of giving birth vaginally. I couldn’t understand why they would feel that way when it was something that needed to be done or they or their baby would have died. Why harbor guilt over that?

Yet last night, as most nights in the last 7 months, I had to swallow down the feelings of failure as Dory happily swallowed down her formula. So in addition to a confession, I am also issuing and open apology to anyone I ever thought silly for “feeling betrayed” by your body. While I wish I still didn’t understand, I do. My doctor nicely tried to explain that I’m more mature now and sometimes more mature mothers have issues with their milk.

Mature? Why sugar coat things; the old gray mare ain’t what she used to be. Fortunately Dory could care less where the milk comes from, as long as she’s getting plenty of it. So this old gray mare will continue to breastfeed and formula feed, and watch her daughter thrive as a result.

daddy and dory

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