I met a new mother of a nine day old baby girl in the elevator at the ped's office the other day (Naomi's diagnosis: strep throat. Prescription: two daily doses of PINK MEDICINE MAKES ME SICK I DON'T WANT IT NONONONONO!!!). I made some polite conversation, she asked about my sling (I was wearing this one in navy blue, tummy to tummy position), we yada yada'd down to the lobby.
I thought of my co-LLL leader, who makes a point to ask every new mother she meets, "so, how's breastfeeding going?" I understand why she does this, even though it seem unneccesarily nosy to me. She wants breastfeeding to be seen as the norm, something everyone does, the expected run of the mill thing, and this is her way of promoting her view. She can always back up the question with good help, but it seems to me to be a dangerous way to open a conversation with a postpartum woman.
I thought of asking this new mom that question, and I scanned her belongings for signs of bottles. Not seeing anything conclusive, I decided anyway to steer clear of the feeding question. Dancing around landmines is not my style.
It's a damn good thing I didn't ask. In the way mothers have of cramming a whole lot of information in only a few minutes of conversation, she volunteered her breastfeeding story. And it was a bad one.
She'd had a breast reduction. During her pregnancy she "really wanted to breastfeed" but was concerned about whether or not she'd have enough milk. She mentioned this concern to every medical professional she worked with during her pregnancy, and they brushed off her concerns. Nobody discussed with her the type of surgery that results in the most damage, nobody asked what type of reduction surgury she had. Even the lactation consultant she saw immediately postpartum told her that she had nothing to worry about because her baby was pooping just fine. It wasn't until her baby was nearly a week old and losing too much weight that she found out that 1. she would most likely have serious breastfeeding problems and 2. She'd need a pump immediately.
Nobody told her where she might find more information. (I told her to get a copy of Defining Your Own Success as soon as she could. She never know such a book existed). Maybe they thought she wasn't really serious, who would seriously entertain the idea of breastfeeding after a reduction?
She got tearful about how her baby lost so much weight, how she lost those first few days which can make or break your breastfeeding chances to try and make it work. She knew her chances of breastfeeding were small and it was breaking her heart. Her voice cracked when she told me about what an awful failure she felt like, being unable to provide her baby with this basic food.
My heart broke for her, and I helped her as much as I could in the moment I had. I told her she could probably partially breastfeed, but it would be a difficult uphill battle. I told her that if she has another child she might be able to breastfeed fully because new milk-producing cells are created with every pregnancy. Most important, I said, don't go down that path of guilting yourself over what your baby happens to be eating.
The lactivist in me was in a rage. I lost count of how many people failed this woman with their lack of accurate information about breastfeeding. Sure, the information was out there if she were to go digging for it. But why should she have to go digging? Why didn't her OB talk to her about this? Why not the pediatricians she interviewed? They wouldn't have to be experts on BFAR, just knowlegable enough to recommend one book or one website.
She did exactly what most people do when confronted with a question about their bodies: she asked the people who are supposed to know the answers: her medical professionals. They failed her, and she's the one who pays the price with this awful postpartum experience.
I wonder how much of this professional disinterest in breastfeeding education is because people don't see it as a significant loss. There is very little respect for the women who grieves the loss of the breastfeeding relationship, because, after all, formula is just fine. Wipe your tears and enjoy your baby, direct your anger at those boob nazis who want you to believe that breastfeeding is important, that you suffered a loss when lactation failed. THEY are the problem, they want to make you feel bad, forget about the system that failed you.
Lactation failure is a loss. We are mammals, breastfeeding is a central feature of the parent child relationship. And it's a loss that occurs when we are most vulnerable. Sometimes the only way to deal with the loss is to downplay the importance of it.
The last thing she said to me was that she was going to get the book and give breastfeeding her best shot. She looked hopeful; she was happy to have finally found someone who gave her real information. If it were me? I might cut my losses and switch to bottles, and skip the Lact-Aid and pumping rigamarole. But what I would do is immaterial. She needs information, not an editorial. A book recommendation, a website with forums to ask questions, and the email of the only BFAR mom I know.
Shame on those ignorant medical professionals whose personal biases prevented them from helping a woman mother the way she wanted to. Shame on those people who took the choice out of her hands.