This week we're celebrating 6 months of life with our special blessing, Lisette. All at once, it seems like it's been a long road and gone quickly at the same time. She's helped us all be a bit better, and brought so much joy into our family.
Though she is the highlight of this post, I'd like to talk a bit about something that is near and dear to us. And, as of late, it seems that this subject is lighting up the web with quite a bit of controversy. Breastfeeding. I'm not going to talk about it in the way you think, though. I want to talk about the struggles of breastfeeding a Special Needs baby.
Lisette and I struggled with breastfeeding right away. My baby wouldn't latch on. I sat propped up in the hospital bed desperately trying everything I knew to get her to latch on and she just wouldn't. More than anything, this scared me the most. What if I couldn't feed my baby? This was new to me! I'd successfully breastfed three other babies. The experience I had with each of my three other children might be classified as "perfect". I had a great milk supply. An abundance really. The kids each had a great latch right from the beginning, minutes from being born. The only thing we ever struggled through was thrush, and that came and went fairly quickly. I humbly admit I was one of those women who was completely confused by the idea of someone not being able to breastfeed. I admit it's because I was ignorant and had never experienced difficulty myself. Until now.
We spent many days in the Special Care Nursery with wonderful nurses and a lactation consultant trying to help me to get her to latch, and more time in the NICU. I pumped every 2-3 hours and brought my liquid gold back to be given to Lisette through her feeding tube. I was determined not to give her formula. I knew I had enough milk. When it came in, it came with a vengeance. When she would latch on, I would silently cry for joy in my head. Even if it was just for two minutes. It was better than nothing. But sometimes, at 3 in the morning when she wouldn't latch on at all...I just wanted to cry my heart out. Why? What was I doing wrong? I have lots of milk, baby, just drink! It just didn't happen, though.
I pumped everyday, up to 12 times some days. It was, by far, one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. It took just over a month for her to nurse a whole feeding. Sometimes she'd nurse, sometimes she wouldn't. I just kept trying. By three months, we were exclusively breastfeeding. But that doesn't mean to say it was or has been smooth sailing. One part of this whole process that I've had to come to terms with is a different version of "perfect breastfeeding". Even now at 6 months she still struggles with latching on correctly, and some days even latching on. She has good days, and days where she struggles more. We've had to learn how she must lay to nurse, and what the best position is for me to hold her in. I need to support her body, her head in the right position, chin/jaw support, and hold the breast to her mouth. It's complicated. And it's always messy. We deal with a lot of leakage. After most feeds her shirt will be soaked. It's just the way it is.
Some days we're both tired and just want it to go smoothly. I've lost my patience once or twice. I'm not perfect. Her version of smooth and perfect breastfeeding is different than what I have known with my other kids. It's not worse. It's different. Looking at it this way helps me to be patient and more understanding of her needs. What has helped immensely with persevering has been for me to accept that this way of feeding, her way though perhaps less ideal, is good enough. She is getting what she needs! She's doing beautifully.
For mama's out there that might be struggling with nursing, or with nursing a special needs baby, I just want to say to you--->Please don't give up! Do what you can! Ask for help. As for advice. Ask a mama who may have been where you are, or who might be able to send you in the direction of help and guidance. Please don't feel like you aren't good enough-- just wanting to make an effort is amazing and brave. It may be hard work, but all things that are worth being proud of are worth working hard for. Listen to your heart!
I wouldn't change how things have gone thus far. I've grown and changed along this path for the better, and learned so much from this wonderful little girl.