I think the only thing worse than being connected to a double electric breast pump for half an hour, is not producing a drop of milk after being connected to a double electric breast pump for half an hour.
Everyone knows that breast is best. Babies who are breast fed are smarter, do better socially, and grow up to be doctors and lawyers and presidents, whereas babies who are formula-fed grow up to be unintelligent drug dealers and pimps. At least, that’s what the lactation consultants will have you believe. The breast is best, and anything less than breast milk for your newborn is akin to child abuse.
You can imagine, then, the conversations with the nurses, when three weeks after she was born, Nyana was still being fed donor milk and I was still not lactating. “No pressure, but how’s your pumping coming along?” they’d ask. “How often are you pumping? Are you relaxed? Have you tried this, or that, or the other thing? Are you sure you’re pumping correctly? Maybe you should see the lactation consultant again.”
I know they’re only trying to do their job and do what’s best for Nyana, but as a mother who’s tried everything, all I hear when they ask those questions is what’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to give the best you can to your baby? Do you want your little girl to grow up to be an unintelligent drug dealer?? She’s only three weeks old and you’re already failing as a Mum!
I was pumping every two hours, three hours through the night. My doctor put me on a prescription to help my milk come in, a pill I needed to take two of, four times a day. When that didn’t work, my midwife recommended I start taking two herbal supplements, each one requiring three pills, three times a day. On top of this, I needed additional iron pills to help with my hemoglobin levels. If you’re counting along with me, that’s 27 pills and 4 hours of pumping every day, in a valiant yet futile attempt at lactating.
I can’t tell you how depressing this all was. Day in and day out, pumping until my nipples were sore, popping pill after pill, feeling embarrassed as the nurses prepared another vial of donated milk. I hated watching as all the other mums emerged from the pump room at the hospital with bottles and bottles of milk for their little ones, or even worse, sitting in the pump room with them, as they saw my bottles remain empty as I pumped. I hated their sympathetic smiles. I clung to hope that maybe enough skin-on-skin with Nyana would kickstart the hormone and one day my milk would start flowing. And I tried to pretend that none of this bothered me.
My midwife finally sent me to see a specialist at the breastfeeding clinic here in Vancouver. We had a quick conversation as I explained to her the details of my pregnancy and Nyana’s birth, and it was very quickly concluded that I am suffering from Sheehan syndrome. Giving birth to Nyana broke my pituitary gland. As it turns out, a massive hemorrhage during childbirth can cause tissue death in the pituitary, and this tissue damage hinders the gland’s ability to produce prolactin, the hormone needed to produce breast milk. No amount of pumping or pill popping is going to help me. Breastfeeding Nyana simply isn’t an option. I’m waiting for the results to come back from the bloodwork they did to learn how permanent the damage is, and whether or not I’ve done enough damage that I won’t be able to breastfeed future babies.
It was such a relief to hear the doctor tell me that it’s OK to give up now. I’m disappointed that she won’t be breastfed, but knowing that there’s a reason, knowing that I can tell the nurses to shove it, is such a relief. Nyana has slowly been switched over to Similac formula and is thriving. She’s gaining every day and is now over three pounds. My baby will be formula-fed, and I am OK with that.