If at first you don’t succeed…

…try, try again. That’s what they say, right? But what about when it doesn’t work?

“If at first you don’t succeed, and then you try and it still doesn’t work, it may be time to give up,” doesn’t really have the same ring – and doesn’t sit well in the culture of the American dream – where you can achieve nearly anything through determination and perseverance.

But sometimes? You need to know when to say when… That might be the easy part – saying when and accepting that decision and giving up in your heart are not necessarily the same thing.

There are some things that are impossible. There is no amount of trying on Henry’s part that would turn him into a duck, if, for example, that was his dream. I, similarly, am never going to spontaneously grow an extra arm – even with all of the effort and research and planning in the world.

Breastfeeding was not in the cards for Mommy and me.

Mommy wanted to breastfeed me so badly – she read the books and articles, took the class at the hospital, and did *everything* to make it happen. All of the literature says that it can be difficult, but with perseverance it’s possible and the most beneficial. We did not expect it to be easy, but NOTHING prepared us for it to be impossible. Even once we started having difficulty, we looked for resources for “low supply” and found 2 types of responses: “People *think* that they have low supply, but they don’t really and your body adjusts to what your baby needs.” or answers aimed at women with “low supply” who were getting 6 times what she was getting for an entire day in one session. Both types of responses ended with some sort of variation on “Don’t give up! It’s extremely rare for a woman to not be able feed her child.” The implication there being “if she tries hard enough.” Not true. These responses are 1 part placating and 2 parts patronizing – “you might think there’s a problem, but you’re probably wrong.” Increasingly, as we tried for THREE months, these responses – and the lack of support when there really does seem to be an issue – became infuriating.

For almost THREE months, our routine became:

  • Attempt breastfeeding, with formula supplement supplied through dripping tubes taped to Mommy’s boobs and and attached to a leaky necklace. (30 minutes)
  • Further supplement with formula using a “special needs feeder.” (30 minutes)
  • Mommy would pump after every feeding hoping to further stimulate supply. (30 minutes)
  • And then? Time to start over. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Mommy and I tried and tried. and TRIED.

Since Mommy was (and is) staying at home with me, she had not purchased a high-powered pump in advance. She bought a small, manual one for occasional use – but once it was clear I wasn’t getting enough nourishment, she sent Daddy out to exchange it for a “real” one. (That? Was not Daddy’s favorite shopping trip. He had no idea, really, what he was looking for and knew Mommy was an emotional mess at home. No pressure, though, right?)

We had lactation consultants and pediatrician check-ups and early intervention evaluations. Mommy took prescription medications, and herbal tinctures, and even made special “lactation cookies.” She pumped until she was blue in the… face. Through all of it, she kept looking for information and help – and was informed by *every* resource – “Don’t give up!”

She was pumping 6 times a day, sometimes for an hour or more in ten minute bursts (“power-pumping”) and getting a 1/2 ounce total. From both breasts. Did I say total? That’s HALF an ounce all together – not one to two ounces, and certainly not the 20-something I was consuming over the course of a day.

Not only was this not working for Mommy (she was *exhausted,* guys – she NEVER got to sleep – either trying to feed me or pumping – and she was beginning to hallucinate from fatigue), but it wasn’t working for ME! Breast is best? Not so much in our case. I had feeding issues myself – I couldn’t suck or swallow properly and was positioning my tongue incorrectly. I had colic and acid reflux and was hungry All. The. Time. I was cranky and fussy and all-in-all NOT a happy camper. I spent most of the first 3 months of my life screaming until I was purple in the face.

Apparently, Mommy has hypoplasia – she does not have the necessary tissue to produce milk. All the pumping in the world isn’t going to get milk that isn’t there.

So we gave up – and I began eating (formula) correctly and gaining weight. My colic and acid reflux resolved themselves, and now? A happier baby you couldn’t find.

Here is where we’re supposed to express relief at making the decision to switch to formula feeding and say how we don’t regret it at all because that was the right choice for us.

But the thing is? It’s not true. First of all, Mommy doesn’t feel like she had a *choice.* She wasn’t, after all, going to stand by and let me starve.

Mommy has never failed at anything that she really and truly put her mind to. She’s fairly intelligent, and lucky I suppose, but if she TRIES her best and works her hardest and wants something then, generally, she succeeds eventually. That’s not to say that everything has been easy, but she always really *believed* “If at first you don’t succeed…”

The fact that we really did try so hard and still failed STILL (4 months later) devastates her… She feels gypped, and inadequate, and guilty, and BITTER – she is angry every single time she spends money on formula and feels a twinge setting up every single bottle. First really major Mommy FAIL. And everything that’s written touting the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby just makes her feel terrible – she wants to be able to offer the best for me and can’t.

Mommy here. This post was written months ago (just edited it today) in an attempt to process – and maybe to convince myself that we made the right decision – and sat as a “draft” on the post list ever since. There has been a lot of debate recently about the pros and cons of breastfeeding on Twitter and throughout the Mommy-blogosphere and we thought we’d add our experience. Especially hurtful was one Twitter-er’s implication that formula was “poison” because it contains high fructose corn syrup. What are the other other options? Coffee? Mountain Dew? I also want to clarify that this is NOT at all intended to be judgemental of other mothers’ choices – feeding related or otherwise. There are obviously enough judgemental people out there as it is, and we are all just doing the best we can.
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  1. I just wanted to say I'm sorry you had such a struggle and I'm sorry a medical condition robbed you of an experience you truly wanted.
    Please don't let breastfeeding research or activists make you feel worse. Cole is lucky to have a mommy who wants what is best for him and that is CLEARLY what you are doing.

    P.S. My grandmother was told she “couldn't” breastfeed her children in the days before formula so her sons got various combinations of corn syrup, honey, whole milk and goats milk. Be thankful someone came up with a better option!

  2. Wonderful post. Cole, you have a lot in common with my son – and your mommy and his mommy would probably have a lot to talk about over a beer. 😉

    Tell your mom that she has NOT failed, and that while yes, breast can be best when everything works as it should, formula is best when everything DOESN'T. She should come by my blog sometime if she wants to chat about her feelings. She's a great mom, as I'm sure you know, for listening to what YOU needed rather than fighting a losing battle just to “prove” something.

  3. Cole, I know you already know how lucky you are to have a Mommy who wants so badly for everything to be perfect for you. When you get older you will be able to tell her she IS the perfect Mommy and that you know she never ahd and never will “fail” you in any way. ( You are already letting her know by the way your entire face lights up whenever you see her.) There is always more than one solution to every challenge and for you and Mommy, the bottle was clearly the right choice and the BEST choice. Love, Grammy.

  4. any Mommy who tries that hard is NOT, repeat NOT a failure. In a better world, a Mommy who really can't breastfeed would be provided with free donor breastmilk. Every Mom I know who breastfeeds would gladly donate milk to such a Mommy. We would also let such a mom know that she is a HERO for trying so hard, NOT a failure.
    one of the REAL lactivists

  5. You know what Mummy you are good enough.

    Baby is thriving, in 20 years time he is not going to throw back in your face, “You did not breastfeed me!”

    I should know I am the mother of a 20, 19 and 16 year old with very varied breastfeeding stories. What they talk about is the consistency in their upbringing of the love shown around them.

    Give yourself a break, let the guilt go.

    Have a beautiful day.
    Come and visit, I like it…

  6. Your Mommy is already a great mommy. Breastfeeding is hard I only got to breastfed my son for 8 months and the first 3 was really painful for me and frustrated him a lot. We had to supplement with formula too because he was a preemie.

    Sending hugs from SITS.

  7. Ooooh, greetings from someone else with hypoplastic breasts. WooHOO! So frustrating! I have done the drippy tube thing and the rotation of nursing, bottle feeding, pumping thing, too. Ugh, and poor baby, with feeding problems of his own. So sorry you guys had such a complicated, frustrating and exhausting experience.

    Some times I think it takes one to know one, and those women who don't have supply problems really don't/can't understand those who do. There should be a support group……

    If you have another, you might have some better luck…I had more milk with my second than with my first. Also, with my second, I made his formula. I felt better since I could pronounce all the ingredients!

  8. Hey, I love this post! thanks for linking it on my blog! I truly enjoyed the read!

  9. You know how I feel about this subject, it still makes me emotional even after all this time. It frustrates me that our society places SO much pressure on a flawed, HUMAN function. There are those that it works effortlessly for, and I am thrilled for them.

    But for the rest of us, it kills me that we feel so much social pressure and judgement.

    • We had not much better luck with my second child (I rented a hospital grade pump & was able to get 2 ounces a day as opposed to 1/2 an ounce with Cole – it was clearly still not enough.) Lulu just turned a year old and, while I’m super sad to leave her baby days behind, I am THRILLED not to be buying formula anymore.

  10. Pingback: World Breastfeeding Week » Love the Ludwigs

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