I was like, that’s not the problem.
Shh, Don’t Tell! stories are meant to be heard – in the person’s own voice – as well as for the original music. Please click above and listen, if you can! The transcript is also below.
Cyreena: Whoever said don’t cry over spilled milk, it definitely was not breast milk.
Narrator: Definitely not! You spill that stuff, you want to cry!
Cyreena: I got an ounce to come out once and the phone rang and I went to reach for the phone and knocked it out of my hand, out of the pump.
Narrator: In this Shh, Don’t Tell! story – breastfeeding can be really difficult. But worse for Cyreena was people telling her: just try harder.
Cyreena: I was noticing when I was nursing with her her, because I was committed to exclusively breastfeeding, and had done all this breastfeeding research, attended all these classes and whatever – it was really painful.
And breastfeeding hurts. It sucks at first. But to me, it was like, not right. I would notice when she would finish nursing she would have like a really red rim around her top lip. And I thought, my baby is tongue tied.
Basically under your tongue you have that little string, or some people don’t or some people do – that’s called the frenulum. And if it’s very taut, it means that you’re tongue tied. In the most extreme cases you can’t even stick out your tongue. But for our daughter she could. But what she wasn’t able to do was because it was restricted she couldn’t cup my nipple. So she was biting and doing all these other things and then her upper lip was a little taut too.
I kept going to lactation support at the hospital, and they’d be like oh no, you know, just hold her like this or do this and just go home and pump pump pump nurse nurse nurse and give it the good old college try! Eat a meal! Drink a bunch of water! And all this. And I was like – that’s not the problem.
I ended up going to a lactation consultant because I decided I would never go back to the hospital staff again, and I found out that she was tongue tied.
By then I was almost six weeks in to breastfeeding and my milk supply was massacred. We were just having a hard time. I’d already had to put her on formula to help with everything. She was two weeks early so she was already very tiny and I was just feeling absolutely overwhelmed. She was so tiny that I would look at her and be like, I’m going to kill this baby if I handle her wrong, and then I became very dependent on the formula because I was worried about her just, you know, diminishing. We got it corrected by an ENT and immediately it was fine. But I could just not go back to breastfeeding. I mean psychologically, I was just devastated. I was upset it didn’t work out. I couldn’t get in enough rhythm physically with healing from the Cesearian and taking care of her to do what it took to get my milk supply back up. And I just realized, I wasn’t going to be able to breastfeed her. And I gave her what I got, but I mean…It was in that moment where I became so depressed and so upset. I completely felt like a failure. I felt like, did I not do all the things I needed to do to take care of myself when I was pregnant? Did I not get enough sleep right away, should I have slept more when she was sleeping, quote unquote? Is that why my milk won’t come in? Or, you know, I felt like, oh, was I so stressed out during my pregnancy from work and life that she came two weeks early, and in those two weeks would her frenulum have developed more? You know, I just was like feeling very guilty and self-critical and then – I was embarrassed. I really was embarrassed.
I feel like breastfeeding has such a class connotation now. Like I feel like it’s for women who are smart and women who are well researched who should know better. You should know that breast is best. And I felt like, you know, as quote unquote one of those women who knows things, you know, I felt embarrassed that I was putting my baby on formula.
I was also worried. Because I tend to think, you know, I think it’s really true for African Americans, that we’ve been shamed out of breastfeeding, and our children are formula fed babies, and I think a lot of our health disparities at times can be linked to the diets that we start our babies off on. And I don’t really expect that to be the case for Ava, but I was worried. Like oh my gosh. What if she has other health complications perhaps as a woman or perhaps as an African American or what have you because she started off initially mostly with, you know, formula. And it was just like a – I think every hour was something different.
One day I was looking at her and she was just in a good mood, this was before she was really smiling. I gave her a bottle and she was just chugging that sucker! And I thought, this is not about her. This is about me. I don’t like formula. I’m a snob when it comes to exclusively breastfeeding and my opinions of what’s wrong with formula and all of these things. But guess what? I’m not drinking it. So clearly, if she’s fine with it and she’s thriving, that’s fine. It’s not up to me really. It’s really up to her. And you know, if the formula didn’t work, I betcha my body would have figured it out perhaps. And I would have been able to either get my milk supply up or do donor breast milk, whatever. And that was the first lesson in judgment, I think in terms for me of what I want for my child versus what my child really needs.
But then you know what else happened? I started thinking about how hard I worked to get my maternity leave. To get people that I worked for to leave me alone for three months. And I thought, I didn’t work this hard to spend three months depressed. I didn’t want to spend the rest of it sad. So I just got over it. It’s still really hard but, you know. At least I was able to move past it, I think. And I think the time I spent pumping or doing whatever, I was able to spend with her.
Special thanks to Baby Blues Connection for help with Shh, Don’t Tell! Stories, to Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists fame for our awesome theme and other music and to cellist Collin Oldham for his terrific compositions and scoring.