Nursing Nightmare and My Bovine Period

Before I made the transition to becoming a Panda Mom, I had to go through a brief period where I morphed into a cow. Yes, kind of like Bessie. I call it the Bovine Period of my life.

Shortly after giving birth, my body began the amazing process of making milk. Although my mother raised me on bottles — not judging here; it was the trend back in the day — I was going to do this The Natural and God-Ordained Way. I was going to nurse my babies to perfect health and high intelligence, because every literature I read while pregnant (oh boy, did I read a lot of books on what to expect!) indicated that nursing was far superior to bottle feeding. I was going to do this right because, well, I was going to be an all-around superior mom. A Tiger Mom.

Within 24 hours after delivery, I began to lactate. I was happy to be able to make milk, because some mothers have difficulties making enough of it. There was no mistaking that I was making plenty of milk. I was ready. I sat down at the comfy sofa, I opened my book to the chapter about nursing and, following the pictures and directions on the page, I shoved my baby’s face right onto my mammary glands. Latching, I believe they called it.

A major problem immediately cropped up. This baby was no good at latching at all! He had no idea what to do with this thing on his face. He immediately began to cry. “Come on, sweetie, you just have to latch on and suck on Mommy,” I begged. He looked at me through his tears as if to say, “What are you doing to me?” and continued wailing. I sensed a slight bit of resentment well up within me towards the rogue nurses at the hospital who slipped a few sips from a bottle to my newborn while I tried to get some sleep. They ruined my baby’s sucking mechanism, I suspected.

I went down the check list in the chapter addressing common problems with nursing a newborn, but to no avail. In all the pictures and descriptions in my many sources, the babies looked content and the mothers smiling. None showed a wailing newborn and a disheveled mother looking desperate, which was exactly how we looked and felt. No matter what I tried, He just couldn’t latch on very well, and he certainly was not very good at sucking. He really tried to get some nourishment but could only manage a few drops. After several tries, he was getting hungry and frustrated and so was I. Ironically, in spite of the fact that the baby was not getting out much milk from me, my body didn’t get the memo and steadily continued to manufacture milk at about a gallon per hour. I felt ready to explode.

We had only been home from the hospital for a short while when it became apparent that we needed some help immediately. My doctor husband looked at our baby’s skin and declared that our son is looking jaundiced. “But he’s an Asian baby, honey,” I tried to reason through my own tears. “He’s not eating and his bilirubin count must be getting too high,” my husband said. Who is Billy Ruben? And what does this have to do with my baby not eating enough?

“We have to get him to the lactation consultant at the hospital!” With that, he whisked me and our newborn back to the hospital to get some help. I had heard of lactation nurses and consultants before, but I couldn’t believe I was going to be needing their help. This should all come very natural to us moms, right?

A fifty-something woman with a German accent and a reassuring smile came in to the exam room. “Let’s see what’s going on here.” She took one look at my baby and exclaimed, “Oh, he is so jaundiced!” Billy Ruben was letting me down again, and I felt like a major failure as a mother. I could hardly think, as my brain was quickly filling up with milk. I think even my tears had a hint of that creamy white substance.

“I see he’s having trouble getting out your milk. Tell me sweetheart, do you have a reason why you might have trouble nursing?” Uh-oh, I’m getting interrogated.

“Have you had breast cancer?” Thankfully, no breast cancer. And no family history, either.

Any injuries to your breasts?” No, not that I can remember.

“Breast augmentation?”

Under normal circumstances, one look at my flat chest would immediately render that question moot, but at that moment I had two water balloon-like knockers on my front, ready to pop. Before I could think this through, however, I uttered the only answer which came to my completely altered, milk-soaked mind:

No, but my sister has.”

Family history. That must be it! That’s the reason why I’m having trouble nursing my baby! I had to blame this nursing nightmare on something…anything.

The lactation consultant only gave me a faint smile but didn’t flinch. In her many years in the biz, she probably had heard just about everything. She gently guided me and the baby to become a better nursing pair, and she also reassured me that it’s okay to use the bottle on occasion. In fact, it was imperative in this situation to bottle feed for a while until he worked through his problem with jaundice.

What? Bottles are okay? I’m not a failure as a mom if I use it?

Another opportunity to lower my standards, even just a little. Another life lesson in letting go of my expectations, well-intentioned though they might be.

Thus began what eventually turned out to be a successful and long season of nursing my baby. After some coaxing, he did eventually figure out how to latch on, although he continued to be a very inefficient sucker. More on that later. Half the problem might have been my own, because when I allowed the bottle into my “All Nursing, All the Time” mindset, I actually began to relax a little, just enough for the baby to also relax…and latch on.

Little did I know that this was only one in a long series of lessons in letting go of my expectations for my kids. This is why I now look back fondly on my Bovine Period as a very important transition time on my eventual journey towards becoming a full-fledged Panda Mom.

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