When Nurse J arrived, she had a friendly and serene demeanor. She asked how we were doing, and I explained that, after talking to the woman who scheduled the visit, I was very worried. She helped calm me down and take one thing at a time. She wanted to weigh the baby, but first I showed her the state of baby girl’s poop when I took off her diaper. It was black but seedy, not sticky like the meconium. Nurse J didn’t seem concerned. “It happens sometimes with jaundice. That’s her way of getting it out of her system.” Baby girl had gained some weight but not as much as expected. Nurse J asked about breastfeeding, and when I explained the problems we were having, looked at my nipples. They were cracked, bleeding in the same place where the dark lines had begun to appear in the hospital. While weighing baby girl, she had noticed that she had a tongue tie and explained that this could be why I was in so much pain. She offered more suggestions, specifically stressing the importance of the lip flange. She watched baby girl latch on and seemed to approve.
I felt much better by the time Nurse J left and even more determined to make breastfeeding work. She would come back on Wednesday to see how we were progressing.
By Tuesday, all the hope and enthusiasm of the day before had vanished, along with some of the skin on my ever-more-sensitive nipples. Despite having what appeared to be a proper latch each time, breastfeeding still hurt. Like, a lot. It got to the point where I dreaded feedings. I hoped baby girl would sleep a little longer, pushing the limits of the every-three-hours mandate to which I had been indoctrinated. And yet, when the time came, I pushed through the pain, telling myself that breastfeeding was the best thing for my baby. No matter how much it hurt me. I had become the mother-martyr. And even though I knew I was doing it, I did nothing to help myself.
Tuesday night, I lost it again. I was failing. Failing to feed my daughter. The one thing about becoming a parent I had idealized more than any other. It didn’t help that I was sleep-deprived and hormonal. I’d been told countless times, sleep when the baby sleeps. Instead, I cried when she cried.
Once again, Nurse J showed up just in time. She took one look at my nipples Wednesday afternoon and told me to stop breastfeeding immediately. She would get us an appointment at the breastfeeding clinic, where baby girl could have her tongue clipped. We were only a week in, but by this time, my nipples were rubbed raw and scabbed in places. It wasn’t pretty. Nurse J gave us a list of places where we could rent a breast pump. She weighed baby girl again, and sure enough, she hadn’t gained enough weight. Friday was a holiday, but she would make sure a nurse came out to see us again.
Hubby picked up the breast pump and all the supplies we would need. I put myself on a schedule, anxious at each pumping session that baby girl would wake up before her bottle was ready. I stayed on the three-hour schedule, and I still had to wake the baby to feed her. Hubby became worried, wanted to let her sleep so that I could sleep a little longer, especially in the middle of the night. But again, I was diligent.
Still, it didn’t seem to be enough. By Friday morning, I had decided I needed to pump every two hours instead of every three. When Nurse C came to weight the baby, she confirmed that, despite my best efforts, she wasn’t eating enough. She’d hardly gained any weight in the last two days. She recommended continuing to pump every two hours during the day and supplementing with either formula or donated breast milk. More worried than ever, I became obsessive about pumping. I was tethered to that damn machine, and I hated it. But in my mind, it was the only way to give my baby what she needed. Hubby was sent out again to buy formula, since we needed it immediately. I pumped what I could and measured out small amounts of formula to get to the prescribed number of milliliters Nurse C had calculated in order to ensure baby girl would gain weight. The formula didn’t seem to agree with baby girl’s system, but again, there was nothing else to be done. It was a holiday weekend. Even if I knew who to contact for donated milk, I wouldn’t be able get my hands on it soon enough.
So I spent Easter weekend with the breast pump. My supply gradually increased, and by Sunday, we no longer needed formula to supplement what I was able to produce on my own. Baby girl was getting my milk exclusively; she was just getting it from a bottle.
Nurse J was back on Monday. We were anxious to see how much weight baby girl had gained. I held my breath while Nurse J placed her on the scale. She smiled when she announced that baby girl had gained 20 grams a day over the weekend. Exactly as she should have. This would be Nurse J’s final visit. She had contacted the breastfeeding clinic to get us an appointment for Thursday, and someone would be calling us to confirm.
Finally on Wednesday we got the call. I was nervous about the possibility of putting baby girl back on my breast. I was simultaneously motivated and terrified of resuming breastfeeding. Motivated because I hated having to pump, trying to time it well before baby girl woke up hungry. Terrified because the pain was still fresh in my mind, and my nipples were nowhere near healed.
As it turns out, it would be another week before I could bring myself to try again.