Eleven days in, and J and I are really struggling. We seem to have moved beyond the fun and exciting phase and entered The Grind.
It's not just the lack of sleep that’s bothering us—it's that we feel like we aren't getting a moment to enjoy the babies. This is especially true for me. At least J gets to feed them their "top off" bottles, and burp and change and re-clothe them. And that might not sound like much fun, but it's a hell of a lot better than my relationship with them, which consists of me fighting with them to get a decent latch, and struggling to keep them on the breast when it's hurting so badly. It really seemed like they were both on their way to being champion feeders, but we seem to have slid backwards. Or maybe Dex is actually doing better (he had his tongue-tie fixed on Wednesday and now appears to have a decent latch, but it's hard to tell because my boobs are so sore that it might just hurt even if he's doing everything right). But Gretchen's latch is going downhill fast—she's doing a lot of chewing on me rather than sucking. And then if she doesn't get a lot of top-off milk she screams for two hours. And when your baby is hurting you feeding eight times a day, it can wear you down fast.
I'm also really on the border of not having enough milk for them. Each of them is getting a full ounce of top-off bottle after every feeding, and that's almost exactly what I've been able to produce. The problem is that it isn't enough. When they feed well at the breast I don't manage to pump that much, and even then they always want more, which means that sometimes they cry through an entire cycle where we were hoping to get our precious 1 1/2 hour of sleep. It isn’t a medical problem—they gained five and four ounces respectively in three days earlier this week. But they’re not satisfied. And unhappy babies just plain suck.
This morning I realized that I'm on the verge of giving up breastfeeding altogether. I just want to start enjoying being a mom. I want my babies to stop being mad and me, and I'd like to stop being mad at them. In either event, we'll probably be supplementing with formula by the end of the day. No matter how hard I've been pushing at the pump (and I've REALLY been pushing—I pump till dry after EVERY feeding), I can't seem to get my milk supply to kick in more. I am more exhausted than I ever thought was possible. Every day I think I’m as tired as I could ever be, and every day I discover a whole new level of exhaustion. We're on a strict 3-hour timetable for feeding—it's really the only way to get 8 feedings in a 24-hour period, which is the minimum. And with G's size we can't yet go four hours at night with a couple of short feed cycles during the day.
When people used to say their child was sleeping for three or four hours at a time, I would ask myself—what’s the big deal? What’s so bad about getting a few three- or four-hour sleep cycles in a night instead of eight straight hours? But what isn’t generally explained is that the three-hour clock starts at BEGINNING of one feeding session, not the end. So if you add in how long it takes to wake, change, feed two sleepy babies at the breast, burp them, supplement with a bottle, burp again, change again, lull them back to sleep, and then pump for at least 15 minutes (which I have discovered I can’t skip even once at this critical stage of trying to get my milk to come in enough to feed two), two hours can go by easy before you even look at the bed again. And then you have to decide—is it worth a catnap, or should you just stay up and get something done? J and I have managed to work the cycle down to an hour and a half, with him doing the bottle supplementation, burping, and changing. But we still usually only get an hour and a half at a time, and that’s if everything goes perfectly. Maybe that works out three times a night, assuming no one's refusing to go back to sleep. And we can't really sleep during the day yet. Too much to do with doctor's appointments, etc.
J and I refer to Super-G as our small-mouth bass—her head is so tiny that, though willing, her mouth is too small for a latch that doesn’t hurt. (She has mastered the hippo mouth, which is hilarious, though we don’t always manage to get it on the boob at the right moment, and often there are tiny hands in the way.) The lactation consultant who we saw on Tuesday recommended that I put her on a nipple shield, which I’ve been using for Dex (more on that below). I was willing to try that (and trust that we could get her off it later on, when she’s bigger), but the first time we tried it at home she HATED it and “bit” down so hard on the shield that I yelled out and immediately started crying. And believe me, once I start crying these days, it’s hard to stop. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried all over my breastfeeding babies. She did it one more time that feeding, and did it again on the next breast (though not so hard) the next feeding. So I said “fuck it,” and ditched the shield. I’m already at the end of my rope, and the last thing I need to be doing is fighting with BOTH my babies every time I have to feed them, which is essentially my entire relationship with them right now.
And Dex has had his own set of problems. In the hospital, he was trying to feed, but would always pull back from what looked like a good latch into a terrible one at the last minute. And, desperate to make breastfeeding work with this baby, I would let him. So my nips were getting mangled, to say the least. Then we took him to the pediatrician the day after we got out of the hospital, and he noticed that D was tongue-tied, which kept him from sticking his tongue out to suck when his mouth was wide open. So we started using a nipple shield with him, which allowed me to keep feeding him at the breast while we waited for an appointment to get the string tying his tongue down snipped.
Through fairly Herculean efforts on my part, I managed to get Dex an appointment with an ENT on Wednesday, and managed to get my HR department to get him enrolled on my insurance in time to not have to pay out-of-pocket for the procedure. The procedure was pretty scary, though it only took moments. Ended with poor Dex wailing through a wad of gauze sticking out of his mouth, which was just pathetic. But within a few minutes he was trying to feed, and he managed to get a pretty nice, pain-free latch a few minutes after that. The problem now is that I can’t tell if he’s adding to my tenderness problems or if I’m just so sore from G’s feeding technique that he’d hurt me no matter what he did. In either event, with either of them on the boob I just sit and watch the clock and try to hold out for 15 minutes before I call it quits and hand them off to J for the top-off bottle.
This morning I managed to pump enough that we are doing one “pump-only” session (which is how I’m writing right now—after five days of computer withdrawal I finally got wise and moved the pump to my computer desk), while J feeds both from the bottle. Just to give my nipples a solid five hours off from the evil twin mouths. I’ll call the hospital lactation consultants today, though I’ll have to pay a chunk of cash to go see them in person (which I probably will do). But my guess is by the end of the day I’ll be introducing formula. This shouldn’t feel like a failure to me. I know that, I really do. But I was so proud of having gotten this far without, and truly believe that we were into the home stretch with this.
I know this will get better. But it’s really hard to see that future right now.