We finally got to return home on Tuesday, the 27th. I was very excited to be going home to my own bed and my own shower. The shower at the hospital was about the size of a postage stamp and the hospital bed was one of the most uncomfortable beds I've ever slept in. Plus, I missed sleeping in the same bed as Mike.
On the other hand, once we returned home, we would no longer have the safety net of the nurses or the nursery if we really wanted to get some sleep. Now it was all up to us. Someone was tossing us in the deep end and telling us to swim. Of course, my mom was staying with us for the rest of the week so we at least had some floaties to grab onto.
Once we did return home, the first order of business was to orient our dog Nickel to the new addition. I was not really that worried. He is a sweet dog and pretty obedient (to me, at least). But he had also been home several days without us (my mom had been staying at our house to watch him), so he was certain to be extra excited to see us.
My mom had brought one of Elijah's hats home a few days before to let him smell it. She said that he seemed interested in it, but still calm. This time I had my mom take Elijah into the nursery while I went out with one of Elijah's shirts to say hello to Nickel. Mike had managed to make it home for a few hours a couple of the days we were staying in the hospital, but Nickel hadn't seen me since last Thursday when we left for the hospital. So I wanted to greet him right away to let him know that I had missed him.
He was very interested in smelling Elijah's shirt and I petted him and praised him for being calm while sniffing the shirt. Then Mike took him for a walk to tire him out. When they got back, we finally introduced Elijah and Nickel. Nickel was very sweet and calm and Elijah didn't seem to mind being sniffed in the least. I was extremely glad that something, at least, was going according to plan.
Soon, however, it was time to try nursing again. The same problems continued, only this time there was no nurse I could call to my room to help me figure out what I was doing wrong. So instead, the pumping and feeding by bottle was still on.
Then things seemed to get even worse. Elijah found the bottle so easy to eat from that eventually when I tried to put him to the breast at all, he would just fight and fight until I gave up and gave him a bottle. I really wasn't sure what else to do. Now he would no longer even latch on at all. I was really starting to contemplate the possibility that I would just have to pump out my milk for six months and give it to him by bottle. That was such a detestable scenario to me.
For one thing, it took SO much longer to feed him. With the bottle you had to get up, retrieve the milk from the fridge, possibly transfer it from its container to the bottle, and then heat up the bottle. Then you could feed him. And of course most of the time, we still tried to get him to nurse at my breast, so that fight took a few minutes. Then Mike or someone else would feed him while I pumped for fifteen minutes at least. And once Mike went back to work in a few weeks, it would take even longer because I'd have to feed and burp him and get him content enough to lie down by himself before I could even start pumping. And if we returned the pump we rented, it would tag on an extra fifteen minutes because I could only pump one breast at a time. If he would simply nurse, it would cut the time it took to feed him into like a fourth.
But the worst thing about it in my opinion was that this was supposed to be the one thing that only I could do for him and it was supposed to be our special way to bond as mommy and son. Now if I pumped when he was fed, I couldn't even be the one to bottle feed him. And even when I did get to feed him, feeding him by bottle just couldn't be the same. I already felt like I had missed out on so much not getting to birth him vaginally, now I was losing this, too.
Finally, one day I was talking online to some friends on facebook and one of them suggested I try a nipple shield. One of the lactation nurses had also mentioned this tool in passing, but hadn't really explained it thoroughly because it was pretty much right before I was leaving the hospital.
So my mom and I went to the store at the birthing center where you could buy all sorts of new mommy items, like slings, pumps, girdle-type things to help get your belly back into shape, etc. We didn't see the nipple shields anywhere on display, but the saleswoman asked us what we were looking for and we told her. She apparently had them behind the counter because you had to pick a size.
The saleswoman was very helpful. She related how her daughter had problems latching when she was born and she had to use a nipple shield for awhile to encourage her to latch. She said that she felt terrible because she felt like her daughter preferred the nipple shield to her, but that she went to a support group and 90% of the women in the group had been forced to use the shield at some point, but that of all those who had used it, none of them still were. She said that everyone in the support group indicated that at four weeks, babies turn a corner in breastfeeding.
She then showed us the various sizes of the shields and helped us pick the one most likely to fit on me. And she gave us instructions on how to use it. While we were there and she was telling us her story, another man had walked in behind us. I didn't want him to have to wait on us, so I said she could go ahead and help him if she wanted. But he was there to rent a pump and had to fill out some paperwork first, so she gave him the paperwork to fill out while she finished with us. He also said that he was listening to our stories because apparently he and his wife were having some of the same problems.
On the drive home I mentioned to my mom that even though this breastfeeding problem is very frustrating, I was very grateful to live in a time and a country where there are all these tools available to help feed my baby my milk. My mom said she had been thinking the same thing recently and we wondered what on earth women in third world countries or back in older times did. Perhaps hand express? Perhaps give the baby to a wet nurse? Who knows. The alternative is just too horrible to think about.
We returned home and at Elijah's next feeding, it was time to give the nipple shield a try. Even though the saleswoman had explained how to put it on, I guess I didn't fully understand because it took me a few minutes and a few tries to get it on. I finally did, though, and sat down to see if our last ditch effort was to be successful.
I pulled Elijah up onto the boppy pillow and close to my breast and offered him the nipple with the shield protruding from it.
He latched immediately and began sucking.
It was like on some TV show where the thing everyone has been waiting for finally occurs and the hallelujah chorus starts playing in the background. I was so relieved and my mom and Mike were excitedly praising God for answering our prayers. I was praising him, too, just silently because I didn't want to disturb Elijah.
Over the next few feedings I learned that the first feeding with the nipple shield wasn't a fluke as Elijah continued to latch and feed directly from my breasts--albeit with the shield in place. I didn't even need to pump anymore as he was keeping my milk up just fine. His cries even started making me feel the let down in my breasts.
The best thing was when on Thursday I left the house for a few hours to go to my uncle's fiftieth birthday party and Mike stayed home to watch the baby. His mother and sister came over to help him and at one point he texted me that Elijah was getting fussy and rooting around. Should he give him a bottle?
I didn't think we'd be much longer, but I didn't want my baby to be hungry so I suggested he just give him a small bottle to tide him over until I could get home. We didn't stay much longer and when I did get home, Mike's mom informed me that they had tried to give him the bottle and he had started fighting it. But when I sat down and pulled him to my breast, he latched on again right away and began feeding. Apparently he now preferred me to the bottle. Whether that was because my milk was warmer than the bottle milk or it was just more comforting to be close to mommy while he fed, I'll never know. But that's okay. There are some things I am okay with just accepting.