Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Plan vs. Reality: Feeding

"So, Auntie Lissa," my three year old niece S. said to me last week during a visit with her and her mom and brother. She had watched carefully as I fed baby J a couple of times during our time together. "Before, did you feed J with your nipples?"

Oh dear, I couldn't help thinking to myself. This is what you get for deciding not to do adoptive breastfeeding.

"I didn't" I told her.


"Well, Jubilee didn't grow in my tummy like your brother and you did in your mommy's tummy." S. knows all about babies, as she has a little brother who is a year old. "So I couldn't feed her that way."

S. looked dumbfounded. "She didn't grow in your tummy?! How did you get her??"

Now, my sister-in-law has had more than one discussion with S about baby J, and how she joined our family. But that's the thing with kids her age- sometimes they have to hear things over and over for them to make sense. (It is likely that we will experience a similar phenomenon with J someday. We'll tell her and tell her the story of her birth and how we became her parents and then one day she'll suddenly go "Wait, WHAT?!")

S and I had a good talk about how baby J came to be in our family, and I sent my sister-in-law home with some of the adoption themed storybooks that we have been given, to read at their leisure. After we said goodbye and sent S and family on their way I heated up a bottle for my baby. I cuddled J close to my body, her head resting against my bare arm and her wee hand clutching my finger, and watched her devour her meal. Sometimes when I feed her I need to mentally brush away the spiderweb feelings of guilt that I didn't try harder to breastfeed. That was, at one point, the plan.

The Plan:
It turns out that being pregnant is not what causes women to lactate. The hormones that surge through a pregnant woman's body do prepare the breasts to produce milk, but lactation itself is a result of stimulation - the baby feeding is what causes it. This means that it's possible for a woman to produce milk and breastfeed a baby that she has not given birth to. This doesn't mean that it is possible for that woman to produce enough milk to be the sole source of nutrition for an infant, however.

I latched on (pun intended) to the adoptive breastfeeding idea almost immediately after our profile went out. It seemed like just my kind of project. I researched various ways of inducing lactation, from the rather intense medicated protocol, to the comfort-and-bonding only method which simply calls for offering the baby the breast for comfort purposes and considering any milk eventually produced a bonus. (For a good compilation of resources on the options, click here.)Andrew and I went to see a lactation specialist, and discussed all the options thoroughly. I was disappointed to learn that even in a best case scenario the most I could expect to produce, milk-wise, was about 25% of my baby's food. I was also fairly daunted by the amount of work involved in generating that - it would mean going on hormone treatments for several months, and then a combination of one particular drug with some herbs plus pumping around the clock once we were either matched or had baby. Ideally this method works best when an adoptive mother (or biological mother using a surrogate) is matched early and knows when to expect a child. We didn't have that advantage.

As time wore on I realized that I was probably putting off making a decision on which path to take for a reason. Andrew and I stopped fertility treatments after only a few months of exploring that option. We decided that a biological child wasn't important enough to us to endure all of the medications, hormones, and intrusions of medical personnel into our lives and bodies, even if the cost had been reasonable. I left that world behind me gladly, and made a pact with my body to stay away from that sort of hormonal meddling (including hormonal birth control) forever more.

Clearly, for me, the medicated option was out.

So I planned to start pumping when we were matched, in hopes of producing something for our baby, and then to use a device like this one for feeding while breastfeeding.

Since exclusive breastfeeding isn't possible for adoptive moms, I also scrupulously researched formulas, flirted briefly with making my own, and eventually settled on Earth's Best. This, I reasoned, would be how we'd spend all the money we would be saving by using cloth diapers.

That was the plan.

The Reality:
When we were chosen by Y we initially thought she would be delivering within a few days, and I just figured we would deal with feeding after the birth. As things stretched out, Y and I had a chance to discuss feeding, and I told her what formula I wanted to use. We planned to bring it to the hospital so that the baby would be able to just start with the organic formula from the beginning. Of course, Baby C came on her own schedule, and then Y found she couldn't give her up. I arrived home too demoralized to really think about feeding.

J was 16 days old when we met her, and she was already used to a certain brand of formula and a particular kind of bottle. My attempts to nurse her for comfort were met with deep frustration and confusion on her part and I quickly gave it up. It's not bonding, I reasoned, if all the baby does is scream. Also, I didn't want to rock the boat with Granny M too much by waltzing in and announcing that I had x, y, and z better ways to do things than what she had been doing with J and the 47 odd babies who had preceded her in Granny M's careful care. So, for the eleven days we were in Georgia J ate the formula she had started life eating from the bottles that Granny M had determined were the best choice.

We ended up loving the bottles. J was just hitting her two week mark when we met her, which is when babies tend to start spitting up. She is a champ at spitting up. Dr. Brown's seems to help, and we quickly abandoned the bottles we had picked out before baby (Born Free) in favor of them.

Formula was a bit more confusing for us. We went back and forth on whether or not to switch her to Earth's Best or leave her on the formula that she had started on. She seemed to be thriving, but in the end Andrew and I decided it was more important to have her on something organic. This is when the debacle began. First, I realized that we had accidentally fed J almost an entire can of formula for 9-24 month olds. (Okay, in my defense the can is the same shape and color as the regular formula! WHO DOES THAT? Don't they know that new parents aren't getting any sleep?!?!?!) When Andrew pointed out the discrepancy I burst into tears and demanded he return to the store for organic formula, since her routine was all broken up already. We decided to get the organic version of the same formula she had been using, in hopes of easing the transition. She happily ate a couple bottles of it, and then I found this. The new formula went straight into the garbage, and Andrew went back to the store for a can of Earth's Best.

Baby J, unlike her mother, maintained a calm and practical demeanor through this smorgasbord of formulas. And she's been eating Earth's Best happily now since just after Thanksgiving. Turns out, according to our pediatrician, it's best to make any formula switches early, before a strong taste preference develops.

I would say that, so far, feeding is the area of parenting in which I have felt the least confident. I feel guilty sometimes that I can't give J breastmilk, because I believe in the benefits. But I also know that, for me, breastfeeding would have been yet another opportunity for my body to fail me in the parenting-and-reproduction arena. I have fought - still fight - to experience my physical self in a positive way. It is important that, as J's mother, I keep that up.

And, to be honest, it's hard to feel too bad about it. J is thriving. She is one of the happiest and sweetest people I've ever met. We've worked hard as a family to bond in other ways, such as skin-to-skin time and feedings that mimic breastfeeding as much as possible. As we've gotten to know our girl we have learned how to prepare her food the way she likes the very best: mixed in advance to lessen air bubbles, heated just so, and served in a Dr. Brown's. There are times - usually when we are waiting the interminable three minutes for a bottle to heat - that I wish I could just whip out a breast and feed my baby. But when I watch my husband feed his daughter, her cheek resting on his bare arm while they gaze soulfully into each others eyes, I don't mind a bit.

I just want to say, to put it out there, that I think adoptive breastfeeding is a worthwhile and wonderful thing to do, if you really really want to. As my story demonstrates, if you don't really want it - it probably won't happen. A good friend of mine passed on some parenting advice she recieved when her daughter was born. "Alissa," she told me, "figure out what's super important to you, one or two things, and focus on that. You cannot do it all." For me, breastfeeding didn't end up in the top two. For those where it does - I applaud you.

All moms (I think) struggle with guilt from the pressure of providing a perfect life for our kids within a decidedly imperfect world. I can't speak for what it's like for mothers who are parenting their biological children, but for me as an adoptive mother I am finding the opportunities to feel guilty can be omnipresent and multi-dimensional. Feeding could be yet another opportunity to beat myself up over not being able to offer "the best" option to my child. Or - it can be an opportunity for me to remember that "the best" has a different definition for each individual situation. Part of the responsibility of parenthood is taking on the discernment process for what that "best" is for my own unique family, my own individual child. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

So far our pudding is doing just fine.


  1. THANK YOU for this post! This is something I have been spending a lot of time thinking about.

  2. You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. You're doing what a good parent should - listening to your baby. If J didn't want to breastfeed, then there was no point forcing her. And, as you said, she's thriving.

    I'm going to try to breastfeed, and use a herbal supplement, and see how it goes. Thanks for the link to the Earth's Best formula though - I still thought there wasn't a vegan formula available in the US, and organic too! Yay!

  3. Thank you for this post. We have been matched with a baby due April 3. I was cornered just a couple of days ago about why I am not getting going on hormones so I can breastfeed. I really appreciate your comments here.

  4. I feel like I keep saying this, but I really enjoy your well-articulated posts.

    3+ years after our initial foster-adopt placement, I have a 4-year old on a feeding tube (pediasure with fiber) and a 3-year old surviving on the same stuff, still out of a bottle. Oy. Yeah, that wasn't anywhere near the plan.

    Reality: any calories is better than no calories. Touching food is better than not touching food. Tolerating food on the plate is better than freaking out until it's removed...

  5. I'm so happy to see you blogging about this. I totally agree that "the best" means something different for everybody and the important thing is that you're discovering "the best" for your family.

    I breastfed my little one, who joined our family through adoption. Ours was also an after birth, no-notice placement. For me, breastfeeding WAS one of those top two things. I just wanted to point out that some adoptive moms are able to provide more than 25% of their child's nutritional needs. I used a supplementer for 3 months and was then able to exclusively breastfeed. I realize that I'm the exception here, but in case anyone is reading this and considering adoptive breastfeeding, I want them to know that supply can vary from almost no breastmilk production to a full supply, with most people somewhere in the middle. I will also say that adoptive breastfeeding was a TON of work -- way, way beyond what I ever anticipated. It was worth it for me, but I definitely don't think it would be for everyone.

    Thanks again for sharing openly about a topic that is not often discussed. I'm so happy for J that you are such a thoughtful, flexible and responsive mom!

  6. Oh, wow. This is so very helpful and informative. We aren't yet done with the homestudy process, but you are really helping me direct my energy on thinking about constructive things. I've been doing lots of required reading and I honestly think that maybe you should consider working with someone on a book. Your experiences and perspective are so much more useful than books written in the 80's...

  7. Beth - Just wanted to tell you that we accidentally gave Dom MORE than 1 can of the 9-24 month formula. They do look almost exactly the same. he's been fine. J will be too.

    Glad everything is going well for you and the fam! ♥

  8. Not to worry... we exclusively formula fed (Enfamil), ice cold, straight from the fridge... (just like the hospital did when we picked up Boy 1).
    I know "statistics" say that breast fed babies have fewer ear infections but among the mommies I, personally, know? The opposite is true. Breast fed babies often eat horizontally which causes back up in the ear tubes. Formula babes eat more upright... so unless you have a puker (like our boy 3), the food stays out of the ears and into the tummy.

    You will have a lot more important things to worry about in the very near future (Ummmm like early crawling... J looks inquisitive. Your trash cans will not be safe LOL). Formula worries..... toss those aside and make yourself some tea. You're doing a great job, Momma!

  9. I just love this post. A woman in my husband's office that I only met once was kind enough to give us a baby gift. She also included some information about adoptive breasfeeding. Yep. I had already done that research and came to the same conclusion that you did. I decided that I didn't need to add the stress of trying to produce sufficient milk to the table. Yet, I still fretted about the whole breastfeeding issue even more so when he started rooting when he was hungry.

    Yet he is thriving and all is well. I had so many people throw in their unsolicited 2 cents, on top of my own nagging worries.

  10. I'm posting a link to a piece I wrote (in large part, at least somewhat!) about this in the summer.

    The last two babies in my cousin network (one branch) are both adopted, then my stepsister gave birth & when my uncle visited, apparently he'd all but forgotten that *some* infants breastfeed. I love that for the truth, feeding can be love, & love looks all different ways, no right, no wrong, maybe not even any "best."

  11. Great post. We're still waiting for our baby, and similar to you have made the preliminary decision to try to breastfeed... and funnily enough, I've narrowed choices to Earth's Best formula and Born Free bottles. We'll see how our journey goes. Good to read about someone who's been there, and be prepared for some diversions from "the plan"! :)

  12. All of your "plan vs. reality" posts are great - keep them coming! I rejected adoptive breastfeeding at an earlier point than you (before baby is even in the picture) but for the same reasons - I don't like the idea of medicated or even herbal protocols (none of which "worked" when I was TTC) and more importantly I didn't need another opportunity to view my body as failing at something women all over the world do every day. So glad to hear the details of your formula choice, as this is something that I still struggle with.

  13. I breast fed Kiddo for almost 4 months, and then one day he just stopped. I felt so guilty, and was extremely nervous to tell his pediatrian. I kept thinking that she was going to scold me.

    So he switched to the bottle. I pumped as long as I could, but eventually switched to formula. Which he very much prefers, and I think that we are all happier about it. I adore Earth's Best!

    Just wait until J starts her solid foods. Bust out your camera. You will happy-cry with laughter.

    Beautiful family, lady!

  14. I just found this older post that is related to a few I just wrote about my experience. I almost didn't try adoptive breastfeeding because of the meds involved. and it was a lot of work for very little milk for me. when we added formula (earth's best), our baby was much happier.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.