"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.
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.
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.