Monday, July 7, 2014

Crying Over Spilled (Breast) Milk

I've been reflecting on the blog lately and realized that since we found out we were expecting, the majority of my posts have been pretty uplifting (pregnancy announcements, ultrasound pics /videos, gender reveal).  This makes sense, because that weight that I spoke of in my very first post has, for the most part, been lifted.  And that absence of the weight has felt great.  Ellen is starting to show and for once, I'm not heartbroken when I see a pregnant belly.

The first time I realized that her growing belly was something that would bring me joy instead of pain was a truly transformative experience. I was honestly nervous about how I might react, afraid that I might feel hurt or jealous.  Ellen was sensitive to this as well, letting me know that she would understand if I did feel that way and would honor my need for distance.  Thankfully, that hasn't happened.  In fact, I find myself asking for belly pics as a means to cheer me up (like when we missed our flight to Key West last week).  It has been a relief and a very pleasant surprise to be excited about a baby bump for a change.  And I remember thinking, "Yay! I don't have to feel sad about not being pregnant anymore!  I'm all fixed!!!"

HA! Not so fast.  Yesterday I had my first tears about not being pregnant since, well, since we became pregnant (sad tears that is, I've had tons of happy tears!).  This is what happened.  I am a member of numerous surrogacy related FB groups.  It's been pretty interesting being part of them- most are full of veteran surrogates who share their feelings (both physical and emotional) regarding their journeys.  There are also some IP's (intended parents like me) on the boards, though not quite as many.  There is often drama in the groups (a side effect of pregnant, hormonal women perhaps?) and yesterday was no exception.  One of the surros was at the contract stage of her journey and she posted a concern to the group related to her IP's not wanting her to nurse/provide breast milk for their baby.  She went on to say that breast-feeding is extremely important to her and that she was unsure whether she should go through with the match with IP's who did not share her values about the best start for this baby. She questioned whether she should try to convince them to breastfeed or find new IP's.  A debate ensued in the comments thread from surros who agreed with her and told her she should cut and run, and others who said it is not her place to dictate parenting decisions about the baby that she is carrying.  Despite the often-heated exchanges, one thing that was agreed upon was clear- "breast is best".  Some went so far to say it wasn't merely an opinion, it was a scientific fact. 

As I read all of the comments I became increasingly more uncomfortable and upset.  I probably should have stopped reading but it's kind of like a car wreck-its hard to look away.  The post triggered several different issues for me.  The whole breastfeeding thing definitely hit a nerve.  I know about the benefits of nursing and always hoped that I would one day nurse my baby.   I knew this might be a challenge even if I had given birth, however, as I had a breast reduction when I was 21 and was told at that time that as a result of the surgery I would only have a 60% chance of being able to successfully breastfeed.  Still, I always thought that I would try.  When we realized I had to find a surrogate, I was saddened not just by the loss of carrying my child but also about the loss of being able to nurse.  Until I discovered something called inducing lactation.  This is essentially a way for mothers via adoption or surrogacy to be able to nurse their babies by taking medication/herbs that allow her body to produce milk.  Crazy, huh? It's not a simple process.  It usually needs to be started months before the birth and in addition to the meds, involves pumping every three hours!  While it sounded quite daunting, I was strongly considering doing it even though I knew my chances of success would be less than most given my history (and success rates in general still aren't great as it is).  I just felt like despite doing all I could to make it happen, I was missing out on the experience of pregnancy/giving birth. I didn't want to also miss out on the experience of nursing without doing everything I could to make that happen too.

Jason and my family felt otherwise. They felt like I had put my body through enough hormones all of these years and didn't want me to continue doing that for something they didn't feel was necessary. Ellen discouraged me as well, telling me it had been really difficult nursing her girls (she only did it for six weeks) and that formula fed kids turned out just fine.  She also pointed out that its much easier to formula feed because both parents can be actively involved.  She mentioned she thought her husband felt left out in the beginning when she nursed her girls and that Jason might feel like he would be missing out on feeding the baby if I nursed.   Ultimately, I decided not to induce lactation and thought I was okay with that decision.

Until I read that thread.  It just left me feeling very powerless.   And less than.  And I already feel less than for not being able to hold a pregnancy/give birth.  To add salt to the wound, some very well-intentioned commenters were trying to be protective and supportive of IM's so they said things like this  "The thing is, you're lucky that you can have children without having to involve multiple people and tens of thousands of dollars. You don't have to sign a contract with someone and hand over control of your pregnancy. Then when all that's done, as if the infertility and need for a surrogate wasn't enough, the baby arrives (you finally get to be a parent) and someone wants you to be accountable to them to feed that baby."  another said this " And maybe you should look at it from her perspective.... For once. She has sat and watched you get pregnant with her child, stood and watched the ultra sound... Of her baby... In your belly... Your body ... With her child. She had to get word from you that her own baby was kicking.... She didn't feel I it, experience it... You did. She was robbed of the joy of having her own child grow inside her......"  And that is when I lost it.   I thought I was okay with not being pregnant but reading those words hit me like a freight train.   

I shared how I was feeling with Jason, and also shared a video similar to this  that a surro had posted on another page that made me sad as well. The video depicted an expecting couple, with the mother trying to allow the father to feel their baby kicking with his hand on her belly. He had trouble feeling it.  Later, they showed the two in a laboratory with a pregnancy belt strapped to each of them.  The belt sent transmissions from the mother to the father each time the baby kicked, so the father was able to experience what it felt like to feel the kicking from the inside.  It was fascinating and after I shared it with Jason he said "That's cool".   Sure it was cool. If you are a man and you were never supposed to feel a kicking baby.  But if you are a woman who can't hold a pregnancy, it feels like just another kick in the gut (no pun intended).

Jason and I discussed my sadness around  these issualles and he was very understanding. He even encouraged me to look further into inducing lactation if I wanted to.  We also discussed researching different options like donated milk.  (Ellen had told us from the beginning that she didn't want to pump since it was so difficult with her own children and I completely respect that decision*).  I immediately went to begin my research (one of my go-to coping skills) and started first by instant messaging an IP that I met in one of the FB groups about my breakdown. I mentioned how I was especially sad because (silly me) I thought I was done with being upset about not being able to get pregnant.  She said something that really resonated with me.  "The feelings never go away. They just hide for a bit".   Of course.  Of course they don't go away.  I am still grieving.  In fact, I'm only in the early stages of grief. It has only been six months since I came to the realization that I would never carry our child. Just because we got pregnant quickly, just because I have a fabulous relationship with my surro, just because things are going so well,  doesn't mean I'm not still experiencing a loss.   And just like with anyone experiencing grief, it will come in waves.  It will ebb and flow like the tides.  And I just got pummeled by a huge wave at high tide. 

Thankfully, I have gotten pretty good at swimming in rough waters.  When that wave hit,  it was disorienting at first.  But, after a while, I was able to start treading water.  I found comfort in some FB groups exclusively for IP's (one that I actually started myself a couple of days ago- we're already up to 56 members!)  A couple of women in these groups- ones that were actually inducing lactation- reminded that the science behind the whole "breast is best" thing is actually skewed, as it doesn't account for different socio-economic factors.  So I did a little more research and found this article that quotes research that found no significant difference between babies who were breast fed vs formula-fed within the same families- which was very eye-opening to me.  Then I found a  Fearless Formula Feeder site where the author is "Standing Up for Formula Feeders... Without Being a Boob About It".   Her goal is to remove the stigma that comes to those who choose to formula feed, either out of choice or necessity.

Through all of this, I am once again starting to feel okay about my decision not to try to induce lactation.  And I am also okay with my tears.  I know that the gift that Ellen is giving us, our little boy growing in her belly, is incredibly healing. But the scars from infertility are pretty deep, and the loss is significant.  It's okay to feel that too.

*since the writing of this post, Ellen has actually offered to try pumping for us.  I thanked her for her offer and told her I think we are alright with her just trying to get the colostrum (the initial milk that comes out which is high in nutrients and antibodies- like the babies first vaccine).  I am so blessed to have a surro who would consider doing that for us despite it being difficult for her, and also happy that I feel okay about not asking her to!


  1. Kerri, I was really pissed about that comment thread as well. For all the good there is in that group, there is also a lot of immaturity and hubris.

    I breastfed my son and I don't regret it, but if you're looking for something to make you feel better about formula feeding I can recommend a book:

  2. Buttermilk I posted a reply a while ago but for some reason it didn't show! Thanks for sharing that info- definitely an interesting read.