Since I started this little motherhood experiment, breastfeeding has been a mystery to me. I believe, that "Breast is best" (do you like that? I just made that up.) and I never had any plans other than to breastfeed my children, but I never quite could come down on the side of militant, La Leche League Nazis, either. Someone told me a few years ago, "You know, formula is not poison" and I think that's true too.

In general in parenting, I'm a fan of "What works for you, works for you... even if it doesn't work for me."

That being said, I never believed I would struggle so hard to breastfeed. I always thought breastfeeding should be easy and natural. Well, folks it's not. Maybe some out there disagree with me and that's fine, because I'm sure for some people it is easy. But for me and mine: no such luck.

The Dormouse was a horrible nurser. She would fight and fight whenever we sat down to feed - which made that initial awkward period of soreness and how-do-you-do-this-anyway last a LOT longer than it should. I read in all these books how it was a way to bond mother to child and I never got that either. I had a lot easier time bonding with my daughter while she was not bringing tears to my eyes. But despite that, I persevered, believing soon it would get better and that this was the right mothering choice to make.

Then The Dormouse Would. Not. Gain. Weight. I had specifically chosen a pediatric practice that said they were pro-breastfeeding and I hoped I would get some support or at least advice to help in this struggle, but all I got were judgments ("You know you need to wake her up every two hours to eat. You can't just let her miss feedings because YOU want to sleep.") and assumptions ("Maybe your milk just is no good."). None of which were helpful. I never saw a lactation consultant in the hospital for more than four minutes at a time and when I asked the pediatrician to suggest one, they all but discouraged me outright from seeking help.

I wanted to exclusively breastfeed; I didn't want to admit that I couldn't be successful. But I also didn't want to be so selfishly committed to the idea for my own reasons that my child would suffer. So, we supplemented with formula, but a miraculous weight gain did not suddenly occur. "Maybe she needs more formula", "Maybe you should just cut out the breast milk altogether."

Pro-breastfeeding organizations were of the complete opposite opinion. "Your doctor's crazy, she doesn't need formula at all. You're doing her a disservice if you give her even one bottle! It doesn't matter if she's not gaining weight, don't EVER give her formula."

My kingdom for a completely unbiased opinion.

That crazy all or nothing attitude from everyone concerned made me crazy for those first several months. I was constantly second-guessing myself. Let's all remember that I'd already lost one child and we'd had several scares during the pregnancy with The Dormouse, so I was convinced I was going to break this one too. I took her to work and weighed her on the postal scale every day and eagerly clung to every ounce she gained. Let me clarify that she did not ever lose weight; she gained steadily, just very slowly. I was surrounded by competimommies who all bragged about their children, "How much does yours weigh? Mine is in the 98th percentile for height and weight!" like it was some kind of infant SAT test. Here I had a kid who was in the 98th percentile for head circumference and the 10th percentile for height and weight. And because I was a breastfeeding novice, I was convinced either she... or I... or both of us were doing it incorrectly.

Finally, I got some sense and sought a second opinion - really because my practice, which consisted of five or six doctors, couldn't see me in under a week when I had a sick baby. I called a friend's pediatrician who is the only full time doctor in his practice and explained the situation - asked if I could get an appointment any sooner and he saw me the same day. So where we were there, I asked him about the weight gain issues and he looked over the charts then asked, "How tall is your husband?"

"Five, ten."

"How tall are you?"

"Five, five."

"Well, neither one of you is a giant. She's gaining steadily. Maybe this is just who she is going to be."

Something clicked in my head. I immediately went home, fired my other pediatric practice and moved my records.

What I know now, four years later, is that
is who The Dormouse is. She's a little girl. Stocky... and built like a mac truck, but she's never going to be in the 98th percentile. And there's a reason those charts have a 98th and a 10th percentile... because they're averages. That means that, yes, some of the population will be in the 98th percentile, but some of the population will also be in the 10th.

In the first few weeks with The Caterpillar, we started to go through the same thing. She was a much better nurser and I knew a lot more about what to expect. So that helped. But she immediately lost 13 ounces, which was right around 10 percent of her birth weight. It was right on the cusp... any less and the pediatrician would have been all, "Yawn" any more and he would have been all, "FEED THIS CHILD NOW."

But they didn't write down a weight on the hospital release papers so we didn't really know whether she had started gaining by the first week pediatrician's visit or not - we just knew she was down 13 ounces from her birth weight. Suddenly, my laid-back pediatrician turned into my first doctor: "She should have gained back her birth weight by the end of the first week. On average, they should gain a half ounce to an ounce a day in the first few weeks. Maybe she's not getting enough milk. Bring her back every week and let's monitor her weight gain."

The truth is, doctors hate anything they can't measure and breastfeeding is inherently unmeasurable.
It didn't occur to me until I got home that if she was supposed to be gaining 1/2 to 1 ounce a day, that there was no way she should have gained 13 ounces in 7 days. Egad.

So we supplemented with formula for the first couple weeks even though she didn't do well on it. While she did not spit up much after breastfeeding, after every formula feeding she puked up a big portion and aspirated it into her sinuses, then coughed and sputtered for hours after that, sometimes sounding like she stopped breathing. It was scary. I dutifully went back and paid my co-pay just for the privilege of putting her on a scale and having the doctor write that number down in the chart, then shooing us out the door and telling us to come back next week.

On the second week, she had gained back her birth weight and by the third she was gaining a little over a half ounce a day. That's when something snapped in my head and I invoked my mother's prerogative and eliminated formula altogether, ignoring the doctor's suggestions and hoping that my intuition was right.

We had our two month visit the other day and I'm pleased to announce that The Caterpillar is now just under 11 pounds and solidly in the 50th percentile.

Sometimes motherhood throws you a bone.