I have always had good feelings about adoption. Even before we were married, my husband and I talked about the possibility of adoption in addition to having children by birth. When it turned out that we were not able to get pregnant, we welcomed adoption as a wonderful way to add to our family. But there was still a sense of loss, and as I thought about it, the thing that I felt the most sadness about was not being able to breastfeed. Then I remembered that several years earlier I had heard about someone who had breastfed an adopted child. I assumed that she must have gone through some kind of hormone treatments in order to breastfeed, and that didn’t appeal to me, but I decided to do some exploring. I started with the public library and managed to dig up a paragraph or two. Then I called a local La Leche League leader who was very encouraging and sent me a whole packet of materials, but none of the information was very recent. In desperation, I turned to a source I knew very little about at the time–the Internet. I ran a search and typed in “adoptive breastfeeding.” ABRW appeared. I read and read and read. A whole world opened up, literally, as I learned that women all over the world were breastfeeding their adopted babies. I think I read everything on the site and then began following the discussion boards daily. I decided that adoptive breastfeeding was definitely something I wanted to do.
After reading various viewpoints and experiences of moms on ABRW, I decided to do only minimal preparation. For the months while we waited for a baby, I did only some nipple stimulation. But I kept reading and learning, and I purchased Lact-aid supplies and made sure I was familiar with how they worked. When we were matched with a birthmom, we had only about two weeks before the baby was due, and I made a last minute decision to rent a pump. For those two weeks, I pumped a few times a day and once during the night. I saw only the tiniest drops of clear liquid, but I had significant nipple changes that I think helped when I began nursing.
Our daughter, Savannah, was bottle fed for two days in the hospital, and then we brought her home. We had a three hour drive and I bottle fed her once on the way. By the time we got home, she was hungry again. I knew this wasn’t our most relaxed moment to try nursing for the first time, but I decided that I would give it a try, and if it was upsetting or frustrating to the baby I would bottle feed her and wait for another time. While my husband was still unloading the car, I set up the Lact-aid and sat down on the couch with the baby. She had not been willing to open wide for the bottle and I wondered how I would get her latched on. But as she cried hungrily with her mouth wide open, I just brought her right to my breast. She immediately latched on and nursed for the entire feeding. It was an amazing moment for me of feeling accepted by this baby and feeling very right about feeding and nurturing her this way. It was the beginning of a wonderful nursing relationship that lasted two and a half years. I eventually produced at least half of Savannah’s nutritional needs, and in terms of milk production, I probably could have stopped supplementing after she was well-established on solids. But Savannah was very attached to the supplementer as part of the nursing experience, and so we used it for the entire two and a half years.
After all of that time of cleaning supplementers, and after some toddler stages of having to get all set up every time Savannah wanted a 30-second check-in of nursing throughout the day, the thought of starting the process all over again for a second baby was a little daunting. I treasure my time of nursing Savannah, but we did experience the supplementer as labor intensive, and now we were looking at the prospect of doing it all again along with parenting a busy preschooler. So I began to look more seriously at ways of producing more milk the next time around.
When I started reading on the ABRW again, the Newman-Goldfarb protocol was a major topic of discussion. I did lots of research, discussed it with my doctor, and decided I would give it a try. Since our first adoption had gone so quickly, and since we are open to harder to place babies, we had reason to think that we would not have a long wait. It seemed like a reasonable risk to go ahead with advanced preparation for breastfeeding. I planned to take Domperidone and Necon 1/35 for at least six months and then begin pumping. But after just four months on the medications (and our profile not yet updated), we received a call from our caseworker saying that we should pull together a profile right away because they had several babies due over the next few weeks and not enough families to present. As the situations evolved, it seemed so likely that we would be bringing home a baby on short notice that I decided to start pumping. A few weeks later, all of the babies we had been notified about had either remained with their birthmoms or had been placed with other families. We had no current prospects for a baby, and I had already established a good milk supply.
It was difficult to think of pumping for weeks or months to come, but I was dedicated and didn’t want to have to start over later, so I kept pumping. Five months later, in spite of backing off on Domperidone and reducing my pumping schedule, I was pumping 20 or more ounces per day and having constant difficulties with plugged ducts. I was ready to quit, or at least cut back drastically, but my milk production was persistent. Finally, I learned that Lecithin supplements worked very well for me in clearing the plugged ducts, and I was able then to reduce my pumping schedule more quickly.
For another two months I took a reduced amount of Domperidone and pumped twice a day, storing about ten ounces per day. But even that amount of pumping was beginning to get tiresome. We continued to have possibilities for babies come and go. Each time I thought about quitting the pumping we would find out about another birthmom who was going to select a family in the next week or two, and so I would hold on a little longer.
Then the call finally came. We had been selected. The baby had been born that morning and the birthmom wanted us to come as soon as possible. We packed up in a whirlwind (all the while trying to get in as many pumping sessions as possible), made arrangements to be out of state for two weeks of legal process, and were about to load our car for the two day drive when the next call came saying that there had been some complications with extended family and that the birthmom had changed her mind.
At that point I felt I no longer had the physical, mental, or emotional energy to continue pumping indefinitely. I resolved to stop as soon as possible. But the process was slow. I pumped as little as possible (not even every day). But I think my heart still wanted that milk to be there for a baby yet to come. And my body knew that this was not a natural process of weaning a child–the baby that had not yet nursed. And so my breasts continued to fill up with milk and ache. But eventually I was able to stop pumping. I had pumped for eight months, filled all available freezer space, donated coolers full of milk to adoptive moms hundreds of miles away, and now found myself wondering if a baby would even come in time to be able to use the milk I still had stored.
If I had it to do over again, I would approach this very differently. And in a sense, I do have it to do over again because I will be starting over. My plan is to do no preparation. When I have a baby in my arms, I will begin taking Domperidone and I will nurse using a supplementer. My desire to reduce my need for the Lact-aid led me down a path that was just as labor intensive, and one that took an emotional toll that I did not anticipate. Breastfeeding should be, above all, about nurturing and building a close bond with a child. My determination to have that kind of connection with my next child is as strong as ever. I will supplement as needed and savor that fleeting time with my baby. For now I will concentrate my energy on enjoying this time with my now weaned first nursling–my sweet, nurturing child who holds her dolls to her chest and says, “I’m nursing my baby.”