Traci’s Story: Developing an Appreciation for Bottle-feeding

By Traci Singree, leader of API of Stark County, Ohio

**Originally published in the Spring 2007 annual New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Traci and baby
Traci and baby

Before my children, I was career driven, working in retail management, which meant no family time at holiday or summer get-togethers because I was always working! And I loved it! I met my husband right out of college. We were together for about five years before we got married. In 1995, we were wed. I continued my course of 12-hour days, sometimes 6-day work weeks, and I was having a blast working in the fast-paced field of fashion retail.

About five years later, my husband and I were starting to get that something’s missing feeling, having done all the things we wanted to do. We found ourselves sitting around the house looking at each other on weekends saying, “What do you want to do?” round and round until we decided that maybe that something missing was a baby!

It took us nearly a year to conceive our first-born. We discovered I was pregnant the day of my first fertility appointment. My only knowledge of pregnancy came from what I had heard from my mother or from fellow co-workers with children. I never really researched anything to do with birthing or babies until late in my pregnancy.

The Decision to Breastfeed

I knew about bottle-feeding and had even considered going back to work after the baby came, but as the months drew closer to me giving birth, I was changing. I no longer had the urge to be the top runner in my field, and I wanted nothing more than to sit around and rub my tummy and nest all day long. My husband and I discussed feeding the baby, and we both agreed that I would breastfeed.

My due date was May 25, and if the baby did not come by then, I was to be induced. May 25 came quickly, and lo and behold, my baby decided he was going to join us that day. Labor was hard and long and resulted in an epidural and a Cesarean section due to increased fetal heart rate. My son was born healthy, and I can still remember looking into his crystal blue eyes when we finally had our time to be alone. It was like looking into the face of an angel.

The Discovery of AP

We nursed successfully from day one. My research into parenting began after my first pediatrician visit, as my husband and I were having a hard time following the pediatrician’s advice of letting our little baby cry it out in the bassinet next to our bed. Something did not feel right. Finally, I picked up my son one morning after he had been crying for about five minutes. That was my max! I held him close and nursed him in bed, and I was hooked. Even my husband agreed: Just pick him up and bring him to bed?

I thought back to the hospital nurse who helped me with breastfeeding. She had mentioned a book called The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I was the first on either side of the extended family to nurse in a long time and I needed some information. Along with all the other first-time parent worries, I wondered, was I was doing it right? In The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, I discovered the references and reassurances I needed to give me the strength and courage to carry on parenting in a way that my husband and I both felt comfortable.

Dr. William Sears’ name and the phrase Attachment Parenting (AP) rang loud in my ears, and I thought, “Wow! It is OK to sleep with my baby, to not make him cry it out, to hold and love my baby as much as I want! And child-led weaning? I can do that, too?” I was tickled pink!

From that day forward, I read and researched everything I could find about AP, and it really resonated with me. It just felt right in my heart. My husband supported everything I found. We were just so happy to have a little baby at home. We decided that nursing was such a benefit to our family that I would breastfeed for at least three months. Then three months came, and breastfeeding became much more than just feeding our son. It was such an emotional rapture between my son and me that I could not imagine stopping.

A Beautiful Breastfeeding Relationship

We only encountered a challenge once while breastfeeding, with thrush, but we made it through after we found the right help. We decided, OK, six months breastfeeding. Six months came and went. Before we knew it, our son was one, then two, then three years old, and he was still breastfeeding. The benefits over that time to my son, to me, and to my husband were amazing, and my son still fondly remembers his meemees today (at age six).

I sometimes wonder if I hadn’t gotten pregnant with my next baby if he would still be nursing now!

Becoming an Involved Breastfeeding Advocate

When my son was 18 months old, I pursued leadership with API and formed a small group. I then took a break. I couldn’t find enough people to come to my meetings or a co-leader to help me with all the work involved with being a leader.

I soon found a La Leche League (LLL) group that I really liked. It was there that I became empowered by witnessing the powerful benefits of breastfeeding, and by sharing the company of great, like-minded women and their breastfed children. They motivated me to make a difference. I traveled miles to attend LLL conferences and even considered becoming a leader for the organization.

My son nursed until he was four and a half years old. I became pregnant again in October 2003. My son nursed for about two months into my pregnancy and then weaned. It was bittersweet. I had spent a long time with my son and never returned to work. It was all about him and me during the days while my husband went to work. My son and I stayed home, read books, played, and nursed. Yet, of course, I was thrilled to be pregnant again.

This time, though, I was going to be prepared for the birth. I found a different obstetrician-midwife practice that was willing to do a vaginal birth after Cesarean section (VBAC) and I was on my way.

A Bumpy Beginning to the Next Pregnancy

I was very sick in the beginning of my pregnancy, and I started spotting. The spotting didn’t stop for about two weeks, so my midwife ordered an ultrasound to try to determine the cause.

When the ultrasound was done, we found two sacs. One was empty, and in the other, we saw a spot. The OB felt that I had already lost a twin, causing the spotting. We set an appointment for two weeks later to do another ultrasound. To our surprise, at the next appointment, we saw in each sac, an embryo and a yolk sac. I was in awe. My husband could not believe it: We were going to have twins!

One fetus seemed to be behind in growth compared to the other, so the doctors suggested that I had ovulated twice and was carrying two babies conceived at different time periods. This phenomenon is known as super-fetation.

We scheduled yet another ultrasound for two weeks later, which brought us to right around eight to nine weeks in my pregnancy. This time, we could clearly see Baby A growing and looking like a baby, but Baby B was not quite what he should be, even if he was a week behind the other baby as we had originally thought. The ultrasound technician did some probing, and we tried to find a heartbeat for Baby B. We were not certain we found one, so we waited and scheduled yet another ultrasound for the following week.

By this time, it was the week after Christmas, and when I went in for the ultrasound, I could tell by the technician’s face that the news was not good. She did what she was there to do and showed me Baby A again and said, “Isn’t this one cute?” But she did not show me Baby B. She left the room, and my midwife came in and told me Baby B was gone. There was no heartbeat; the fetus was deformed and had stopped growing. I was crushed. I began to worry about Baby A. What would happen next?

A Mysterious Lump

After a few weeks passed, at about 12 weeks gestation, there was a final ultrasound to see if my body had absorbed Baby B. I was told this was called the “vanishing twin syndrome.” At about that time I started experiencing pain in my left armpit, which the office attributed to the loss of the twin and my lymph nodes reacting to a possible infection from the passing of the twin. They gave me oral antibiotics to clear up any infection I may have had.

The lump never went away. It would pulse, it would ache, and I felt like I had to walk with my arm held up to avoid rubbing that spot. Pregnant bodies do weird things, right? But my midwife was concerned and wondered if it could be my milk ducts gearing up for the baby’s birth or something else, so I visited my homeopath for treatment. The homeopathic treatment seemed to be effective. Some days I did not notice the lump at all. Other days I did. But knowing what I knew about breastfeeding, and how the breast prepares for a baby, again I thought it was just an effect of pregnancy.

At about eight months into the pregnancy, I asked my homeopath if we could do a needle aspiration of the spot just to be safe. She agreed, but she could not perform the procedure herself. She wrote a scrip, and my OB agreed to do the procedure. I went into the office and as I sat there waiting to get this needle-thing over with, my OB came in and we chatted. “I know I am just going to pull milk out of that thing. I really do,” she said, and with that I left the office and did not worry about my lump anymore.

The Birth of Our Birth Plan

I hired a doula for this birth and I went through Birthing From Within by Pam England with a fantastic mentor who worked with me and my close friend to teach us all about having a positive birth experience.

Soon the time came, and I was ready to give birth to my new baby on a warm August night. Labor came fast, and pushing was intense, as I had not experienced pushing with my son, but this time, I had no medications whatsoever. I wanted needed to do this naturally. My daughter was born in about four hours. My husband went home to be with our son, and I stayed at the hospital, holding tight to my new baby.

A Disappointing Breastfeeding Relationship

Nursing my daughter was never a question for me. I knew how to nurse. I nursed my son for four and a half years. What did I have to worry about, right? After we had been home from the hospital for two weeks, I started getting sore nipples. The baby made a weird clicking sound when she nursed, and I knew that wasn’t right, so I was forever trying to get her latch right. By four weeks, I had fissures on both nipples the size of the Grand Canyon, and I continued nursing with the help of what my son and I called the magic mee-mee cream.

Something Else Not Quite Right

I lost weight quickly after my daughter’s birth, and I started feeling unwell. My hair was beginning to fall out in handfuls, and I started having night sweats that were drenching. Then the fevers came, and of course, like before, my mentality was, I just had a baby. Your body does weird things after birth. So my midwife and I, along with the OB who did my VBAC, all agreed it was breastfeeding-related: I had a breast infection causing the fever, and the night sweats were hormonal. No worries, right?

After about four and a half months of agonizing nursing, refusing to give up, and dealing with horrible, drenching night sweats and relentless fevers, I knew I needed some answers.

First, there was blood work, which gave us no information. Next, they sent me to the breast center to get an ultrasound of my breast. My left breast looked engorged, and it was the same side that the problematic lump in my armpit had been during pregnancy. The ultrasound showed nothing in my breast, but when they scanned my armpit there was a huge mass. The word lymphoma was mentioned. I did not think anything of it. I had never heard of lymphoma, and I had been healthy all my life.

The C Word

I was sent back to my OB, who performed a full-body physical and found another lump in my collarbone. She sent me to the hospital right then and there for a CT scan. With my mother, son, and daughter in tow, speeding toward the hospital, I called my husband at work, distraught. The C word, cancer, was racing through my head. I had never had a CT scan in my life.

At the hospital, a huge machine loomed in front of me, and I went through with the test. The technician ran out of the room with my results, so I had a feeling something was not good. We had to wait for my OB to meet us at the hospital, and she came in the waiting room and took my husband and me to the hospital chapel.

That is when my life was forever changed. I was told I had lymphoma, and it was all throughout my body. I was devastated. I initially thought “No! Why? How? Why now?” As my OB kept talking, I went numb and thought of my dear daughter, mother, and son in the waiting room of the hospital awaiting our return with news. How could I face them? I could not just tell my mother I have cancer in the hospital lobby.

At First, Refusal to Bottle-feed

Feelings of rage instantly set in. My daughter and I had just established our successful nursing in the last two weeks. Now it was going to be ripped away. After all I endured to get it right. I was going to have to bottle-feed my daughter. I was going to have to use artificial infant formula.

I was going to have to go against everything I believed and passionately supported when it came to feeding infants. My daughter was only four and a half months old. I had intended to nurse her until she decided she was finished. Now that was nothing but a dream. Also, I had just found within my La Leche League group, a body of women interested in reviving an AP group, with me as a leader. I did not have time to be sick! I had things to do! I had two kids! I was only 34!

I continued nursing. I began researching everything about lymphoma, Hodgkin’s, and Non-Hodgkin’s Disease and all my options – before I was even officially diagnosed. That would happen right after Thanksgiving 2004. By December, two weeks before Christmas, I became so ill that I was hospitalized.

I had a biopsy of the node they found in my neck the week before, and I had just gotten the official word that it was a classic case of Hodgkin’s Disease. I was told that of all the cancers you could choose, this is the one you want. Its cure rate was 80 percent, and I was young and otherwise healthy, so I should be cured with no problem.

I took my baby with me to the hospital even though I had fevers, sweats, a urinary tract infection, and pericarditis. The doctors and staff were concerned that I would make my daughter sick, but I had Medications and Mothers Milk by Thomas Hale by my side and continued nursing and requesting only medications that my baby could tolerate.

Call it denial, call it grief. I just could not support the thought of bottle-feeding my daughter. They were just going to have to find a way to fix me so we could still nurse. But by the end of the second week of my hospitalization, my doctor finally became very frank with me and told me I had to get my daughter started on the bottle, as I was going to start chemotherapy in the hospital. My life depended on it.

Acceptance of the Need to Bottle-feed

We weaned abruptly, and one of my close mother friends mentioned to me that when she had breastfeeding issues, she used an organic formula with her daughter. Some mothers in my group also offered to nurse my daughter for me and brought in expressed milk. One very dear friend even brought in bottles she had used when she worked and pumped, to
help get us started.

That is when my eyes were opened. All these women who were surrounding me now – that I had been with for months before nursing together were not judgmental – militant breastfeeding-only mothers. Some had been bottle-feeding in the end because they had to do what was right for their families or their babies. I was now in that position.

I could not bear to see my daughter drink from that bottle, but she did so with no trouble at all. It was as if she knew I was sick and she had to do what she had to do so I could get well. My husband fed my daughter her first bottle. I pumped and dumped and slowly let my milk supply dwindle to nothing.

My first chemotherapy session stopped the fevers and the night sweats. I came home to my daughter two days after my first treatment knowing that I was going to have to bottle-feed. My husband patiently explained how she had been doing so well with the transition and he showed me how to bottle-feed her with love. He had already gotten into a way of nursing with the bottle before I even got home.

(Bottle-) Feeding with Love and Respect

We continued to feed her on cue without watching the clock, held her, gazed into her eyes, switched sides, and did everything we had done when we nursed. I even managed to hold the bottle with my chin so that I could rub her little fingers, caress her face, and twirl her dark hair with my free hand that would normally support the bottle. I nursed her with love through that bottle. We even called it nursing because that is what it was. Nursing from the bottle, not from the breast; nursing from the heart, not from the head.

I was fortunate to have my nursing friends’ support and their milk when I needed it. I was also lucky that my daughter adapted to the organic soy formula I found and had no digestive issues with it at all. The organic formula was costly, but I was determined to give her the best food I could afford. I knew nothing could compare to breast milk, but at least I could get the best when it came to feeding her artificial milk. We could not afford to go to a milk bank.

Later, I would be humbled again, when my daughter ended up with a pacifier – something else I never wanted for my children.

Dealing with the Resentment of Not Being Able to Breastfeed

Like it or not, I was now a part of the bottle-feeding mothers’ camp. And I did not like it. It made me uncomfortable. It made me resentful. Having been on the other side (breastfeeding), I knew and could now see all too clearly why breastfeeding was so much easier, so much less costly, and just how much of a pain bottle-feeding really was.

A dear friend brought my disgruntled self back to center when she said, “Can you see it in your heart to be thankful for the bottles to be thankful that you have bottles to feed your daughter, and that she is eating and thriving well on the formula?” And with that, a meekness grew in my heart, and I knew I had to stop the resentful feelings and turn them to a more positive light.

From Tolerance to Appreciation of Bottle-feeding

My illness was a teacher for me in many aspects of my life. It taught me to view bottle-feeding from a whole new perspective. It taught me to be less judgmental when I see a woman pull out a bottle, as you never really know why she is bottle-feeding her child unless you walk up and ask her.

Now that I am once again in a position of leadership with API, it is even more critical that I reach out to those bottle-feeding mothers that come to my group. I must approach them with a sincere heart, help them, and encourage them to bottle-feed with love. I must advise them when they get the wrong information and supply them with the new and most up-to-date message on the best options if they have chosen to bottle-feed. I can say from experience that this is what worked for me. I can say API endorses breastfeeding, and breast is best, but if you bottle-feed for any reason, here are some guidelines for doing it with love.

There are bottle-feeding AP mothers out there, I know it. I had a bottle-feeding mother come to my group twice before I even knew she bottle-fed her son. She practiced all the other aspects of AP, and you never would have guessed she bottle-fed. They are in our groups, amongst us in crowds, and afraid to identify themselves as bottle-feeders in a room full of breastfeeding mothers, for fear of being ousted from the mothering group.

My daughter weaned herself from the bottle at around 14 months of age. She still uses a pacifier today at 28 months, and I am the last one to discourage her need to suck. She sleeps with me at night. Every night, she asks for a glass of milk when we get in bed, trades me her bubble (pacifier), and I nurse her to sleep with a sippy cup.

Teaching My Bottle-fed Daughter About Breastfeeding

I tried to reintroduce her to the breast once I finished treatment, but she refused. I had to try. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could at least comfort nurse. We even called my breasts her bubbles. She now calls them mee-mees and will even do the typical toddler-hand-down-the-shirt-and-on-the-breast thing, sometimes.

When she sees me undress, she looks at my breasts, and then at her bubble, and she giggles. When we read books, she points to the animals that can nurse and their mee-mees. She says, “Mama Cow meemees,” or she will hold her bubble up to her dolls, her stuffed dogs, or horses, and say, “Here’s your bubble.” She even wants to share her bubble with me sometimes, as I remember my son doing with my breast a few times nursing and then lifting my breast up to me as if to say, “Here you want some? I will share this great thing with you.”

You Don’t Have to Breastfeed to be AP

My bond with my daughter is strong. AP helped me maintain the emotional responsiveness I needed to stay connected with my baby, despite the absence of the breast. AP helped me bottle-feed with love.

Update on Traci’s Illness

At the time this article was published, Traci was in remission after a long two-year battle and a medical journey that took her as far as New York City.

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