Ever since we began the adoption process, I envisioned a moment just like this one. I am sitting in a cozy armchair with my eight-month-old son, Matthew, snuggled in my arms. His tiny hand is curled around my finger as he nurses contentedly at my breast.
Adoptive breastfeeding has been simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding journeys I’ve undertaken. At times, I have felt overwhelmed and misunderstood. But I persisted, and the irreplaceable bonding experience has been worth it.
When I first voiced my interest in breastfeeding, to a social worker, she smiled sympathetically and said, “Some women want to do that, but then they find they can’t generate enough milk.” An obstetrician told me that adoptive breastfeeding was “impractical.” And a friend wondered aloud why I wouldn’t take advantage of a socially acceptable reason to formula-feed.
Finding an ally
I thought I would never find support for my desire to breastfeed, until I spoke with a lactation consultant. She listened quietly and then said, “How wonderful! OK, here’s what we’ll do.” Relief swept over me as she said she was confident that I could successfully induce lactation, and stressed that the benefits of breastfeeding are not limited to nutrition. She encouraged me to focus on the bonding opportunity afforded by breastfeeding, instead of obsessing about how many ounces of milk I might produce. Finally, I had an ally in my quest!
I began following the Newman-Goldfarb protocol to gradually induce lactation through a combination of medication, herbs, and pumping. Weeks later, we finally got “the call” — and learned that we had been matched, not with an expectant mother, but with a three-day-old baby boy! In between frantic calls to our families and shopping for diapers, I began pumping. When Matthew came home, two days later, I was producing only drops of breast milk. Instead of giving him a bottle, however, I fed him his formula at my breast through a Lact-Aid nursing supplement system.
In those early, sleep-deprived days, there seemed to be little reward in breastfeeding. Matthew was hungry every moment he was awake. Whenever I wasn’t nursing, I was pumping to increase my milk supply, or mixing formula, filling the bags, and cleaning the tiny tubes used by the supplement system. It was endless and exhausting.
A dirty secret?
Looking back, I am amazed at my own perseverance. During those tough first months, I continued to call on the lactation consultant regularly — as much for her encouragement as for her professional advice. Two other people gave me their unwavering support — my husband and my best friend. Their faith in me, along with my desire to do what I felt was best for my baby, kept me going.
Breastfeeding my son meant giving him the best nutrition possible, along with a generous helping of maternal affection — by any standard, both wonderful things…so why did it feel like a dirty secret?
I felt that I was being scrutinized by adoption professionals. Friends who had been fully aware of my intention to breastfeed seemed shocked to hear that I was actually doing so. My well-meaning mother frequently reminded me that it would be easier just to give Matthew a bottle. I hadn’t expected to get much sleep parenting a newborn, and I found I could cope with the physical demands. But I had hoped for a little support from friends and extended family.
By the time Matthew was three-and-a-half months old, I was amazed to find that I was able to put away the formula and breastfeed exclusively. I began to find pleasure in those late-night nursing sessions, especially when Matthew would snuggle his fuzzy little head against me and sigh with satisfaction.
Over time, as my milk supply grew, so did my confidence. I used to dread the awkward silence or gaping mouths that met my answer to the innocent question, “So, is he a good eater?” Now I’m more direct, and often bring the topic up myself. “I realize you probably haven’t heard about this before,” I’ll say with a smile, “but I’m breastfeeding Matthew. It’s been hard, but I am so happy with how it is going, and it would help to have your support.”
Today, Matthew is a cheerful and alert baby who loves to take baths, play with his rattle, and be tickled by Daddy. Most of all, he loves to be nursed by his Mommy. Each time the pediatrician tells me how much weight Matthew has gained, my heart swells. I’m thrilled that I’ve achieved one of my first goals as a mother, and I hope that sharing my story gives someone else the confidence to explore this loving option.