Pam, of Portland's LaLeche League, this is for you.
Connor, my oldest, was 10 weeks old and I was beginning to panic. In two weeks I was going to have to return to work, and he was not taking a bottle.
I'd waited to introduce the bottle until he was about 6 weeks old, heeding the advice about nipple confusion. I'd followed the tips of taking a walk and having Gary give him a bottle in my absence. The theory was that if I was anywhere near he'd be able to smell my presence and the bottle would be rejected.
Gary tried, my MIL tried, my friend Monica tried, a whole host of friends tried. Walking past the house I could hear him wailing.
I threw prevailing wisdom to the winds and tried myself. Nope.
At 11 weeks I felt compelled to confess to the woman I'd lined up for day care. She was understanding; said her own child had refused the bottle.
I'd cut my work schedule way back. I arranged it so I would work a two day stretch, have three days off, then work four in a row, then back to two days. This meant working every other weekend when Gary could be the caregiver. Therefore, Connor would only be in daycare two days a week.
I think I believed a miracle would occur and he'd be feeding from a bottle before he was 12 weeks old.
My first day back at work he woke in a particularly smiley mood. It just about killed me when I turned him over to Petra. When I called a few hours later my heart sank to hear his cries in the background. She said she was trying to work with him. I called an hour later and she said that wrapped in my shirt he'd taken a full bottle. I rejoiced and relaxed.
He never took a bottle again.
At week 8 Petra told me she couldn't take it any more. Honestly, I couldn't either. He was going 9 hours without food, sometimes longer if he didn't happen to be hungry just before I took him to her house.
I went to my bosses and told them I had a problem. I told them I'd lost my day care and why, and said that while he wasn't feeding from a bottle I'd probably lose any other day care as well. I asked for another month, maybe two, off until he was old enough that he could take my milk from a cup. They said they could not give me any more time. They implied that if I withheld nursing long enough he'd "figure it out."
This left me two options. Force him to take a bottle by withholding nursing long enough, or quit my job. I'd worked for this group for 17 years.
Just as my parents had not lived in a cultural context that made it possible to co-sleep with their infant, or feed on demand, it seemed inconceivable to me to give up thousands of dollars of income because my baby wouldn't accept anything but my breast. At the time I was the sole source of income and insurance benefits for our family, because Gary was in business for himself. His business was supporting itself, but I was paying the mortgage, and the bills. Losing my income meant living out of our savings, and it meant forfeiting the matching benefit my company would pay into my retirement: the contract stated I had to be working until December 30 to receive the match. It was late November, so I was missing the match by about 6 weeks.
There was nothing in my experience that would make that course of action make sense, but neither could I withhold from my baby what he loved so much. He was already going without eating for nine hours straight, and then when I come for him I'm to deny him? I was anguished, and talked to my Laleche leader, Pam.
She mused, "It's funny how there's all kind of support for taking out a loan for a house, or for a car, but we never think of taking a loan for a baby."
Those simple words provided the perspective I needed. I knew that my baby was not going to have to be the one to give because he was the weakest link in the chain. What was important was to honor his very impressive will, not overpower it. I went in to work the next day and gave notice.
It still makes me weak in the knees to think of how close I came to doing what would have broken my child's heart, and would have done great damage to my vulnerable conception of myself as a mother.
I'll be forever thankful for those chance words at just the right time that gave me the support I needed to make the right choice.
Thank you, Pam.