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I Am The 3%

By Angela Griffith

Thinking back, I try to recall all of the red heads I've ever known. The girl I sat next to on the school bus in middle school – Brin*. The cute valedictorian of my senior class – Dale*. My own sweet 5 year old, Benaniah. I'm sure there are others – a friend's husband here, an acquaintance's daughter there. But these stick out in my memory. I remember staring at Brin's hair in the sunshine filtering in through the dirty bus window – being sad so many teased her for her frizzy, red hair. Knowing how much it hurt her. I was so happy when I saw her on Facebook, years later. She'd made friends with a flat iron, but embraced her natural red. She was radiant in her grown up picture, the pain of that childhood teasing seemingly forgotten.

My journey with low milk supply - “lactation failure” - is similar. The pain feels like a taunt from a 5th grade mean girl, I remember it, but it doesn't hurt so much any longer.

In the middle of my low supply journey, I heard someone make an analogy. True medical low supply (and not simply supply mismanagement) is about as common as red hair.** You would never tell someone that you've never seen a person with red hair, therefore, you didn't believe they could have red hair. Because most everyone HAS seen a red head, at least once in their life.

I've been breastfeeding the same kid for 5 years, 4 months now (as of January 2020). Even before I knew about my low supply, I thought we'd be done by now, but here we are. I think because I fought so hard in the beginning, I'm reluctant to force him to stop.

The early days of breastfeeding feel like a fever dream now. Hazy and far away. I remember a feeling of unreality as the first lactation consultant told me my son only transferred 0.5 oz from both breasts, and handed me a contraption to use to supplement him at my breast. (I would later throw that SNS {supplemental nursing system} against my nursery wall, sobbing to my husband that I should just give him a bottle and have done with it). I remember the feeling of accomplishment at later weighted feeds when he would transfer a whole ounce from both breasts – when my favorite lactation consultant, Sandy, would celebrate such a tiny victory with me. I would later feel defeat if his next weighted feed was a lower number. Sandy was also the one who taught me to use an SNS that actually worked for me – not the one that was smashed against the nursery wall.

I would spend hours scouring local groups and Eats on Feets, searching for donor milk. I knew that donor milk would digest faster, keeping him more willing to work on transferring milk from me, whereas formula would sit in his stomach longer, making him complacent.

I became adept at measuring the donor milk, making sure just enough was thawed for each day, preparing each SNS bottle versus the full bottles my husband would feed him while I was at work.

I took pills. So. Many. Pills. I was like a junkie, always searching for the next high – the perfect supplement or drug that would help me make just a few more drops. I went so far as to order non FDA approved prescription medication from Thailand (although that one did double my supply).

When we left the house we had to pack all the normal diaper bag essentials, plus the donor milk, plus the SNS. I became an expert at SNS feeding under a cover (because it took me almost a whole year to be comfortable breastfeeding in public, let alone all the questions that come with an SNS).

And now, five years later, we have that magical brass ring every low supply mom wants. We. Just. Nurse. We crawl into bed together every night, we read our books, we call Daddy on the phone for family prayers, and then we nurse. He is down to nursing for about two minutes each night, and only on my left breast. He hasn't nursed from the right in about two years. I don't know if there is still milk in there. One time I asked him if there was, and he said, “Noooooo,” as if I were the silliest person ever. I asked what was in there. “Dere's hugs in dere. Dere's kisses in dere, Momma!”

So, if you have low supply, just remember. You don't just make calories. You make hugs. You make kisses. You make comfort. You make connection. And in the end, when your baby is 5 years old, it won't have mattered where he got the majority of his calories when he was 3 months old. It will matter that you gave him the best of yourself, and you set the foundation for the love you share now. "He protects his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them in the fold of his garment. He gently leads those that are nursing." Isaiah 40:11 CSB

*Names changed **True medical low supply occurs in about 1-5% of women. Natural red heads are about 2% of the population. SNS Photo Credit: Automatik Iris Photography Big Kid Nursing Photo Credit: Heather Faust

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