When making a placement plan, both my mother and a close friend asked if I would be breastfeeding in the hospital. While it wasn’t in my plan initially, over the course of a few months I decided it was something I wanted to do. When I first learned I was pregnant, my mom (a nursing professor at the local University) quickly got me in touch with one of her nursing students. This was a woman who had pushed her way through nursing school while struggling with a date-rape pregnancy, who had chosen life, who had chosen adoption, and who had decided to breastfeed her baby while in the hospital. Her strength inspired me. I began to seek out birth mothers who had breastfed before placement, and I was surprised at how many there really were.
On my end, breastfeeding became a reality. I was nervous to talk to my son’s parents-to-be about it, unsure of how they would react. Instead, I put it off. Miraculously, they had the same desire. His mother-to-be sent me a late-night email expressing her desire to do medically-induced lactation, but knew their best chance would be if he was breastfed from the beginning. I had planned to spend two days in the hospital before relinquishment, and felt like we were the answer to each others’ prayers.
When I am asked, now, why I chose to breastfeed in the hospital, I have many different responses. The following are my biggest reasons:
Breast really is best. Not just for nourishment, breastfeeding is an incredible bonding experience. Many women who will never be able to produce enough breastmilk to supply all of their child’s needed nutrition, choose to still take advantage of the breastfeeding experience. Skin-to-skin contact has been proven over and over to be beneficial to a baby’s first hours and days in this world. It is comforting to the baby. Breastfeeding also causes the mother’s body to continue producing oxytocin, the hormone that causes contractions during labor, which helps the uterus to shrink down more quickly after labor and is beneficial to after-labor healing and minimizes bleeding. Oxytocin also increases feelings of nurturing and relaxation.
I needed the extra bonding. I have never yet met a birth mother who hasn’t seriously reconsidered their adoption decision after delivery. Even though I KNEW it was still what was best for my son, I remember wondering how I would be able to do it without emotionally (and possibly physically?) dying from the emotional pain to come. Each birth mother finds her own way through the struggle to come to their final decision, and breastfeeding helped solidify my decision. Staring at this tiny, perfect human suckling and depending on me completely brought on more love than I knew I was capable of. I would stare at him and think about his/our future – could I really give him everything I wanted him to have right now? Who was benefitting most from each decision? Could the love I felt for him really make up for all the things I couldn’t give him?
I wanted his mother-to-be to succeed. More than anything, I wanted my son’s parents to have every opportunity with a newborn they could have. I was well aware that she would probably need to supplement with formula, but my desire to breastfeed and her desire to breastfeed were exactly the same. We wanted to give him the best start, to bond, and to have every experience with that sweet boy we could have. Everything I wanted for myself was what I wanted for her, also. Giving them a child would have absolutely been enough, but giving her the best chance of being successful while breastfeeding left me with no regrets.
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I wanted to know that I could do it. Not all of my decisions during placement were selfless at all. I was often selfish, and I wanted to know what my body was capable of. I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of breastfeeding. I wanted to prove that extra bonding wouldn’t make me change my mind. I wanted to know that he got that “liquid gold” (colostrum), and that my body was strong and powerful enough to succeed. It was for him, obviously, but it was also for me.
I realized in the hospital, while nursing, that if I chose to parent I would not be able to breastfeed long-term. I would need to work full-time to support us. At the time, his birth father wanted to share custody but lived an hour away and we had no plans of staying together. I could have engaged in a huge custody battle, and probably have won for the first year based on my desire to breastfeed, but was that really what I wanted for my son? His birth father loved him, even if he didn’t love me, and if I parented I wanted him to have that relationship. I couldn’t have it both ways. By placing, we could each still have a relationship with him and his parents, without fighting over who would be parenting. Nothing about adoption is fair, but it was the best decision for our son. Breastfeeding really made me re-evaluate the logistics, not just the emotions, about being a single parent and what was best for our son.
His mother, after placement, was able to continue a breastfeeding relationship for a couple of months. It was more than either of us had hoped for. It was perfect, in all of the imperfection.
Update: Read this story from his mother’s perspective.