Please welcome Melissa from White Noise as my guest writer today. Read to the bottom for her bio. Today I share with you Melissa's experience with adopting and attempts to relactate to initiate an adoptive breastfeeding relationship.
We have four kids. Three grew in my belly, and one in my heart. This topic is a very difficult one for my three year old to wrap his mind around; he keeps asking, "Who is my tummy mommy? Is she the same as Matthew's tummy mommy?"
When our oldest son was two and a half, we traveled around the world to Thailand to adopt his little brother. Ayden was very excited to meet "Baby Mafew" and to have a playmate and fellow mischief maker around 24/7. Matthew was a serious, intense fifteen month old powerhouse who motored around on four points like a spider. So cute!
Something that was important to me to try was adoptive breastfeeding. I had heard it was possible, particularly if the mother has nursed a baby before, and I planned to give it a shot. Matthew was 'old' as far as adoptive nursing goes, and I had not heard of anyone successfully latching a child older than nine months, but I decided to try. I was worried about traveling so far with a breast pump and no guarantee of consistent refrigeration or cleaning supplies, so I decided to wait until we brought Matthew home before I started trying to relactate. Dr. Jack Newman has an information guide on how to initiate lactation or relactate for an adopted child. I asked my doctor to prescribe me domperidone and, once we arrived back home with our adopted baby in arms, I pumped six times a day to stimulate a milk supply.
Within the first week I realized I should have established a supply before introducing a whole new baby into my life, because chasing two toddlers and getting to know a high needs fifteen month old stranger while juggling a pumping and domperidone intake schedule was a gross overestimation of my time (and emotional capacity). Within a week I stopped trying to relactate and put the pump away in my closet. I cried. This was an enormous loss for me, and I felt like a total failure, but I could see that Matthew was very attached to his bottle nipple and was not going to latch to me, preferred his daddy and rejected me (common with toddler adoptions), and was simply taking one hundred percent of my time and energy to meet his needs and manage his grief as he adjusted to all the changes in his life.
Three years later his little brother Riley was born. Riley is a healer. He has this calm, peaceful spirit that seems to be contagious, and he spreads joy around just by being alive. Riley's birth meant that I had an abundance of milk on hand~I figured, better late than never! And Matthew started getting pumped breastmilk daily, a few weeks before his fourth birthday. He didn't know it was my milk: he would have been totally grossed out by the idea, but I snuck it into his cup every day for fourteen months! It is rare to feel empowered by being sneaky, but in this instance it really felt exactly right that I should make milk, share it with my preschooler, and feel proud of this biological, nurturing gift I provided with my body to help his gut, nerves, immune system, and brain. He had a remarkable year; he managed to avoid a nasty case of RSV that circuited our family, his allergies were reduced, and he had far fewer ear infections than any previous winter. But most of all, I felt empowered and happy to provide my son with the best milk on the planet, and to create a lasting, biological connection between the two of us. Better late than never, indeed.
Breastfeeding an adopted child is different from your ideal, La Leche League, natural momma type breastfeeding. The ideal has to be adapted around the logistics of your individual situation. My goal was twofold: to raise Matthew intentionally towards building a close attachment with him to foster emotional stability and healthy, naturally developed autonomy, and to get some of that liquid breastfeeding gold into him. My original hope had been to meet these two goals simultaneously, at my breast. But, like so many parts of the parenting journey, I had to adjust my hope and meet these goals in a unique and different way. So, instead, I parented him with attachment in mind by being responsive, carrying him lots, hugging him often, and following his lead for what suited his personality the best. And then, separately, and several years after adopting him, I made milk, pumped it, and put it in his cup.
In adoption, you cannot always have the number one best ideal situation. So, I took the number two best ideal situation, and made it my number one. I'm happy with the way it worked out! Matthew is healthy and rambunctious, zooms circles around his peers in dexterity, and is learning to read. Best of all, he's emotionally secure. He's well attached. And everyone who meets him, falls in love with him. Can you blame them? He's obnoxiously cute...
Melissa Vose is an artist, writer, women's advocate, doula, and kid-wrangler. She lives in Western Canada with her wonderful husband and their four noisy, crazy kids. She blogs at White Noise, and is the Editor of Mothers of Change, a birth advocacy organization working to improve maternity care services in Canada. She is passionate about breastfeeding, attachment parenting, ecological living, advocacy work, art, social justice, traveling, and raising awareness regarding mental illness. She and her husband adopted their second son in late 2005.