The Battle For Breastmilk: What I Learned And Why I Plan To Try Again

Robin Marty

Breastfeeding my first child did not go smoothly. First I was told my daughter was failing to thrive.  Later, I felt that our relationship was, too.

Now that I’ve made it past the halfway point on my second pregnancy, things are starting to become a little more real.  I’m realizing that actual plans to give birth should be made, and that I will soon need to make realistic decisions about how I plan to raise and care for this child once he is born. 

I assumed with everything that I learned and experienced having Violet, things would be easier the second time around.  For some situations, like the actual event of giving birth, I am hoping that I will have a second chance to succeed in the delivery room, and have the experience I was denied the first time.  Now I’m hoping maybe I can have a second chance at breastfeeding, too.

With Violet, I had every advantage a breastfeeding mother could ever want: access to a hospital pump for her first ten days, a bevy of NICU nurses all who said they were certified lactation consultants, a strong baby who appeared to have a voracious appetite and no issues with latching, and an endless supply of mother’s milk tea, peanut butter toast, apple juice and advice.

But every advantage came with a roadblock: my NICU baby was full term and mostly healthy, just on an antibiotic IV.   She was also the only child in the ward for most of her stay. The same nurses who encouraged and advised me non-stop on my breastfeeding adventures would also give her bottles when she woke up hungry, just to “let me get some rest” after a grueling labor, an emergency c-section, an infection, and massive blood loss.   After my stay in the hospital ended and Violet had another week still to go, they told me that I should concentrate on getting myself healthy by going home at night to sleep, while my daughter woke up to more staff cuddles and even more formula.

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I did all of the things I was told I needed to do.  I drank the teas.  I woke up every three hours, pumping at home with my Mendela electric, spending 30 minutes on each side, crying when a full night’s work combined to make three small ounces that were gone within the first feeding back at the hospital. 

Then, back to the formula.

I’d go to the family room to get more juice or heat more tea, weary, in pain, staring at the giant poster that listed all of the horrible things that companies put in formula that you would never have to expose your baby to if you just gave him the breast.  I was trying to give her the breast.  But it was never enough.

The nurses came up with a myriad of reasons why I just didn’t seem to be producing enough milk.  C-section surgery can stall your milk coming in, they told me.  You had a severe loss of blood your body is trying to make up first, said another.  You need to keep pumping more, I heard from a third.  I would feed my baby, hand her over to my husband or a nurse, and then go back to a dayroom in the hospital and pump some more. 

Except for the first moment they wheeled me into her room, I don’t think I ever just sat and held my baby during the entire first ten days of her life.  Instead, I only held her to feed.

Once her antibiotics were done and she was discharged, things became much easier.  I nursed her when she cried.  We began to have that feeling of closeness that people had told me about, but I always seemed to be missing at the hospital. On the nurses’ advice I’d feed her for 20 minutes on each side, then if she still seemed hungry I would make her a small bottle to top her off.

When we went into the doctor for her follow-up a week later, she had lost 6 ounces.  The doctor forbade me from breast feeding, because he wanted to monitor how much food she was receiving. 

Violet was officially being classified as “failure to thrive.”

Suddenly, I was in a completely different breastmilk world.  My husband’s paternity leave and vacation had ended, and I was alone for the first time with my daughter.  I was pumping now for 40 minutes every two hours, trying desperately to build up supply.  I still had hardly enough for one feeding, and now I had to combine pumping time and feeding time, forming this endless loop with either a bottle or a pump in my hands at all time.  It was never enough.  I found myself resenting the baby, who would be in a glider, crying for me while I pumped. Couldn’t she see I still had five more minutes left on my right side and I was doing this for her!

That was when I realized that it wasn’t just my daughter that was “failing to thrive,” but our relationship, too.

I began to taper down my pumping.  It had been four weeks, and she had begun to put on weight.  I pumped three times a day, getting just enough milk to make me feel like I was providing a little bit of antibodies if nothing else, mixing it with the water in her formula.  Soon I switched to twice a day, then once, finishing up the day she turned six weeks old. 

I held her more.  We had time to cuddle on the couch, where she would nuzzle up and sleep on my chest.  She was already pushing herself up on her arms, rolling over, things I had time to enjoy because I wasn’t stuck in the constant cycle of pumping and feeding and yes, even crying.  She started to sleep through the night.  I started to sleep through the night.  And I started to think maybe I wasn’t the most horrible mother in the world after all.

My milk never came in.  I never was able to really give her my breast.  But I was able to give her me.

Now, I will have a chance to try this all again.  This time I am more prepared.  I know that many of the roadblocks that might have hindered me previously will probably not be an issue this time.  With no induction, my likelihood for an emergency c-section is greatly reduced, since we should end up with either a vaginal birth or a planned c-section.  With IV antibiotics during labor, the baby should come out perfectly healthy, and I should be able to keep him in my room, away from well-intention but somewhat contradictory nurses.  We should be able to be together, from the moment of birth, through our discharge, and at home, providing the best foundation for potential breastfeeding.  And, having watched my incessantly moving, constantly underweight newborn blossom into a healthy, mentally-advanced and physically exhausting toddler has taught me that what may at first look like failure to thrive might instead be a child settling into its own skin.

But I’ve also learned a valuable lesson from my experience with Violet.  Despite all of your plans and best intentions, sometimes breastfeeding just might not work out.  I can only do what I am capable of, and this time, I will recognize that the milk from my breast is not as important as the time I get to spend with my baby, nurturing him, helping him grow and develop.

Mothers struggle constantly with their desire to breastfeed being hit head-on by extenuating circumstances, as fellow Rewire reporter Amie Newman discussed elequantly last year.  But while I will go into this second attempt optimistic, I will also be easier on myself, not falling prey to the potential feelings of shame and inadequacy that can sometimes accompany bottle-feeding should things not work this time, either.

Being a good parent has less to do with what goes into your infant’s stomach, and everything to do with what goes on when you hold that baby in your arms.

News Health Systems

What Happens When a Catholic-Run Clinic Comes to Your Local Walgreens?

Amy Littlefield

“It causes us great concern when we think about vulnerable populations ... [who] may need to use these clinics for things like getting their contraception prescribed and who would never think that when they went into a Walgreens they would be restricted by Catholic doctrine,” Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, told Rewire.

One of the largest Catholic health systems is set to begin running health clinics inside 27 Walgreens stores in Missouri and Illinois next week. The deal between Walgreens and SSM Health has raised concerns from public interest groups worried that care may be compromised by religious doctrine.

Catholic health systems generally follow directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, contraception, tubal ligations, vasectomies, and fertility treatments.

“We are concerned that the clinics will likewise be required to follow the [directives], thereby severely curtailing access to important reproductive health services, information, and referrals,” MergerWatch, the National Health Law Program, and the American Civil Liberties Unions of Illinois and Missouri wrote in a letter to Walgreens on Wednesday. They also sent a letter to SSM Health.

In a statement emailed to Rewire, Walgreens said its relationship with SSM Health “will not have any impact on any of our current clinic or pharmacy policies and procedures.”

SSM Health emailed a statement saying it “will continue to offer the same services that are currently available at Walgreens Healthcare Clinics today.” If a patient needs services “that are beyond the scope of what is appropriate for a retail clinic setting, they will be referred to a primary care physician or other provider of their choice,” the statement read.

A spokesperson for SSM Health demurred when Rewire asked if that would include referrals for abortion care.

“I’ve got to check this part out, my apologies, this is one that hadn’t occurred to me,” said Jason Merrill, the spokesperson.

Merrill later reiterated SSM Health’s statement that it would continue to offer the same services.

Catholic health systems have in recent years expanded control over U.S. hospitals, with one in six acute-care hospital beds now in a Catholic-owned or -affiliated facility. Patients in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying, denied tubal ligations, and refused abortion care despite conditions like brain cancer.

Catholic health systems have also expanded into the broader landscape of outpatient services, raising new questions about how religion could influence other forms of care.

“The whole health system is transforming itself with more and more health care being delivered outside the hospital,” Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch, told Rewire. “So we are looking carefully to make sure that the religious restrictions that have been such a problem for reproductive health care at Catholic hospitals are not now transferred to these drug store clinics or to urgent care centers or free-standing emergency rooms.”

Walgreens last year announced a similar arrangement with the Catholic health system Providence Health & Services to bring up to 25 retail clinics to Oregon and Washington. After expressing concerns about the deal, the ACLU of Washington said it received assurances from both Walgreens and Providence that services at those clinics would not be affected by religious doctrine.

Meanwhile, the major urgent care provider CityMD recently announced a partnership with CHI Franciscan Health–which is affiliated with Catholic Health Initiatives–to open urgent care centers in Washington state.

“We’re seeing [Catholic health systems] going into the urgent care business and into the primary care business and in accountable care organizations, where they are having an influence on the services that are available to the public and to consumers,” Susan Berke Fogel, director of reproductive health at the National Health Law Program, told Rewire.

GoHealth Urgent Care, which describes itself as “one of the fastest growing urgent care companies in the U.S.,” announced an agreement this year with Dignity Health to bring urgent care centers to California’s Bay Area. Dignity Health used to be called Catholic Healthcare West, but changed its name in 2012.

“This is another pattern that we’ve seen of Catholic health plans and health providers changing their names to things that don’t sound so Catholic,” Lois Uttley said.


In the letters sent Wednesday, the National Health Law Program and other groups requested meetings with Walgreens and SSM Health to discuss concerns about the potential influence of religion on the clinics.

“It causes us great concern when we think about vulnerable populations, we think about low-income people… people who… may need to use these clinics for things like getting their contraception prescribed and who would never think that when they went into a Walgreens they would be restricted by Catholic doctrine,” Lorie Chaiten, director of the Reproductive Rights Project of the ACLU of Illinois, told Rewire.

The new clinics in Walgreens will reportedly be called “SSM Health Express Clinics at Walgreens.” According to SSM Health’s website, its initials “[pay] tribute” to the Sisters of St. Mary.

“We are fairly forthcoming with the fact that we are a mission-based health care organization,” Merrill told Rewire. “That’s something we embrace. I don’t think it’s anything we would hide.”


Tell us your story. Have religious restrictions affected your ability to access health care? Email

Commentary Politics

It’s Not Just Trump: The Right Wing’s Increasing Reliance on Violence and Intimidation as a Path to Power

Jodi Jacobson

Republicans have tried to pass Trump's most recent comments off as a joke because to accept the reality of that rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large.

This week, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that, if Hillary Clinton were elected and able to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about it. After blaming the media for “being dishonest” in reporting his statement, the Trump campaign has since tried to pass the comment off as a joke. However characterized, Trump’s statement is not only part of his own election strategy, but also a strategy that has become synonymous with those of candidates, legislators, and groups affiliated with the positions of the GOP.

To me, the phrase “Second Amendment people” translates to those reflexively opposed to any regulation of gun sales and ownership and who feel they need guns to arm themselves against the government. I’m not alone: The comment was widely perceived as an implicit threat of violence against the Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, GOP party leaders have failed to condemn his comment, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreeing with the Trump campaign that it was “a joke gone bad.”

Republicans have tried to pass it off as a joke because to accept the reality of their rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large. The rhetoric is part of a longer and increasingly dangerous effort by the GOP, aided by corporate-funded right-wing organizations and talk show hosts, to de-legitimize the federal government, undermine confidence in our voting system, play on the fears held by a segment of the population about tyranny and the loss of liberty, and intimidate people Republican leaders see as political enemies.

Ironically, while GOP candidates and leaders decry the random violence of terrorist groups like Daeshitself an outgrowth of desperate circumstances, failed states, and a perceived or real loss of powerthey are perpetuating the idea of loss and desperation in the United States and inciting others to random violence against political opponents.

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Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment came after a week of efforts by the Trump campaign to de-legitimize the 2016 presidential election well before a single vote has been cast. On Monday, August 1, after polls showed Trump losing ground, he asserted in an Ohio campaign speech that “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest.”

Manufactured claims of widespread voter fraud—a problem that does not exist, as several analyses have shown—have nonetheless been repeatedly pushed by the GOP since the 2008 election. Using these disproven claims as support, GOP legislatures in 20 states have passed new voter restrictions since 2010, and still the GOP claims elections are suspect, stoking the fears of average voters seeking easy answers to complex problems and feeding the paranoia of separatist and white nationalist groups. Taking up arms against an illegitimate government is, after all, exactly what “Second Amendment remedies” are for.

Several days before Trump’s Ohio speech, Trump adviser Roger Stone suggested that the result of the election might be “illegitimate,” leading to “widespread civil disobedience” and a “bloodbath,” a term I personally find chilling.

Well before these comments were made, there was the hate-fest otherwise known as the Republican National Convention (RNC), during which both speakers and supporters variously called for Clinton to be imprisoned or shot, and during which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a man not widely known for his high ethical standards or sense of accountability, led a mock trial of Hillary Clinton to chants from the crowd of “lock her up.” And that was the tame part.

The number of times Trump has called for or supported violence at his rallies is too long to catalogue here. His speeches are rife with threats to punch opponents; after the Democratic National Convention, he threatened to hit speakers who critiqued his policies “so hard their heads would spin.” He also famously promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who hurt protesters at his rallies and defended former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after allegations surfaced that Lewandowski had assaulted a female Breitbart reporter.

A recent New York Times video compiled over a year of reporting at Trump rallies revealed the degree to which many of Trump’s supporters unapologetically express violence and hatred—for women, immigrants, and people of color. And Trump eschews any responsibility for what has transpired, repeatedly claiming he does not condone violence—his own rhetoric, that of his associates, and other evidence notwithstanding.

Still, to focus only on Trump is to ignore a broader and deeper acceptance, even encouragement of, incitement to violence by the GOP that began long before the 2016 campaign.

In 2008, in what may appear to be a now forgotten but eerily prescient peek at the 2016 RNC, then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, used race-baiting and hints at violence to gin up their crowds. First, Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” a claim that became part of her stump speech. As a result, Frank Rich then wrote in the New York Times:

At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option.

Nothing was in fact done. No price was paid by GOP candidates encouraging this kind of behavior.

In 2009, during congressional debates on the Affordable Care Act, opponents of the health-care law, who’d been fed a steady diet of misleading and sensationalist information, were encouraged by conservative groups like FreedomWorks and Right Principles, as well as talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity, to disrupt town hall meetings on the legislation held throughout the country. Protesters turned up at some town hall meetings armed with rifles with the apparent intention of intimidating those who, in supporting health reform, disagreed with them. In some cases, what began as nasty verbal attacks turned violent. As the New York Times then reported: “[M]embers of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.”

In 2010, as first reported by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), suggested that armed insurrection would be the answer if “this Congress keeps going the way it is.” In response to a request for clarification by the host of the radio show on which she made her comments, Angle said:

You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.

I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.

Also in 2010, Palin, by then a failed vice-presidential candidate, created a map “targeting” congressional Democrats up for re-election, complete with crosshairs. Palin announced the map to her supporters with this exhortation: “Don’t retreat. Instead, reload!”

One of the congresspeople on that map was Arizona Democrat Gabby Giffords, who in the 2010 Congressional race was challenged by Jesse Kelly, a Palin-backed Tea Party candidate. Kelly’s campaign described an event this way:

Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.

Someone took this literally. In January 2011, Jared Lee Loughner went on a shooting rampage in a Tuscon grocery store at which Giffords was meeting with constituents. Loughner killed six people and injured 13 others, including Giffords who, as a result of permanent disability resulting from the shooting, resigned from Congress. Investigators later found that Loughner had for months become obsessed with government conspiracy theories such as those spread by GOP and Tea Party candidates.

These events didn’t stop GOP candidates from fear-mongering and suggesting “remedies.”  To the contrary, the goading continued. As the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein wrote in 2011:

Florida Senate candidate Mike McCalister, who is running against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), offered a variation of the much-lampooned line during a speech before the Palms West Republican Club earlier this week.

“I get asked sometimes where do I stand on the Second and 10th Amendment, and I have a little saying,” he declared. “We need a sign at every harbor, every airport and every road entering our state: ‘You’re entering a 10th Amendment-owned and -operated state, and justice will be served with the Second Amendment.’” [Emphasis added.]

These kinds of threats by the GOP against other legislators and even the president have gone unpunished by the leadership of the party. Not a word has come from either House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decrying these statements, and the hyperbole and threats have only continued. Recently, for example, former Illinois GOP Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted and then deleted this threat to the president after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas:

“3 Dallas cops killed, 7 wounded,” former congressman Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, wrote just before midnight in a tweet that is no longer on his profile. “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
Even after the outcry over his recent remarks, Trump has escalated the rhetoric against both President Obama and against Clinton, calling them the “founders of ISIS.” And again no word from the GOP leadership.
This rhetoric is part of a pattern used by the right wing within and outside elections. Anti-choice groups, for example, consistently misrepresent reproductive health care writ large, and abortion specifically. They “target” providers with public lists of names, addresses, and other personal information. They lie, intimidate, and make efforts to both vilify and stigmatize doctors. When this leads to violence, as David Cohen wrote in Rolling Stone this week, the anti-choice groups—and their GOP supporters—shrug off any responsibility.
Some gun rights groups also use this tactic of intimidation and targeting to silence critique. In 2011, for example, 40 men armed with semi-automatic weapons and other guns surrounded a restaurant in Arlington, Texas, in which a mothers’ group had gathered to discuss gun regulations. “Second Amendment people” have spit upon women arguing for gun regulation and threatened them with rape. In one case, a member of these groups waited in the dark at the home of an advocate and then sought to intimidate her as she approached in her wheelchair.
The growing resort to violence and intimidation in our country is a product of an environment in which leading politicians not only look the other way as their constituents and affiliated groups use such tactics to press a political point, but in which the leaders themselves are complicit.
These are dangerous games being played by a major political party in its own quest for power. Whether or not Donald Trump is the most recent and most bombastic evidence of what has become of the GOP, it is the leadership and the elected officials of the party who are condoning and perpetuating an environment in which insinuations of violence will increasingly lead to acts of violence. The more that the right uses and suggests violence as a method of capturing, consolidating, and holding power, the more they become like the very terrorists they claim to be against.


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