Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Slippery Slope

In college I took a philosophy class. Nearly ten years later, I can't remember the professor's name, much of what I learned, or even what year I had the class. In fact, the only two things that stuck in my mind about Philosophy 101 are the pretty brunette that sat in front of me and the idea of "The Slippery Slope." The slippery slope is the argument that once you take one small step towards a direction you don't want to go, you will inevitably continue to gravitate towards that negative direction, as if you were sliding down the slope of a snow covered mountain. The argument is ethical in principal, but can be applied to real life as well.

Recently I recognized an appearance by the slippery slope in my life for the first time since my Philosophy final exam, occurring with regard to Rachel's choice to nurse the babies. One late night as Rachel and I drearily fed our two babies, Rachel looked at me as she fought Malorie to latch and told me that she didn't want to nurse Mal that time. Malorie is a notoriously slow and picky eater, usually needing an additional bottle to ensure she got her nutritional needs met. Also, it's not fun at all to fight sleep for an extra 20 minutes while trying to feed a baby who just wants a bottle. I looked at Rachel, muttered something about the slippery slope, and then went to prepare Mal her bottle.

My comments about the slippery slope went unnoticed by Rachel that first time, but soon Malorie was taking only a bottle for all overnight feedings, and I kept chirping about the slippery slope. The chain of events had begun, and Rachel and I were sliding down. A week later, Rachel decided to feed Malorie from the breast only when she seemed, "really hungry," a vague and relative term that in our case meant never. Mal was now a bottle fed baby.

Within weeks, Micah's feedings were dragging on longer and longer. Soon, the thirty minute feeding window allotted for each baby had become an hour for Micah, who nursed for thirty minutes and then took a bottle for thirty more. The elongated feedings wore us out and restricted Micah's playtime, as he would be so tired from the feeding that he would sleep soon after finishing. Rachel began to notice my slippery slope comments as we slid a bit further down the slope, deciding we would only allow Micah to nurse for 20 minutes.

Each time we tapered more time off of Rachel's nursing, we further depleted her supply. The body only makes enough milk to meet needs, and we kept telling the body we didn't need as much. This, coupled with Rachel's body's original resistance to producing an adequate supply of milk, slowly continued the slide down the slope. Soon, Micah was not content at the breast, crying until he was given a bottle. Eventually, Rachel chose to skip afternoon nursing sessions when Micah was most fussy. Then the nights dropped off, and within a week Micah was also an exclusively bottle fed baby. Rachel pumped her milk to meet some of the need, but within days her body realized no babies were being fed and stopped producing milk. Our descent was now complete and the slippery slope had claimed another victim.
Rachel and I have been feeding the babies only formula for a few weeks now, and feedings are more predictable, faster and easier than before. In the long run, Rach was going to have to stop nursing the babies eventually and she did a fantastic job of it for over three months, devoting countless hours to feeding instead of sleep. However, she's still saddened by her lost bonding time with the babies. If nothing else, over the course of the last couple weeks Rachel learned everything I did in a college philosophy class though; she had been unaware of the consequences of her decision until the slide began, but now she is well aware of the concept of the slippery slope.


  1. I know that is such a hard decision to make and one that you might never feel "great" about. The important thing is that you did what was right for your family, that is what counts. And those babies look as healthy as can be, so ya'll are doing everything exactly right! :-) I still want to meet them!!!!

  2. You've given them both a good start with breastfeeding, but it's not like it was the olden times when you had to cobble together a formula out of tinned milk and karo syrup or buy a goat to milk. Formula is fine, especially now that they're starting spoon feeding. Don't let anybody trash talk about not nursing them until they're old enough to undo your buttons in the commisary when they want a snack.

    Aunt Mary

  3. I understand and remember it being sad when that special and unique bonding time ends, and not always when you had planned for it to be the right time. Thank heaven for all the other wonderful and unique bonding experiences that will continue to amaze you at every turn. I'm just so happy for all the love and joy you're sharing with each other and your little babies, and so proud of the kind of parents you are and continue to be.

    Blessings and love.