Friday, August 21, 2009
Being of the somewhat ‘crunchy’ persuasion (I wanted and planned for a natural birth, we use cloth diapers, eat organic, I prefer holistic methods of dealing with what ails me, etc.) it was no surprise that I intended to breastfeed my child. I mean, come on, we ALL know that it is not only the best option but human milk is what human babies are supposed to survive on…another soap box for a later time. I did the usual research I do when embarking on the unknown and read what I could find (although I never did get around to reading 'The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding' which everyone suggested!) and talked with my friends and other women who had successfully breastfed their babies. I counted on the fact that I could do it even though I knew that it would not be easy, I mean not only do I have few to no models to normalize the whole thing for me, but I live in the US where breastfeeding is still looked on as fairly primitive and in some circles ‘disgusting.’ But hey, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge or an opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong. Due to a c-section delivery (a WHOLE other story for another day), I did not get to attempt breastfeeding until approximately 1.5-2 hours after our darling daughter was born while I was in the recovery room. She of course was pretty groggy from a long labor and finally the drugs necessary for the c-section and I was still recovering so it was slow going at first. When we finally got in our room and really got in to it, it seemed to go pretty well; the usual issues I’m sure, dealing with the IV (what a pain), getting a pain-free latch, finding a comfortable position, etc. The biggest issue was keeping her awake long enough to nurse adequately but she was wetting and dirtying the ‘required’ amount of diapers to prevent nurses from pushing formula so I figured all was well. Needless to say it was a blurry eyed filled couple days with visitors coming and going and little to no sleep before heading home with our new baby/family, but overall it seemed that the breastfeeding thing was going along ‘smoothly.’ Given the discomfort of some family members who were in town (and my own reservations of bearing all to the world), I felt the need to consider everyone’s feelings (a mistake I think many first time moms make) and attempted to continue to learn this new skill undercover, while trying to give everyone a piece of their desired time holding her. Again, overall, I thought I was doing pretty good, she seemed to latch on and nurse although, still falling asleep every time. Little did I know, these were the salad days and I should have been taking advantage of her sleepiness and the visitors to get some much needed sleep. The problems began when my daughter was 11 days old, I felt a small lump that felt sore to the touch on my right breast. I assumed it was a clogged milk duct (I had a friend that had one and had heard it was common in the first few weeks of breastfeeding). I called my ob/gyn office who told me that I needed to continue to nurse to try and get rid of it and to call them if I got a fever which would indicate an infection (mastitis). So, I launched into my research again as well as trying to get my daughter to nurse longer than about 10 minutes before passing out. I tried everything that I read would help, dry heat, wet heat, hot shower, massage, trying to line her chin up with the clogged duct while nursing…for days. At one point I felt like I was doing more harm than good as my breast was getting so sore from all the pressure from my determination to massage it out. On day 16 (postnatal) I woke up to my breast feeling like it was on fire and painfully engorged (i.e. huge and hard as a rock). I had taken my temp during the night in the hopes that I had a fever so I could finally go to the doctor and have them fix this, finding that in fact I did have a fever. Of course it was a Sunday so I went to the Easy Care Clinic in pain and highly emotional since I was feeling like this could derail my plans to continue breastfeeding my baby. I was in so much pain and in tears when the nurse and doctor examined me and confirmed that yes it was mastitis and prescribed antibiotics and instructed me to see my doctor for a follow-up in two days to make sure it does not progress (OH MY GOD, it could get WORSE?!!!). That day and night I was a mess, sobbing as my daughter took her first bottle of formula because the one breast she would take was cracked and bleeding (which at the time I thought meant I could not use it), I felt like a failure and I had only been a mom for a little over two weeks. Apparently I was such an emotional mess that my dear, well-meaning husband called my parents unbeknownst to me to tell them they needed to speed up their arrival by 4 days because he was worried about me (worried I would do what, I still don’t know?). I was less than thrilled when I found this out, like I really needed a bigger audience for my emotional breakdown and failure! They were there the next day, completely unaware of what to do or how to help. In fact, they even offered to babysit while my husband and I ‘went out.’ Could they not see that I was hanging on by a thread here, going out was the last thing on my mind! I needed to figure out how to resolve this excruciating pain and oh yea, make sure my new born baby wasn't going to starve to death! On day 18 I showed up for my follow-up with my doctor’s office. The mid-wife that supervised my very long labor saw me and when I showed her my breast (l was getting much better at this and it was becoming a non-issue for me) she kept her calm demeanor when she said “We need to get you to a surgeon today, that is an abscess.” What?! You mean it’s not getting better? I didn’t think I could feel any worse…I was wrong. The events of the rest of the day ended up unraveling as I made probably the worst decision of my life, I kept an appointment with a lactation consultant (LC) instead of seeing the surgeon (of course this was after the LC terrified me about what a surgeon would do to my breast, possibly further interfering with my ability to continue to breastfeed and that together we could ‘take care of it’ with the “least intervention necessary”), I think I’ll save that story for another day. I scheduled the surgeon for day 20 just in case. Day 19 came and I was still dealing with the pain, a cranky, tired baby who wanted to nurse ALL the time. I continued with the regime prescribed by the LC throughout the day (cabbage leaves, ibuprofen, pumping/nursing every 1.5 hours). When my husband got home that evening I needed a break and a shower since I knew I wouldn’t be able to get one in before my surgeon’s appointment in the morning. At this point my breast was in such pain that even the water from the shower felt like fire. When I got out of the shower I noticed a creamy substance dripping from my body, horrified I looked in the mirror and it was coming from the abscess, the water from the shower had broken the delicate skin that had been stretched to its limit (not to mentioned bruised from all the pumping the LC recommended). After much distress and trying to figure out whether it could wait till my appointment in the morning, I went to the ER by myself to spare my baby exposure to the nastiness that lurks in ERs. While there the surgeon on call aspirated the abscess with a large syringe; I am willing to say that being shot or engulfed in fire might be the only things I can think of that could be more painful than this experience, but again, this is just a guess. I dealt with 46 hours of un-medicated labor before needing a c-section less than 3 weeks earlier and I was confidently declaring this to be the most pain I had ever experienced. I was sobbing by the time he was done, so much so that a kind nurse offered me morphine to help with the pain. My husband picked me up and the responsibilities of being a new mom were thrust upon me again. Day 20, I was finally heading to the surgeon’s office, my husband met me there to take care of our daughter who still wasn’t happy unless she was nursing, while I went in for the procedure. The surgeon sliced the abscess open and drained it …again, I am dealing with the most excruciating pain I can describe, a little more than 12 hours after the first time. When she made me look down at the quarter size hole in my breast so I knew what it needed to look like until it healed, instructing me to wash it out daily and if need be pick any tissue out with a q-tip, with tears in my eyes, I was overwhelmed. As I cried again, exclaiming that I just want to be able to breastfeed my baby, she explained that it was possible and that I would just need to continue to try and get her to take the breast to make sure it did not happen again (You mean this could happen again?!!). This would not be the last time I cried about this, the next few days were filled with doubt, tears and wavering (I mean, I was a formula fed baby and I turned out ok). It was during these days of wavering that my husband actually stepped in and said the right things at the right times, when I said “I don’t know if this is working,” he replied, “what do you mean, you’re doing great!” What?! Did he not see the mess that I was? After several more conversations like this he said “Look, we both know that breastfeeding is best for her but we also know that formula won’t kill her and you’ve given it your best, there’s no need to kill yourself over a choice.” I know for a fact he did not know how important those words were, and I can’t even pin point why it made such a difference but with that statement, it was decided, I was doing this. Maybe it was my stubbornness, him giving me permission to quit was what I needed to push me past my wall of insecurity. It could have been both mine and my daughter’s stubbornness combined, since the only thing that seemed to soothe her in those first few months was breastfeeding, but we made it through, together. Sweet Pea is now a week from turning 1 and we are is still breastfeeding, albeit only about 2-3 times a day as I believe she is actually self-weaning herself like the good girl I had hoped, sparing me the emotional turmoil of having to make the decision to cut her off of what seemed like such a source of comfort for her for so long. After several weeks of breastfeeding her with one breast while making a few attempts to get her on the healing breast, we made it through and although the scarred breast is still not her favorite, it did and still does produce, some. I made it past my conservative goal of breastfeeding her to 6 months (which in those early weeks seemed like it would take a miracle) and am actually making it to a year. The scar on my right breast is not big but it also is not attractive nor out of sight, I see it every time I look in the mirror after the shower and it is not even a smooth scar, I can feel it and even see it’s ridge through the fabric in my bra, something I’m sure a common observer wouldn’t see. My husband claims it is not that big nor is it a big deal; we both got more than we bargained for in this whole breastfeeding saga. Although, I do sometimes mourn what I felt were pretty darn good looking breasts pre-pregnancy and breastfeeding, I find myself walking taller, standing up straighter, not afraid to showcase these new breasts that have nourished my child for nearly the entire first year of her life and have taught me a lot about what this body of mine is worth and capable of. So, I will say good-bye to these breastfeeding days with a sense of bitter-sweetness, I will be happy to have my body back and to no longer have to deal with the nuisance of pumping while I'm away from her, but I believe my daughter and I have shared in a special relationship that was worth the tears, pain and turmoil of the early days, that has taught me a lot about what it takes to be a mother and the benefit of perseverance.