July 27, 2016

I realize this topic may not pique everyone's interest, but this is another post I really need to write. Nursing a child is a journey - one that is unique to every mother. For some moms it's awesome and easy and natural, and to them I say, I am so happy for you! I hope you always love it and never take it for granted! And then.. there's me.

When I was pregnant with Peter, one of the things I worried about most was whether I would be able to nurse him. I wanted to do it so badly. I knew it would benefit his health, help me recover, allow us to bond, save our family money, the list goes on. But I always worried I wouldn't be able to do it - I'm not sure exactly what I was afraid of, but I stressed about it a lot.

In the hospital, Peter had a tough time latching on to me. Eventually a nurse had me try using a plastic nursing shield, and that seemed to help - at least when the nurses were around. Any time they were gone, we just couldn't get it on our own. They told me how long and how often Peter should be eating and had me keep a log, which stressed me out even more because it made it unmistakably clear we weren't reaching our goals. We kept calling the nurses and lactation consultants back in for help. Some of them I loved, some made me cry. 

I remember the second morning when I had Stefan and two nurses at my side, all of us trying every trick we knew. Peter was screaming - probably starving, my mother-in-law had just arrived for a visit, I was exhausted and feeling hopeless, and I just could not keep it together. I was sobbing and I didn't care who saw or heard. I felt desperate. Being the private personality I am, I was surprised at how immediately willing I was to have any and every nurse get in there and help me out. I wanted it so badly.

^^^ a picture from that morning. you totally can't tell i was crying, right?

By the time we left the hospital, we felt like we were starting to get it figured out. I keep saying "we" because it was always a team effort between Peter and me, of course - but I can't tell this story without praising Stefan, too. He was by our side through it all - asking the nurses questions, helping me hold Peter, washing the shield, trying everything he could to make it work. I can't explain what his support and positive attitude meant to me.

The first week, nursing went pretty well. Besides the fact that once Peter figured out how to latch, he would stay on forever - like almost an hour total each time. And I didn't know if I should stop him? I couldn't always tell if he had fallen asleep or not, and I never wanted to stop him if he needed more! After a while we talked to our pediatrician and decided to time him and cut him off after a certain point. But man, those long, very frequent feedings were rough.

Then when Peter was eight days old, I got a terrible fever and felt so engorged I thought milk was going to burst right through my skin. We frantically tried to figure out our breast pump while I panicked like you wouldn't believe. I finally managed to pump a little, but the fever didn't go away and it began to feel unbelievably painful to nurse. Finally, two days later, Stefan and I decided I probably had mastitis. I called my doctor and I'm pretty sure the first thing she said was, "Why didn't you call me sooner!?" Stefan picked up my antibiotic later that day and, as I'm sure you've figured out by now, I did not die.

I want to take a minute to emphasize how TERRIBLE mastitis is. I described it to one friend as coming "from actual hell." I also want to take a minute to ask why nobody talks about it!? I had only heard one person mention it to me while I was pregnant, and I totally brushed it off with an it will never happen to me mindset. HA. Since then I have met so many women who have experienced it - it's really pretty common, and it definitely can happen to anyone! Even cows, as I learned last weekend at a dairy farm. Poor babies. (<<< and I am not an  animal person.) Also I am convinced that when you read about women back in the day dying not long after giving birth, some of them probably got mastitis and the infection spread and, you know. Just a theory!

Okay, so the antibiotic healed me. But the next weekend Peter was having a hard time. He was so fussy, and nothing we tried was helping. Finally, my mom suggested giving him some formula. We poured an ounce into a bottle, and he sucked it dry. I was nursing him and giving him everything I had, but he was still hungry. I took it pretty hard. Everyone reassured me it wasn't true, but I felt like a failure. Don't get me wrong, I was so happy and relieved to figure out what was upsetting Peter. (And how lucky are we that he took a bottle like it was the easiest thing he'd ever done!?) But at the same time I felt like all my hard work and the progress we had made had been for nothing. From then on I continued nursing, but we supplemented with a couple ounces of formula after each feeding. 

A few weeks later I woke up with the chills. Then a fever came, then all the other symptoms, then a text to my doctor. Mastitis, again. Fortunately I caught it early and didn't wait two days to get the antibiotic. But I could tell I was producing even less milk after that, which meant we had to increase the amount of formula Peter was eating.

I learned to not feel guilty about giving him formula. I'm totally part of team "fed is best." Whatever it takes for a happy baby and happy mom! But I also wasn't ready to give up. I tried everything I could to produce more milk - I realized I wasn't eating enough calories so I started eating more, I drank more water, took fenugreek vitamins, always nursed Peter before offering the bottle.. And for a while I really felt it helping! I knew I would likely never produce enough that he could quit formula altogether - by this time he was growing and eating so much that I felt like he had become a formula baby who supplemented with my milk, instead of the other way around - but it felt good to see my efforts pay off. Plus every little bit of milk I gave him was better than nothing.

Then... guess what happened next. Mastitis, round three. I was so over it. The fever, the pain. I was the definition of frustrated. Stick a picture of me right in the dictionary. Frustrated. Over it.

Stefan and I weighed the pros and cons, but in the end I decided to stop nursing Peter. We had made it almost four months, so he had gotten my milk during the early months when it is most beneficial. It was all so much work and stress.. I kept getting sick, we were past the point of saving any money, and I was - maybe you heard - over it. Honestly, I feel really good about the decision. I feel like I gave it all I had. Sure, I wanted to nurse my baby for a full year and it didn't even come close to working out. What can you do. My baby is happy and healthy, I am happy and healthy, and by the time another little one joins our family I really think I'll be ready to try again with some good experience behind me.

Honestly, it's pretty dang cute to see Peter recognize a bottle and get really, really excited. It's also nice to have other people help feed him! Oh, and to wear whatever non-nursing-friendly tops and dresses I want again. Silver lining, people.

I also want to say that I had a really great experience in terms of nursing in public. I was always a little nervous about it, but off the top of my head I can remember nursing in a mall food court, an airport, a park in London, a beach on Lake Michigan.. I always used a cover - mostly for myself, honestly. I mentioned that I'm a pretty private person. But I tried to be considerate of others, too. On two different flights I was sitting next to younger guys - one in his twenties and one in his teens - who I thought might feel a little uncomfortable if I nursed Peter right next to their arm. Plus let's face it, there isn't a whole lot of space in those airplane seats. I was bound to elbow someone in the face. So I took Peter to the restroom. I really didn't mind doing it! I think it was better for everyone. When I came out of the restroom on the first flight a really sweet Icelandic stewardess stopped me and assured me I wouldn't need to feel uncomfortable feeding Peter anywhere in Iceland. She told me everyone in her country was very accepting of it - it really was the sweetest gesture. I also had a guy at the beach walk by and give me a huge thumbs up while almost shouting, "Natural! Naturaaal!"

So for anyone reading this, take it all for what you will. I don't necessarily have any advice except to do whatever is best for you and your baby. It may take a little time and a lot of trial and error before you figure out just what is the best thing for you, but I promise you'll be happiest if you listen to that newly inherited maternal instinct. Oh and if you're reading this and aren't nursing a baby, support anyone you know who is, in whatever decisions they make. We could all use a little extra lovin' in our lives, especially all the new mamas.


Trisha said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I really do appreciate your honest posts about motherhood.
It's wonderful for other women to read and know they aren't alone!
You're doing a great job mama! Keep making that baby happy and stay positive. My husband and I have always said- the tough moments in parenting seem SO big but then they do something cute and you forget anything tough. :)

Bekah said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I can't believe you had mastitis 3 times!! That sounds SO rough! I never experienced it myself, but breastfeeding in general is such a learning curve! SO many people talk about how beautiful an experience it is, and how it can be a little painful at the beginning, but no one mentions the emotional exhausting you feel when you're trying to get the hang of it. I wish moms were more open about everything in recovery. Not in an unsolicited advice way, but as a "this is what I experienced" way. In the end you have a happy healthy boy, so you made the right decision for you and your baby. We always have "ideal" situations of parenting when we are pregnant, but once that baby comes everything gets thrown out the window and we learn to follow our instincts and what feels right :) You're a strong mom and you shouldn't feel like a failure! You've sacrificed so much for Peter, and nothing should make you feel inadequate! You are everything and more that he needs right now and forever!! <3

Alexandra Dorsett said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I couldn't appreciate this post more! Although I haven't had to deal with Mastitis, I have had to deal with being sore, cracked, bleeding. It has been a horrible struggle at times and I have felt immeasurable guilt about giving Tucker formula. Nursing is hard work! I've had so many days that I have wanted to give up, but I just keep telling myself some breast milk is better than none and I totally agree that fed is best!

I think we will eventually wean to just formula, since I also have a pretty low supply, but for now we are just doing what we can. It seems like you're doing a wonderful job with your little man. You go, Mama!

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