Breastfeeding, A Retrospective

Breastfeeding and I were not friends. Ok, fine, I totally tried to get breastfeeding to like me, but it was like, um, NO.

We certainly did not have an easy relationship: poor latch, poor weight gain, clogged ducts by the dozen, mastitis three times, pumping after every feeding. There were many, many times I asked myself why I kept going. The fact that I was so strung out about it certainly couldn’t have been great for the baby. Yet, I continued.

I continued for six months, at which point Colette decided she was done with nursing, thankyouverymuch. Now that I know her a little better, I’m kind of surprised it took that long for her to stop. Nursing requires a sister to focus for longer than 2.5 seconds. You can’t look around when you’re nursing. You can’t squawk at the dog. You can’t investigate every noise within a three-room radius. You kind of just have to chill, and my girl is not a chiller. I continued to pump for another two months after she peaced out and then called the whole milk-making thing quits.

Am I glad that I continued to nurse, even though it was anything but smooth sailing?

Yes.

I’m not saying that just because it was good for the baby. Of course it was good for the baby to have that bonding time, and to get all of those mama’s milk nutrients. That goes without saying, really.

Because here’s the thing: breastfeeding was good for me. What I’m about to say is going to win me the Most Dramatic Statement of the Century Award, but here goes:

Breastfeeding saved me.

The first few months after Colette was born, I don’t even know where I was. I think of that time and it’s a big blur. There was the usual sleep deprivation and craziness that goes along with a newborn. And then my mom died. I’m pretty sure I had an out of body experience for an entire four months. I mean, I was out of it. I was scared. I was sad. I thought I was never going to feel better ever again.

Except for when I was breastfeeding. That was the only time during those first few months when I felt at peace. I was right where I was supposed to be: feeding my baby, holding my baby. In those moments, I was doing the right thing. I was loving her and caring for her and cherishing her. It was just me and the baby, me and the baby, and nothing else mattered. It was the only time I felt grounded. And, if I’m going to be honest, it was the only time I felt hopeful.

So now, despite all the crap that went along with it, I look at my time nursing Colette as a gift. It was my anchor, and through it I was able to find my way back to myself.

The Days Are Long…

Things are rough these days.

My mom’s memorial service was a week ago in Vermont. Colette did great on the trip and seeing my family was wonderful, but overall the weekend was both physically and emotionally exhausting.

We got back Sunday and Tim went back to work on Tuesday after being off for six weeks. So it was my first time alone with the baby for longer than an hour or two.

And the week did not go well. Colette didn’t sleep very much at all during the days, maybe 20-30 minutes at a time, if that. She had maybe 20 minutes of happy, alert time after she ate and then she would start crying. The rest of each day was spent trying to soothe her and get her to take those precious aforementioned minutes of sleep. I worked the Happiest Baby On The Block techniques like it was my job (which, I guess, it is), but to no avail. I tried the stroller, but that only worked when I was walking. Even if I sat down somewhere and moved the stroller, she cried. It’s like she knew when we weren’t walking. She’ll go in her swing for Tim, but not so much for me. I think she just wants to be held, which is fine with me, but even then, the kid does not want to sleep.

I’m still breastfeeding, followed by a supplementary bottle. And still pumping after every feeding. You can imagine what it’s like to try and pump with a screaming infant. I tried to stop pumping after every feeding, but then I got a clogged duct again (and it still hasn’t gone away). So now I have to keep up the pumping because if the clogged duct turns into mastitis, there’s no way I can take care of the chub. Even though Colette’s suck still hasn’t improved, I do love our nursing time…but if someone would have told me how hard it would be with the pumping I never would have started. Ever. I pumped in the car on the way to and fro Vermont last weekend. I pumped during my mom’s memorial luncheon. I pumped in the evenings when the rest of my family was spending time together. I feel like my whole life right now is that effing pump. And I feel like I’ll never be able to stop.

By the time Tim got home from work last week, both Colette and I were strung out. Tim was great about taking her as soon as he stepped in the door, but her fussiest time of day is in the evenings. While I usually tried to take a bath and eat my first real meal of the day, I could still hear her crying. So the evenings did not feel like any sort of respite, or at least enough of one. As a matter of fact, as I type this, I am listening to her crying.

Basically this has been the most intense week of my life. And I’ve had no time–not even one second–to grieve. Every once in a while I’m like, “Oh yeah, my mom is dead.” And then I have to push the thought away and pretend like it doesn’t exist. Because what can I do? I can’t spend all day or even a few minutes crying when I’m trying to soothe and take care of a crying baby.

Colette is sleeping longer at night, which is incredibly awesome, but I still have to get up and pump. And I’m having trouble sleeping, I think because that’s when the thoughts about my mom creep in.

I am exhausted. Right now, I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone says babies get easier, but when? And when will I ever be able to begin to process the loss of my mom? Because even if Colette gets easier, I still have to deal with the fact that I don’t have a mom anymore. And that fact is there, waiting for me, when I have a second to breathe.

 

Breast Is…Best?

As I’m sure you gathered from the title, this post is about breastfeeding. If that’s not your bag, by all means, skip it!

Before Colette was born, I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding. But I swore that if it didn’t work for me, I wouldn’t get crazy about it and I would stop. I didn’t understand why mothers agonized over it.

Until I became one of those mothers. I am breastfeeding and it is not going well. And it’s making me kind of insane. But the thought of stopping is also making me kind of insane. Actually, the thought of stopping is kind of heartbreaking. I worry that I won’t have a connection with my daughter anymore. I’ve heard that weaning can be “traumatic” for a baby. Baby trauma? Oh, sign me right up. Just what every mother wants to hear, right? One site described weaning as “the long goodbye.” Um, that makes me really sad. I don’t feel ready to stop, but I’m not sure how much more my psyche can take.

Here’s the deal. Breastfeeding in the hospital seemed to go fine. The lactation consultant there told me my latch looked great. But once Colette got home, she fell asleep after five seconds. But still, I thought everything was ok…until I went to the pediatrician and she had lost over 10% of her body weight. And then the next time we went back she had lost even more. The doctor evaluated her and said her sucking reflex wasn’t developed and basically she wasn’t able to get much milk out. The effort was too much for her and that’s why she was falling asleep.

We saw a lactation consultant. She said the same thing. The doctor and the consultant agreed that her frenulum (membrane under her tongue) might be too tight. So we had that snipped. They said it could take up to four weeks to see any signs of improvement from the procedure.

We have to do daily exercises to keep the frenulum from growing back. We also do “suck training” exercises several times a day.

On top of that, I’ve been pumping every three hours after every feeding to maintain my milk supply. While I’m pumping, Tim gives her a bottle of expressed milk and, if I don’t pump enough milk, some formula.

I can handle these things, especially since Colette seemed to be improving a lot over the last week. But then I started getting plugged ducts every 48 hours, which my lactation consultant said is definitely not normal. And then I got mastitis (breast infection). So that means antibiotics and a several-times-a-day dose of acidophilus to try and avoid getting thrush. And hot compresses every time I nurse to try and loosen the clogs. And lecithin supplements twice a day to try and prevent the clogs from returning. And now my skin is irritated from all the pumping, so I’m pretty much in pain all the time.

I saw a lactation consultant for the second time yesterday. She said Colette was still gaining weight too slowly, so we have to increase her supplement. All well and good. My baby needs to be healthy and gain weight. But now that we’ve increased her supplement, she’s not as hungry, so any improvement we’ve gained in the nursing department has tanked. She’s just not that into nursing because she’s not that hungry before each feeding. I feel like we lost all of the ground I fought so hard to gain.

I know this is not sustainable, especially not after Tim goes back to work in two and a half weeks. But even with all of the craziness, the thought of not breastfeeding anymore kills me. I know no one would judge me if I stopped. But, as always, I am my own worst judge. But there needs to be a balance. Breast milk is undoubtedly best for baby. But a strung-out, half-insane mom is not best for baby.

So, peanut gallery, I would love it if you would share your personal stories. Did you have any breastfeeding struggles that you overcame? Or did you make the switch to formula and, if so, how did you make peace with that decision? I could use some perspective either way.

Note: I’ve been trying to write this post for four days. Kudos to all of those bloggers out there who post regularly with a newborn. Don’t know how you do it.