Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Because This Stuff is Hard

I've been wanting to write this post for months now. It's been banging around in my brain this whole time but the longer I've waited, the more perspective I've gained. There's a distinct possibility that my terminal smugness may have contributed to some of the issues I had with breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is haaard. And at first I was very angry that, amidst all the literature and commercials and general beating over the head you endure while pregnant that breastfeeding is best, nobody wants to talk about how hard it is. And how it can really suck. I find the photos you see of a mom staring lovingly down at the child at her breast silly and misleading but also guilt inducing. Like I'm some kind of bad mother already because I don't enjoy the wonderful bonding experience of nursing my son. But now I realize some of the trouble I had could have been avoided if I would have taken a minute to climb down off of my stupid high horse and listen.

I paid very little attention to the information about breastfeeding that was available to me while I was pregnant. I took it for granted that this was something I wasn't going to have a problem with. There had to be some reason why I'd been carrying around a freakishly large rack my whole life. I didn't bother taking a breastfeeding class (then again I didn't take a childbirth class either. Not so much with the being prepared over here) and when I read about it I pretty much glossed over the war stories of cracked and bleeding nipples, engorgement, and incorrect latching or not latching at all. In my own defense, I did pay close attention to the descriptions and directions on how to get the baby to latch properly but reading about it and doing it are so not the same. And the baby? didn't read any directions.

Everything was fine in the hospital - before my milk came in. The baby was latching on just fine and while it wasn't a pleasant sensation, I wasn't losing any skin in the deal. The nurse gave me some lasinoh and I was religious about using it and everything was great. I was nursing every two hours exactly, waking the boy up to do so because of his jaundice and weight loss. My mom was visiting while I nursed and she said that I looked like a natural with the baby. That was some high praise from a lady who had 7 kids in 9 years and nursed us all and it only increased my bloated sense of self-satisfaction. There was a breastfeeding class on the postpartum floor the day after Bo was born and I turned my nose up at it with the attitude of "I'm too busy actually feeding my baby to bother with that." Also, "Sissies". I was also trying to prove that I was saner than my roommate who dragged the lactation consultant back to her bedside after the class was over.

Then day two of Bo's life dawned. He decided to wake up to the world around him and he was hungry! Clusterfeeding is not an adequate description of what ensued. He nursed nonstop for hours. He would fall asleep on the boob and wake up 30 minutes later ravenous again. We were leaving the hospital that day and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get him off long enough for the ride home. I asked the nurse for a pacifier just so he could suck on something. At some point that day my milk started to come in for real and that's when the fun started.

There are a lot of things that happen to your body after you have a baby that nobody really talks about, perhaps because it doesn't happen to everyone or it's different for everyone or it's one of those things that go fuzzy after time. There's an outside chance I just didn't pay attention to those bits of information in my research'. At any rate, up until the milk came in, I was going braless at night and it was totally fine. The engorgement started in the middle of the night, along with the worst night sweats I've ever experienced in my life. I woke up soaked, shaking and shivering. I had to change my pajamas it was so bad. The sweating made me have the chills too which left me sore and achy. On top of the soreness and ache of having just given birth. Awake during one of these bouts, I rolled over and wondered when someone put a ten pound weight on my chest. Oh wait, those are just my boobs! I had to get up in the middle of the night and fumble around for a bra because oh.my.god. My boobs had become rock hard and even bigger - which dear God, how is that even possible.

I don't know when exactly my nipples started bleeding but let's just say things went from bad to worse rather quickly. Bo couldn't latch on anymore. It was like trying to suck a softball. Or a honeydew. So he would cry and scream and get on there any way he could. Then I would cry, first from the frustration of not being able to feed my son and then from the extreme pain of his latch which I wouldn't break because the poor child finally got on there and was getting some food. Meanwhile, he's going to the doctor every day and his stupid bilirubin numbers kept climbing and the doctor is suggesting we supplement with formula until I establish my supply. Dude. I've got milk coming out of my ears. Supply isn't the problem here*.

After about 3 days of this - which felt like my whole life - I swallowed my stupid, stupid pride and called the lactation center that the doctor recommended. I was very leery of the lactation consultant after hearing stories of how mean and strict and fear inducing they can be. Thankfully, this was not to be my experience. That lady saved my sanity. She helped me with how to hold Bo in a football style so that I wasn't covering his entire face with my boob. She told me to get rid of the Boppy because it positioned Bo too high up and made the angle all wrong. She watched me try to nurse him and helped me with finger placement and all that stuff. Turns out I had interpreted the directions and diagrams wrong and was doing it wrong.

Shocking, right?

At this point I was so engorged that my fingers were leaving dents, dents behind and it was just too difficult for the baby to get his tiny mouth to latch on because it was too hard and smooth and he couldn't get any traction. That's when Collette, the lovely lactation angel, gave me the tool that saved everything. She said maybe we should try a nipple shield. And then there were rainbows and unicorns and a chorus in the background. The boy was able to latch on to that and suck away happily. It also sort of slowed down the flow so he could swallow without choking. As a bonus, it really did work as a shield, putting a barrier between his vigorous sucking and my poor torn up, bleeding nipples. They healed in about a week, around the same time we got into a rhythm of supply and demand and the softballs went away.

But I still am no fan. And I feel guilty about it and then I'm mad that I feel guilty about it. I know it's the best thing and what nature intended and blah blah blah. I'm doing it, ok? I'm sticking with it as long as I possibly can stand it. But I think a disservice is being done here in the effort to reverse the formula trend of the 70s and 80s and get women to breastfeed. It's irresponsible to say that breastfeeding doesn't hurt. It does hurt, especially in the beginning. As Collette said to me, we're talking about very sensitive erectile tissues being pulled and tugged and freaking chewed on all day long. That shit hurts. Even now that the baby and I are a well oiled machine and I can nurse him in the dark, it sometimes hurts. And that's with the nipple shield. He bites.

It makes me mad that the breastfeeding propaganda machine makes me feel like a bad mom for saying that it sucks. It makes me madder that there are girls out there who just can't do it and they're made to feel lazy or weak if they don't stick with it. Some people just can't do it and we need to recognize that and support those women. There are no medals or merit badges for breastfeeding. I grant that it's the best thing for baby and it's what nature intended and all that and it should at least be attempted. Sometimes nature fails though, and in the past when nature failed, babies used to die. We need to give each other a break. Being a new mom is stressful and hard enough without the added pressure of trying to make your body do something it's just not going to do.

There's nothing wrong with just wanting your body back, either. Nine months of pregnancy, childbirth (no matter what kind), and new motherhood beats the hell out of you even if you don't breastfeed. At some point you want to feel less like a milk machine and more like a person again. We should support that too. The whole business of pregnancy and parenthood is intensely personal. That needs to be respected and honored no matter what form it takes. As long as the baby is loved and cared for and safe and well fed, the rest of it is nobody's business.

And now I need a drink. All the shouting from up here has made me thirsty. Maybe my horse needs a drink too.

*Bo was back up to his birth weight - over it actually - by the time we went and got help. Supply was certainly not the issue. Stupid pride was.


susan said...

One of the hardest "lessons" I learned during the early days was that there isn't really a choir of angels just waiting to sweetly sing as you and your nursing babe are bathed in a heavenly glow at your 2am feeding session. And, 3.5 years into this gig, I still have momentary guilt pangs for calling it quits on breastfeeding after 6 months of not enjoying it AT ALL. But the kid still seems to like me, so I guess we managed to bond somehow. Either that or he figured out that I'm a much easier mark than his father early on, so I'm worth keeping around :).

Good for you, for taking advantage of all the resources available to you, for being able to swallow your pride and find someone to help you do what you feel like you need/want to do for your baby. And good for you, in the future, when you make the equally responsible decision of whether to continue on or make a change. But most of all, good for you for being willing to put your experience out here for someone else to find and take comfort in. I wish I had stumbled on this post way back then... new motherhood is already so isolating. Knowing I wasn't the only one with these feelings would have been a thousand times more comforting than finding that holy choir I thought I was looking for!

Andrea (ace1028) said...

D@mned straight it's hard! And nobody tells you a thing. My LC saved my life. Seriously. I was nursing and supplementing w. an SNS (if you don't know what it is imagine taping a tube to your boob and having formula hanging off your shoulder somehow, yeah, that crazy!) and had no clue what the heck I was doing. Yeah, my baby was nursing, but me, I was in tears. Until the LC taught me to give up the football hold and lay my child across my lap on a normal pillow. And viola! We were set, for the time being. I just want to praise you for sticking with it and keeping at it, and for writing about it! I know if I hadn't had a mommy group to talk me through the early days I would have been lost. So hang in there and I hope that it continues to get better. And stay calm and cool through those growth spurts! My daughter nursed so much her lip chapped and it looked like an extra tooth! Ahhhh!

Jori said...

I am one of the lucky few who didn't have a damned hard time at it and I did it for 18 months. I feel awful for those that do and please, please, please...quit if you need to or you just want to. By the way, I also had a cluster feeder which made things C R A Z Y. 45 mintues on a bood, 15 minute break and then 30 on the other. Yeah, I feel you.