On Sunday it will be the one year anniversary of my end of breastfeeding Will. Yes. It has taken me an entire year to get to the point where I can talk about it without openly weeping. In short – It. was. traumatic.
I really wanted to tell you guys about how it was for me – since I know that there are a lot of new mommies out there that are considering doing it for their little ones on the way and at the same time, I don’t wanna scare anyone. Like I said….traumatic. But as you read through all this, I do want to remind you of the reasons it is really really great to breastfeed. For one, it’s a transfer of immunities to your little newborn….basically you are giving your immune system to the baby. If you are anything like me with one kick butt ninja of an immune system, this is really great…not only for your baby but also for your wallet (better immune system can mean less doctor visits). Also, breastfeeding has been shown to help whip that post-pregnancy body back in shape, it’s a great way to bond with your little one (although some would say this may take a while), and it’s cheap. There are a ton of other reasons too – so I encourage you to really research and know why before attempting this sometimes insane task. Believe me, it’ll help get you through it if you know the benefits.
Let’s just start at the beginning. My mother breastfeed all four of her kids….as did my sister with Cole…so I always thought it would be easy (I mean, if they can do it, so can I, right?!). During pregnancy I did read a few books on breastfeeding as well as attend a class for some pointers – but to be completely honest, they didn’t really prepare me for what was ahead. After an unexpected ceasarean delivery of Will, I was wheeled into the recovery room and hoped that I would be able to nurse right away. It was an immediate nursing experience like I had imagined in my head (they had some issues getting my blood pressure back up so I was in this weird dizzy space for a good half hour after I got stapled up)…but eventually they said that I was stable enough to hold Will and nurse if I wanted. I did. He did. We did.
I think in my drug-induced stupor I was so excited that he latched immediately and we were there nursing together so quickly that my fears of breastfeeding quickly evaporated. I was on top of the world. By golly gee – I didn’t get the delivery of my dreams but the baby was nursing and it didn’t even hurt! (yet)
The next day it didn’t hurt either. The day after it was fine. Then came day three. Oh I curse that day. Day three may you burn. Even with the hospital’s lactaction consultant by my side, I could not get over the searing pain that pierced my chest and went straight through my body. It literally was the worst pain I have ever felt. And this is coming from a girl that tore her ACL and then drove a clutch home afterward. Oh and my reconstructive surgery – didn’t even take a single pain pill. The c-section recovery didn’t hurt like breastfeeding did. This pain is god-awful.
All that to say – when you read in the books the phrase, “If you are breastfeeding correctly, it won’t hurt” – that author is LYING. through their orthadontic straightened and bleached teeth. It hurts. It hurts like a mother-effing-Singaporean-caning-to-your-nipples. I remember distinctly asking the lactation consultant, “This really really really hurts and I think I might be doing something wrong.” To which she replied with a very calm and matter-of-fact manner – “well, there will be some discomfort. But he looks to be doing everything correctly. If you would like, you can detach him and put him on again.” and then I cried. like the ugly weeping cry. the one where you choke on your own snot sliding down your face.
I thought – ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING? The first ten seconds is pure unadulterated torture…why would I do that again? on purpose? Why don’t I just slam a hammer down on my fingers while I’m at it?! Or maybe I could wear light my bra on fire too? Is that discomfort? Because in my book, I would label a wedgie as discomfort…not this. This is called agony. throbbing piercing torment.
And then I asked my sister. Thank goodness for sisters. I told her about my baby apparently doing everything right yet it still hurting beyond my wildest imagination. She told me the best thing I could hear. She said….”Yup. It hurts a lot, huh? It doesn’t get enough credit. Everyone talks about how horrible delivery is – but they don’t talk about how painful the breastfeeding is….it’s gonna hurt for a while too.”
Just knowing that someone else went through it too somehow helped. In my mind, I kept on reverting back to the books…the classes…the people telling me that it was ‘a uncomfortable transition for your breasts’….when in reality that is only true for some people….not everyone. And it was definitely not true for me. I asked Nornie everything I could. what helped. what didn’t. how long it would last. any tips or tricks. I milked her (haha – punny) for every tidbit of info I could.
The doctors had recommended I continue breastfeeding Will – to help him with the jaundice they were sure he had (they tested him four times – all negative results – but for some reason, he did still look strangely orange)…and also to up my frequency from every three hours to every two around the clock to help keep his weight up and bring my milk in faster. The next day I was to be released from the hospital and the lactation consultant paid me one last visit. Upon entering the room, I told her immediately that my left side was getting raw….she looked and immediately told me that I would have to stop nursing on that side (her reason was “he’s a vigorous eater and he’s trying to yank the milk out”) and pump only for the next ten days or until it healed. That meant pumping on one side and nursing on the other, then bottle feeding the pumped milk to him….aka – recipe for absolutely no sleep.
For the first few days after I got home, I basically sat in bed or the couch most days and pumped and nursed Will. It consumed everything. I literally was breaking down. I would clutch the back of his head so tightly (so that he didn’t thrash about) I thought I would hurt him…and I would have to brace myself against something anytime he latched on. I stomped. I gritted my teeth. I cried out. I seriously had to tell myself out loud “do not throw Will across the room” – because that would have been my gut reaction…just get this baby off of me! And I would cry. I cried every two hours. I would cry between the feedings knowing that I only had fifteen more minutes until he had to nurse and latch and torture me again. I cried at the very thought of breastfeeding.
At first I thought it was just post-partum depression…constant crying, the desire to not talk to anyone or see anyone, the dreams of life ending…but it really did feel like the breastfeeding was to blame. I considered quitting. The crying would stop. I would probably have better dreams than the ones of me laying in a casket with a dress of blood stained boobs. I would maybe even get to sleep more than 90 minutes total a night. I could even maybe shower. What a novel idea. But I thought about the benefits I would be giving Will…and in those moments of weakness, I remembered that quote by Eleanor Roosevelt about women being like tea bags – that you don’t know what she is made of until she is in hot water. This was my hot water. My skin boiling pool…and I wanted to prove that I am made of pure mind-over-matter strength and sacrifice for my kid…and I’m incredibly stubborn. I’m nothing if not stubborn as a goat.
The next month was more of the same…pain pain pain. I would pray everyday that God would make his mouth bigger. I asked the pediatrician if his tongue was attached (it’s just short but not totally attached) to see if that would remedy the problem. I ate a strict balanced ‘breastfeeding’ diet to see if it would help him calm down. I would detach, reattach, detach, reattach – probably on average about twenty times a feeding if the pain was more than I could bare…and to see if the next time would be better. It never was. It was probably the hardest and darkest time I’ve been through. I couldn’t think past two hours ahead of me. Plus, it didn’t help that Will was extremely colic. He had about twenty minutes of happy time in the mornings…the rest of the days were just plain miserable.
(are you scared yet?)
I spent a lot of time praying for forgiveness. I confess that in my heart I judged girls that didn’t breastfeed. I heard of a cousin that chose to give up ahead of her desired time frame because it was too hard and I thought “Wow – I guess she didn’t really care about her babies immune system!” Looking back at how criticial and judgemental I was about that poor girl made me ashamed and so honestly burdened. I didn’t offer that girl any encouragement when she could have been going through the exact same thing as me! This is beyond tough. This is your body, your pain, your sleep, your sanity….it’s like walking through the pits of hell. If you are rolling your eyes, then you either had great nursing experiences or you just simply don’t understand this – but seriously, I was you once and I will never judge another girl about her breastfeeding journey ever again. I totally get it now. I get why it’s hard. I get why formula makes sense. I understand why choosing to quit can make you a good mommy. And I will never judge again.
At about six weeks, the pain started dulling. Not immediately. But slowly it became easier and less painful. We still didn’t have a bonding experience. There was no eye contact like in the books. Will didn’t coo or smile afterward. He didn’t cuddle or sweetly nurse. All nursing was chaotic. I breastfed in front of a girlfriend who had a baby the same age as Will and after she saw him scratch, kick and flail while eating, she flatly said to me “if that was my baby, I would not breastfeed.” It was simple as that. He was not easy. Breastfeeding isn’t easy. And I had the nail marks to prove it.
At three months, the colic almost immediately disappeared. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I remember distinctly that I put him on the floor on the Boppy so that I could go to the bathroom. I ran in while unbuttoning my shorts and then I realized….no crying. NO CRYING! I immediately jumped on my feet and ran into the living room with my shorts around my ankles thinking that surely Will was suffocating or fallen down the vent or something life-threatening. He was just happily laying on the Boppy quiet as can be. That’s the moment I realized, this might be my rainbow. The beginning of a whole new world.
The new world was no joke. There were still moments of frustration but in general, we were hitting a stride. We weren’t constantly moving with him trying to keep him distracted from crying. The down moments helped considerably. They made the harder moments more sufferable. It was the break that I needed. At this point we were still nursing every three hours around the clock. I slept whenever Will did. And was able to venture out of the house between feedings…it was like I could finally breathe again.
Fast forward to six months, Will started calming down substantionally when nursing. The ‘chaos on my chest’ became a realitively docile baby comfortably nursing. He began to know what to expect. I like to think this was when he became a breastfeeder. I began to explore other positions. For the first six months I did one position….one hand gripping boob, one hand gripping back of head. I would brace myself for his typical Will-fulness. At six months, I finally got to try laying down…cradle hold…even a little eye contact slipped in there.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that breastfeeding is ever easy…until you get down to like one nursing a day. It’s around the clock work. And if you have a crazy sleeper like I do, then also sleep-hindering because the man in your life is no help in the boob department. If your baby doesn’t take a bottle like mine didn’t after those first ten days, then it’s your only option. And if you often have company or like to enjoy family time like I do, then you’ll know that you miss out when you sequester yourself to the bedroom to nurse. Oh and the milk stains? Yeah – really tough to get out.
But now that you’ve heard all about the crazy cons of my breastfeeding, let me tell you about the pros. I gained over 60 pounds with Will. My doctor kept telling me to stop gaining so much weight. I tried every diet in the book. My ankles were huge…and you could play tic-tac-toe on my leg laden with edema. Will even looked swollen at birth. Three weeks after giving birth I jumped on a scale at Goodwill (we didn’t have one at home) and it read only ten pounds more than my pre-pregnancy weight. How did I lose that much weight? Well, I think a lot was water weight but I believe a lot of it was lost quickly because of nursing.
And if you are like me – and constantly think about every single little thing that you want to tackle on your daily to-do list – then nursing ended up being a wake-up call. It taught me to slow down. It taught me that ten to fifteen minute breaks are good….and needed. And that physically touching your baby, stroking their hair, examining their every little centimeter can not only help them feel loved but helps you love them better. It’s like an arranged marriage to a really cute guy….the more time you spend with them, studying them, loving on them, the more you end up falling head over heels. You are practicing devotion. And realizing that it’s beautiful.
When Will was 10 months old, he had a double ear infection. He wouldn’t take a bottle. He wouldn’t drink his almond milk. He didn’t eat for four days….but he would nurse. And I know that it was a good thing for him to have something in his tummy while the drugs did their job. Especially since the non-penicillin meds are a little harder on the babies stomach.
While a lot of babies get sick easily, Will really does have a solid immune system. I don’t wipe everything down with anti-bacterial. I let him sit in shopping carts without sanitizing first. I even have been known to not clean the paci after Sammy-the-kid-with-a-runny-nose has stolen it, sucked it and handed it back to Will. He’s been to the doctor three times in the past two years for sick visits…once an ear infection, once was when we thought Nornie and Cole might have broken his foot, and once was for a legitimate 103 degree temperature that we could not break. That’s not to say that every one who nurses their kid won’t end up going to the doctor – I mean, babies stick dirty boots in their mouth. I am saying that I believe nursing my kid helped my kid out in the health department. And we appreciate the lack of doctor bills – because DANG.
At 12 months old, we were down to one nursing a day – the nighttime right before bed session or the morning breakfast session. And I had been forcing him to continue nursing at that point for at least two months. Will was never a comfort nurser. He didn’t want me when he was upset or hurt….he wanted his pacifier. We knew that. I guess the kid is just not a boob man. But I had set it a personal goal to make it to one year. So on the evening of his birthday, I nursed him one last time. I decided that I would no longer offer the ta-ta’s unless he “asked”. And he didn’t. He was ready. And to tell you the truth…it was a little hard for me to say goodbye to that one-session-a-day. I shed a tear even. It was the end of an era for me and my baby. But more than that – it was the end of an incredibly hard sacrificial yet strangely comforting journey. a journey that I had to choose every three hours for an entire year to actively love my baby. a journey that I learned to appreciate the fact that I am able to breastfeed and that I can physically will myself to do it. a journey where I learned more about motherhood than I ever thought possible. a journey that I am hopeful about for the next baby.