Breastfeeding made me feel whole until it made me feel broken

When I was pregnant, I saw all the articles and studies about health benefits for breastfed babies. I took a breastfeeding class. I wasn’t passionate about it, but I’m the kind of person who NEEDS to do everything right and follow the rules to not feel like a failure. I planned on breastfeeding because I knew I needed to, not because I wanted to.

The first two weeks I cried every time I fed Warner. Partly because of the pain (I’ll spare you the details), and partly because I had a pretty nasty case of the baby blues, but that’s worth a whole blog post in itself so I won’t go there. My husband tried many times to get me to stop breastfeeding in those first two weeks. He said it was more important for Warner to have a happy mom than to be breastfed. I refused because, well like I said, I’m a rule follower.

After two weeks, it got easier. The pain lessened, I had it figured out, Warner had it figured it out. When we visited home, I loved it when he would start showing hunger signs because it meant I got to have him all to myself for 20 minutes while he ate. When we were in public and he got hungry, it was so easy to go to the car and feed him (I wish I was brave enough to just sit down and breastfeed in public but I never got there). I didn’t have to worry about taking bottles anywhere, I didn’t have to pay for formula, and I knew he was getting the best. In fact, I kind of felt like a boss woman. Like wow, I’m literally giving my child everything he needs to live. I’m keeping him alive with something my body makes naturally. Wait, I actually LOVE this breastfeeding thing. Being a first time mom is questioning yourself 99% of the time, but breastfeeding was the one thing I knew for sure was going perfectly, and it was empowering.

I exclusively breastfed for three months, and then it was time to go back to work. My husband and I decided to give him one to two bottles of formula a day while he was at daycare because there was no way I was going to pump enough while I was at work to send all breastmilk bottles to daycare. It made the time I was home with him even more special because it meant he could still nurse while we were together. He exclusively breastfed mornings, evenings, and weekends.

He had two nursing strikes after I went back to work, but each one only lasted a few days. One was due to an ear infection and the other was due to a sore in his mouth. Both times I somehow knew it wasn’t over, so I just pumped and gave him breastmilk in a bottle until he got over the strike. No big deal.

Until about four and a half months. When he just STOPPED latching. Literally overnight.  For a few days I thought it was just another nursing strike. I would still try to breastfeed him every time he was hungry but he would yell and scream and push away, so again, I would just pump and give him breastmilk in a bottle. This went on for about a week until my milk supply started to get affected because of him not latching. I noticed each time I pumped I was getting less and less. I freaked out. I started taking four pills a day to try to increase my supply. I drank the teas. I drank so much water I felt like I was going to throw up. I pumped more often. And, I cried. All the while he’s still refusing to latch, which isn’t helping my sanity or my supply.

During the following three weeks, I cried as much as I did during my first two weeks of motherhood. I cried every time Warner got hungry because I knew what was going to happen: I was going to try to breastfeed him and he was going to yell until I eventually gave in and gave him a bottle. Taylor would rub my back as I cried. I told him I might as well not even be a mom because anyone could change a diaper and feed a baby formula. I said through tears that the only thing that made me feel like a good mom was gone. I worried that I had no way of making an emotional connection with Warner anymore, that I had failed at doing the healthiest thing I could do for my baby. I said that I was a bad mom for having to work, because if I hadn’t had to work I could have focused more on breastfeeding and this never would have happened. I felt like the only constant in my life was ruined.

Bless my husband, he would tell me how proud he was of me for breastfeeding for as long as I did. He would say how happy and healthy Warner is because of me. He would tell me it’s okay to stop trying to breastfeed because I had given Warner such a great start.

But it didn’t help. It stung every time I had to mix a bottle of formula. It hurt every time I saw another mom breastfeeding. It made tears well up in my eyes when I scrolled past another article on Facebook explaining how much BETTER breastmilk was for various reasons (which by the way, I don’t think ANYONE is arguing against that, so in my opinion all those articles do is make moms feel crappy about themselves, but I guess I’m just bitter).

It’s been three weeks since Warner latched, and my supply is still steadily dwindling. At this point I’m still pumping several times a day but barely making enough to give Warner a full bottle of breastmilk a day. It’s probably not even enough to give him any benefits, but it’s the only thing I can do to make myself feel even a SMIDGE better about the situation. My eyes are watering as I’m typing this, because once I got into the groove, I was so sure I was going to breastfeed for at least a year, and maybe even beyond.

So now, let me tell you a couple of positives. Number one: I took Warner to the doctor for a well check on Friday, and it was the first time in THREE appointments that he hasn’t been behind on the growth curve (thank you LORD)! When the doctor told me that he was on track, I thought for just a second, maybe formula is actually doing SOMETHING good. Number two: I will always cherish the breastfeeding journey that WJ and I shared, even if it was short lived. Number three: Taylor can get up for night feedings and somedays I actually feel rested for the first time in five months.

For the next few weeks I’m going to work on cutting myself some slack and getting used to our new “normal” because hey, nothing ever goes as planned.

 

 

 

This wasn’t what I planned

In the middle of the afternoon on March 26th, my husband and I stood in the bathroom of our little one bedroom apartment staring at an intimidating “loading” screen on an even more intimidating pregnancy test. It was his idea to take the test. I had been complaining of head aches and fatigue in passing, but he had been making mental notes about my symptoms, and come to find out, had been researching early signs of pregnancy. It was my sister in laws 21st birthday, and we were planning to go grab a drink with her. My husband casually threw the idea out before we left, “Maybe you should take one of those pregnancy tests in the cupboard, just in case.” I agreed, mostly because I was sure that I wasn’t pregnant, so might as well. After two minutes of equal parts nervous giggles and awkward silence, the most unexpected thing popped up: the word PREGNANT. The first words out of my mouth were, “I don’t think it’s right.” I took another test. It was right.

I didn’t switch gears from purely terrified to truly excited until after my first sonogram, where we saw the baby wave to us. Okay, so it was mostly just a head and torso wiggling instinctively, but still. I was 10 weeks at this point, morning sickness was hard to hide, and we were supposed to be leaving a week later to go on a wine tour in Napa Valley with my in laws. We decided it was a good time tell our families. We left the doctor’s office and went to the store to put together a cute “Baby Marks coming December 2017” box for both of our parents. We were walking back to the car making predictions about what each of our parents reactions would be when my husband’s phone rang. When he picked it up, I faintly heard the voice of our nurse from earlier that day, this time with a more serious tone. My heart started racing. Why would my nurse be calling my husband? I stared at my husband with sweaty palms for what seemed like forever while he threw out the occasional “Okay” or “I see.” When he finally said thank you and hung up, he relayed the information to me. Turns out I had placenta previa: my placenta was very low lying and was covering my cervix. She hadn’t noticed it until she took a second look at my sonogram after we left. She had tried calling my phone, but I wasn’t answering (as per usual, sorry) which was why she called my husband. She wanted to get a hold of us before she left for the day because there were certain things we needed to be careful about. She also said if it didn’t heal itself, I wouldn’t be able to have a natural delivery. So, at 10 weeks pregnant, I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of a c-section. It wasn’t how I planned on my first doctor’s appointment ending, but we pushed it to the back of our minds and went to tell our parents. There was clapping, tears, and hugs. Their excitement made us even more excited.

A month later, we packed up and moved six hours away, leaving our hometown and (almost) all of our families in the rear view mirror. I sank back into the “terrified” path of my pregnancy. How was I going to find a new OBGYN? How was I going to apply for new jobs while pregnant? How was I going to a raise a baby with no family around to help? How would I find a trustworthy day care? With the help of Google, I found an OBGYN relatively close to my new apartment with great reviews. (Spoiler alert: she turned out to be the best doctor I could have imagined to deliver my first baby.) I set up an appointment for the week after we moved.

I had to get a sonogram at 14 weeks, which isn’t typical, but my new doctor wanted to see if my placenta previa had healed itself. I was excited because I read online that 14 weeks was far enough along to find out the gender. I was SURE the little peanut inside of me was a girl. Like, I couldn’t even picture myself being a boy mom. I was just excited to hear the sonogram tech confirm my belief. I could practically hear her announcing, “It’s a girl!” Almost immediately after she put the cold gel on my stomach and started looking around, she told us that my placenta previa had not healed itself. At this point, it was still looking like I would have to have a c-section. I was disappointed, but I was still anxious to know if she could tell us the gender. She showed us a picture of the MOST adorable little baby on the screen. I couldn’t believe the creature inside of me actually looked like a human now. She looked around for a couple more minutes until she said, “Okay, here we go. Here are the legs. Can you guess what it is?” I looked at my husband in shock. I could tell in a split second it was a boy. I couldn’t believe it, but I also couldn’t believe that I was actually excited. This wasn’t what I planned, how could I be so thrilled?

At 20 weeks, I went in for another sonogram. By this time I was starting to get a baby bump, I knew the baby’s name, and I thought maybe I had felt a couple kicks. I felt like I had a real connection with him, and I couldn’t wait to see him again. I had the biggest smile on my face the whole sonogram. He had my nose! He was sucking his thumb! He was the most perfect thing I had ever seen! I couldn’t believe how much I already loved him. After the sonogram, I saw the doctor. She told me my placenta previa had healed itself and I would most likely get to have a vaginal birth. Finally, things were going as planned.

The rest of my pregnancy was like a high speed race. I started a new job, which was taking up most of my energy, but my belly grew, baby’s kicks got stronger, and I went to the doctor for what felt like a million prenatal appointments. I didn’t have any more sonograms scheduled, so my appointments just consisted of peeing in a cup, standing on a scale, and getting my belly measured. There was a minor scary moment when my bump wasn’t measuring as big as it should have been at 33 weeks and I was scheduled for yet another sonogram two weeks later to make sure the baby was still growing. There was a little bit of worry in the back of my mind for the next two weeks, but somehow I just knew everything was fine because I could feel my stomach growing and baby was moving more than ever. Turns out I was right, the next sonogram showed that baby was still growing, and was actually big for how far along I was. My doctor said she had no idea where I was hiding that big of a baby in me.

The day before Thanksgiving I went in for my second to last scheduled appointment: my 38 week check up. I went through the motions as normal until it was time to get my blood pressure taken. The nurse took it once, and then said, “Okay give me just a second.” and turned around and pretended to be busy for a couple minutes before she took it again. Okay, maybe she was actually busy, but still I automatically knew something was up. After the second time she said, “Do you feel okay?” I was told that my blood pressure was high and she wanted to see what the doctor had to say about it. I went into the room and nervously squirmed around on the chair waiting for the doctor. She came in and took my blood pressure again, and then told me I needed to lay down on my side and she would come back in a couple minutes. After she took my blood pressure laying down, I was sent to the hospital for blood tests and serial blood pressures. They sent me home four hours later with strict instructions to be on complete bed rest for the rest of the weekend until my next appointment on Monday. I spent my Thanksgiving and the following three days laying down on the couch (I wasn’t even allowed to sit up). I always thought being on bed rest would be kind of fun, but FYI, it’s NOT. It got old after about the first three hours. Bless my husband for taking such good care of me all weekend, but this was definitely not what I had planned.

The Monday after Thanksgiving I went back to the doctor. That appointment was like a whirlwind of information and emotions. My blood pressure was still high and my doctor informed me that I had preeclampsia, and I wouldn’t be going back to work. I had texted my principal and my long term sub within five minutes, letting them know I would need to start my maternity leave the next day. Then my doctor suggested that I get induced because the only cure for preeclampsia is delivery. Over the weekend with all the time I had to lay on the couch, I had done some research on high blood pressure in pregnancy, and I was aware that induction might be suggested. I wasn’t against it because I was excited to meet my baby and I wanted both of us to be safe, but still, it wasn’t exactly what I had planned. I was scared. My doctor left the room to get in contact with the hospital and schedule my induction. My husband and I looked at each other and giggled nervously, just like we did standing in the bathroom staring at a pregnancy test what seemed like forever ago.

That night, at 8pm, after I had a good non-hospital cafeteria meal (doctor’s orders), we packed up the car, told our dogs we loved them and drove to the hospital. I can’t explain the emotions that floated around in the car on that drive. We were nervous, we were anxious, we were excited. When we pulled into the parking lot, we held hands and prayed for strength, and a safe, easy delivery. We had prayed this prayer so many times before, but it was more emotional doing it in the hospital parking lot, knowing that the next time we got in this car, we would be parents.

The next 24 hours were a blur. As soon as I was checked in and in my room, I was given a cervix softener to prepare my body for labor. I started waking up with regular contractions at 3am. At 6:30am my water broke. They started my pitocin drip around 7am. I almost immediately starting have the most intense contractions I could have ever imagined. I thought I was going to be tough during labor… I was wrong. I was writhing in pain with each contraction, which were about a minute apart. To make it worse, I couldn’t sit up or walk around to soothe myself because of my preeclampsia. If I wasn’t laying down my blood pressure would spike. I’ve heard that pitocin contractions are more painful than natural contractions, and boy I hope that’s true because I can’t even wrap my mind around how it could get any worse. I asked for an epidural. After I got it, everything was smooth sailing for about the next seven hours. I mean, as smooth sailing as active labor can be. My doctor was coming in every couple of hours to check on me, and she said I was progressing perfectly. The last time she checked me I was already 7cm dilated. She smiled and said I said I was doing great and we were getting close.

They turned off my pitocin and gave me an oxygen mask in efforts to bring the baby’s heart rate down. My doctor stood in my room watching the monitor for a while before she informed me that the baby was in distress, and if his heart rate didn’t drop in the next ten minutes she would have to do a c-section. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Ever since my 20 week appointment when I learned my placenta previa had healed itself, a c-section wasn’t even on my radar. She assured me that either way, everything would be fine, then she left the room and said she would be back in ten minutes. I had ten minutes to wrap my mind around the fact that I might be getting a c-section. It wasn’t enough time. When she came back, she announced that the baby was still in distress and she was going to start prepping me for surgery. I was terrified. More terrified than I was when the word PREGNANT popped up on my pregnancy test nine months earlier. Tears ran down my face as the nurses shuffled around me. This wasn’t what I planned.

I’ll never forget the intensity of the operating room. I was laid out on the table with two warm blankets but I still couldn’t stop shaking. I felt like I couldn’t take a deep breath or else my lungs were going to explode. They poked and prodded, testing the anesthesia. My husband had a hand on me the whole time and the anesthesiologist whispered comforting words into my ear as I felt the pressure of being cut open. I felt a big push and pull, then I heard my baby cry. I always pictured myself crying happy tears and holding my baby for the first time right after birth, but I didn’t. They laid him on me for what felt like five seconds before they took him away. I didn’t cry, I don’t even remember if I said anything. I was still laying on the operating table with my body open, and I was still so terrified. This wasn’t how I planned on meeting my baby for the first time.

But guess what? An hour later I was holding the most perfect little boy I had ever seen in my arms. When I looked at him I wasn’t thinking about all the things that hadn’t gone as planned. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I had just gotten out of surgery. I wasn’t thinking about all the moms out there that got to have natural deliveries. All that mattered was that he was there with me and we were both healthy and happy.

So mamas, if you had exactly the birth you wanted, more power to ya! But future mamas, remember, no matter how much you plan, there’s no telling exactly how your delivery will go. But here’s what’s important: if you have an unmedicated birth, you are strong, brave and amazing. If you have an epidural, you are strong, brave and amazing. If you have a c-section, you are strong, brave and amazing. In the end, you grew a human and went through whatever it took to bring him or her into the world, and that’s what matters.