It had been my plan to breastfeed. You hear the catchy phrase "Breast is Best" a lot when you are pregnant. I did my research and decided that while there was nothing wrong with formula, I was going to give it the old college try and breastfeed my son. I was a formula baby and I have no negative opinions over anyone using formula for their children. I just knew for my personal preference, I wanted to go the boob route.
Look, let's get really candid here. When you're pregnant, your boobs are sore and big and leak. And mine leaked a lot. My doctor told me this was a surefire sign that breastfeeding would be good for me. I was confident. I was ready. I later found out just how uneducated I was on the matter.
For a few hours after my c-section, my arms were so numb that I could not even hold my son. My birth plan involved skin to skin contact and my husband had to remove his shirt and hold our baby to his chest while I was in and out of consciousness. During our week in the hospital, I had access to lactation consultants and nurses who really knew what they were doing when it came to breastfeeding. They gave me encouragement, often expressed enthusiasm for my milk supply, and told me I was on the road to being a success story. They wheeled in a hospital grade breast pump so we could pump a bit of milk too and feed our son with a syringe which we did a few times when I just needed a break from the breastfeeding. I soon learned that babies wanted to eat all the time. My son was on the smaller size when he was born and (as babies do) after he lost weight post delivery, he was weighing in at 6lbs 4oz. His pediatrician (as pediatricians do) wanted him to get back up to his birth weight so, being the perfectionist A-student that I am, I really took the job of feeding him seriously.
Being in the hospital for a week meant I was actually there when my milk came in and my breasts were engorged. I requested visits from lactation consultants every day. These women are educated and kind and encouraging. But I have to say, I feel a bit cheated looking back on it. They take the baby and shove his head in there and get him latched on just right on your boob and you think this isn't so hard! Except when I was on my own, it was so hard. I had times in the middle of the night crying out of frustration because I couldn't get a good latch with the baby until a nurse came in and shoved his head against me and held him in the right position. It was awkward and painful to do with my c-section recovery. And then sometimes it was just right. I could get him latched and I would try and fight through the pain pills to stay awake while he fed. Those moments were few and far between but I treasured them.
I was given a nipple shield to help with my sore nipples but was advised not to use it unless the lactation consultant determined it was absolutely necessary because it would cause nipple confusion. I was told only to pump when I needed a break to feed by syringe. No one taught me how to use the nipple shield if I had decided to try. Maybe if I had been trained, I wouldn't have been in so much pain.
Cut to end of the week, we are home as a family. I have a couple successful breastfeeding moments. But I begin to dread it when he would cry out of hunger. How terrible it made me feel as a mom to dread feeding my son. Wasn't that just the worst possible thing I could feel? My nipples were scabbed, raw, and often bleeding. My bra hurt when it rubbed against my body. My son was terrible when it came to latching- my husband would shove his head in and hold him there and I would cry, often with an audible yelp accompanying the initial few seconds. One day, my son spit up blood and I panicked until I realized it was from my nipple. And then finally, I was lying on the bed, biting a towel to control my vocal pain, crying and writhing around while my husband tried to help the baby latch on and I collapsed into a heap of feelings of failure. I decided then and there I was pumping only for bottles and unless my pediatrician said otherwise, that would be it from hereon out.
And my pediatrician said fine. As long as the baby was getting breast milk, he was happy. My husband asked what the benefit was between pumping versus actual breastfeeding and he said "it's all a mental thing- the connection between mom and baby." Fine- I vowed I would make eye contact with my son while feeding him bottles always (and I do to this day. And just like when we breastfed, I have waves of love that wash over me and I get drowsy along with him when he drinks from his bottle and nuzzles against my chest). We left the pediatrician's office and gave the baby his first bottle and I was instantly 10 times less stressed. And guess what? Happier mom = happier baby.
I am sitting here now, attached to a breast pump as I write this. My son has been gaining weight steadily and is a healthy boy who sleeps through the night already, who loves his bottles, and who could care less how he is fed as long as he is not hungry. It is exhausting being attached to a pump all the time. At first it was every three hours and now that my milk supply is established (hello bags of frozen milk in the freezer!), I have confidently moved to every 4.5 hours. It restricts places you can go- it's not as easy as whip out the boob for the baby. Pumping requires supplies and apparatus and a loud machine and milk storage blah blah blah. I am exhausted having to get up in the middle of the night still and am slowly trying to drop that pumping session (you can't just drop it unless you want to run the risk of mastitis and clogged ducts and pain). I feel like a milk machine but I am achieving my breastfeeding goal with a slight variation. I set out to feed my son breast milk for 6 months and I am halfway there!! Feeling a bit like Super Breastfeeding Mom...except on my own terms. My son, me, and my nipples are so much happier and neither one of us cries when it's feeding time now. So if breastfeeding is a shitshow and you can't just seem to get it together, don't forget that exclusively pumping is an option for you! It is not an easy road but it is a road you can travel if you want to try. I am happy to answer questions if you have them- the amount of information I have acquired over the past three months is astonishing considering I never even knew this was a possibility before then. Sometimes you just have to get a little creative to achieve your goals!
For those of you who may not know me personally or very well, here's an important piece of information before I begin this post: I am high anxiety. Finding out I was pregnant was anxiety inducing. Having a baby was very anxiety inducing (see previous post). But after my son was here and in the world? The most anxiety inducing moments of all.
I barely remember our week in the hospital after he was born. I was on morphine for a couple days and then IVs and such strong pain pills that it was hard staying awake most of the time. I remember a blur of lactation consultants, nurses, breastfeeding, crying, eating, exhaustion, soreness, bleeding. I remember my husband taught me how to put a diaper on our baby and being terrified to handle such a tiny little being. I remember a social worker coming in and asking what I thought to be really invasive questions: have you taken meds for depression before? have you ever been depressed? do you have a gun in your home? are you worried about your finances? and then she just handed me a pamphlet about PPD and was on her way. No real resourceful assistance, no suggestions on what to do if you suffer from postpartum depression, no offer to answer any questions I may have. Just her and her clipboard, asking about my life and walking away to store that info who knows where. It left a sour taste in my mouth. I don't remember what night it was but I remember my night nurse was a pretty lady with colorful glasses she pushed up her nose alot. I think her name was Lisa. I began sobbing to her in the middle of the night when she brought me my pain pills and refilled my IV and told her I felt so sad. She told me it was normal to feel sad, angry, nervous, and confused and to not worry. It was soothing and comforting to hear. Sometimes you just need to know nothing is wrong with you.
But the most anxious moment of all that week was when we were discharged from the hospital. I had lived in those walls from Sunday-Friday. I had relied on nurses to help take care of my baby and me. The farthest I had walked was around the postpartum ward in the fluorescent lighting. I was terrified and cried looking out the window as my husband began to drive us away from the hospital. "Don't worry, I'm not going to let my family down," he said. We lived only ten minutes away but it seemed like we were driving through a foreign country. He didn't let us down and we got home safely. And that's when the anxiety ramped up even higher.
Because I ran a fever during labor, I wasn't able to follow through with my placenta encapsulation that I had arranged with a doula. I wonder if I had been able to follow through with that if the anxiety would have been more manageable. I didn't know postpartum anxiety was a thing until I googled it one day to see if anyone else felt like me. I felt scared shitless about everything. Baby wasn't breathing loud enough while sleeping? Make sure he's not dead. Baby cried when I changed his diaper? I must have hurt him somehow. Baby cried when I changed his onesies? I must have pushed in his soft spot on his head. And then I began having scarier thoughts. Catastrophic traumatizing thoughts that I don't want to revisit right now. I cried probably 4-5 times a day. It wasn't until about 2 weeks later, when my husband and I were watching our son in his swing that I cried happy tears. I couldn't believe I had made a little human that I loved so much.
When I went to my 6 week postpartum appointment, I confided in my doctor that I thought I had postpartum anxiety and explained that although it was better than before, I spent most of my hours obsessed over SIDS and cried at least once a day still. He told me that sleep deprivation plays a huge factor in PPD and PPA. That I needed to find ways to get more sleep however that may be. That my body wasn't producing estrogen like before and estrogen is an antidepressant. He could give me estrogen but it would mean I would stop producing milk and of course then I would have to stop breastfeeding. We agreed that if things didn't get better in the next couple weeks, I would come to him and revisit the topic of meds. So I went home and devised a game plan with my husband to get more sleep. And it worked...for the most part.
My anxiety as a mom is still there but it is not as crippling now that I have a handle on some of the triggers. But here is a pretty amazing thing I realized the other night- while being a mom has opened up some really scary anxious thoughts for me, it actually has helped me conquer my anxiety. For example, just two nights ago, I was going to give my baby a bath with no one else home to help me. I was so scared I couldn't do it on my own. But he needed a bath. It was part of his bedtime routine. He liked his baths! And it was my job to give him that. So I did it. And we both survived. And I cried again but out of gratitude because being a mom means someone else relies on you and you can't give up on yourself for that reason alone. So he keeps me strong and forces me to push through my anxiety for him. It's a pretty cool anti-anxiety med.
Do I think everyone is able to conquer their postpartum anxiety without meds? No and there is no weakness or failure there if that's the case. I have not even fully conquered mine. Before Christmas, we went to the LA Zoo lights so the baby could get a picture with Santa. I basically choked back tears the whole two hours, overwhelmed and scared. But I did it without crying and feel stronger for it. I just take each day one at a time and breathe my way through the moments and try to trust my instincts. Every car door that shuts outside makes me jump still. Right now as I write this, I feel a rollercoaster flip of anxiety in my stomach for no reason. But I am breathing through it. I have a group of fellow mothers on Facebook that I can turn to for advice and comfort when I need it (new moms- find your tribe! and if you don't have one, email me. I will bring you into ours.)
I also try to deflect the negative now and avoid reading terrifying articles about bad things happening to babies. If you know a new mom, don't give her unsolicited advice that may ramp up her anxiety or depression and don't send her links or stories about terrifying things. Please consider she may be suffering deeper than the standard baby blues. Give her encouragement and help, not more things to worry about, and let her adjust to her new life. If you are a new mom and feeling the way I was, open up to your family, friends, doctors, whoever you can about how you are feeling. It is scary having a child to be responsible for. I bet you're doing a better job than you think. On that note, I have to go give my son a bath now because I am his mother and I am capable of that job!!!