Friday, July 22, 2011

Adventures in Breastfeeding

For my first daughter, I thought it was going to be so easy. How can anyone not breastfeed? It's there, it's free, it's natural. It all seemed so simple. I read books, stalked online forums and bought out the store with every product and accessory you can find for a breastfeeding mother. I was excited to do it.  

When Di was born I couldn't be with her for several hours, they warned me it might be hard for her to latch. She did immediately. To this day, she eats anything and everything in site. I should have known when I first locked eyes with my beautiful first born baby girl and she instantly opened her mouth at the sight of me, that food would be a driving factor in her life.

Everyone says it shouldn't hurt. Everyone says it is the most natural thing. Both are true, but not in my case. I had mastitis, I know this now, but at the time it felt like the worst flu I ever had, combined with breast pain and red streaks on my body. It felt like knives slicing off my nipples with every latch. Chunks of skin were ripped from my breasts, hanging like shredded tissue paper. I bled, I cried, I screamed every session, I even caught myself squeezing my daughter as an involuntary reflex to the pain. I still remember the look on her face, confusion. She was just a newborn but she conveyed a message to me I already felt: I was failing.

I will be honest, I looked for every excuse to quit. I needed permission, someone to tell me to just stop. I wanted to hear that she was allergic to my milk, it would explain her horrible, constant colic and alleviate me of my pain and responsibility. I got permission from no one. I even felt a bit guilted into continuing by the online community...I am forever grateful for that.

I purchased a breastpump and OH! What sweet relief! I could pump bottles of milk without pain, my daughter ate to her heart's content, and my husband actually is one of the few men in this world who would wake up at night to feed her. I loved pumping for her. I became proud of it. We call ourselves EPers (exclusive pumper). Its a small group, and it can be tough to feel like you belong. Nursing mothers don't relate, neither do formula mothers. So I didn't tell many people. I proudly said I breastfed, but I didn't say how. I pumped for 10 and a half months, and thanks to an oversupply that could simultaneously feed all the Duggar children, I had enough frozen breastmilk to last well over a year. Good thing too, because now I was pregnant with my little J.

My second daughter wasn't quite as interested in breastfeeding immediately. Probably because the first thing she ever saw, smelled and felt in this world was the floor mat of my Honda CR-V. But after several hours of being apart, her naked body was placed on my naked body. She sniffed at her hands and sniffed at me, searching. The nurses told me not to interfere, to let her find my breast on her own. Incredibly, she did, but was too exhausted to do much nursing. So she used it as a pillow instead, and we slept a long while.  

Less than a week after J was born, I had shaking chills, a high fever and pain in my abdomen, breasts and back. Turns out, after many tests, I had mastitis in my left breast, a kidney infection and retained placenta which caused a uterine infection. I was put on 2 oral antibiotics and scheduled for a D&C, during which I got a round of IV antibiotics. Luckily, my mother and grandmother were patient enough to feed J with a syringe as not to compromise our nursing relationship with nipple confusion, and even luckier, I had enough breastmilk pumped to sustain her as I had to pump and dump for 24 hours after.  

I m sure I announced to everyone that would come within 6 feet of me that I was breastfeeding, so any procedure, medication or treatment had to be conducive to doing so. I refused any anxiety meds, so I was wide awake in the OR as they strapped me down to a table the width of a popsicle stick and about the same temperature as one. Cozy. I look around the room at the 2 dozen people who will soon have their heads between my legs. A comforting last thought as the light slips from my vision and I am falling into a heavy sleep.  

A week later, I am feeling better. My nipples are still cracked and sore. My breast starts to hurt again, that familiar pain, shaking chills, high fevers and red streaks. Mastitis, again. Well crap, I had it before, and a lot of people seem to have it twice. I saw my OB the next day, back on antibiotics. 4 times a day, as if a breastfeeding mom of 2 kids under two has nothing better to do than remember to take pills 4 times a day when I dont remember to eat three times a day or brush my teeth twice a day. But I know I have to, so I set timers and reminders and I diligently, religiously take my pills at 6am, 12 noon, 6pm and midnight.  

The pain gets worse, now its on my right breast as well. Back to the doctor, my fever is 102. My OB is dumbfounded, she tells me this. She asks other OBs, and midwives. No one knows what to do. I am already on the strongest, best medication for mastitis and it's getting worse. I have and ultrasound, luckily, no abscess and I am able to avoid another surgery. But now I dont have an answer either. Off to see a specialist of infectious disease. He is an older doctor, who of course recommended stopping breastfeeding immediately. There it is. The excuse I silently begged for the first time. The words I had longed to hear from someone, anyone last time I was in this position. But now, things are different. This time, there is not a chance.  I tell him this is not possible, that I won't even consider stopping. He assures me it will cure my mastitis. I do agree with him, but again, reiterate my point. I won't quit, I don't even consider it.

He respects my choice, luckily, as the infection has drained me of energy to fight that battle. He recommends 10 days of IV antibiotics. I start that day in the hospital and have a follow up with a visiting nurse. The nurse who comes to see me is in her 70s and has just badly injured her knee. I have a long, rock driveway and a dozen steps, including several uneven stone steps outside. Because why not break a hip as well. I have to help her up my stairs and help her draw my blood and place a new line. When she is leaving she nearly tumbles down my stone steps and I have to hold her and walk her to her poor nurse.  

It is not easy to have a line in your arm for 10 days with a curious toddler and a newborn baby. Di wants to constantly see my boo boo. I can't shower really, and I forget it is there during late night nursing sessions. Luckily, I was able to keep up with it and clear my infection. Finally, I am feeling good.  

A few days later, I had horrendous pain in my abdomen. It started out like labor, coming in waves of rolling contractions and banding out across my abdomen under my ribs. Its impossible to sleep, or even think. To the ER I go, convinced I have gallstones. It appears that the lovely antibiotics did the trick with the infection, but now caused gastritis and pancreatitis. I have a CT scan (hello radiation) and have to pump and dump for 24 hours (I do 36 hours, just to be safe). The bitch of it all is, really, there is nothing they can do. I can take pain meds and antacids and eat bland foods but only time will heal it. I am missing bonding time with my baby, but I am still nursing her, whenever she wants, as much as she wants. I am finally feeling better, just in time to go back to work.  

I think I am turning my final rough corner. I can see this going on for a long time. I love to watch her sweet, chubby cheeks pulse as she drinks deeply from me. We sleep together in a tangle of arms, legs and naked bellies pressed to each other. Her dark skin glows blue in the early morning light when she simply turns her head slightly to feed from me.  I can't stop staring at her, but those moments, I know with live vividly in my head forever. Where I once struggled to make it to each month's "milkstone", now I feel the months slipping away too quickly, and I desperately want to wrap my arms around time, dig my heels in and hold on as much as I can.

Finally. I am doing it, I am winning. And I don't want to stop. Not even a little, not even for a second.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why being a mom is like being stoned..

Now before you go calling CPS, I am no drug addict, nor have I ever been.  I had my fun in college but those days are long gone.  My fun now, while it may seem quite dull to most people, even other parents, is watching my daughter squeal at an ant as it wriggles by, or watch her try a new food for the first time, or repeat the occasional curse word that slips out.  It shouldn't, but even that gives me great joy and pride.

I got to thinking what being a parent is like, and if I ever could have imagined it when I was living a life without my children.  No, babysitting, or being a nanny, or having a puppy, is not like being a parent, not even a little bit.  So when I talk to people I knew back in my carefree days of late nights for different reasons, I imagine how I could describe being a mother.  I have decided, it could be comparable to being perpetually stoned, and here's why:

#1.  You are constantly paranoid.  About everything.  Other people look at you funny and try to convince you everything is fine.  You don't agree.  Every small object can be choked on, or swallowed, perhaps cause a bowel obstruction.  All my furniture is bolted to the walls of our house to prevent anything from falling.  I have installed more drawer ties and locks and baby gates than I can count.  Every piece of glass can break, every window is a death trap, every drop of water a drowning hazard. You get the point.

And not just about physical safety, I worry if I don't eat right in front of them, will they learn bad habits?  Or what if I eat too healthy and give them a complex?  What about teenage girls and driving in cars and eating disorders and losing their virginity to a boy who thinks he is a man because he has a penis and some tattoos?  What about their first broken heart, first fail, first broken bone?

Then, the more you parent, the worse it gets.  I fear food dyes and artificial sweeteners as if they were poison, what if they are?  What if they eat non-organic fruits and vegetables and ingest pesticides?  What about hormones in their food, mercury in fish?  Crap, I am breastfeeding, now I have to be even more careful about what I eat because JJ eats that...sort of.

The thing is, once you get started on a paranoid streak, it just keeps getting worse.  Total buzz kill.

#2:  You are always hungry.  Breastfeeding makes you pretty ravenous at times.  I also forget to eat breakfast, every single day.  I feed the kids and organize the house and set up activities and calm tantrums and screaming babies and then it's 11:30 and time for lunch and I have to nurse a baby while cutting up avocado and change diapers and put the toddler down for a nap and the most lunch I get it whatever I dare lick off my finger or a knife which may not always be a butter knife...impaired judgement.  At this point I am so hungry that I think of very creative food eating that fig bar covered in peanut butter and applesauce....several food groups involved anyway...and it is good!  I also make a lot of macaroni and cheese, and order pizza at night, which usually is eaten cold the next day.

#3:  Everything is hilarious.  This is the best part.  Absolutely everything my kids do, is freaking hilarious.  They are comedians, the funniest I have ever seen.  Blowing spit bubbles, laying a loud fart, or imitating an adult, is the funniest thing you will ever see.  Other people don't see the humor, they may even get annoyed at how funny you think it is.  They are probably bored with it, bored with you.  But you, a parent, in your own little reality, don't care.  You just want to watch and laugh and admire this fascinating little creature you are quite sure is some sort of genius the world has never seen.

#4:  You think you have discovered something the world has never seen.  Your child is the smartest...advanced, no, a genius.  Maybe not in a traditional sense, but that noise they just made, that smile, that block they just stacked.  Amazing.  There is no way any other child in this world has ever done that before.  Even if it is not your first child, you are still convinced there is something Earth stopping about this behavior.  No one else may understand, but they don't know what you know, they can't see what you see, and it is deeply enthralling, consuming.

Although I have long ago said farewell to my old life as a college cheerleader with a very fulfilling social life, my life now feels like one big party.  Everyday I wake up excited, knowing what fun the day will bring.  Even the worst day as a parent has a lot of fun in it.  Every night I reflect again on my day and my husband and I laugh as we retell each other the same stories about that day that we were both present for anyway, but again laugh and smile and relive those moments.

I know now though, that I won't be young forever, and my children will age much faster than I will at this stage.  So I love these moments, I take a lot of pictures, press my nose to my babies' heads and breath deeply, memorizing the smell of them, how soft their skin is and the look in their sky blue eyes when they laugh, cry, pout, or how their eyes twitch in their sleep.  I know now, this time is limited, and I want to capture every moment, every first, second and last.  I want to remember and relive these moments tomorrow, next week, forever.  And I look forward to so many more.