Breastfeeding isn’t always beautiful

Photo of a woman sitting in a park in the fall, against a tree, breasfeeding a baby

Photo by Dave Clubb on Unsplash

I feel like breastfeeding has been all over the news and internet these days. Everything from the pros to the cons, everyone has an opinion, everyone has an anecdote to share.

Here’s my adventure in breastfeeding… sort of.

I didn’t think I would be physically capable of breastfeeding since my reduction mammaplasty in 2008. My surgeon explained to me that it most likely wouldn’t be possible and I accepted that. My physical and mental health were more important to me at the time.

Fast-forward nine years later to my third trimester. I noticed I was producing colostrum and started to get excited at the prospect of being able to breastfeed, but I didn’t get my hopes up too high. I researched breastfeeding after a reduction surgery and talked to friends and friends of friends about their breastfeeding experiences. I looked up how to get a breast pump through my insurance and looked up lactation consultants in my area. I wanted to be prepared. One of my friends was also kind enough to put me in touch with her friend, who had experience trying to breastfeed after having a reduction. By the time came to have Archie, I had a pretty excited and positive mindset about the whole thing.

A few hours after Archie was born, I took my first shot at breastfeeding. She couldn’t latch. A lactation consultant came to see me and give me tips, the nurses tried to give me tips, she still couldn’t really latch. I also attended an in-hospital breastfeeding seminar. On the third day of my hospital stay, I had two nurses, a lactation consultant, my mother and Mark in my room trying to encourage me and help me to feed my baby. The frustration built up to the point where I boiled over and just sobbed. I felt like I was being pushed to do something that clearly wasn’t working and I didn’t feel good about it anymore. I was told that pumping would help and I was given a handful of tricks to try from spoon-feeding colostrum to different ways of positioning the baby. Finally, a nurse suggested supplementing with formula until I could get the whole breast feeding thing sorted. I couldn’t believe how long it took for someone to “give me permission” to use formula. At that stage I actually felt guilty about using it. So much focus was put on the importance of breastfeeding and on the breast milk, that I truly started believing that formula may not be good enough.

When it came time to leave the hospital, Archie still couldn’t properly latch. There were a few times where she sort of had it, but it was incredibly painful for me and it never lasted long. I was mentally spent. She was cluster feeding for the first couple of nights we were home. Anyone who’s ever had a newborn, knows cluster feeding is pure hell. The baby was up every 2-3 hours, screaming to be fed. The lactation consultant gave me a plan when I left the hospital and part of it directed me to try breast feeding for at least ten minutes before giving her formula, but we quickly moved to strictly formula because everyone, including Archie, was just too tired and frustrated to push the breastfeeding thing. I tried to pump as often as I could, but between taking care of Archie and trying to sleep myself, I wasn’t pumping as often as I should have been. Still, for a time, it looked like my milk supply was coming in and I was able to pump enough to give her about 2 oz of breast milk a day. I felt good about that.

On our first visit to the pediatrician, she said it was fine to keep doing what we were doing with the formula and breast milk. She said it didn’t matter that I couldn’t breast feed, because Archie was getting some of my milk via pumping. I was okay with that. I didn’t enjoy pumping, but I didn’t hate it yet because it was giving me a bit of alone time while my mother-in-law  or Mark looked after Archie.

About a  month in I was really resenting having to pump. It was particularly difficult to pump while alone with Archie, because if she was screaming, I would have to pick her up to soothe her, which meant stopping pumping. I had a really good electric pump and I even purchased a pumping bra so I could go completely hands-free, which helped, but it was still tough to do anything else while attached to the damn thing. Also around this time, my milk supply started drying up and I couldn’t see the point in pumping anymore because I was barely getting anything. We were adding any little bit I could get to Archie’s formula bottles, but it wasn’t much. I was eating lactation-friendly foods, pumping more often than I was in the beginning, doing skin-to-skin with Archie before pumping, pumping after a warm shower, etc. None of this was helping and I was just getting angry at the whole process. Cleaning all the pump parts every night on top of all the bottle washing and sterilizing, wasn’t fun for Mark either. We waited to see the pediatrician and get some insights on what to do from there.

Archie’s pediatrician is wonderful. She’s nice, practical, to-the-point and not at all condescending. We told her about my pumping troubles and she just said

“Then just stop. There’s no point in doing this if it’s driving you crazy and you and the baby aren’t getting anything out of it.”

I felt like this big weight was finally lifted! I was so happy. I didn’t really need her permission, but I felt like I did. This meant I had more time during the day to just be with Archie and enjoy her. I could have the time to nap and go out for walks, etc., which was next to impossible when I was trying to schedule everything around pumping AND Archie’s feeding schedule.

Things improved dramatically for us from there. I firmly believe “fed is best,” and feel zero guilt about it. Archie is growing VERY well, she’s eating like a champ, and she’s healthy. I also feel like we’ve bonded well.

I think the takeaway from this whole experience is that my mental health has to be a priority, especially if I want to be the best mother I can be. Self care is so important, whether you’re a mother or not. I’m learning to be kinder to myself and to just keep pushing to do the best I can for me and my family.

To all the mommies out there struggling with the whole breastfeeding saga, I hear you, I see you, and I’m sending you all the positive vibes!

A

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The arrival of Archer

This is apicture of the body of an infant lying on their back in a white onesie that says "Little Peanut" on it in black letters

What a mind-blowing month it’s been! I knew it would be a wild ride into parenthood, but it’s true what they say, nothing can totally prepare you for it. I’ll do my best to paint a full picture of Archie’s birth story.  I started this post three weeks ago, but you know, life happened. Literally. This will be a long post, so settle in 😉

My due date was August 5th, but as many people know, first-time mommies rarely deliver on time. Knowing this, I scheduled an induction for Tuesday, August 8th, at 7:30 p.m. I am very grateful I had this option. I know a lot of women are made to wait up to two weeks past their due date before being induced and I didn’t see the point in suffering any longer than I had to. Also, the beauty of scheduling an induction meant I had ample time to prepare my mind, body, and apartment. Another plus — My mom had enough notice to get to town before I delivered.

I had butterflies in my stomach all day Tuesday and couldn’t bring myself to eat or drink much. I already started feeling contractions a few days prior, but they were few and far between. Finally, 7: 00 p.m. came and Mark, my mom and me grabbed an Uber to the hospital.

Check-in went smoothly and I was taken up to the triage wing of the maternity floor to begin the induction process. The nurses/doctors warned that I would likely be in for a long night but I was able to stay in triage. I was just happy I wouldn’t be sent home to “labour it out.” After checking to see if I was dilated and seeing no progress, I got my first dose of drugs to get the process going around 11:00 p.m. My mom left shortly after that, and Mark and I hunkered in to our tiny triage room for the evening. We both tried to sleep while I waited for the drugs to do their deed. Poor Mark tried to make use of a tiny chair as a bed until a nurse took pity on him and brought him a comfier chair from another room. After four-ish hours, the doctor checked me again to see if the first pill had any effect, and things had barely progressed. I was given another pill and tried to get back to sleep. It was pretty difficult trying to sleep with cables everywhere, monitoring the baby’s heart rate, and mine. Being the size of an actual whale didn’t help either.

This is a photograph of a woman lying on her side in a hospital bed from the neck down with wires and tubes attached to her

Before I knew it, the contractions started getting more intense and much closer together. I didn’t want to wake Mark up, so I breathed through contractions on my own for several hours until my next visit from the doctor. This time I was elated to hear that I miraculously made it 5.75 cm dilated and I could soon move to my labour room! This was amazing news because none of the doctors/nurses thought I’d be ready after just two doses of the “magic” pill. I was initially told I’d likely need a minimum of three doses before any progress would be made. I asked when I could have my epidural and the nurse chuckled and said I could have it as soon as I got to my delivery room. What a relief it was to hear that! My contractions were getting stronger and it was getting harder for me to breathe through them. Period cramps are a walk in the damn park in comparison.

While I waited for a labour room to become available, the doctor suggested I go for a walk to kick things into high gear. Mark and I made it about five minutes before I started feeling nauseous and “ran” to find the nearest  bathroom. I didn’t make it, but my doctor saw me and directed me to a trash bin in the nick of time. Obviously, I didn’t feel much like walking after that. Back to the triage room we went to wait. I was hooked up to an IV for fluids and was given some anti-nausea meds in the meantime to settle my stomach.

Things get a little blurry for me at this point…

I vaguely remember walking to the delivery room, while holding on to my one of my sweet nurses. She helped me breathe through contractions and Mark followed behind with all our bags. The delivery room was big, bright, and welcoming. It also came with a comfier chair that turned into a bed, for Mark. Things were about to get real! I sat on my bed, the nurse gave me a hug , wished me luck, and left Mark and I to wait for the anesthesiologist.

The team administering my epidural was awesome. They were pleasant, professional, and quick. I was so grateful to them for providing me with relief. Once the epidural kicked in, I was put on Pitocin to speed up my contractions,. I had a catheter put in, more monitors put on my belly, and then I was left to let things take their course. The epidural actually allowed me to sleep for a few hours before I had to start pushing, which was definitely needed. Everything started feeling like it was moving in slow motion. Mark put on my labour playlist for some entertainment and a bit of stress relief. My water broke at some point while I was half asleep… I vaguely remember feeling a popping sensation but being too out of it to care. When a new nurse came in to check on me, she checked my bedding etc. and saw that my water did in fact break and it looked like the baby had pooped in the womb. I wasn’t too worried about that, as I learned this is a pretty common thing. I was able to sleep a bit longer after that.

Nothing prepared me for what the final four hours of labour would bring.

Once the doctors informed me that I could start pushing, a tsunami of nausea hit and I couldn’t stop throwing up until my stomach was totally empty. Since I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours, there wasn’t much in my stomach to begin with, but there was definitely nothing left when I was done.  Mark was by my side the whole time, holding my hand, and making sure I didn’t throw up on myself. The nurses gave me some anti-nausea meds and waited for them to kick in, then the pushing began.

This was without a doubt the hardest and most painful workout I have ever had.

It took several rounds of pushing before I got real momentum, and half way through I had to take a break because I was nauseous again. Then, I started having a very sharp pain in my pelvis. This was when I was informed that Archie was facing the wrong way (face up, instead of down), which made it harder for me to push her out. The pain got so bad that the epidural became ineffective and I couldn’t push through it. The anesthesiologist had to come back and administer stronger pain meds. Until they kicked in, I was curled in a ball on the bed, crying and gritting my teeth, just wishing it was over. Finally,  the pain faded a bit and I got a second wind. I was determined to get my baby out.

After another hour of pushing, a doctor came in with her team and told me that they were concerned about Archie’s positioning and because of this, there was a high possibility I would need a c-section. Knowing that this was not what I wanted, they offered to try forceps first, which I also did not want. I was working so hard to get her out, but after every time I pushed, I could feel her move back up, instead of staying down. It was the most frustrating feeling! The doctors said they’d let me try a few more pushes but if I didn’t make any progress, they would have to take action. I was not having this. Four powerful pushes later, my girl was out and everyone was cheering! I FUCKING DID IT. I was on such a high I was shaking.

They put my sweet Archie on my chest and she looked right at me. Mark got to cut the cord, just like we wanted, then she was whisked away to get cleaned up and checked out. I later found out that Archie actually had the cord wrapped around her neck and her heart rate was all over the place during those four hours of pushing. I’m so glad I didn’t know. Poor thing was a little battered when she came out with a big purple bruise on her tiny head, but she was okay! She was better than okay, she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

This is a photograph of a newborn bay in a woman's arms on a hospital bed

The hospital stay was as good as it could have been. The doctors and nurses were absolutely wonderful. They were always positive and kind and offered a lot of helpful advice. I had a private room with a chair-bed for Mark, a decent room service menu (with lactose-free options!) and excellent care. Emotions were running high and the lack of sleep, the pain, the hormone surge, and the breastfeeding struggle (I’ll do a separate post on that later) lead to a few tears. I can see why new parents appreciate the two-to-four-day stay at the hospital because there is so much happening and the learning curve is huge! We wished we could have taken our wonderful nurses home with us.

I was lucky with how my body handled labour; minimal damage was done. I will say that I was in a serious amount of pain not just where it was expected, but in my arms and legs as well. I even had pain on the bottom of my feet from the stirrups. I felt like I used every muscle in my body to push Archie out and that pain lingered for about a week afterward. Still, it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated.

Getting Archie home was a bit of an adventure. My mom came to help us with all our bags and lend her moral support. We don’t have a car, so we ordered an Uber. Sorting out how to secure our tiny human into our space age car seat was an overwhelming task for us.  We brought the manual to the hospital, but it wasn’t super helpful. The nurses weren’t allowed to help us because of liability issues, so we were on our own. Eventually though, we figured it out.

Finally, we were escorted to the hospital doors with our big cart of baggage and our wee Archie in her car seat. She looked so small and fragile. The Uber driver was nice and patient with us as we loaded our precious cargo and fortunately, the hospital worker who took us out to the car knew how to lock the car seat into place. As Mark, my mom and me got in the car, we noticed the song the driver had cranked up on the radio was an unedited rap song about raunchy sex. I looked at our newborn daughter and couldn’t help but laugh to myself. This song was SO inappropriate, it was hilarious. When we got home, Mark and I had a good laugh. The pure comedy of the moment was a great first family memory.

We were very fortunate to have our mothers each stay with us for two weeks to help us adjust to life with Archie and cook, clean, etc. This past week was our first week alone with her. We were both pleasantly surprised at how relatively smooth things went.

Now our darling Archer Robin is one month old! We can’t imagine our lives without her. She brings us so much joy every day. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been hard, or that I’m not exhausted, or that I don’t get frustrated sometimes. Parenthood is a beautiful, messy, crazy journey, but it’s the best thing Mark and I could ever do, and I’m so glad we’re doing it together.

This is a picture of a baby girl's sleeping face

Stay tuned for more motherhood updates 🙂

A

We’re almost there

This is a picture of a pregnant woman's torso from the side, holding her belly

The past eight months have been a whirlwind. I can’t believe how fast this pregnancy has gone and in just a few short weeks, our baby girl will be here!

My body has changed and adapted a lot. Some days I hate it, other days I love it. The female body is a pretty exceptional thing, and I certainly didn’t appreciate that until I got pregnant. I wasn’t blessed with that cute “all bump” look, but I’m at peace with that. My hands and feet/ankles are swollen, my skin has seen better days from head to toe, I miss gin and tonics and tea, I miss being able to sleep on my back, and I am seriously exhausted both mentally and physically. Yes, I know the fatigue “actually comes after the baby is born.” Still, with all the not-so-pleasant things pregnancy brings me, it also brings so much joy, beauty, and undeniable excitement. Every time she kicks, she reminds me I’m about to go on the adventure of a lifetime.

This is a photograph of a pregnant woman's body, perched on a fence in a rose garden, facing the camera

Mark and I have been very fortunate to have the time to prepare (some might even say over-prepare) for our peanut. She is so deeply loved already and we are beyond anxious to meet her. We’ve been nesting for a couple of months and I’ve been taking full advantage of not having to work by taking daily naps, going for leisurely jaunts, and catching up on my correspondence. The timing of this pregnancy is perfect in nearly every way and it’s certainly not lost on either of us. While the move and getting life started here in Brookline was scary and stressful at times, the rest of it has been happy and hopeful.

I’ve read a ton of articles, some with more credibility than others, about the horrors of pregnancy, labour, and the insurmountable exhaustion of caring for an infant. I’ve read about all the poop and spit up we’ll have to clean up, about the annoying unsolicited advice everyone will give, and about the dreaded baby blues.  I am very nervous about labour and about taking care of an infant. I know Mark and I are ready and we’re more than capable, but this is a monumental thing that’s about happen. There are a ton of negative stories out there and it would be easy to get wrapped up in them, especially as a first time parent-to-be. I do my best to  look past these horror stories and stick to facts from reliable sources while seeking comfort and advice from friends and family.

Two more weeks, plus or minus a few days, and we finally get to meet her. Then, “let the wild rumpus start!”

A