Motherhood Is Just One Surprise After Another

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Real talk: I thought I was going to hate breastfeeding.

I can distinctly remember sitting in my therapist's office, hugely pregnant, talking about the creature in my belly becoming an outside baby in the not-too-distant future. The subject of nursing came up, and I said, "I think breastfeeding is great, but I have no desire to feed a human off of my body." My therapist laughed and said that I might change my mind, that when the nurse hands you your baby, sometimes, something clicks. I am 99% sure I actually rolled my eyes at her and promptly changed the subject.

Every time someone asked (which was weirdly often), my answer was always the same. "I'll try it. We'll see." Even when talking to our doula before the birth, I expressed my concern that I might not like breastfeeding, and that I really wanted to start pumping early. I was entirely convinced that I was not going to a Nursing Mom. Full stop.

Spoiler alert: I was wrong. So wrong.

If you read my birth story, you'll recall that I had a very protracted labor, that ended in an emergency c-section. Because I wasn't feeling well, I wasn't able to do immediate skin-to-skin in the delivery room, so it was about 20 minutes before I was able to hold my daughter. I was still a little feverish, I was thirsty, I couldn't feel my legs, and I was exhausted from being awake and in labor for the previous 25 hours. Then, the nurse handed me our baby, and nothing else mattered. Aviva had been trying to nurse since approximately 3 minutes after she was born, including on Ken's clean suit that he had to wear in the OR, and this moment was no different. She immediately started rooting, and all of a sudden, all of my old feelings and worries were gone. I just wanted to nurse this baby. Our doula helped me get positioned and talked me through getting Aviva to latch. I was very fortunate, and this tiny babe was a nursing rock star. And me? I was blissed out. Was it a little uncomfortable? Sure. Was it weird? Yeah, kind of. But it didn't matter. From that moment on, I was hooked.

Over the next couple of days, Aviva and I learned more about this whole breastfeeding thing. My milk started to come in, which was bizarre, but also great. Ken and I went to a breastfeeding class that one of the lactation consultants led each day, and I had a visit with my own lactation consultant every day. Most of the time, things went really well. There was one night that things got a little hairy, of course. It was three in the morning and Aviva woke up and she was hangry. Her tiny, newborn wails filled the room and I hobbled over to the bassinet as fast as my c-section incision would allow. I scooped her up, brought her back to my bed, and tried to get her to latch. She was rage-crying at this point, her little face was so red, and she just would. not. latch. Panicking, I paged the nurse from the room phone and tried to explain what was happening over Aviva's cries... but of course, the nurse couldn't hear me. Moments later, she swooped into the room, an angel clad in navy scrubs, and, for lack of a better word, man-handled Aviva onto my boob. And just like that... quiet. Well, quiet except for the happy nursing noises of a contented newborn. Sigh of relief.

After we were discharged, I was nervous to go home. What if I couldn't get Aviva to latch at home? What if I didn't have enough milk? What if she didn't gain enough weight? What if, what if, what if. Astonishingly, none of that happened. In fact, I had a bit of an oversupply problem and a really forceful letdown, so I spent a lot of time apologizing to Aviva for shooting milk in her face. I had a few clogged ducts every day, so I showered to help work them out, used warm compresses and nursed as much as i could.  (Again, this is the part where I tell you how glamorous motherhood is and then laugh until I cry.) Things were going well until (dun dun DUNNNNN) I was struck down by mastitis. It was the craziest thing. I felt kind of tired and gross, got in the shower, and in the span of ten minutes went from "gross but manageable" to "chills, 102 degree fever, body aches, wishing for death". Oh, and my boob was KILLING me. Fortunately, my OB's office called me in a script for antibiotics and I was able to start them really quickly. Within 24 hours, I was no longer trying to formulate a plan to amputate my breast, and I no longer wished for death. It would have been so easy to give up at that point, but I knew that I would regret it, so onward I pushed.

Before I knew it, days turned into weeks. With the help of our doula, I was able to start pumping in between nursing sessions, so I built up a nice stash in the fridge. It was really important for me to do that because about two weeks after Aviva was born, I had to go back to studying for boards, which meant leaving the house for a few hours every day. Thank goodness Aviva was happy to take a bottle of expressed milk, so long as it was warm-bordering-on-hot, and Ken was more than happy to snuggle her while she ate. Keeping up with nursing and pumping while studying for the most important exam of my life to-date was definitely not easy. Again, it would have been so much easier if we had switched to formula. I wouldn't have had limits on how long I could be out studying, and Ken and I could have split the night feedings. Something inside me was able to help me persevere, though. When I was nursing, everything else melted away, and it was just Aviva and me in our own world.

When I went back to school at 12 weeks postpartum, I was terrified. I was going to have to pump multiple times per day, and I was going to be on a busy, general surgery rotation. On top of that, I was going to be getting up during the night to nurse, then I would be working 12 hour days. This was the hardest thing yet, for sure. It was kind of awkward to have to tell my almost-entirely-male surgical team that I needed to go pump. There was the time I was accidentally let into the incorrect call room to pump (before anyone had found the lactation room and told me where it was), and an OBGYN resident yelled at me and made me cry (those postpartum hormones are no joke). I was exhausted, and there were multiple times that I nearly fell asleep while driving to or from the hospital. And of course, I missed my baby so much it physically hurt. It would have been so easy to give up during that period, too, but the one thing I looked forward to was getting to snuggle Aviva while she nursed, even if that was happening at 11 pm... and 2 am... and 4 am...

And so it went. With every new rotation, a new challenge. Finding a new place to pump, navigating the pumping conversation with a new team of students, residents, and attending physicians, and stressing out about not having enough milk. Some days, I would get to my car and realized that I had been so busy that I hadn't pumped for 7 hours, and so then I started pumping in my car on my drive home. Real talk? I really do not like pumping. But, I do love nursing, so I will continue to pump. At some point, maybe it won't be worth the trouble to me, but I will cross that bridge if and when we come to it.

This is addressed directly to all the moms out there. I will never be a breastfeeding evangelist. I believe that however you want to feed your baby, so long as you aren't giving them Mountain Dew and Cheetos, is great. I know so many women who were made to feel inferior or like failures because they chose not to breastfeed, even if they physically were unable to do so. Being a mom is a hard enough job on a daily basis that the last thing anyone needs is another voice in your head telling you that you're not doing it right. If you're feeding your baby, you're doing it right. If you're breastfeeding and having doubts, maybe my story will help you realize your strength, or maybe my story will remind you that it's okay to not breastfeed, and that it doesn't make you any less of a mother. One of the most beautiful things about motherhood is that there are so many ways to do it.

Lastly, you are doing a great job, and your hair looks really nice today.

*This post was not sponsored by The Honest Company, but it may be featured on their blog as part of  Honest Feeding Stories. I did not receive any compensation for this post, and all ideas and opinions are my own.*

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