Wednesday marks eight weeks of an accomplishment I never thought I’d make.
Before she was born, I knew I wanted the experience of breastfeeding Arielle, It’s what I’d planned to do with Madelyn, but I had to stop early due to the infection at the C-section site. As she grew, I remained sad about not having the opportunity to breastfeed and harbored a lot of anger toward the doctor who dismissed my suspicion that something was wrong with me. I knew that if we ever had another child, I would attempt breastfeeding again.
I don’t really know why it was so important to me. After all, I am not even against formula or claim in any way that it’s poison. Thank goodness for formula! It’s what nourished and grew my happy and healthy first child who rarely suffers illnesses, accomplished milestones ahead of or on time, eased into developmental transitions, and continues to outsmart us in almost every area of life.
Still, though, I longed for the experience that formula can’t give; the utter (udder?) mammalian connection between mother and biological child.
So when it was time to feed Arielle about an hour into her life in the outside world, I was essentially starting over. The nurse helped us latch, gave me tips about positioning, and explained to me what I should listen and look for. As the days went on and I was able to move better and better, we continued to establish a breastfeeding relationship. It was simple at first, but then became more and more painful. Nurses said our latch looked fine, and I was told I was doing it right, but I should just keep nursing and power through the pain that would leave within the week as my body became used to all the new sensations and activity. So I did. In the bubble of the hospital, I learned how to breastfeed Arielle.
Milk came in the day before we were discharged so on top of all kinds of lightning-like pain, I suffered some pretty intense engorgement. Our wonderful pediatrician came in one morning to do her routine assessment on Arielle, and we giggled together as I greeted her with pillows of ice across my chest.
I don’t know how I did it, but I just kept telling myself to keep on keeping on.
Our first night home was a disaster. I’m still looking to meet the mom who hasn’t cried on her first night home from the hospital. Are you out there, Miracle Woman? Do you exist? Has anyone ever had a peaceful night without tears the day the baby comes home? Between hormones and the absence of the safety net of the wonderful nurses, I lost it. The pain suddenly increased and I was noticing blood and scabbing. The engorgement seemed out of control, and I swore I was going to float away like the house in “Up” due to the balloons under my shirt. The discomfort and the resulting crying baby left me in a puddle of tears from The Ugly Cry.
Twelve hours later, I had a lactation consultant in my house.
She taught me how to latch differently. She inspected my breasts. She assessed Arielle’s anatomy. Even though my face was still puffy from hours of crying, I began to feel better about having this personal support at my fingertips six days after Arielle’s arrival. She did notice, however, that Arielle’s tongue didn’t seem to wiggle out past her gums. And after additional inspection, she decided that Arielle was tongue tied; that her frenulum (the tissue that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) was tight and preventing the tongue from making the necessary movements to suck and swallow correctly. I learned that this is very common, but usually goes undiagnosed if the baby is not breastfed because it’s the uncomfortable experience that brings attention to the tongue tie. If the baby is not breastfed, later in life, the child or adult might have issues with range of motion, speech, behavior, or ear, nose, and throat channels. I was glad we caught this, not only for my own comfort, but for Arielle’s overall health.
So on her eighth day, Arielle had a tongue bris. The ENT physician was so knowledgeable and supportive of breastfeeding. The procedure was hard for me to watch as I held her hands, but immediately after, I was able to nurse Arielle and I noticed a difference. By releasing the frenulum with a small cut, her movement was more breastfeeding-friendly, and we were able to continue on our journey while I simultaneously healed.
It wasn’t smooth sailing though. I continued to encounter bumps in the road. My pump was uncomfortable. Engorgement took over again. A plugged duct killed an entire day that I was sure would also kill me. Two weeks in, and I was miserable. I had threatened to quit breastfeeding approximately 47 times and every time, I chickened out because I didn’t want to quit breastfeeding. I wanted to like it. And I knew I could get to that point eventually only because so many friends had been in my shoes and told me it passes. This was a test of my strength and stamina.
I am part of a wonderful Facebook group with local moms who all gave me great advice. Two friends from the group spent hours replying to texts and looking at photos to consult me during those hard times. Late night FaceTime sessions helped talk me off a ledge. Therapeutic phone calls with friends added to my arsenal of information to battle the challenges I experienced (thanks, Gretch, for the APNO recipe!). I began going to a breastfeeding support group on Wednesdays and it has since become my favorite day of the week.
The weeks went by and the pain began to dwindle. What was once pain throughout an entire nursing session became pain only during the first few minutes. Then those minutes turned into only one. That one became a half. And now, when Arielle latches, I don’t feel pain. I feel pride.
The nurses said it would take about two to three weeks. Well. No. Biggest lie of my life. Six weeks in, I stopped having anxiety before each feeding. And now, we’re at eight weeks, and the only reason why I find myself sighing before she eats is because the dog needs to go outside, Madelyn needs help putting on her socks, errands still have to be completed, I haven’t showered yet, and it’s 5 o’clock and I need to start preparing dinner. I didn’t need a breastfeeding miracle. I need a clone.
We’ve even figured out how to successfully nurse when we are out of the house. At first I was so nervous to leave home because I wasn’t sure how I would perform the breastfeeding choreography without the comfort of my special chair and positioning. But now, I can nurse while waiting for a table at a restaurant, off to the side at Target, and even standing up while microwaving Madelyn’s dinner. I don’t profess to know everything, but I know what works for me. So far. At this point. I know things will change as she grows and develops, but I now feel equipped to roll with it.
My mom breastfed me during a time when a lot of moms felt that formula was the magical milk that was just as good as breast milk. Maybe it was. It was the 80s after all. But what interested me in breastfeeding and inspired me to try it and work through my obstacles was the experience itself that she shared with me. She told me about the amazing bond she felt, and the closeness of our relationship. She shared with me that it felt good, and how sweet it was. While she didn’t breastfeed me for an extended amount of time due to being a working mom (again, it was the 80s after all), she still felt the depth and benefits of nursing. Needless to say, I was intrigued, and wanted to understand first hand these memories my mom had of nursing me. So every time i swore I was going to quit between gasping, snorting sobs, she encouraged me to keep going and power through.
So many friends who support breastfeeding told me it was OK to quit. That my happiness mattered most and Arielle would be fine. Of course she would. Madelyn is a shining star. My stubbornness was selfish. I didn’t want to quit for me. I knew my baby would get fed regardless; but if I quit, I would never have this experience again. It was now or never. I wanted to reap the benefits of breastfeeding for myself and make the choice to quit for whatever reason after we were established, not during a low moment. I didn’t want to regret it later on because I knew the pain of regret would be greater than the pain at the breast.
But my true rock? My greatest support? My husband. He doesn’t have boobs and he was raised on formula. He’s not a hippie and he hated seeing me in pain. He usually chooses the path of least resistance, but is just as stubborn as I am. He was there for me with a glass of water and a flexi straw every time I was due to nurse. He helped me plan a blueprint of a schedule to get us through a good day. He could have told me to just forget it; that my constant crying was stressful and annoying; that it would just be soooooo much easier to shake up a scoop of powder and water. He was sympathetic and gentle, exactly what I needed to keep going. He continues to be there for every middle-of-the-night feeding, not even because I need help with breastfeeding specifically, but because we are a team and he wants the best for me and the best for our daughter. So while I prepare to nurse Arielle, he changes her diaper and brings her to me. It’s a relay and we work well together. I am so, so thankful to have a supportive partner like him because even though he can’t possibly understand what I’ve gone through, he knew how important it was to me. He wanted me to succeed, so he did everything to empower me. True love.
My personal opinion is that everyone, if they can, should try to breastfeed. I’ve never felt more female or important. I feel much more bonded with Arielle than I did with Madelyn at this stage of newbornhood. My mental state is completely normal and I feel extremely clearheaded and recovered from surgery and post partum symptoms. My weight loss kicked into gear much sooner than it did last time, and I not only feel connected with Arielle’s body, but with my own, too. I am constantly in awe of the fact that I have the ability and honor of feeding my baby and how miraculous my body is for making it possible.
Breastfeeding is not easy. The fact that it’s the most natural thing a woman’s body can do does not mean that it’s the easiest thing. I don’t know very many women who say it’s not painful in the beginning, or messy, or stressful. It was all those things for me. Between inconvenient leaking that left a trail like I was Hansel AND Gretel to predicting feeding times with opportunities to sleep, I found beginning breastfeeding to be extremely challenging. I did it anyway. Anyone who knows me knows that I usually quit things that are difficult and too much trouble. Except this time.
A woman’s anatomy is truly amazing, and I have nothing but pride to do what it’s been made to do along with all other mammals. Our society has made breasts to be acceptable as only sexual accessories, but nobody is grossed out about the mama dog feeding her puppies or the new baby giraffe nuzzling with its mom for milk. I joke that I’m Arielle’s pantry. The kitchen is always open and I will continue to feed my baby until one or both of us is done. I’ve come so far and have never felt more proud. With the ongoing support of my friends, my mom, and Bryan, I know Arielle will continue to get the best. I love that she and I have a unique relationship that nobody else in her life can duplicate and I have the ability to take her from frantic to calm with cuddling and milk.
When new moms come to the Wednesday breastfeeding support group filled with anxiety and tears — the usual signs of having a one or two-weeker — I empathetically tell them it will all be OK and it gets better. It wasn’t long ago that I was hearing the same thing, and I am now honored to take my place in the sisterhood and support others from the other side of the fence.