Where real moms tell it like it is.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Breastfeeding Bummer

I was married almost five years before I even considered having children.

For several years, my husband and I even entertained the idea of not having children. We were so giddy in love and enjoyed each other's company so thoroughly, we reasoned a child would only alter our wonderful dynamic. And did we really want to be one of those uptight couples whose every thought was consumed by their kids? We fancied ourselves too passionate and cosmopolitan to ever want to be weighed down with diaper bags and sippy cups.

But another major reason I was hesitant to have children is I was DEATHLY afraid of giving birth. I was a precocious 15-year-old snot when my mom gave birth to my youngest brother, and I lived to regret asking if I could be in the delivery room. It was bloody and gruesome and above all, SCARY. My baby brother's umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and he wasn't breathing. I watched in horrified silence as the nurses huddled around his tiny blue body, working feverishly to get him breathing. He ended up spending one week in the NICU and today, he is a healthy 14-year-old. Still, watching his difficult entrance into this world affected me deeply. I liked to joke that it was the best birth control method ever!

Fast forward 14 years, and I gave birth to a perfect baby girl, after what could only be described as a perfect pregnancy, labor and delivery. Thanks to the wonders of the epidural, Princess Chunky arrived after I pushed through four contractions. There were so many jumbled, wonderful thoughts clanging around inside my head when the doctor handed her to me for the first time. One of them was, "Wow, that was easy!"

Karmic retribution was already on the way.

I had never been too enthused about the idea of breastfeeding. I was formula fed, as were most of my peers, and the idea of having a baby suckle on my breast gave me the creeps. I resolved to try my best, but not beat myself up if it didn't work out and I resorted to formula.

Breastfeeding proved to be difficult from the start. By my second day in the hospital, my nipples were cracked and raw, and I was sobbing with pain every time she latched on. After one week of pumping, my nipples had healed and we tried again, with better results. P-Chunk took to the breast with ferocious enthusiasm, literally nursing every 90 minutes or so. Never before have I experienced such sheer physical exhaustion. I mourned the loss of my independence even as I fell in love with my daughter's angelic, boob-drunk face. But I soldiered on.

Then came mastitis, a horrendously painful breast infection that also caused a high fever and uncontrollable, bone-deep chills. Not to mention that nursing my daughter became heinously painful again.

At 3 months, I got mastitis again. Did I give in and say, "This is too hard! Where's the Similac?" NO!!! Something in me snapped. Every setback, every obstacle only made me more determined to continue. I WOULD NOT FAIL. If cavewomen could nurse, why the hell couldn't I?

Finally, we settled into a groove. The next 6 months were smooth sailing, and I finally came to enjoy nursing my daughter. It was a time to snuggle and smell her and enjoy the softness of her skin. I adored nursing her to sleep every night, and looked forward to nursing her during my lunch hour on the days she was at day care. And as a working mother, nursing helped me feel connected to her. Even if I was at work all day, I reasoned, she still needs me for nourishment. I am still vital!

Princess Chunky is 9.5 months old now, and not eating as much. My milk supply is starting to dwindle, and I had resolved to continue nursing until she hit the magical one-year mark. The thought of weaning her made me a little melancholy, but I was peaceful in the knowledge that I had fought like hell to give her the best possible nutrition, despite daunting setbacks.

Then the pain returned.

We took a short flight today, and I nursed my baby girl so that her ears wouldn't bother her too much. Shortly after we landed and I settled her into her stroller, I started feeling sharp, stabbing pains in my right breast. They increased in frequency as we made our way to the car, and I was shouting in frustrated pain by the time we got on the freeway. One hour and dozens of guttural screams later, they finally subsided. Google tells me I'm probably looking at a yeast infection, which will probably cause this pain every time I nurse until antibiotics do their thing in about a week.

Google also tells me P-Chunk is also likely to be infected, even though she isn't showing any symptoms. We will have to be fastidious about applying medication and disinfecting everything that touches her mouth at least once a day, or we could just keep passing the infection back and forth in a vicious cycle.

I feel defeated. I don't know if I can soldier through this again. The pain may be too much to bear one more time. We planned to start the weaning process soon, and I know she has received all the benefits of breastfeeding by now. Still, I wanted to stop on my terms. When we felt ready, not when pain and suffering pulled the rug out from under me and my baby girl.

I will call the doctor tomorrow and pray that my middle-of-the-night pumping isn't unbearably painful. I will wallow in self-pity and fight back some tears. Then, if I know myself, I will figure out a way to get through this and stop thinking about ME. About why I have to go through this, and what I did to deserve this.

If there's one thing motherhood has crystallized, it's that it just isn't about me. My daughter isn't ready to wean yet, and I don't have the heart to make her go cold turkey, no matter how much pain I am in.

One way or another, she's going to get her Mami's milk until her first birthday.

And once we reach that milestone, I plan to drink many, many margaritas.

posted by: Erika


At Monday, November 07, 2005 10:04:00 AM, Blogger Amy said...

Markos and I were talking about you the other day and this very same topic. We have to say that we are surprised you kept up nursing as long as you have. You have even gone longer than me and I was the one that was hardcore-lecturing you about it!

It just shows you that you can't "plan" for parenthood. It doesn't matter how educated you are, or how long you have waited. Entering parenthood is like experiencing a level-5 hurricane unprepared.

I remember when you didn't want children and then, reluctantly, agreed to have one. Now you guys can't wait to have another. Meanwhile, we always said we would have two, I would nurse for a year -- and, so far, nothing has worked according to plan. We love our own "muneco," but he rocked us, which is why I stopped nursing at 8 months and am not sure if I want another baby.

At Tuesday, November 08, 2005 12:08:00 AM, Blogger Gloria said...

My hat is off to you for having lasted this long. Your terms should also take into consideration your health and the pain!! Your baby has gotten the best of the best throughout this bonding process. You've done more than I could ever do!! With Karina, I tried for 1 hour. With Cristian, 15 minutes... Does that make me a terrible mom??


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