Why breastfeeding was the hardest (and quite frankly the worst) experience of my life

Whoever invented the phrase “breast is best” must have been a man. A man with worthless nipples. The title of this entry may seem harsh, but it’s true. Breastfeeding was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done (or attempted to do). It was harder than giving birth. It was harder than being pregnant for 9 months. The physical and emotional toll of breastfeeding, well, it SUCKED for me—pun not intended but do what you want with that. If I could have fed my child with my tears, he’d be in the 100th percentile for weight.

I want to start this off by saying I think breastfeeding truly is incredible. I wanted to do it, I really did. It just didn’t work out for me and my baby. I’m not here to bash women who choose to breastfeed. Honestly, I’m in awe of you. Whether you breastfed for one day, one month or one year, you should be very, very proud of yourself. It’s a sacrifice no matter how your journey pans out. I know not everyone’s journey was or will be as difficult as mine, I know this because plenty of people found it helpful to tell me how easy breastfeeding was for them.

Disclaimer. This comment is not helpful.

I wanted to breastfeed my baby but did not set high expectations because I’ve heard it can be difficult. I figured if I didn’t set the bar high, it wouldn’t be as upsetting if it didn’t work—turns out it was still devastating. I wanted to give it my all and hopefully be successful. Deep down I thought we’d have some trouble getting started but in a few days we’d be golden. Before having a baby, I thought the most difficult part of breastfeeding would be not being able to enjoy wine even after I’d already given it up for 9 months. I told myself I’d give it three months, and if I felt like I was done breastfeeding at 3 months, I’d stop.

I made it three weeks.

My baby and I began our breastfeeding journey shortly after he was born. My baby was born 3 weeks early by force evacuation—meaning I was induced. It wasn’t his choice to come early. My little 5lb baby was rooting (that’s a term for the sucking motion babies do) so I shoved my nipple in his mouth and thought, oh my gosh, look! We’re doing it!

*Cue Morgan Freeman’s narration voice*

We were not doing it. We were doing nothing of the sort.

The magical picture I had painted in my head of my baby being born and feasting away on my boob within hours of birth was far from our reality. It’s far from any mom’s reality. There is no feasting right after birth. There is nothing to feast on. Your true milk supply does not come in for a few days, so in the first few days you’re dealing with a drop of colostrum here and there. Which is normal. I knew it was normal, I read the books. But because my baby was so small it gave me a lot of anxiety that he wasn’t eating when he desperately needed the calories.

We had several visits from different nurses, lactation consultants and doctors while in the hospital. Each one with a slightly different technique on how to get my baby to latch.  Each one squeezing my breasts with their rubber gloved hands trying to express just a drop of milk. This one suggested the football hold, that one suggested the pillow prop, and her? She suggested stripping baby down to his diaper every time I tried to feed as to keep him awake. Newborns are sleepy creatures and tend to fall asleep on the boob. None of them were successful in getting him to latch, but encouraged me to keep trying.

When I was evicted from the hospital 2 days later, with my baby and my aching nipples, I went home with a 24-hour supply of “just in case” formula and a breastfeeding pamphlet with a very happy mama on the front. The lactation consultant suggested I start pumping often to stimulate my milk supply and to continue to try working on my baby’s latch.  I did everything she told me to to get my baby to latch properly. I booped him on the nose with my sore nipples, I caught him mid yawn and shoved my nipple in his mouth like a sneak attack nip. I stripped him naked and blew on his face to keep him awake.  I football held and crossbody held and pillow propped him. It was 38’ outside and I was always topless and ready to strike if he seemed hungry and ready to feed.

My baby did not want to latch.

He was too small.

He did not have the energy and his tongue was always on the roof of his mouth.

He was losing weight.

And I was frustrated, exhausted and my boobs were really starting to hurt—bad.

When my milk supply did finally arrive and my boobs looked like they were about to explode off of my chest, I made yet another appointment with a lactation consultant. My baby still wasn’t latching right after days of endless attempts, tears, lanolin, ice packs, heating pads and dreaded pumping sessions. After that visit, we seemed to be getting somewhere, but she encouraged me to keep pumping eight times a day to keep up my supply while me and baby figured it out.

Let me paint a picture of what pumping your sore boobs eight times a day while being more sleep deprived than you’ve even been in your life, all while simultaneously keeping a newborn alive is like. It’s a living hell. Honestly, this is hard for me to write. I have such PTSD about pumping and breastfeeding that I have a physical reaction to the thought. That buzzing and sucking and whizzing sound a pump makes sends chills down my spine. The feeling of two plastic cones tugging at your already screaming nipples is the most confining, unnatural, horrific feeling in the world. Plus, you have to sit up straight (and slightly hunched forward) to catch the milk when you just want to lay down, and you can’t care for your newborn when you’re strapped to a breast pump either. It’s a recipe for a total mama breakdown.

But, I continued. I persevered. I tried. Society told me I had no choice. Everyone told me I had to give him my breastmilk, it was best for him. I wanted what was best for my baby. I was pumping and bottle feeding him my expressed milk 8x a day like I was told. I spent the time I wasn’t pumping or feeding cleaning the pump parts and bottles. I felt terrible when I supplemented with formula, because “supplementing” implied the work I was doing wasn’t enough. I wanted so badly for it to “click” like everyone promised and for it to work out. I would try to get him to latch before each session and for a few days, he was doing it. But still, his latch wasn’t quite right, and my nipples paid the ultimate price. After a few more days of bad latches and constant pumping, my nipples began to crack and bleed. When I say this was painful, it’s an understatement. I had to bite a kitchen towel when it was time to feed him because the pain was so great I’d scream and I didn’t want to scare him. I can’t even begin to describe the pain. Once your nipples start to crack, they then start to scab. But scabs can’t heal when those nipples aren’t allowed a break. They’re needed every three hours.

The song Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked was actually written about nipples, did you know that? Kidding, but maybe I’m not. I’ll have to look into that.

One evening, when I noticed the 2oz of milk I had worked hard to pump was tainted pink with blood, I completely broke down. No one else seemed to have these problems. No one else was screaming out in pain, no one else feared their baby’s next meal because you knew the pain that was about to happen. Well, at least they weren’t talking about it. Every time I’d hook up to that pump, the tears would stream and stream and stream down my face. I wasn’t sobbing, but the tears would just flow uncontrollably as I looked around with a defeated, exhausted, glare, just listening to the whooshing and buzzing of the pump.

I was doing what I was told was best for my baby. But what about what was best for me?

Around week 3, I woke up from one of my less than 3-hour sleep intervals in so much pain. My right boob hurt so badly it took my breath away. I had chills and my whole body ached. I didn’t think too much about it, I was too tired. So I grabbed my heating pad and popped more ibuprofen. That next day I didn’t leave the couch. I felt as though I had been hit by a bus. The baby laid next to me in the rock’n play while I continued my around the clock pumping. That’s when I thought, could this be mastitis? When I finally took my temperature, I found I had a 102 fever. I had a red, hot patch on the extremely painful breast. I had mastits. I had the boob flu. I don’t wish that nonsense on anyone.

Mastits is a clogged milk duct that becomes infected. It’s very painful and causes fever, chills and body aches along with the breast pain. You need a ton of antibiotics, and also you have to massage out the painful clogged duct. Oh what fun that was!

It was that night that I looked at my husband and said I can’t do this anymore. I am living in a hell I don’t wish on anyone. I’m in an endless cycle of pain, bleeding nipples, pumping, cleaning pump parts, popping ibuprofen and antibiotics and straight up trying to survive. All while trying to care for my newborn on zero sleep. I was absolutely miserable. Everything hurt. It was not a bonding experience with my baby. It made me fear him.

I didn’t want anyone to tell me to keep going at that point. I didn’t want anyone to tell me I was doing such a great job and they were proud of me. I wanted someone to tell me it was okay to stop.

Please, just tell me I’m not an awful selfish mother if I choose to put an end to this hell. The guilt I felt was so heavy on my heart that I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

The moment I said out loud I was done, I immediately felt some relief. Mostly guilt,  but some relief that I was putting a stop to the madness. I could now focus on bonding with my child and not fearing him every 3 hours. You can’t stop breastfeeding cold turkey, so I’d continue my pumping hell for a few more weeks until my supply dried up. During my weening, I’d get mastitis yet again. This time, with an abscess that would protrude out of my breast and cause a nice scar that I still rock 4 months later. It adds some flair to the deflated, stretch-marked bags that hang from my chest now.

It’s a nice daily reminder of my breastfeeding journey.

I truly hope that others do not have as hard of a time with breastfeeding as I did. But if you do, please know you’re not alone and you should not feel any guilt about stopping. 4 months later I still feel guilt, but my baby is thriving with formula, and I’m much more relaxed mom knowing I can feed my child without pain.

When it’s not just reflux; my newborn had pyloric stenosis and needed surgery

As a new mom, the word “scary” gets tossed around a lot. Because honestly, it’s the best way to describe it. Everything is new and unfamiliar, and every poop, grunt or squeak from your baby gets observed the way a resident on Grey’s Anatomy observes a patient who has been admitted for Ebola. “Does this look normal?” is also just a part of a new parent’s love language.

But when something doesn’t feel right, or in fact feels very wrong, it’s all consuming. I’m a brand-new mom to a brand-new baby—a baby who had been diagnosed with reflux. Reflux in babies is common. Their tiny tummies aren’t mature enough to hold their feeds down, so sometimes a little comes back up as “spit up”. I was told it’s usually more of a laundry issue than a medical one, but to monitor and call the pediatrician in the event things seemed to get worse.

By week 5 with my newborn, spit up was everywhere. It was in my hair, it was on my clothes and every surface of my home had a burp cloth ready for clean-up. I switched from breast milk to different kinds of formula. We kept him elevated after feeds. We tried it all. But when the burp cloths transformed into full on beach towels, and the “spit up” turned exorcist-style projectile, I knew in my gut it wasn’t just reflux. It couldn’t be.

The morning we found out that it wasn’t “just reflux” still haunts me. I brought my 5-week old baby back to the pediatrician, spit up in my hair, apologizing profusely for being a paranoid first-time mom. But my worry was valid. I wasn’t over-reacting. There was something wrong with my baby. They found he had a milk allergy and for a brief moment, that diagnosis was a relief. I assumed that explained all the vomiting and constant fussiness. We would change his formula, and everything would be better. Right?

Wrong.

The doctor also said they wanted to have him looked at for something called pyloric stenosis; a condition where the pylorus muscle in babies becomes thickened, preventing food from leaving the stomach and entering the small intestine, causing them to forcefully vomit up their feeds. She explained that this condition usually presents itself in babies around 4-6 weeks of age, causes forceful vomiting, and is most common in first born males. We checked all the boxes and were immediately sent for ultrasound at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

When the ultrasound tech left the room to get the radiologist so he could take a closer look, my heart sank. It kerplunked so deep in my gut that I couldn’t breathe. I sat there, holding my breath and my 8 pound, 5-week old baby, when they returned with the news I already saw coming.

The radiologist said “Your son does in fact have Pyloric Stenosis and he will need surgery. We will be admitting him now.”

*Starts frantically googling pyloric stenosis*

No matter how good the bedside manner, or how many times a doctor calmly tells a mom that the surgery her baby needs is a “simple, straightforward one” or that “everything will be fine,” it does not ease the blow. At that moment, in that room, dried spit up caked to my scalp, eyes so heavy and tired from weeks of spit up filled nights, I lost it. I sobbed while rocking my baby, in shock that this was happening, yet saying over and over I knew something was wrong. My baby was so tiny, born just 5 weeks prior, at only 37-weeks gestation and already needed an operation. Why my baby? Why our family? Why did he have to be the one in a thousand babies who get this diagnosis?

We were admitted right away, to the children’s hospital that would become home for the next 3 days. They explained that the operation would not take place until morning, but they needed to keep him overnight on an IV drip to keep him hydrated, as the most dangerous parts of pyloric stenosis is dehydration. Several nurses were needed to place the IV in his tiny foot. I had to leave the room. I would have rather been pacing the halls of a children’s hospital with tears streaming down my face than see my baby get poked and prodded. I felt an enormous amount of guilt about this, but my husband stayed with our baby, holding his tiny hand while they placed the IV. The compassionate nurse signaled for me that it was safe to come back in.IMG_3029

We were not allowed to feed him until after the surgery, which was nearly 30 hours after first being admitted. Listening to your newborn baby cry his “hungry cry” and not be able to feed him, is a torture like I had never experienced. My body was so tense that I was physically sore for days after. My breastfeeding journey had ended about 2 weeks prior, and yet by the time we left the hospital, I had mastitis (a painful, clogged, infected milk duct) from my body physically trying to respond to my baby’s cry.

The hours spent in pre-op, rocking my infant son as he wailed, IV lines and EKG cords dangling from his foot, were the worst hours of my entire life. As we waited for him to be taken back to surgery, in the pre-op room with other parents and their sick kids, I looked around with blurry eyes. My eyes met the gaze of other moms, eyes filled with the same dread and worry, waiting for their turn to follow their kids out of the pre-op room, just to take their detour to the purgatory of the surgical waiting area.

When the surgeon came to take our son back for surgery, I was filled with dread—a dread that was almost tangible. My husband and I took our own personal journey to the waiting area. We were ready for this mess to be behind us, and to be reunited with our baby who would now hopefully be able to keep his feeds down.

A long hour and a half later, the surgeon came and told us our baby did wonderfully, and we’d be able to see him in recovery soon. When we finally got to see him, all bandaged up, monitors beeping, I exhaled for the what seemed like the first time in days. After some recovery time, and plenty of worry, our baby was going to be okay. Being in a children’s hospital has a way of making your issues—no matter how great—seem small. Looking around at the other recovering children and their worried families made it very apparent we were lucky. Our baby was going to come home with us in a few days, and some of these kids had a much longer journey ahead of them.

When we got home, there were a few more weeks of vomiting episodes. This was normal, but that didn’t make it easy. I had hoped the surgery would have been a quick fix, but it wasn’t. Every time he vomited or spit up from that point forward, my entire body would tense up and I’d be thrown into a full-blown hysterics. I honestly think I had a mild case of PTSD (self-diagnosed obviously). But as weeks went by, and he adjusted to his new milk-free formula and Zantac prescription to manage his reflux, things got better. It just took time and a lot of trial and error.

To all the mamas out there going through a rough patch and possibly a sick baby, I feel for you. It’s the worst feeling in the world. But always trust your gut and know that doctors and nurses are there to help, and they are truly miracle workers.

Preeclampsia, a get to the hospital now story

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the last few weeks of pregnancy were not fun for me. I was wildly uncomfortable and full of anxious nerves. Each day seemed to last a week and I felt like I was trapped in my own body with symptoms getting more uncomfortable by the day. And to my poor husband, I apologize. I know I was not pleasant to be around.

Around week 36 of my pregnancy, I started having what I called “vision spells,” where out of nowhere I would start seeing stars or “auras” and lose almost all vision in one eye and only be able to see out of my peripheral in the other. It would last about 20-30 minutes and then dissipate. The first time it happened, we were at the Olive Garden—leave me alone, I had a craving for breadsticks—and I couldn’t read the menu. I was trying not to freak out and cause a scene amongst the crowd enjoying their unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks, but I was truly frightened.

Visual disturbances are a symptom of preeclampsia—a serious pregnancy complication that affects roughly 5% of pregnancies, that is often characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, that if left untreated can lead to very serious and even fatal complications to both mom and baby. Other symptoms of preeclampsia include swelling, headache, nausea and shortness of breath, which to be honest are all symptoms of a normal pregnancy too, so don’t freak out mamas. When I saw my doctor for my 36-week checkup, I talked to her about the scary visual disturbance that had happened, and just as I began to talk about it, it happened again. Right there in her office… I mean, that never happens! (You know… Like when you’re driving around for months with a check engine light on, but as you pull into the dealership it turns off?) I started crying—the usual at that point in pregnancy—but honestly, I was really freaked out. I mean, I was having temporary bouts of blindness, that’s scary AF.

I did not have high blood pressure or protein in my urine to indicate preeclampsia, so they sent me to the lab to see if there was anything else going on with my bloodwork that could make sense of the vision spells I was having. The bloodwork showed that my blood platelets were low. They weren’t low enough to worry at that point, but they wanted to check again in a few days to monitor. Blood platelets are what helps blood in the body clot, which is very important during childbirth, because, well, there is so. much. blood. during childbirth. I had bloodwork done 2 more times before my 37-week appointment and continued to have the visual disturbances off and on every day or so. I had also stopped driving at that point because the visual issues happened randomly and without warning.

On the morning of my 37-week checkup, I still had no typical signs of preeclampsia (high BP + protein in urine) but my doctor ordered a rush panel as my platelets had continued to drop over that week, and she wanted to test one more time. She explained to me that she would call as soon as the panels came back, but if my blood platelets had dropped again, it would be cause for induction.

Now, as much as I did not want to be pregnant anymore, this was frightening. Pregnancy is considered full term at 37 weeks, but I did not see this one coming. I was sure I’d be an overdue mama. I called my husband at work and told him what had transpired at the appointment, but told him not to worry, and that I was pretty sure if I were to get induced, it would probably be scheduled for later in the week. When the doctor called a few hours later, she informed me that she didn’t like what she was seeing, that my platelets had continued to drop, and now my liver levels were elevated as well. She then said she felt it was time to end the pregnancy.

Wait. What?

The phrase “end the pregnancy” hit me like a ton of bricks, well, it was more like I ran into a brick wall and got slapped into reality real quick.

With a shaky voice, I asked, “Okay, when?”

Her response, “Now. I’ve already sent your charts over and spoken to the doctor on call. They’re waiting for you. You’ll be induced tonight. You’re in good hands.”

Even though she delivered that news calmly and in the most reassuring way, it left me trembling.

She explained that although I don’t have the typical symptoms of preeclampsia, sometimes it presents itself in strange ways. She classified it as “atypical preeclampsia” which is typical of me to get a rare pregnancy complication and then make it even more rare by not even getting the standard, run-of-the mill preeclampsia.

Suddenly, I wasn’t allowed to whine about being uncomfortable and pregnant anymore. My placenta previa-turned low-lying placenta seemed like the most minor of issues, even though just a month or so prior it had me very worried. If I would have known this would have transpired the night before, I might have laid off the theatrics of sobbing for an hour after I realized I had lost a button to my duvet cover. (Pregnancy hormones and nerves will really make ya loco, y’all). But I felt guilty. Like I had somehow willed the universe into giving me a scary complication so that I could have the baby sooner, and now we were both at risk. It was a real “be careful what you wish for” moment for me.

I had now been slapped with a scary diagnosis and it was go-time, I didn’t have too much time to think about it honestly. I called my husband and let him know he needed to get home ASAP. Luckily, we had packed our hospital bags two weeks prior so we were ready to go, but we hadn’t put the car seat in yet as it had been snowing non-stop. He rushed home, and with the help of YouTube got the car seat installed, grabbed our bags and we headed to the hospital. We began calling and texting friends and family to let them know what was going on and shortly after we arrived, we were admitted. To be honest, even though I was shaking violently, I was oddly calm. I knew I had a job to do, and that the best treatment for preeclampsia was delivery of the baby. I knew we were in good hands and we were going to meet our little boy soon. This wasn’t at all how I had expected things to go, but pregnancy is weird like that. It was very surreal that what had started as a routine 37-week prenatal appointment landed me in the hospital, but there we were.

As I got changed into what would be the backless gown I’d wear for the next three days, I couldn’t help but notice my husband pacing around the room. We were going to be parents soon. This was it. This was how our story started and how my pregnancy ended. No dramatic water breaking in public, rush to the hospital story. No middle of the night “I think I’m in labor” moment. My labor would be started artificially, here in this room, by a doctor I was about to get to know very well.

I watched the monitor that was tracking the baby’s heartbeat as I waited for the doctor to come and begin the induction. I listened to the beeping of the machine and looked away winching as the nurse placed the IV in my arm. My phone buzzed with text after text, call after call from family and friends sending their “you got this” messages and well wishes. When the doctor walked in with a full cart of medical devices, I knew this would be the moment that started it all, my life was about to change forever.