Wednesday, April 22, 2009

All Hail the Magic Boobies, The Finale

Before I had Amelia, I was not into breastfeeding. I didn't get the allure of it. When people gushed about the amazing bonding experience of nursing, I rolled my eyes and threw up a little in my mouth. As a pregnant mommy-to-be, I didn't read a thing about nursing (and I research EVERYTHING) and tried not to think about it much. I told Justin to not expect much from me in that arena, maybe a few months, tops. It terrified me, the thought of breastfeeding, but I resolved to try it because well, because it's free and it is better for the baby.

I can't tell you what happened after my daughter was born to change the above sentiments (although I still don't find any of it romantic like so many), but they did. On our third day in the hospital after Amelia was born, I was told that we needed to give her a bottle of formula to help get her weight back on track after losing too much. It made me cry, big, wet, real tears. The nurse felt so bad that she immediately brought in a pump and taught me to mix milk and formula so the baby would get both. That was my hospital break down. Every mama has one and mine was about giving A a bottle. . . so unexpected.

Luckily, Amelia always latched great and has always been a great eater. I never had any broken skin or chunks lost off my nipples (that actually happens!). From the beginning, I was diligent about this task of keeping her fed, growing, and alive. I kept track of every feeding and pumped every chance I got. I assumed that I would give my baby a lot of bottles so I wouldn't constantly have another human attached to my boob. (I never really liked that part.) The first two weeks were sheer torture. The poor Punkin was so very tiny that we had to wake her every 2-3 hours until she regained her birth weight. She nursed for an hour at a time! This left me with about 30-90 minutes between feedings and very nearly a walking corpse. I grew to respect all nursing mommies who came before me and wonder why nobody talks about what a challenging commitment it is to breastfeed and why mothers don't get some kind of trophy at the end of it all. No matter how long they make it, all breastfeeding mamas should be due recognized. It was far harder than pregnancy and labor and surgery combined!

Then we found out that Amelia was allergic to dairy. Not just milk, cheese, butter, but all dairy proteins. Everyone around me assumed that I would stop nursing and stock up on Hypoallergenic formula. Instead, I saw this as a real challenge of motherhood. Could I go on a zero-tolerance, very strict diet for my baby? You only needed to glance at her for a second to see that she needed it. Born 4 weeks early, she was so little and by 6 weeks old, was screaming for hours on end. I would have done anything to stop that screaming. So off we went into that challenge. It only made me more focused and positive that Amelia needed me. Maybe it was the outrageous cost of her formula ($30/can!) or something bigger, but I never waivered. I certainly struggled, but never waivered.

The worst experience we had nursing was when reflux bubbled into our lives. It was the only time that A wouldn't eat well. She would latch and eat until it began to come back, pull away and scream only to realize that she was still hungry, relatch, and repeat. It was a low point, sometimes one feeding taking so long as to lead into another. She wanted so badly to be comforted by eating and being close to mommy that my heart broke watching her anguish at the pain and frustrating and my inability to keep my own baby nourished and comfortable. One time, when we were going back and forth and she was screaming and I was trying to feed her in any way imagineable (serious acrobatics ensued), I fell apart. Justin could hear me crying in the other room, above the vaccuum and louder than Amelia's screaming. It was a moment I won't forget. Ever.

Then the all-time lowest point in the journey was at 4 months, when Amelia was in the midst of a Prevacid bender where she stayed awake for almost a week solid. I don't mean that in a she-barely-slept kind of way, but more like she NEVER slept for days on end kind of way. The howled constantly from the exhaustion but couldn't settle to sleep because of the medication. . . but that medication allowed her to eat! In any case, during this terrible bender, I too had no sleep. Again, I don't mean sleep deprived, but sleep-less. Completely sleepless. I felt like I was going crazy and that my body was falling apart. Not to mention the severe depression that swirled me into misery even further. On a Friday afternoon, we finally got Amelia to sleep in her swing. I curled up on the ottoman to watch her and sleep a bit myself. Just an hour would have done me wonders, I thought. As I lay there, I noticed a pain in my left breast. Like a bruise, I thought. I awoke an hour later, trembling and in severe pain. My left boob was red, hard, hot, and oozing yellow CHUNKS. As in solids. I was shaking something awful and felt too weak to get up. I called the advice nurse from the ottoman only to hear that I had to get to the hospital right away. How, I thought? I have a sick baby! I called both my mom and Justin crying and asking for help. I am pretty sure that this alone, asking for help, made them both realize that it was serious. Mom took me to the hospital, bundled up in a sweater coat, pants, socks, and shoes on a 100+ degree day in August. Still shaking. When we got there, I couldn't fill out the forms and could barely walk. I was really sick and scared to death that they would keep me and I would be forced to stop breastfeeding. They released from the hospital with an antibiotic shot and some drugs once my 105 temp started to come down. I thought for sure that I wouldn't make it after that. . . I had to pump for an entire weekend and watch Amelia take bottle after bottle as my supply slowly dropped.

I continued though and things got better from there. Amelia was a new baby by 5 months old and nursing became easier and easier. After the mastitis-turned-staph infection I'd suffered, I only made about 25% of my milk on the left side, making me pretty lopsided . . . but it worked. We were a solid nursing team and every time we weighed her or charted her growth, I took specific pride in my efforts. When I went back to work, my body gave up on pumping, allowing me little more than an ounce per 25 minutes. I again thought my nursing days were limited until I arranged my schedule around her feedings, added solid foods, and kept her on the boob.

When the time came to ween, I struggled to find the motivation and to give up something that we'd worked so hard for. I set a time line and missed the deadline. This job that I never wanted to begin with had become a symbol of my own commitment, strength, and resolve. A personal battle that began with someone else and taught me so much about myself.

Amelia is done nursing. We made it through 10.5 very long months, 2 cases of mastitis, a dairy allergy, a severe case of reflux, two milk blisters, and one 6-month milk dud. We made it through three weeks of not even making it on the growth charts because of her tiny size to being continually in the 50-75 percentile for height and weight for babies her age. We made it through those 10.5 months with not one illness for that baby. (Oddly enough, she caught a stomach bug two days after weening completely.) Not even so much as a cold slowed her down through the winter. We stopped on our own accord (I have serious issues with nursing a toddler) and with no regrets. We stand here on the other side of it all as absolute proof that if we can make it, anybody can make it.

Tiny baby (here in preemie clothes)

After 10+ months of nursing.

The team (with a big shout-out to Daddy of course, who was the cheerleader and bench-warmer the whole time!)


Mommy D said...

You deserve FAR more than a medal...You are amazing with all of the adversity that both of your faced during your 10.5 months... I can only hope to make it that long this time around.

I agree. All hail the magic boobies!

Michael & Amie said...

Awwww, great post! I just want to hug you both! <3