Friday, November 17, 2017

My breastfeeding journey

This is a post that is going to be very hard to write...I don't even really want to write it, honestly. NOT writing this post is keeping me from writing other posts or doing my to do list or moving on with life. I know the first step is writing it down. If I don't write this out, I'll be stuck forever in this shitty place feeling shitty about what happened and never really able to accept it and move on. Ugh, so I'm gonna write it now. I'm not breaking it up into multiple posts. I'm just writing the entire thing out

My hopes, before giving birth, were what I considered to be pretty small; 1. Give birth naturally, vaginally, with no pain killers and 2. Breast feed exclusively for at least a year. Neither one of these things has happened and I am honestly not ok with it. I THOUGHT that I would be fine with any outcome. What I didn't know is how much society judges mothers and how much judgment I had put into the world and how much pressure I would feel.

Sometimes, I feel incredibly stupid. I didn't really do any research into breastfeeding. I knew exactly how it was supposed to happen and had seen it done...but I didn't even really know what a good latch was. When I started having problems with breastfeeding, I felt really stupid that I didn't have a pile of research in front of me to help me get through it. What the fuck was wrong with me? What I didn't understand at the time (and even now, understanding it doesn't make me feel better) is that our culture has a really fucked up narrative around breastfeeding. I knew, intellectually, how to breastfeed and was told by my culture that I would naturally breastfeed, so I didn't even consider that it would be difficult...also, you can see every fucking flyer and pamphlet on latching and still not know what it's gonna feel like.

So anyway, after they took baby boy out and put us both in the recovery room, I first just put him down on my chest and pulled my nightgown over him. I breastfed immediately and all the nurses said it was perfect latch and great. I was doing the football hold and it was supposed to be fine. But I was also suffering from sleep deprivation and wasn't allowed to get out of my bed. I couldn't stand because I had just had surgery. I had been in labor for 40 hours before the surgery, and I was on a fuckton of pain killers, so I was tired as fuck. Immediately, though I didn't know it at the time, I was doing it wrong. Our latch wasn't good and I wasn't feeding him enough. I didn't feed him enough overnight. I did fine during the day, but he would cluster feed in the evening. I thought cluster feeding was getting in six feedings, so when I did the math of how I was feeding him, I thought I was doing it enough, but I wasn't. Baby boy was sleeping 5-6 hours over night in the hospital. One nurse casually mentioned that I probably shouldn't allow that to happen very often...but she also said cluster feeding counted as several feeds. So I wasn't getting good information. I was also putting clothes on baby boy and myself, not realizing that a good breastfeeding relationship happens with a LOT of nakedness and skin to skin. When I was corrected on that, I stopped putting clothes on baby boy and proceeded to keep him naked against me almost constantly.

While in the hospital, I continued to feed him too little and every time we tried to feed, it was a huge fight. He wasn't latching, and I had an idea that he wasn't very good on my right breast. So for a couple of days, I would rip my right nipple out and try to relatch. What no one told me is you have to break the seal the baby creates, so I was pulling my nipple out against a strong suction, essentially just tearing the shit out of my nipple. Before I left the hospital, both of my nipples were cracked and bleeding and bruised. I wasn't feeding enough and baby boy continued to have uric acid in his diaper. (This is a sign of dehydration.) I was in constant pain, and on top of all that, I was also convinced my milk hadn't come in. Again, the conversation here is that your milk comes in and you're engorged and in enormous pain and you feel a letdown when you feed. None of those physical sensations happened for me, because they don't happen for everyone, so the nursing staff allowed me to continue believing that I wasn't producing milk. On the day I left, I was instructed to continue to wear a bra, at all times, because I WOULD BECOME ENGORGED. It was ordered to me. No one told me that not everyone becomes engorged or leaky or feels their milk let down. I went home believing my milk hadn't come in.

When I got home, things just got worse. Prior to leaving the hospital, I knew baby boy was jaundiced, but the pediatrician said he was fine...said it was the lighting at the hospital. This was not true. Jaundice isn't normal or fine, and I have no idea why our society has decided it is. During the first week of breastfeeding, baby boy wasn't pooping enough, if at all, and he wasn't peeing enough. All of his diapers were somewhat dry, even when "wet" and they all had uric acid. I knew this wasn't a good sign, but I didn't understand how bad it was. Every time we tried to feed, it took forever and was a constant fight of him screaming and me crying. I kept shoving his head to my boob, because I needed him to latch, and he kept having trouble with a good latch...all of our positioning was wrong, no matter where I sat or how I tried to position us, I was uncomfortable. My back hurt, my nipples were bruised and cracked, baby boy was mad all the time and slept too much, I often couldn't stay awake during night feedings and would fall asleep throughout the whole night and skip night feedings. It really wasn't a surprise that when we visited the doctor a few days later, he had lost way too much weight and was jaundiced to the point of considering hospitalization. I was told to supplement formula.

Later that day, they decided not to admit baby boy, which I thought was a relief. I really wish they had chosen to admit him. Maybe I would've gotten the help I needed.

Instead, I began formula and pumping. For almost two days, baby boy stopped latching. Fearing "nipple confusion" (a term I'm now convinced is a total myth), I was feeding him with a syringe. I still wasn't feeding him enough and I wasn't supplementing enough. Because of the "breast is best" campaign, I believed formula was damaging and that not giving enough breast milk would have serious consequences. (This is a total lie.) I felt like a total failure. I felt like I was being robbed of an opportunity to provide in my child what I was rightfully supposed to provide for him. I was getting mixed messages; some people were trying to tell me formula was poison (a total lie) and that baby boy would get sick if not given breast milk, while others were telling me he would be fine (true).

The day after supplementing with formula, baby boy did gain some weight and we were sent home for Labor Day weekend, with instructions to return on the following Tuesday. During this time, he still had uric acid and still wasn't pooping one point, he hadn't pooped in three days. I still wasn't supplementing properly, because I wasn't given exact directions on how to do so. Despite disclosing my autism to every medical professional, no one communicated with me properly. Everyone was continually vague. What I needed were specific instructions on how much to feed him and how often. This weekend was a hot mess. I was so anxious I couldn't leave the house. I was in intense pain every time I tried to feed. I felt guilty every time I gave him formula, and therefore, didn't give him enough formula. I still didn't know I had a horrible latch. Because of all this, we ended up in the ER Sunday afternoon. It was a total false alarm but it ended up being just what I needed.

The doctors in the ER and hospital also gave me incorrect information, but I was finally able to have a long conversation instead of being forced into a fifteen minute visit. I was told that he was wetting enough, which wasn't true at all. But it made me feel better. I asked for a lactation consultant, but they all take Labor Day off. I was given the option to stay in the hospital one more day to see the lactation consultant...and I almost stayed. But the hospital was a terrible set up with no great place to sleep and I just wanted to go home. I was assured by every member of the ER and hospital staff that I had made the right decision and was being a good mom, despite it being a total false alarm.

Somewhere in the next couple of days, I saw the doctor and was assured he was gaining weight, saw the lactation consultant and told her all I wanted was to pump exclusively and was given instructions for that, pumped two ounces of milk (the only time I felt like my body was actually capable of breastfeeding), and saw the doctor again and was told that baby boy had gained for a bit but then had gone down in weight.

The next week was rough. I finally did enough research to learn that our latch was awful. I attempted to pump exclusively, but it would take several sessions to get even one bottle of breast milk. I couldn't figure out how to feed baby boy and how to pump. I was getting even less sleep than usual, which meant, again, I fell asleep overnight and missed feedings. I also ended up back at the doctor and learned that the weight had gone up and then back down and really, we weren't on track. So I took a couple days off from breastfeeding. I hated the pump, so I took it all apart, donated it to Goodwill, and never looked back. I continued to have constant panic attacks and found leaving the house to be nearly impossible. By this time, my nipples had healed and I knew just how often to feed baby boy and set an alarm on my phone to ensure I was up and feeding as needed. Finally, after a confirmation that we were back on track with weight gain, and with having had a few days off from breastfeeding, I decided to give it one more try.

During this time, I learned just how important a poopy diaper is and found myself celebrating each one. I also learned that formula does not negate breast milk, so no matter how much formula we needed, any breast milk was also beneficial.

Over the next weekend, I put baby boy back on my breast. It was incredibly disheartening. Again, I was naked all the time and doing skin to skin. He would latch, but I now knew it wasn't a deep latch so he wasn't getting as much food as efficiently as he should. It did hurt, but not as much as before, and my right breast was generally useless. I stopped using my right breast entirely. It wasn't a fight to latch, but I could tell it wasn't a good latch, and so feedings took several hours. I did supplement with formula, and I did it properly this time. However, my panic attacks returned. I was still constantly stressed out and worried, and I just felt awful because I kept trying and trying to fix our latch and it was not working. One day, he had a drop in poopy diapers and that was the end of it for me. I knew a drop in soiled diapers might mean he wasn't getting enough food, and I could just see a drop in weight and going back to the same struggle. As much as it hurt, and it hurt so much, I decided to put him on formula and to stop breastfeeding.

Within a few days, I was a more normal human being that I had been for the first two weeks of his life. Over the course of the two weeks, I started to learn what a fucked up culture we have around breastfeeding. There are all these myths and lies, and hyperbole like calling breast milk "liquid gold," and not nearly enough support. All of the videos and blog posts I looked up for how to latch showed these tiny boobs with perfectly perky nipples. There is a lot of propaganda about how "perfect" breast milk is, but that's all largely based on lies. I also learned that for two weeks, I had been starving my child. I didn't know what the signs of dehydration were and so I didn't understand that I wasn't giving him enough food. The real reason he slept for so long in his first week was because he didn't have the energy to be awake because he didn't have enough food to give him energy, this is also why he didn't poop for three days. If a body doesn't have enough food to make poop, then it can't poop.

I felt so awful for starving my own child...

But then I realized that the education around breastfeeding is super fucked. I swear, they gave me a dozen flyers on SIDS and even made me sign a paper than said I had watched a video on SIDS. But for breastfeeding? One paragraph in a huge book full of tons of information. So I was recovering from major surgery AND sleep deprived, but I was supposed to read a BOOK!? Yeah, right. Despite logging every feeding and every wet and dirty diaper, no nurse ever told me I wasn't feeding him enough. Because there are zero resources for mothers with autism, no one communicated with me in a way I could understand. The "lactation consultant" in the hospital simply analyzed our latch, said it was good, and left us alone. (She did this TWICE, and the latch wasn't good.) The lactation consultant I saw out of the hospital helped me once during our visit and then never returned my e-mails again. (Ok, she returned one, but that's it. She didn't return any other emails or phone calls, and she didn't give me a follow up appointment where she might've been able to help me with my latch.) As much as every piece of propaganda wants to assert "breast is best," no one actually wants to follow through on the support needed to ensure that.

And despite all of this and all of my hurt feelings, I also know that the hormonal fluctuations that occur during breastfeeding are what caused my constant panic attacks and debilitating loneliness. MAYBE if everything had started off fine, and we had latched well, and I had fed him enough...MAYBE I could've handled the constant anxiety that came with breastfeeding and recovery. It's hard to say. A lot of my triggers were tied in my inability to feed my child and the cultural ideal that I wasn't a good enough mother. What I know now, rationally, is that formula was probably always the best option for us. The constant sensory overload and uncertainty of breastfeeding was really way too much for me.

Despite my rational understanding of the situation, and despite KNOWING that baby boy is fed and that's all that matters, and despite understanding that formula is the real liquid gold since its invention actually saves lives, and despite my understanding of my mental health needs, I still feel incredibly inadequate. I feel like I lost an opportunity to provide for my son in a deep and meaningful way. I feel redundant and disposable. I don't know when I'm going to feel better.

The only truly useful thing I found regarding the logistics of breastfeeding is this video. I wish the hospital had required me to watch this.

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