July 25, 2013

My Nursing Struggle

I wanted to call this post something else several times.

Before I had Z, I was so excited about some day writing my post about how important breastfeeding was to me and how great we were at it once he was born.

Today I almost called it several things..."Boob Noob," "The Great Breast Debacle..." you get the idea.

There are many in my family, including my own husband, who cluck at me with slight disapproval that I share so much on social media.  It's not so much disapproval, really, as it is a protective mechanism...they know that, once you put something out there (in my case, a birth plan and goals for babywearing and breastfeeding and all other cool hippie mom/attachment parenting goals I had) for the social networks to see, you feel more than a little bit of an obligation to meet and achieve those things.  If and when you don't, you feel (or, at least, I feel) as though you owe your "public" an explanation.

And that's why I almost didn't write this post at all.  However, after a lot of thinking and praying (and lots and LOTS of crying) and finally getting to a point at which I can live with the decisions I've made in the past two weeks, I've decided that other moms/moms-to-be might actually benefit from reading about another person's struggle with something that is "supposed" to just work for us.

First I'll announce it publicly: Breastfeeding did not work for Z and me.

Now, I'll start at the beginning of our experience.

My thoughts on breastfeeding began before I even approached my third trimester.  I went to the breastfeeding classes with my husband, I read books and researched all of the ways in which breast milk is perfect for your baby, and I -- admittedly, this makes me seem awful -- would side-eye anyone who immediately went to formula with their newborns.  Why wouldn't they at least try?  Didn't they KNOW how important breastfeeding and breast milk were to their relationships with their newborn babies?!

I know.  Shame. On. Me.  Who the hell was I to draw any sort of conclusion about another woman and her child?  Believe me when I say that God has really worked on my heart in the past 3.5 weeks since Z's birth and during our own struggle with nursing.

It started in the hospital.  I truly believed that, once Z was put on my chest, he would immediately latch on and there we would be: Madonna and Child, Earth Mother and Babe, in perfect pose while my husband lovingly looked on as I fed our child.

Instead, the nursery nurse helped me guide Z to my breast, where he just sort of stared at us both like, "What am I supposed to do with this?"  I was assured that was perfectly okay and normal, and that we just wanted to introduce him to the breast.

Later that night...7 hours after his birth and me with approximately 2-3 hours of sleep in the previous 36+hours, the nursery nurse wheeled in my screaming and starving baby, threw on the overhead lights, and spent 5 minutes latching him on FOR me.  Not showing me how, but doing it for me.  Then she chirped, "Okay, I'll be back in 20 minutes!"  Over that time period, Z "fell off" his latch and I was left alone to try and relatch him properly (come on, I'd seen the pictures and read the books! I had this!) on both sides while trying to keep him from being so upset and hungry.   In the process, I proceeded to think I had done it properly, only to remove him from each breast to find giant bruises/hickeys all around my nipples.  (I later joked that it looked like I'd been on a really bad date).

Clearly, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

The Lactation Consultant (LC) didn't arrive until 9am and, before then, the morning nursery nurse helped to show me how to get Z latched on properly, and we had a decent feeding on each breast.  It was very painful, due to the bruising that had occurred already, but we managed.  When the LC arrived, she immediately noticed that Z has a small tongue tie and that I had fairly flat nipples (you always wanted to know that, I know!).  She assured me that his tongue came far enough over his bottom gums that nursing should still be successful, and she praised my diligence and my determination.

The second night in the hospital was another disaster.  I'd been warned about "2nd night cluster feedings" and Z was attached to me for no less than two consecutive hours.  I was doing the best I could, but he kept falling asleep and, when he would come off the breast, things just didn't look or feel like they are supposed to with successful latching.

The LC came back the next morning and promptly noticed and made comments about the pacifier we'd requested from the nursery mere moments earlier.  I mentioned that Z had completely stopped latching on the right overnight and she said, with more than a little disdain, "Well, how often did he get the pacifier overnight?"  We had just gotten it, because sucking on our fingers was the only way to soothe him when he was crying.

We were at the hospital a good 3-4 hours longer than we wanted to be on that second day, simply because we were (or I was) desperate to get the hang of latching Z onto both sides before we were sent home to be left to our own devices.  We even used the hospital grade pump to get enough colostrum from me to put into a syringe.  Then we'd try to get him on the breast, and then insert the syringe between his lips and my breast, so that the taste of his food would get him to start sucking.

Meanwhile, Z was getting hungry and FURIOUS.  So finally I asked if we could do that same process with some formula so that he'd at least get a little more full.  She agreed, and I signed the form allowing the hospital to give me formula for my baby, and we tried that.  There was a LOT of frustration and tears happening on that second day in the hospital.

For the next few feedings once we were discharged, Michael would help me by offering the syringe while we tried to get Z to latch on and start sucking.  Each session ended up with both me and my son in frustrated tears.  I had to give him an ounce and a half of formula from a bottle after a sobbing, hysterical call to the triage nurse after 3 hours of Z's screaming, just so he'd be full enough to calm down and sleep.

Fast forward to my milk coming in/engorgement.  Remember all of the bruising I had from the hospital? And my own physical "deformity" that was keeping him from finding a good latch?  That was exacerbated with the swelling and pain from engorgement.  But we kept trying.  There was something so beautiful and satisfying in the one or two times (out of DOZENS over the next week and a half) we succeeded and I would see his determined eyes and hear him swallowing.*

However, every nursing session was traumatic. Z would fight me because he was so hungry, even when I tried to start before his nursing cues went from rooting to full-out screaming, and I would literally sob with pain with every latch.  I would think we'd have a good feeding session, and an hour later, he'd be hungry again.  I felt like a prisoner.

I acquired a hand pump to help with the engorgement, and the first time I used it, I looked down and noticed bright, dark red milk coming out.  Let me tell you, THAT will freak you right the hell out.  It was like something out of a horror movie.  I completely panicked that my son was drinking that milk when I was feeding him, and talked to an LC at the other hospital in town (thank goodness she answered, even though it was the 4th of July), who assured me this was "normal."  I still wasn't convinced.

To sum up, I was in extreme pain with each latch, my breasts were getting completely destroyed due to Z's poor latch and my flat nipples (yes, I tried the shells.  both kinds.  and the shield), and both of us would be hot, sweaty, crying and unfulfilled at the end of every. single. nursing session.  Also, there was no "bonding" happening. He and I were just getting frustrated with each other, and my poor husband barely got any time with our newborn son, because Z was constantly attached to me and getting angry and upset.

The worst it got was the night that I woke up to feed him (cue the tears from me, because I still hate remembering this feeling) and, when I looked at him, I dreaded feeding him.  I didn't want to wake him up and I resented that I had to.  Dread and resentment.  Towards giving my son the nourishment he needed.  That was my lowest point.

After struggling through another nursing session, I was singing to Z to try to calm him back to sleep.  The only songs I could think of at 2am were usually praise and worship songs, so I was singing "Healer" to him. Finally I just lifted my head, tears streaming down my face and sobs in my throat, and I sang to Jesus instead of my son. I was literally crying out for peace and for comfort because...well...I hated breastfeeding.  Hated every part of it.  And I hated myself for hating it.  How selfish could a mother be, right? This is what my breasts were made to do, and I was just being selfish because it hurt, right?

After some long conversations with my husband, my mom, some very trusted friends, and a LOT of tears and prayer, I made the decision to stop breastfeeding my son and to pump for as long as I was able so that he could get my breast milk somehow.  We weren't bonding.  He wasn't getting to bond at all with my husband.  And everyone was unhappy.

This is and was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life. I still cry when I see or read about my friends successfully nursing. Waves of guilt wash over me when my son is hungry and he automatically turns toward my breast to try to eat (at least he does that to Michael, too...).  Even typing this out, I have cried.

But I have to remind myself that I was miserable. And resentful.  And in extreme pain (I'm only just now really starting to heal, and that's been happening slowly because of the daily pumping sessions).  And even with the pumping, I've developed a blocked duct that has caused a large and painful lump that is possibly turning into mastitis, for which I'm now on antibiotics. THAT hurts (a lot) and I'm still up round the clock, pumping towards a pitifully low yield, just so that my son will have my breast milk for a little longer.

To be completely honest, I'll probably stop pumping soon, too. I feel anxious between his feedings if he doesn't fall asleep, because I know I need to pump. I've sat at the pump, crying, because he's crying, and I just need five more minutes or else it'll be a useless pumping session.

Part of having a happy baby, in my opinion, includes having happy parents. Mommy was not happy and, as a result of that, Daddy wasn't happy.  I felt like a failure, and he hated that there was nothing he could do to help.  NOW, we split up the feedings and we both get to look into Z's big blue eyes and talk to him while he gets a bottle, and he burps and smiles his gassy little smiles as he falls asleep.  He's a happy and healthy baby, gaining weight like a champ, and still getting my breast milk when I have enough to give him.

I put an * next to statement earlier....the one about those precious couple of moments in which I was able to really make it work for Z and me.  Those were beautiful.  I was able to smile, hear him swallowing, and praise God for my ability to feed my son with my body.  Though those moments were SO rare, I am clinging to them in my heart.  They are so precious to me, and those memories will be filed in that special area of my heart (the same place in which hearing "It's a boy!" from my husband lives).

I know there are some who will read this and think "Well you gave up so quickly," or "You'd have had more of those moments if you'd just been more persistent and tried harder."  Possibly.  And I have to live with the fact that, just as I was judgmental before I really went through the wringer (seriously...bruising, destroyed nipples, blood, lumps and mastitis...what ELSE could have happened?), that there are those who will also judge me for "quitting" or "giving up." 

I judge me.  Every day.  But then the peace that came to me on my couch that night while holding my son washes back over me as God reminds me that I am not defined wholly as a mother by this one element of motherhood.  I will not be held hostage by those hateful thoughts (of others' or of my own) and I will find more and more peace every day as I watch my son grow and be happy.

(Read part 2 of my story HERE)

July 14, 2013

The Birth Story

(Disclaimer: this post will discuss in some detail the following: dilation, effacement, fluids, and other gross things that someone who hasn't given birth may cringe at reading. I'll try to keep it rated E for Everyone, but some things can't be Disney-fied.)

(Also? This is gonna be LONG.  Grab your coffee cup and settle in.)

June 30th, 2013 -- the day that changed our lives forever!  Where do I even start?!

I'll begin with Friday, the 28th of June.  I'd started my maternity leave the preceding Tuesday, after a disappointing doctor's appointment at almost 41 weeks pregnant.  I was thinning out (effacing), but there was absolutely no dilation in my cervix, and it was still quite posterior (way back).  We discussed another ultrasound and biophysical profile for the following Friday (the 28th), and then an induction set for Wednesday the 3rd of July.

On Friday morning, I was in decent spirits.  It was nice being at home with Michael, and we headed out to our ultrasound appointment.  The baby was doing great and seemed quite comfortable in his uterine home, still, so we left knowing that, by hook or by crook, we'd have a baby before the Fourth of July.

41 weeks 1 day pregnant -- the last pregnant photo ever taken!

Later that evening, we were playing Mario Party on our GameCube (don't judge!) and, as soon as we finished the game I went to the bathroom and noticed one of the first signs that labor was impending.  It's called "bloody show," which is gross, so we called it "Breaking Bad" when we talked about it (also a bloody show...get it?!).  Then the pains started.  I opened up my contraction timer app on my phone and started tracking them.  I tracked contractions til about 3am and then they slowed down enough to let me sleep.

The next morning, I felt a lot better until about 1:30pm when the contractions started again.  At this point, I wasn't even positive they were real contractions, as they were all in my lower back.  They were rising in intensity and then falling, and happening anywhere from 25 minutes to 8 minutes apart, and they were all over the place.  I'd always been told that contractions felt "like intense menstrual or poop cramps," but all of my pain was in my back.  I expected this, since we'd been told that the baby was "sunny side up" -- head down, but facing my stomach instead of facing my back.

I tracked contractions all afternoon, but tried to stay distracted, too.  We went grocery shopping for some essentials, I changed the sheets and checked the hospital bags and started some laundry, etc.  My father-in-law came over for dinner and brought pizza and we watched Apollo 13. All the while my contractions (or, "backtractions," as I called them) were getting really painful.

At one point, probably around 10pm, I had one so painful that I had to lean over the bed and focus on breathing through it. That's when I felt a tiny gush that made me think my water might finally be breaking.  I called the hospital and asked if that was reason enough to come in, and she said the only way to know was to check the fluids.  So, Michael and I asked my father-in-law if he'd mind staying with the dog overnight, just in case, and we grabbed all of our stuff and went to the hospital!

We arrived at the hospital at 10:30pm and checked in and I got changed into a hospital gown.  The nurse checked my cervix, and I was at 2cm.  She took a sample of fluids and told me it would take about a half hour to an hour for the results, and that we should walk the halls to see if that helped me progress.  She said that if the fluids were indeed amniotic OR if my cervix changed at all, we'd stay and have a baby!

Michael and I walked the halls for almost exactly one hour, and at this point I could barely walk through the contractions.  I had to lean over for each one, and Michael would rub my back for me, and then we'd keep walking. I had broken a pretty good sweat by the time we went back to the room and the nurse showed me how to lean across the bed and stretch my hips back and forth to alleviate the back labor a little bit.

Once the results came back negative for amniotic fluid (yeah...you pee your pants sometimes when you're pregnant, apparently!), she checked me again and I had progressed to just over 3cm.  That was it! We were staying!

I labored with Michael's help until about 3:00am, when the back labor was so bad that moaning and stretching and breathing through them was not helping at all. My legs were shaking so badly that I could barely stand up.  After 4 hours, I had only progressed to 4cm. This is when I had to admit to myself that my birth plan was going to change:

I wanted that damn epidural.

And then I cried for wanting that damn epidural.

But you guys? Back labor is no joke.  Imagine trying to pass a basketball through your butt while someone is trying to slowly bend your spine into a pretzel.  That's close to how it felt.  I tried the relaxation and visualization techniques and I tried focusing on the baby trying to come out and meet us, but by a certain point I could only see pain and colors.  That's the best way I can describe it.  There was no focus anymore, and I knew I couldn't physically handle possibly being in labor for hours and hours more.

The anesthesiologist showed up at 3:30am, and this guy was GOOD.  I absolutely hated the process of getting the epidural, but he was clutch.  All in all, he moved quickly and efficiently.  But I wouldn't have made it through the process without Michael and my delivery nurse, Angela.  They both had their arms around me and I sobbed as I tried to sit perfectly still with my contractions still going on IN my back, where the epidural was going.  Once it was in, though, it kicked in quickly and I felt so much relief.  The only slightly scary part was that my BP dropped significantly pretty quickly, but they gave me some ephedrine and strapped on the (horrible, devil, bastard) BP cuff and it went off every 3 minutes after that.  Baby's heart rate was stellar the whole time.

We both tried to get some sleep then...Michael got about two hours and I slept about ONE.  Then I woke up and texted our parents and my Labor Buddy, Allison, to let them know we were having a baby that day. I was pretty amused by my "E.T. Phone Home" finger, as you can see...

(Dads get such a crappy deal with those horrible hospital "couches")

At 6:45am, my new nurse, Erin (who was the sweeeeeeeeetest nurse on the planet!) came in and told me that my contractions had stalled at 7 minutes apart while I rested.  While on the epidural, my fears had been realized: labor had slowed.  I was only at 5cm by this point.  They called the midwife on call (Dr. V was not on call that weekend, which was a little bit of a bummer), and my options were to turn off the epidural and let my body try to kick back into gear, or start the Pitocin.

Since I felt a little more clear-headed due to the absence of pain and after some rest, I decided "Here's my chance to get back to my birth plan. I don't want Pitocin."  So we shut off the epidural.

By 8:45am, I was feeling contractions again, but they were dull to begin with.  The baby's HR dropped suddenly and they had to put the oxygen mask on me.  When she checked me, she said it was likely because the baby had very quickly moved to a 0 station, and that can make their HR slow down a bit.  The midwife suggested that I change positions every 30 minutes so that we could maybe get baby to spin around and face down.  I leaned forward, I sat on my knees with my arms up over the back of the bed, I laid on both sides...and the contractions were picking up some major steam again.

At 9:30am, the midwife came in and gave me three options: Pitocin, breaking my water, or go home and keep laboring.  The last one was completely out of the question, and I was still trying to be a hero and avoid the Pitocin, so we broke my water manually.  That turned out to be a game changer.

I was sobbing and begging for the epidural to be turned back on after that, and the anesthesiologist finally got there a little before noon. He made some snide remark (this was a different guy, by the way) about how "you NEVER turn it off," but I didn't care. He could've called me a stupid bitch and I still would've hugged him for turning it back on for me!

With the epidural going again, my only option was Pitocin, so I finally gave in. I was between 5 and 6 cm dilated and completely physically and emotionally exhausted!

By 2pm, I was resting fairly comfortably with the epidural. I was still only at 6cm, but the baby's head was very far down and pressing hard against my cervix.  They kept upping the Pitocin so that I would dilate more, and I did start to feel contractions again, but they were very dull and more like the menstrual/poop cramps I'd been told about.  They were dull, but intense.  I had to breathe through them sometimes, but it was nothing like the back labor I'd been experiencing.  The nurse said she'd come back at 5pm and check me again.  I was starting to get nervous and cried a little thinking about how if this kept going, despite rising levels of Pitocin, I might have to get a C-section.

Michael and I turned on the Red Sox game on the laptop and my mom came by to visit and bring me a goodie bag with some toiletries and a super cute nightgown for me to wear postpartum, and she left a little before 4pm.

At 4, the nurse came in quickly and put the oxygen mask on me because the baby's heart rate had gone way down again.  Her urgency frightened me a little bit, and I hated wearing the oxygen mask (side note: I hated ALL of the "hospital-y" stuff...all the wires, the BP cuff, the IV, the mask...I felt like a patient instead of a laboring mother...).  She checked me then and said "Wow, you're at a 10! You're ready to push!"

I immediately started crying, which alarmed her, and Michael assured her, "Don't worry; I know that cry.  That's relief!"  This was it!  I was going to have a baby and we were finally going to meet our son or daughter!  They called the midwife, and she was very excited for me, but it was going to take her about 45 minutes to get there from another city.  So Michael sent out a mass text to our family and told them they could come to the waiting room for a gender announcement, but we still wanted at least 2 hours of family bonding time once he or she arrived.

The midwife arrived at about 4:50pm, and everything that happened then was kind of a blur.  Nursery workers came in to prep the table for the baby's weight and APGAR tests, NICU nurses came in because they'd seen meconium in my water and would need to check the baby if there was no immediate crying, and my dark and cozy delivery room suddenly felt like an operating room as the bright spotlights came down from the recessed ceiling lighting.

I pushed for a full hour.  It was the most difficult thing I've ever done because, while I could feel contractions coming, and I could feel my legs (both of which were incredibly helpful as I pushed through each contraction), I could feel nothing in my pelvic region.  So,  pushing probably took longer than it would have otherwise, because I kept doing it wrong.  It was the most physically demanding thing I've ever done.  I remember bursting out laughing once as the midwife explained to Michael that she was using lotion/massage techniques to keep me from tearing and she called it "WD-40 for the vagina."  Everyone was surprised at how hard I laughed, even between pushes, but come on...that's funny stuff!!

I used the oxygen mask between contractions mostly as a placebo, so that I would refocus on breathing each time.  She asked me if I wanted to use the  mirror to push more effectively, but a) I was afraid of seeing that much detail, and b) I couldn't keep my eyes open during each push if I wanted to! I felt like my eyeballs were going to squeeze out of my head.

Finally she said, "the baby's crowning, do you want to feel the head?" I agreed, and she guided my hand down and I felt my baby's soft head! It was the most surreal and amazing thing, and it really gave me the strength I needed to get him or her the rest of the way out. The team around me kept encouraging me, and suddenly the baby was OUT!

The midwife lifted that baby high so that Michael could yell out "Oh my god, it's a BOY!"  They put that screaming, wet little baby right on my stomach and into my arms, and I wept like a child myself.  All 41 week and 3 days of my pregnancy, I never really believed that I was going to have an actual baby...and then there he was!

They piled blankets on top of us, and Michael came up by my head and kissed me while I cried and helped wipe my baby clean.  I am crying as I type this part, because it was, by far, the most magical moment I have ever experienced.  Even if I'm a hundred years old and I can't remember the name of the person who last changed my adult diaper, I will never ever forget Michael's excited voice, the sound of my son's first cries, and his squirmy and warm little body on my naked chest.

Zachary Michael made his debut at 5:56pm on June 30th, 2013, weighing in at 8lbs, 4oz, and at 21 inches long.  Now, enjoy the pictures:

Moments after birth (but after we'd both cleaned up a little)
First family photo
First bath in the nursery (I didn't get to see this!)
Big hands and feet!
First morning with Daddy
First morning with Mommy
My little blue-eyed handsome man
Going home to start the real adventure!
So, there were a lot of things that didn't happen the way I had "planned," and that has extended into being home with Zach (which I'll go into in another post very soon).  I never planned for back labor, which completely changed the game regarding medications during labor & delivery.  But the result? Was a perfect baby with high APGAR scores and a perfect little round head and lungs that make his singer mommy & daddy very proud!

We missed Dr. V (he stopped by a day or so later to say hello in the hospital), but the midwife on duty was incredible.  I survived with a small second-degree tear, one perineal tear, and a tiny hemmorhoid (ew, right?), and healing has gone WAY better than I was expecting it to.  So much so that I have to remind myself that I'm still supposed to take it easy and not lift anything heavier than Zach.

The labor & delivery and the postpartum nurses were absolute angels for the most part, and our experience overall was quite good (though we were READY to go home on that second day...more on that later).

And the best part of all?

I have a SON.  A precious and perfect baby boy.  And that's all that matters.