August 6, 2013

My Nursing Struggle -- The Rest of the Story

So, the last time I blogged about this, I was exclusively pumping (with a not-yet-set expiration date in mind as I was producing not very much with each pumping session), on antibiotics for a case of mastitis, and still processing the feelings and the guilt associated with being what I considered to be a big ol' failure at breastfeeding.

Where are we now?

Well, I'm still dealing with the feelings.  Not so much of being a failure anymore, but there are moments when the disappointment and the anger is still very palpable and real.  But I've been through even more drama since that post.  I wanted to follow up with the next things that happened in my Nursing Saga, and since it's apparently World Breastfeeding Week and there's been a myriad postings on my Facebook feed from mamas of all ages and with all sorts of experiences breast AND formula feeding, I thought now was a good time to finish out my story.

A few days after I got on the antibiotics for mastitis, I noticed that the lump in my left breast, up near my armpit, was not only getting larger, but much more painful and angrier-looking.  I called my OB's office on a Friday morning as soon as they opened, and told them that the antibiotics were not helping, and they scheduled me to come in the following Tuesday.  My best friend arrived to spend the weekend with us and meet Z for the first time, and I was pretty decently distracted for the better part of the day.

Later that afternoon/early evening, I had to pump again to stay on schedule. By this point my right breast had pretty much thrown in the towel.  I was getting nothing substantial from that side, and what I did get looked more like water than anything that would satisfy my child, and because of the little yield, the pump was basically just beating the crap out of that side and starting to make it very sore.  Also, the left side, while still producing like a champ (well, a champ compared to the other side...still I was only getting about 1.5oz total per session), was so painful due to the growing lump/mastitis that I could barely make it through a 15-20 minute pumping session.

By the time I was ready to pump on this particular Friday evening, I didn't even make it 10 minutes. I was bent almost completely over at the waist and had tears streaming down my face because of the pain.  I also just felt like total crap.  A quick check with the thermometer showed that, once again, I was running a low-grade fever.  This had happened a few times before I got on the antibiotics, but it never went above 100.5 and usually it didn't even last the night.  However, my husband had had enough by this point.  He very lovingly insisted that I call the after-hours number and try to reach the OB or midwife on call.

After a short conversation with the midwife, it was clear to her that something was wrong if I was still feeling so awful after 72 hours on antibiotics, so she suggested that I get myself to the emergency room quickly.  Not like that's alarming or anything...

Since I didn't want Z anywhere near a hospital, I called my parents to let them know I was going to the ER, and my grandma met me up there to stay with me.  Once I was triaged and sent to a room, the nurse and the PA came in to assess the situation and do some bloodwork.  When she saw my breasts, she visibly winced and said they looked worse than any she had ever seen.  Awesome.  At least I know I wasn't just being a wimp!

Long story in the ER short -- my white blood cell count was a bit frighteningly high, and the lump in my breast was clearly abscessed, so I was going to be admitted and have an ultrasound done to see what was going on on the inside.  I also had MORE blood drawn from both arms so that cultures could be grown, and I was immediately put on an IV of antibiotics and morphine because the pain was so bad that I couldn't even hold my arms at my sides.

I went to bed in a hospital room, all alone, away from my husband and my baby for the first time, and not knowing what was going to happen the next morning. I heard the word "surgeon" mentioned at one point, but nobody told me anything really.  I just knew that the abscess was going to have to be drained somehow.  The pain medication and the antibiotics helped me to sleep and reduced my fever to where I could be comfortable.

The nurse attending me was surprised I didn't feel worse than I did for longer before coming to the hospital.  The truth was, I'd been on round-the-clock Ibuprofen ever since having Z because I never felt really 100% right.  Any time I would get a low-grade fever or feel tired and run-down, I just assumed I'd overdone it and needed to rest.  I had no idea that this infection was picking up major steam in my body.

The next morning, the OB on call visited with me and we discussed the fact that I needed to stop breastfeeding/pumping at this point (more on that later), and that she really wanted me to stay one more night in the hospital on antibiotics, since my white blood cell count was still so high and since the abscess was so large. Then the surgeon came by to visit me and introduce himself and tell me about what we were going to do.  Unfortunately, the abscess and the infection were so large that he had to do a surgical procedure to empty it.  It was too large to just numb and lance (OW OW OW).  He explained that it would be an open wound and heal from the inside out, and that there would definitely be a scar afterwards.  He was so apologetic about that; it was very kind of him.

Everything moved very quickly after quickly that I barely had time to text my husband and my parents to let them know I was going in for surgery (for the first time in my life, might I add...).  They didn't even make it to the hospital before I was being wheeled into the OR.  I'll admit that I was afraid.  I know it was a very minor surgery, but I had never been put completely under anesthesia before, and I was scared.  I just wanted someone to be there, and I was so flustered that I didn't even know how to pray or what to say.

God works in such crazy ways...when I was in the OR, trying not to cry while I'm laying on a gurney, and the anesthesiologist came over to explain to me what was going to happen, I just happened to glance to my right at his assistant/nurse, and it was the first boyfriend I ever had.  I use the term "boyfriend" loosely, because I was probably 12 years old and he went to my church.  We never even held hands, because that would have been scandalous to me.  It was so good to see a familiar face that I immediately started crying.  He was so sweet!  He asked about Michael and the baby, and told me he'd be there the whole time during my surgery (side note to laugh and laugh that the boy I wouldn't even let hold my hand in the 6th grade was going to be in the room when I had surgery on a boob...hilarious move, Universe).

When I woke up (it's SO weird to not remember an entire chunk of your dreams, like when you're asleep...just...OUT), my first thought was "my throat hurts" and then "where is my husband?" Luckily I didn't have to stay in the recovery area for very long, and I was wheeled back to my room, where my husband and my dad and my grandmother were waiting.  My mom and stepdad were on their way back from San Antonio.  Michael told me that the surgeon had come out and told them that everything went really well, and that it was the worst case of mastitis/worst abscess he'd ever seen.  Once again, I impressed a doctor with the shitty condition of my breasts! Awesome!

I was pretty groggy, so everyone left me to rest fairly quickly. Later that evening, Michael and my best friend came up to see me and brought Z because I was so sad to be away from him. I hated staying that extra night in the hospital, but it was good for me to get the sleep (what sleep I could, with nurses coming in and out all night long to change out meds and check vitals and all that...staying in the hospital sucks) and the extra doses of antibiotics via the IV.  I was discharged the next day after a visit from the OB on call and the surgeon again, with instructions to come back in a few days to have the packing removed from the surgery site.  Since then, I've also had the drain removed, and now there is just a HOLE IN MY BODY where the incision was made.  It's as freaky and weird as you'd think.  This morning I nearly passed out just thinking about it...but it's the best way for an infected area to heal, is what it is.

Follow up appointments have shown that I'm healing really well and that the infection I had was actually MRSA staph.  Yep.  Scary.  I'm SO glad that my husband pushed me to call when he did and that the midwife on call was so adamant about me going to the ER.  You can tell pretty quickly the severity of a condition by the look in an nurse's eyes and the speed with which they get an IV in you, and let's just say they weren't moving slowly in my case.  It makes me really upset to sit and think about what could have happened, but I choose not to dwell on that.  It's done, and it's getting better.

I will have a scar.  But honestly, I'm glad it'll be there.  I'm still, even after everything my boobs and I have gone through, struggling with guilt and the tiny voice in my mind that says "you could still try! once you're healed!" It's insane, I know.  Even the doctors told me "Why didn't you stop earlier?"  And all I can answer is that I wanted my baby to have breast milk.  I knew.  I knew in my mind, and my body was telling me way before it got bad that it was in pain and it was time to stop, but I was stubborn and I didn't listen to my body.  So now, when I feel like I didn't do enough, I can look down and see that scar and know that I did just about everything.  And I went through a lot.  And it's okay that I'm done.

There's a part of me that's also still dealing with a lot of anger. I'm angry with myself for not taking better care of myself so that I could enjoy my maternity leave and my very very limited time at home with Z.  I'm angry that my precious few weeks off were marked by physical and emotional pain, and that I had to go back to work before I was really healed and without spending pain-free time with my son. I'm angry that every lactation specialist I spoke to just told me to keep going, instead of, considering how bad it really was and that, despite how much pain and resentment I was feeling, telling me it was okay to stop and that any milk I had been able to provide for Z was amazing and enough.  I'm angry that I didn't "succeed" and I'm angry that I still can't let it go sometimes.  But I'm moving forward every day, and I have such a beautiful, happy baby to remind me of what's really important.

There are just so many emotions tied to new-mommyhood.  Overall, and most importantly, I have bonded with my son MORE in the past week and a half since my surgery than I did in any of the preceding four weeks of his life.  I look at him now and I can focus easily and effortlessly on him and how much love I have for him.  I'm not thinking, "if he falls asleep in the next few minutes, I can still pump on schedule," and dreading pumping. And when I'm holding him as he falls asleep, that oxytocin kicks in and I feel the exact same heady, content sleepiness that I felt when we had those rare moments of successful nursing.  I think that's really cool, and I thank God for that...that I'm able to experience some of those same hormone-induced (the good kind) new mommy feelings without the stress and the pain that came with nursing him.

The question I've gotten the most recently is, "Will you try breastfeeding again if you have a second baby?"  The honest answer is that I have no idea.  None at all.  It's too early to even think about something like that while I'm still processing all of what happened with my efforts this time, and while there's still a hole in my boob.  I just don't know. 

I know some people think it's weird that I've shared so much of this.  But it really does help me to write it all down (so to speak) and I still hope and pray that it might help someone else who is in the same situation, wishing someone would tell her that it's okay to stop if you're miserable...if you're hurting...if you're not bonding with your baby...if you dread and resent breastfeeding...if your supply is low/non-existent.  I still know that there are things I could have done and could still do, physically, to nurse Z, but...emotionally? I'm done.  I'm cashing in my chips and counting my losses and focusing on the future and the happy feelings. 

Because a happy baby and a happy family is what matters the most to me.  And a good place to start with that is my peace of mind and my confidence as a mom...which I'm slowly but surely achieving again.


  1. Damn, dude!!! MRSA?!?! You left out of the shortened version of the story you provided me. SCARE-EEEEE!!! I'm so glad things are improving quickly and you are able to MOVE ON with your family. Geez. Must make you want to call those specialists and just tell them your story. Not as a "told you so", but as a "hey, just in case you come across another 'me', consider THIS!" kinda thing. Wow. So much to process in your 5 weeks as a parent. High five, friend. Fist pump into the air for you!

  2. WOW, Mandy. What an ordeal you have been through. I will pray that you continue to heal and I am so happy to hear that you are finding this time with your new babe so much more enjoyable!

  3. Wow... I'm so glad to hear you're doing better. After catching up with all your posts, I can see the rough road you've been travelling. I know the learning curve is steep and difficult when you become a parent (and it continues, I'm sorry to say!), but it sounds like you're up to the challenge!