Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Failure and Acceptance

LB turned six weeks old yesterday. As I write this, I am thawing the final serving of breastmilk that he will receive. It has already been more than two weeks since he last nursed. Despite what I believe were my best efforts, breastfeeding lasted a mere four weeks and my freezer supply only another two. Writing these words pains me. I REALLY wanted breastfeeding to work. I tried VERY hard and I failed. I'm still working on being OK with it.

We seemed to do just fine in the first few days of LB's life, but things deterioriated very quickly. The MCADD diagnosis on Day 3 with instructions to feed, feed, feed him every 2-3 hours sent us into a panic. I erred on the side of caution and had the boy at my breast every 2 hours for the next 4 days not caring the slightest bit about the quality of his latch or the condition of my body so long as he was eating. That lasted until Day 7 when my nipples were so raw and painful that I could barely hold him close to me, let alone provide one more feeding. This is when the first case of mastitis set in, likely because of some combination of 1) the ugly condition of my nipples, 2) the stress of his diagnosis, 3) the sleep deprivation and/or 4) the stress of his delivery, in general.

We resorted to pumping and botttle feeding him with breastmilk exclusively until my nipples healed and that took about a week. At the point that I was gradually reintroducing him to the breast, I was still in quite a bit of pain as he nursed. It felt like I was dispensing shards of glass through my nipples instead of milk. After a consultation with a lactation specialist at the hospital, we discovered that I had a secondary yeast infection called thrush (likely caused by the antibiotics I was on for the mastitis). Subsequently, both LB and I went on medication to clear that up. It had only been two days since we finished the mastitis antibiotic and here we were -- already back at the pharmacy for more drugs...and yes, I was still doing a lot more feedings by pumping and bottling than I was by straight nursing which seemed such an institutional way to feed a newborn baby to someone who was used to nursing (I nursed my older son until he was 7 months old).

The first weekend of April was glorious. Not only did we have beautiful weather outside, I felt like the metaphorical clouds that were hanging over the nursing situation were also lifting.  LB and I were both a week into the thrush recovery and I was able to breastfeed him without biting my lip or curling my toes in pain. Finally! We achieved a healthy nursing relationship. Finally! I was able to conduct a night feeding in less than an hour and a half (how long it takes when you have to add the steps of pumping, sanitizing the pump stuff, bottling the milk, and sanitizing the finished bottle to the usual steps of changing a couple diapers, feeding, burping and rocking the baby back to sleep). I was SO happy. I thought we had made it out of the woods. After another week of finishing the thrush medication, we would be home free.

I was wrong. The mastitis came back the very next day.

As I was pacing through the house, holding LB akwardly away from me to prevent him from touching my very sore breasts, the reality of my situation hit me like a ton of bricks. I was spending so much effort trying to make breastfeeding work that I was missing everything else. My typical day consisted of pumping every 3 hours and feeding LB the pumped milk every 2-3 hours. This meant 20 minutes to prep, pump, store milk and clean my pump parts every three hours around the clock, followed by at least 20 minutes to prep a bottle, feed, burp and give LB his thrush medicine every two to three hours around the clock. In addition to that, there was a daily load of laundry to gather, wash, fold and put away and a twice daily regimen of sanitizing bottles -- both aimed at eliminating the yeast that was causing the thrush from our clothing and his eating vessels. In a single 24-hour period, I was devoting at least 8 hours just to trying (in vain, it seemed) to make this breastfeeding thing work.

The rest of my days were spent attempting to spend at least a little bit of time paying attention to my older son and my husband while also putting breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table for the family, keeping up with other necessary household chores (laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, etc) -- the other stuff like vacuuming and general tidying up were already out the window -- and getting a couple hours of sleep. In short, I was exhausted and that made me grumpy. That led to me feeling even more crummy and also quite guilty for not having the time or energy to spend any "quality" time with my boys or to really step back and enjoy the early days of LB's life. I was either missing it entirely or I was walking through the day as too much of a zombie to appreciate it.

I saw myslef holding LB at that moment (in my forearms, as far away from my breast as I could) and realized just how broken this situation was. The best part of breastfeeding for me last time (with my older son) was the physical closeness we had. We snuggled, we bonded and it was so rewarding. I knew that I wasn't establishing that same bond with LB because the breastfeeding itself was so physically painful that not only did I not want to nurse him, here I was holding him as far away from my chest and the beating heart that he undoubtedly found so comforting, as I could. The psychological guilt that I felt at that moment -- wanting to hold my beautiful, warm, snuggly baby and at the same time not wanting him or anyone else to touch me was THE WORST -- a dagger straight through my heart. I realized that I wasn't hugging my older son or husband tightly to me anymore either. This was all wrong!

Walking through the house that night, I was crying because I wanted breastfeeding to work so badly, but I was also crying because I knew that it wasn't working and that I needed to move on before it consumed me, threw me into depression and/or damaged the establishment/maintenance of a bond between me and my boys. In some respects, it was the hardest decision to make, but at the same time, I knew it was the only decision I could make. So much more was on the line here than just the uncomfortable stares I would start receiving from other moms as I mixed up a bottle of formula instead of donning a nursing wrap. This was my family and I needed to start feeling like a Mom again, not just like a walking advertisement for La Leche League. I needed to let go of breastfeeding and start hugging my kids and my husband again.

I visited the doctor the next morning for yet another course of antibiotics to clear up yet another bout of mastitis and I called the lactation nurses for instructions on how to taper off my milk supply. I was finished with breastfeeding.

It's still hard for me sometimes to admit that I failed at breastfeeding. It seems like such a natural thing, like something that automatically works unless you do something to break it and I must have somehow broken it for it to have been such an epic failure, but I know that I did everything I could. Every single doctor and nurse and lactation consultant that I worked with over the course of those 4 weeks told me that I was doing everything right and that they couldn't explain why I kept getting infections. They also all told me that no one would fault me for quitting if that's what I chose to do. They assured me that millions of babies eat formula and turn out just fine.

I wanted to believe them and I did believe them, but I also knew that I had to give myself permission to quit before I could move past the failure of it all and into acceptance. That's where I am now. I haven't pumped in nearly a week and my last trip to the grocery store included a sizable purchase of powdered infant formula. I have removed the nursing wrap from the diaper bag and packed away the breastpump.

LB takes the bottle happily and is thriving in every way. For the last two nights, he has woken up at around 4 a.m., not because he's hungry, just because he wants to be snuggled in my arms. I hold him close and he squeaks his little infant squeaks before closing his eyes and drifting off to dreamland snuggled against my chest and the comforting sounds of my heartbeat. We are bonding and I know that he loves me. I am happy.

My older son has returned to running headlong into me when I pick him up from the sitter and whenever the mood strikes him to come hug his Mommy. I can snuggle in bed next to him to read him his bedtime story without worrying about whether he is going to bump me in the wrong place during the unpredictable and exuberant wiggling as we get to his favorite parts of the book. We are back in a comfortable and affectionate place and I can return his love for me with great big hugs of my own. I am happy.

Of course, Husband has been uber-supportive of me on this from day one. He supported me in my efforts to make it work and he supported me in my decision to call it quits. He is getting his happy wife back because I am happy. Deep down I know that this is the right decision

Breastfeeding this time around may not have turned out the way I was expecting/anticipating, but it is what it is. As long as LB gets fed and snuggled, everything will be just fine.

Friday, April 6, 2012

One Month

It has been one month since LB joined our family...and what an eventful month it has been! We've had our share of hurdles -- both hurdles typical to those anyone would encounter as a newborn enters your life and a few unique ones on top of that because of his MCADD -- but, all in all, it has been a great first month.

We are so fortunate that LB is such a happy and cooperative baby. He likes to sleep, which is great. He must be doing lots of growing to always be so sleepy. He is starting to show some interest in toys and especially in the mobile over his crib. He gets very excited when the music plays and the animals dance around as he gazes up at them. He also likes to watch his big brother, which is fun for us to watch. He was laying on his quilt today and our older son was playing near him, sort of near his head.  LB practically rolled over since he was looking over the top of his head trying to keep an eye on his big brother.

LB has also been very tolerant of all of the affection bestowed upon him by his brother. He is the lucky recipient of many exuberant kisses and an endless supply of toys to play with. His big brother absolutely loves him and is the proudest big brother in town.

Husband and I are also adjusting pretty well to being the parents of two little boys. We go to bed tired at night, that's for sure, and we also go to bed feeling incredibly blessed. The fun is just beginning!