I still haven’t written my birth story, but I have another story to tell…
A Tale of Two Boobs.
These boobs come from humble beginnings. I went to the OBGYN for the first time at age 13 because my little sister started her period *before* me (and she was also naturally thin and blossomed into a D cup at the tender age of 12–the antithesis of me, her older, fatter, flat-chested sibling). I was humiliated. While I was there I asked the OBGYN (an older unattractive brute of a woman) why my breasts had not grown, why they were cone-shaped with disproportionately large nipples, and *how and when* could I expect them to shape up and look like the pillowy mounds that graced the pages of my father’s (giant) collection of Playboy magazines (one of the many paternal issues I discuss in therapy). And this woman felt me up and looked me up and down (I could have died, I was 13) and bluntly informed me that my breasts probably won’t look like the boobs in mens magazines. Tough titty.
I. Was. D.E.V.A.S.T.A.T.E.D.
My teenaged years were hell–depressed (undiagnosed/untreated) with horrible body image issues–I loathed myself. I wore a padded bra and hid in the locker room so nobody could see me change for gym class. I never went skinny dipping. I was terrified of boys yet craved their attention, but was awkward and endured indifference and rejection.
Ok enough sob story, you get the point–my boobs (lack thereof) were my achilles heel and I was miserable.
So I tried to accept my boobs, but when that didn’t work I started saving for (a boob job) breast augmentation surgery. Oddly enough, my (assh*le) father wouldn’t co-sign for my student loans, but he didn’t hesitate to co-sign for my boob job. I finally realized my dream of having nice round “magazine boobs” (like I literally picked them out of a Playboy magazine) at the ripe old age of 20, in the year 2000–the millenium marked the death of my miserable teens and the birth of my fairytale 20’s–all thanks to my boobs and the new-found confidence they gave me.
Naturally, I moved to Hawaii and became a (stripper) exotic dancer to (show off my boobs and get the attention I craved as a fat flat-chested teen with “daddy issues”) put myself through college. I wore halter tops and triangle bikini tops and low-cut dresses. I never lacked for male attention or company. I never paid cover to get into a club. Oh yeah, and I graduated college with honors–but I was waaaay more proud of my boobs.
My life was M.A.D.E.
But by the age of 30 I had grown weary of dating men who “only wanted one thing” and I began to fantasize about settling down and having a family. I put my boobs away and started paying for my own drinks. Then I met Mr. MLACS (a man who saw through my boobs and wanted my heart) and we were married a year to the day that we met.
We struggled to start our family and I was painfully reminded that no matter how I had altered my appearance, I was *still broken* on the inside (PCOS, Hypothyroid, Ulcerative Colitis, Lichen Sclerosus, etc.). I was sick. We suffered through 2 miscarriages and 6 IUI’s.
But by the grace of God, we saw those beautiful *two pink lines* for a third time, and this time our pregnancy was viable.
As my boobs and belly expanded, friends started asking me “Are you going to breastfeed?” and my reply was “I don’t know if I *can* and I’m not sure if I *should*.” I didn’t know if I *could* breastfeed, because I had read that women with PCOS/tubular breasts often had trouble breastfeeding due to lack of glandular tissue. Also, I had breast augmentation surgery and in order to re-shape my boobs to look like “magazine boobs” my surgeon had removed my nipple and lifted it higher onto my breast, then reattached it. I didn’t know if I *should* breastfeed because I take Welbutrin for depression and extraordinary amounts of Pentasa (mesalamine) to keep my Ulcerative Colitis in remission–these meds can be found in breastmilk. What’s more is that the mesalamine can cause bloody diarrhea in infants. I would just die if I hurt my child.
So I maintained a surface level of ambivalence towards breastfeeding. Like, no big deal, we’ll see. And I made sure to have a container of organic formula on-hand in anticipation of needing formula and wanting to give my baby the best nutrition possible (if not my own milk). My fear of formula was/is that it would irritate her digestive tract and make her more prone to gut issues like mine (chronic constipation, food allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.)
But OH, was I surprised at how good it felt when my baby rooted for my breast and latched immediately post-birth. It felt so natural–every fiber of my being just craved to care for her and bond with her and be everything she needed. (crying now) I was no longer ambivalent about breastfeeding–I wanted…I NEEDED…to be able to breastfeed–I felt the same longing and urgency that I had felt when I was 13 and waiting for my breasts to “arrive”.
She was born 7lb13oz and 19.75in long. While in the hospital I kept her in my room and hardly slept (I didn’t mind). She continued to latch and eat like a pro, but the (stupid) nurses would still mess with us because I “have flat nipples” and made me use a nipple shield which gave me a blister on one side. The other nipple also sustained injury from my baby’s latch but I was undeterred. I saw a lactation consultant when our baby was a few days old and she was very encouraging. By this time my milk was coming in and I became “engorged”, which gave me chills, body aches, fatigue, and night sweats. Some friends suggested it might be *mastitis* but I shrugged off that idea because my (dear departed) Mother had mastitis with me and said it was THE most painful thing she had ever experienced, and I was not in mearly so much pain plus it got better after 48 hours without antibiotics.
I continued to see my lactation consultant (LC) as my pediatrician was starting to push formula the first freakin’ week post-birth! Seriously. I needed my LC’s support. Everything I read said a breastfed baby:
1. Should not lose more than 10% of their bodyweight. My baby lost exactly 10% and at her lowest weighed 7lb1oz.
2. A breastfed baby needs to gain and be back to their birth weight by 2 weeks of age. Which I did manage to accomplish–no thanks to the pushy pediatrician.
Mr. MLACS had to leave and go back to Canada for work the day our baby turned 3 weeks old. I cried every day that first week of his absence. It was SO hard being apart after having his constant companionship for 3 consecutive months. Then I got a low blow when I saw the LC at the end of that week and our baby had gained NO weight. I was shocked–no wonder she had been so fussy–I had no clue. I felt like a child abuser for my failure to provide adequate nutrition and my failure to recognize the issue. My LC was very warm and kind and told me I didn’t need formula *yet* but that I needed to feed her as much as possible and also pump and try to supplement her with my own milk.
Pumping proved to be a monumental task. My nipples were sore and I could only tolerate the pump on a mild setting. And I only could get 1/2oz to 1oz *at best* per session (of course now I can tell you that my pump needed to be turned up and I needed to pump at strategic times, which my LC never taught me).
Also during this week of frantic pumping/nursing, I saw my therapist and she suggested I try motherwort to curb my anxiety, because my stress level had obviously hurt my milk supply. And per the advice of my LC and therapist I began using Fenugreek capsules and “more milk” tincture by Motherlove. It worked. Between weeks 3-4 she gained 7oz’s. I was SO relieved! But my nipples still hurt. They were red and would “blanche” when pressure was put on them. I was told by my LC to try using anti-yeast cream so I bought clobetasol. But it didn’t help. So I was diagnosed with Reynaud’s of the nipple, which is a *painful* disorder whereby the blood vessels constrict and stop blood flow to the nipple. I was told to take high doses of B6 for 4 days and then back off to a regular dose. It helped somewhat but not for long.
THEN at 5 weeks old my baby was (finally) diagnosed with a slight tongue tie and my LC referred us to a pediatric ENT to have her frenulum cut. This was a big deal to me because *I* had a slight tongue tie that went undiagnosed and I endured SIX f*ing years of speech therapy to correct speech impediments–most notably a *lisp* (can you picture me now…a chubby, flat-chested, frizzy-haired girl with crooked teeth and a lisp…SMH). I was not diagnosed until age 18 when an ENT notice my short frenulum and cut it during my tonsillectomy. So then, you understand why I was hot-to-trot to get this fixed for my little girl. Also the LC told me that fixing her tongue-tie would fix my nipple issues and make breastfeeding “comfortable for mom”. I took her to the ENT and he wavered about cutting her frenulum (the LC told me he would try to dismiss it but that I should insist because oft times docs blow off slight tongue tie because breastfeeding is not encouraged in the US) but I told him my story and showed him my tongue and he said her tongue looks just like mine and agreed she should have her frenulum clipped. I COULD NOT be in the room while they hurt my kid so I stepped into the bathroom, cried, got myself together and stepped out just as they had finished.
She was calm and I breastfed her immediately. She gained 8oz from week 5-6! HOORAY for my boobs! My nipples were still red, cracked, and scabbed though.
Mr. MLACS arrived home from work when she was 6w2d old–the day after they cut her frenulum. Things were going so well! But the day before he had to leave we went to see the LC for a perfunctory weight check and…she had only gained 3oz’s… And I didn’t feel good. I actually asked Dr. Angel to check my TSH (thyroid) thinking it might be hypo again–I was aching all over, puffy, and run down. My upper body itched in a “creepy-crawly” way. I had mouth sores. My nipples throbbed at the thought of breastfeeding. I felt the same way I did when I was “engorged” when my milk came in–I had chills and night sweats and horrible body aches. The LC was concerned that baby girl had only gained 3oz’s. She was also concerned that my nipples were so inflamed, so she referred me (ironically) to my dermatologist–I had just been there the day before to see him about my Rosacea! I had breastfed in his office while speaking to him! It never occurred to me to mention my nipple issues to my dermatologist. But the biggest revelation was…
My LC informed me that I had *mastitis*!
Indeed, the side of my left boob was red and hot to the touch, in addition to my other symptoms. So I guess you don’t have to feel like you’re dying to have mastitis (as per my mother’s description), you just have to feel like complete sh*t.
And I also realized that I had mastitis before, too. I saw the dermatologist and he prescribed Cephalexin 4x per day for 2 weeks. Plus an antibacterial ointment called Muciprocin. He swabbed the crevice in my left nipple for Staph infection.
By this time I had grown weary. I felt like a fool for not getting to the bottom of all this sooner. Why hadn’t I done my research? Why had I just blindly trusted my LC? And then, what can I do better? Am I hurting my kid? I also ran through thoughts of denial, like “Maybe 3oz is just ,”normal” for my long and lean baby”–but the seeds of doubt were firmly planted in my mind and in my heart.
Are my boobs enough??? Am I inadequate???
I made an appointment to see a different LC at a large clinic. Let me cut to the chase and say–it was a disaster. Her nurse treated me like an idiot. I was nervous and she made it worse. She had me feed the baby in an uncomfortable position on my “wounded” nipple while I was also trying to talk to her. The baby was stripped naked and also uncomfortable. They took no other measurement besides weight. Then the LC and the nurse basically told me that I am *winning a gold medal in the “Special Olympics” of nursing*…which is to say that with my PCOS, breast augmentation/nipple relocation, Reynauds, Mastitis, and nipple inflammation/infection–it’s a miracle I’m able to feed at all. They didn’t present this in a “you’re kicking ass” kind of way. Their tone was “OMFG we need to FIX her before this situation implodes and her kid is starving”.
At the end of the feeding they weighed her again and said she’d only taken an ounce. The LC and her nurse then blew my mind by suggesting I supplement with 8-12 oz’s of milk or formula per day. They knew there was no way in hell I could pump that much of my own milk so they were essentially telling me to use formula. And they said (unconvincingly) that I could just use the formula until my supply returned, but I knew that’s not what they meant. I left the office shaking.
I was M.O.R.T.I.F.I.E.D.
I cried. And cried. And cried.
I didn’t know who to trust–I didn’t trust these women. I looked at my baby and I saw a long, skinny, *healthy*, *happy* baby. These women don’t even know me or my kid–how could they so flippantly suggest I use formula based on some arbitrary measurements and statistics? Who the f*ck do they think they are?! And aren’t LC’s supposed to be pro “breast is best”? I guess my breasts didn’t make varsity so I should just give up?!
But I didn’t trust my boobs either.
I went home and researched formulas and begrudgingly ordered the best available and had it express shipped it from amazon. If I am going to use formula then it has to be the Dom Perignon of formula.
This did not comfort me though. I contacted my therapist and she reassured me that my 2nd opinion LC’s were not “right” and that I was ok to question them and return to my initial LC who made me feel comfortable. A girlfriend of mine (and fellow IF blogger http://www.stephmignon.com) Steph called and related her own struggles with breastfeeding and formula decisions, and I was comforted by talking to her.
Things that were/are running through my head…
Will I ever be able to pump enough to have a reserve for my kid? Am I on a downward spiral where my production will perpetually not meet my child’s needs? If I use formula, will it negatively impact her–will she be prone to obesity (like her parents) and prone to gut disorders (like her mama)? How can I integrate it into breastfeeding without disruption? How much formula would I really need to use? And then…
Why am I so upset about using formula? What is my issue (besides the above) that makes me so emotional about it? How can I reconcile my burning desire to EBF with the impending reality that that may not be possible?
I received the formula in the mail on Saturday, and I was relieved to have it. But I was not compelled to use it and I listened to my gut–with hesitation. I gut-checked and truly felt it wasn’t time yet. Then on Sunday I ran into an old friend at Target who is a former LLLI leader and an RN, and she further encouraged me to keep pushing to breastfeed as much as possible–but she was cool about using formula too.
Sunday was Mother’s Day and I spent most of it breastfeeding my baby and hoping I was doing enough to help her gain weight. So far I’ve been pumping after feedings 1-2x per day (usually the 4am feeding and a later one). It’s awkward but I try to pump the boob she ate first while she’s eating the 2nd boob in my lap, because it’s hard to sneak away in between feedings. I end up just nursing her more often instead, because she’s more effective than the pump is anyways.
Today I went back to see my original LC and I brought her a beautiful orchid to show her how much I appreciate her and how I regret seeing another LC. We talked about me obtaining a prescription lactation aide called Domperidone–some of you ladies know of it or may have used it yourselves, as it is used to induce lactation in adoptive/surrogate moms. Dr. Angel already offered me a prescription, but I’ll have to order it from Canada because pharmacies in the US won’t make it. Another useful piece of information–my TSH is ridiculously low, like .007, so Dr. Angel has reduced my dosage of Synthroid and this should help my milk supply but it will take awhile.
In better but not great news, my girl gained 4oz this week. I’ve felt my supply improving the past 2 days so there is hope. It’s also worth mentioning that we measured her and she’s in the 90-95th percentile for height and near the 10th percentile for weight according to the WHO charts. This makes her a “banana baby” body type and this type typically grows in length but is slow to put on weight due to their hypermetabolisms. I wonder if my thyroid is influencing this growth pattern or if she’s just naturally tall and skinny, but she’s healthy and meeting milestones so that’s what counts…right?
I am hopeful, so very hopeful, that I will be able to continue to EBF my daughter for at least the first 6 months of her life. I want to spare her from having the health issues I’ve struggled with–autoimmune diseases, infertility, loss, and obesity. I really feel that breastfeeding helps to combat these issues, and I feel like this is a practical reason for me to continue my struggle to breastfeed.
But beyond practical reasons…I just love her so much and I feel like breastfeeding is a physical expression of my love and devotion to her.
My breasts may have come from humble beginnings and I used to consider them as an accessory (and also they paid my rent as a dancer) but now they mean so much more to me. They nourish my precious baby. I had no clue how important this would be to me, but it is.
To be continued….