Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Hardest Thing I Have Ever Done

As I sit and write this, I am exactly one day away from my goal of breastfeeding my son for an entire year.  By the time you read it, I will have passed that goal. The thought honestly brings me to tears.  I thought we’d never make.  I thought this day would never come.  I pushed myself harder than I ever have and I made it.  I hit my goal. What’s even better?  We aren’t even going to stop. We are going to keep moving forward.

This post may not be for everyone, but I needed to get this all out in writing.  My story.  It is very long, so bear with me.

As the title says, breastfeeding has been the single hardest thing I have ever done in my life.  Yes I have done difficult things (I mean hello, I birthed a child) but most of those things were just fleeting moments.  A couple of hours of my life.  This task, nursing my son, has lasted an entire year of my life.
Most women say that they love breastfeeding and the relationship with their child. They will say it is magical and beautiful and many other positive things. I can’t honestly say those things.  I never felt the magic, which is hard for me.  I think it is partly because our journey has been VERY rough.

All of my life I knew I wanted to breastfeed my kids.  My mom did it, so I knew I would too. I never even questioned it. I knew there were benefits to it, but learned so much more about it once I became pregnant and began researching. I read articles upon articles and even took a three hour class at our hospital to prepare. Nothing though, prepared me for what actually happened.
When Noah was born, he seemed to latch immediately.  I was so happy and proud.  It was a weird feeling, those first moments, but I knew I was doing what was best for my little guy.  While in the hospital, I tried nursing for what felt like pretty much the whole time.   The lactation consultant visited me while in our room and tried to help us get the latch thing down perfect. But she was very rough. She would pile pillows around me and make me sit up in such awkward positions in my hospital bed that I felt so weird. 

Noah wasn’t doing well with it though.  They didn’t think he was getting enough.  I became stressed.  I let a nurse talk me into giving him tiny bit of formula that first night. I wish I wouldn’t have given in so easily, but it’s really not that big of a deal. It didn’t hurt anything.  We continued to try and breastfeed.  I remember that I thought it was going well, but every time a nurse or the lactation consultant saw me, they tried to fix everything I was doing.  It because frustrating.  My doctor released me to go home after the first night if I wanted, but the nurses suggested I stay the night so I could get more help breastfeeding, so I did.  We just couldn’t get his latch to a point where I wasn’t in pain.
Nursing was painful. So painful.  I know that they always say it is painful in the beginning while your body gets used to it, but man was this excruciating. I pushed on. 

When we went to Noah’s pediatrician appointments in the first few days, the doctor was concerned. He wasn’t gaining any weight back (most newborns lose about 10% of their birth weight in the first couple of days). They had us come in again in a few days for a weight check.  I was also in so much pain that I started to use a nipple shield to provide some relief when feeding him. Though they aren’t the best thing, I knew I couldn’t move forward without it. I was crying while feeding him I was in so much pain.
Meanwhile, I was researching. Reading everything I could get my hands on about breastfeeding.  I had read something about babies having tongue ties and how it could cause a lot of pain for mothers and how it could affect how much milk baby was getting. I decided to pay to see a lactation consultant. I met with her when Noah was 8 days old and I asked her if she could check Noah for a tongue tie.  She helped us with his latch, but I just could not get him to do it the same way when I tried on my own. She also said she thought he could possibly have a tongue tie.  If you aren’t aware, I tongue tie is a little piece of skin that attached at the base of the tongue making it harder for the tongue to move or stick our very far.

During all of this, I was still in excruciating pain. Noah was literally tearing my body apart. Pieces of my most intimate body parts were literally coming off during breastfeeding (if you get my gist…). I was often bleeding as well.  I finally gave up.  I was so broken and upset with myself that I couldn’t push forward. I would have to give my baby a bottle.  Nine days after Noah was born, on May 20th, I woke C up early in the morning bawling and asked him to go to Target and get a special type of bottle (Dr. Browns with a preemie nipple is what our LC suggested). I felt like I had failed. I was so unhappy.
I was grasping at straws and still suspecting the tongue tie so I called to make an emergency consultation appointment with our pediatrician.  Little did I know when I chose him, but he is one of the most well-known tongue tie doctors in AZ. Our appointment was the next morning. I am so grateful they were able to get us in quickly. It was such a relief.  Once at the appointment, the doctor confirm Noah’s tongue tie and suggested a revision.  Everything I was experiencing could be due to that. We scheduled his surgery for the following day, the 22nd. 

It was a hard decision, to choose to do the revision.  I knew it would be putting Noah in pain, but I also knew it would be beneficial to him for the rest of his life.  Some tongue ties can cause a lot of issues into adulthood if they are not corrected, namely major speech issues and neck/back pain. 
The procedure lasted all of 5 minutes.  They took my little man to another room while C and I just stood there holding each other.  I heard him cry and then they brought him back.  Once back in the room he was happy again and nursed like a champ.  He latched on better and I felt instant relief from a lot of the pain I had been feeling.

With a revision like this, you have to do “stretches” of the babies tongue 3 times a day…..basically to keep the wound open and let it heal that way.  I had such a hard time doing these, knowing that they hurt my little man each time.  We forged on though and did what we needed to do. Luckily he would only cry during the few seconds of the exercises and was perfectly content once they were done.

Though a lot of the pain had been relieved and I was able to nurse Noah around the clock again, I was still hurting. I was grasping at straws to fix it. I thought maybe I had an infection called thrush that can be in both mama and baby and can be painful. I went to see my OB and she told me I didn’t have it. I was going to be alone with Noah for the first time that weekend while C traveled and she told me she thought it would be best if I pumped and fed him that way.  I honestly think she was scared for my sanity, that I may have a breakdown if I kept trying. I followed her advice, which was a nice relief, but so much work.  It was exhausting trying to pump hooked up to a machine and take care of a newborn all alone.
When we had the tongue tie consultation, our doctor also informed us that Noah had a lip tie. A lip tie is a little piece of skin connecting your lip to your gums, usually right above but between your top two middle teeth. Since they don’t usually do the revisions at the same time, C and I had a little time to decide if we wanted to go through with that one or not.  As Noah still wasn’t gaining weight very well and I was still having pain, I wanted to go through with it.  C wasn’t too sure, he didn’t want to put Noah through so much in such a short time.  We deliberated for quite a while.  The problem is, some lip ties do not cause problems in the future and some do.  I actually have a very large lip tie (which I didn’t even realize I had until I started this journey) and never had any problems.  Other times, they can cause a big gap in your teeth and a lot of speech problems.  I thought though, it was better to prevent those things now while he was young than to wait until he was a few years old and have a much larger issue to deal with.

On July 20th, Noah had the lip tie revision.  He took it like a champ again and didn’t even cry.  They usually suggest baby Tylenol if baby seems to be in pain after the surgery but Noah didn’t even really seem to need it. We gave him one dose and he was fine after that (whereas with the tongue he took it for a couple of days).  He little lip got puffy that night, but he wasn’t fussy at all.  We did his “stretches” during bath time (which he loves) so I think that kept him happy.  He would whine for a second just like before and then it would be all over again.
Over time, our breastfeeding relationship got much better.  Noah ate faster and there was so much less pain.  I was finally happy to do it.  I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it per-se but I didn’t dread it.

As the months went on, Noah was still having problems with his weight gain and I began having problems with my milk supply. I knew the two might be correlated so I knew I needed to do something.  I researched and talked to many other breastfeeding women and even sent emails back and forth with our LC many times.  Everyone kept saying I was doing all the right things and that I should have a plentiful supply.  It was so frustrating. Noah was consistently in the 3% or under weight percentile and at was point was even at .03%.  Not even a full percent.  Our doctor gave us one last chance before he made us supplement with formula, which I really didn’t want to do. 
Through all of my research I had heard of a prescription called Reglan  that had some scary side effect possibilities but also helped women up their milk supply.  In order to get it, you had to have low prolactin, which is a hormone that causes your body to make milk.  Well, I called my doctor and asked her to order me a blood test for prolactin (among a few other things, like thyroid, that can cause low milk supply).

When the results came back I wasn’t surprised.  Most pregnant or lactating women have prolactin levels in the high 100’s to 200’s.  Mine was at 13.  13!  I had found the cause of my low supply! Knowing that the Reglan prescription should help me, I requested a prescription from my Doctor.  Turns out, she didn’t know much about it though, so she denied it and just told me to pump more (since I didn’t talk to her I couldn’t explain all of the things I had already tried and thought I was just taking an easy route).  I had to call back and fight for myself. I spoke with a nurse at length and told her everything I had tried and the research I had done on the pill.   She talked to the Doctor again, who approved it this time!
I was given a dose of 10 days.  As I mentioned before, the side effects of Reglan can be scary. It can cause severe depression.  Because I didn’t have any hormonal issues during or after pregnancy, I was hoping I’d be ok.  I asked C to watch me very closely to make sure I wasn’t having any problems with it that I couldn’t pick up on myself. Thankfully, I had no problems at all.  In fact, I had just the effect I wanted. More milk! So much more milk! My doctor agreed after I had no issues to continue my prescription, which I’ve continued to take for 5 months now.

I am so proud of myself that I fought for that prescription too.   I had run out of options and out of people that thought they could help me.  I did a ton of research on my own and requested my own blood testing, learned how to read my own results and asked for a specific prescription.  I honestly think I taught my Doctor about it too!
Since going back to work when Noah was a little less than three months old, I have had to pump at work too.  I had to fight for a space to pump (showing my office the law that they have to provide a space for you that isn’t a bathroom) and 3 times a day take time out of my job to pump milk.  At about 10 months old, I dropped to 2 sessions a day and at around 11 months old I dropped to only one pumping session a day.  I am currently working on dropping all pumping sessions during the day and just feeding him when we are together.

I hate pumping.  Always have. It’s funny though, I have looked forward to the day I wouldn’t have to pump anymore, but now that it’s here, I just can’t stop it.  I know what an amazing benefit the milk I provide is to my child, it feels selfish to stop giving him that. I’m having a hard time with it. I NEVER thought I would feel that way! I'm going to stop though....soon. Really. I keep telling myself that.

Ok so there it is, my entire breastfeeding story.  I know, I know, it is soooooo long. I just had to get it all written out, for me. If you made it to the end though, congrats! I hope someday I can encourage someone that is struggling to keep going.  I never thought I would make it to a year and I am so proud of myself for pushing through to my goal….and beyond!  Through it all I have learned that every relationship and breastfeeding journey looks different and they aren’t all easy peasy. I also learned that breastfeeding is an amazing thing and whether you do it for 2 days or 2 years, you are still giving your child an amazing benefit!
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