Friday, March 1, 2013

Booby Prize: Breastfeeding Can Be a Pain

A Brief Introduction ...
Eighteen months ago, I joined an ancient, time-honored, and exhausted clan. I became a parent. And not just any parent. I became a parent to twins, a pair of beautiful boys. I wasn't naive. I certainly knew my life would never be the same and that no book or site could possibly prepare me for what was to come, but that didn't stop me from buying a couple of books about pregnancy and my babies' first year, reading countless sites devoted to various parenting minutia and consulting as many friends and family members with kids as possible. Don't get me wrong, many of those sources were rich with helpful tidbits. But I've realized that my research contained some significant gaps, particularly when it came to some of the um, let's say less glamorous aspects of parenting. Hence, this blog. I come from a long line of very proudly blunt and open individuals and hope that my candor might help you in your preparations, or at least make you laugh in camaraderie. These entries are in no particular order in terms of timing or importance, just what happens to strike my memory strongest on a particular day.

Booby Prize: Breastfeeding Can Be a Pain

OK, before anyone gets offended or starts spouting statistics, let me begin with a brief disclaimer. Breastfeeding is absolutely the ideal way to provide nutrients and antibodies. (Hell, I pumped for eight months ... EIGHT MONTHS! ... just to ensure those benefits for my boys.) And for many, it's an intense bonding experience. This post is not intended to be an affront to any mom out there who is ready, willing and able to breastfeed. To those moms, power to you.

Rather, this post is intended to channel a little Sean Maguire/Robin Williams to those moms out there for whom breastfeeding proved to be an incredibly frustrating, painful and, in some cases, impossible experience. To them I say, "It's not your fault." (To those moms younger than 30, you may need to Google that reference.)

Twins or not, I was determined to breastfeed. I read the books. I bought my oversized, ridiculously expensive strap-on breastfeeding pillow, complete with storage for your electronics or other small items in the event that you grow a third limb to hold them. My husband and I attended the breastfeeding class at St. Francis. I saw all the videos that showed how easy it was. Just squeeze the boob this way, pop your kid on this way, and poof, perfect latch, easy feeding and no pain. Got it. No problem. Besides, this is all nature anyway, right? I mean, humans have been doing this for eons.

Riiiiiiiiight. Turns out, breastfeeding may be natural, but it's really freaking hard, or at least it was for me. And if you're a driven, type A perfectionist, it can make you feel like the biggest failure in parentland.

First, my milk took five days to come in, which may not sound like a lot to some, but to two very hungry little boys, especially one who had apparently been downing Mommy nutrients like it was his job, it was. One of my twins was 9 lbs., 5 oz. No, seriously, this is not a typo. The doctor said his umbilical cord looked like a massive straw. The doctors had said the boys would probably sleep most of the first 24 hours and not look to be fed much. Yeah, or Big Boy would look to be fed non-stop and wonder why his trusty straw had been replaced this stupid round thing that was so hard to get a grip on and gave so little for so much effort. So rather than sleep, he screamed.

Second, latching was a bitch. I remember seeing this video that talked about how all I needed to do was go topless, let him crawl around on my chest, and voila, he'd attach himself. He could sniff the good stuff out like a hunting dog. (Insert sarcastic snort here.) Neither Big Boy nor I could seem to figure out how to get him to latch without a professional. Dimples meanwhile came to be known as Sharkie, as he would frantically attack my breast with gums that seemed to clamp like a vise. And yet, for all that fervor, minutes later, he'd be asleep before taking more than a few sips.

And it didn't get much better once we left the hospital. We should've gotten a stamp card for the lactation consultant. Five consultations and the next one's free. With the lactation consultant there to help, we could eventually make it work. Once home, it was a different story, one that typically ended up with me and the boys crying in frustration, and me wracked with guilt, first because I couldn't give them what they needed and second because I would get so frustrated with them and myself at our failures. It was hard for me to accept that this wasn't working. I have always been one that believed that to accomplish what I wanted, I just needed to try hard enough. Except in this case, that tenacity is actually counterproductive. (On a side note, a shout out to our lactation consultant. She was AMAZING! So patient. So positive. So reassuring. She truly helped keep me sane.)

Eventually, we did get better. My lactation consultant helped me find the right boob grip. For all the struggling breastfeeders out there, I'm telling you, it's all about the hamburger grip, especially if you have somewhat non-perky nips, which apparently I do, and the booby massage. Squeeze the boob as you would a hamburger, get your babe to take a good bite of the burger, and massage that milk right out. (Any guys still reading right now are both thanking god they're not women and cursing themselves for still reading. I warn you boys, serious TMI upcoming.)

Turns out, the latching issue, though, was just the beginning. Not surprisingly, as a mom of twins, I quickly became an overproducer. Turned out, I also had a letdown that was like a powerwasher on steroids. And so just as the boys got adept at latching on, I drowned them.

The poor things became unwitting victims in a lactation horror film. The camera pans across the room. A young mother cradles her small infant, coaxing him to nestle in. Zoom in aaaaaand letdown. The infant's eyes spring open with fear. He throws his head back, choking and gasping. He desperately tries to avoid the milky geyser that's relentlessly dousing his face. The mother searches for something, anything to quell the milky onslaught. End scene.

I searched for an answer. Express a little milk beforehand. Lay on your back. Keep the baby's head as elevated as possible. Yeah, didn't matter. Gravity could only take the edge off, and amazingly, my fourth letdown was just as powerful as the first. Poor Big Boy actually got to the point that he would cringe if I tried to put him near my boobs, especially my roboboob. (My right boob was like a machine when it came to production.)

To add to the fun, I found that I started having intense pain during and after breastfeeding, shooting pain that would extend out to my back and shoulders. I also noticed that my nipples would alternate between Robert Pattinson pale and Barney purple. Another call to the lactation consultant, and welcome to the world of vasospasms. Turns out some lucky people don't have the best boob circulation. When the boys would breastfeed, they would basically ended up cutting off blood flow to my boobs, and it would take a good 20 minutes or so before it would come back. In the meantime, it would go in and out. Pale, no blood flow. Purple, blood flow.

Just to really make the beginning of my experience memorable, though, I ended up with bout 1 of mastitis. Ladies, if I can give you one piece of advice, it's invest in a very large tube of nipple cream and keep some bacitracin and hydrocortisone on hand for good measure. I'm sure most moms who've at least attempted to breastfeed have ended up with nipples that resemble the San Adreas Fault at some point. Well, beware. Not only are those pesky crevices painful, they're also a perfect entryway for bacteria.

I wondered why my left breast suddenly seemed to be doing its best Strawberry Shortcake impression while serving as its own hot compress. And really, a fever and the flu during Indian Summer?  No flu. Just mastitis, which can make you feel as if you have the flu and as if your breast just participated in a very unsuccessful bid for a Greco-Roman wrestling title.

And so, I finally came to realize the inevitable truth of my situation. For all my dedication, for all my good intentions, for all my efforts, it was just not going to work. I was relieved at my realization but also disappointed. I questioned myself. Was I giving in too quickly? Why didn't it work for me?

I opted instead to pump as much as I could and supplement where needed with formula. I was lucky. My boobs didn't just overproduce, they hyperproduced. I looked up online to see what the average woman typically pumps in a 15-minute session: 1-3 ounces. I could pump that in barely a minute, sometimes less. At the height of my pumping, I could fill two 8-oz bottles to the tip top, meaning sometimes more than 20 oz of milk. Insane! (Another side note, for all of you who pump, a hands-free bustier is a must!)

Granted, this did make weaning pretty interesting. Enter mastitis bout 2. Note to self, it's not a good idea to really push yourself to see how long you can go and how much pain and discomfort you can tolerate if you're producing that much milk. Big mistake. Big. Huge. (Yet another side note, refrigerated cabbage leaves on the boobs really do help and are actually pretty soothing.)

Almost a year later, and my boys are healthy and happy, and we've bonded in so many other ways. The takeaway here is simple. If it doesn't work, it's OK.

For some, breastfeeding might come easily. For others, it will be a struggle of days, weeks, sometimes months. And for others, it's just an impossibility. It doesn't make you any less of a mom or doom your child to nutritional deficiencies and a lifetime of allergies and immunological struggles.

Like so many other things, it just is what it is.

As the serenity prayer so aptly encourages, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

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