Crying over spilled milk

At the beginning of the week, I found myself in room 1 of the lactation clinic. Again. The nurses there started calling me a frequent flyer several visits ago. The other babies in the waiting area are teeny; they “graduate” and move on while Edie, at almost 7 weeks, and I still find ourselves in the remedial class.

Each time I go to the clinic, I hope that time will do the trick, that Edith and I will finally figure out how to successfully nurse. Every article and listserv and web site I’ve trolled say that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt if you “do it right.” By that standard, we’re definitely doing a lot of things wrong.

More than two weeks after Edie’s tongue tie was treated, I still hurt every time she ate. I’ve hit so many walls when I simply want to give up yet somehow I continue. Edith is the reason I’m doing this: I want to give her the best food possible, and I want to be the one to give it to her. I swear she must know when I’ve hit my breaking point. After a miserable night with no sleep, she showers me with smiles and gurgles that make me vow to do whatever it takes to make her happy.

How could I not want to give her everything?
How could I not want to give her everything?

I thought the same thing when I was preparing for Edie’s arrival: I would do anything to ensure her healthy birth. Eric and I decided that would include having our baby without medication. The first part of labor was a breeze: Eric, my sister Amy and I took Finn on a long walk in the park. Once I got to the hospital, though, everything became much more serious. I vomited through much of it. None of the positions that we learned in birthing class relieved the pain. My labor was progressing surprisingly quickly for a first-time mom, my midwife said, but the contractions came one after the other with no relief in between. What’s more, I later realized, I was having back labor.

Finally, I looked at Eric and said “Durian,” our code word that meant that I really did want help and he shouldn’t try to dissuade me or tell me I could do without. So at 9 1/2 centimeters dilation, I got an epidural. It kicked in a few contractions later and I was ready to marry the anesthesiologist.

I rested for 45 minutes then the nurse next checked our progress. “I see hair!” she said. The epidural allowed my body to relax and dilate the final half-centimeter. What’s more, I finally fully effaced, and Peeper turned so she was no longer facing up—the cause of the back labor. 48 minutes of pushing later. I held our beautiful daughter.

“Giving up” and getting an epidural, which was nowhere in our birth wishes, turned out to be the best decision for Edie’s birth. I have no regrets about it.

Would throwing in the nursing towel be the same, or would I regret it?

I’ve had moments in the last few days that were absolutely miserable. Eric had to stand by helpless as I doubled over sobbing, clutching my middle, because I hurt too bad to feed our daughter. He had to choose between soothing Edith and consoling his wife. No one should be faced with that decision.

Another moment I fell apart because the cap to a bottle of my pumped milk wasn’t screwed on tight enough and it spilled when I tested its temperature on my wrist. I despaired over the hard work it had taken to get that milk and cried over its loss. I also felt terrible that I’d become so desperate that losing a half-ounce of milk could reduce me to a blubbering mess.

Then there were the times when I heard Edie start to rouse from sleep and an ugly part of me didn’t want her to wake up. I dreaded having to suffer through 20 minutes of a feeding. Worse than that pain was acknowledging what I’d been reduced to: someone who hoped her baby would just continue to sleep. That was not the kind of mother I want to be.

I haven’t given up completely yet. I’m pumping from the more painful side, which the midwife told me yesterday (at my eighth lactation visit, by my count) is infected and clogged to boot. I’m hoping the antibiotics and rest will allow me to heal enough that I can continue nursing.

If not, we’ll have to reassess and move forward on a plan B. Even more difficult will be loving myself as an imperfect mom who did what she could but reached her breaking point.

0 thoughts on “Crying over spilled milk

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  • December 13, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    It’s been four years since I was here, but it still aches to read. Even seeing this is four months old and reading your more recent posts.

    There really is so much more to motherhood than breastfeeding. I didn’t see it my first few months as a mother, but, man. It got a heck of a lot easier after I parted ways with breastfeeding forums.

    • December 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      Thanks Deborah. I looked around at BFing forums for a little while hoping to find advice that would help – but I found, instead, that it wouldn’t hurt if I was “doing it right.” Argh! Thankfully BFing is a lot easier now than it was then, even though we still struggle sometimes. (The latest challenge is biting. Ouch.)

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  • September 24, 2014 at 8:37 am

    These stories of struggles with breastfeeding are heartrending and vivid. The pain– literal and figurative– as we work our way through early motherhood is an exquisite manner of suffering. We were blessed to be successful breastfeeding but my daughter, my husband and I all endured weeks of emotional anguish over her refusal to take a bottle at the time I was expected to return to full-time work. I had to take her with me, and my stay-at-home-dad husband was alone. That was an immensely difficult time, but nothing compared to the stories you tell. Congratulations on your hard-earned success.

    • September 24, 2014 at 10:17 am

      If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year-ish of motherhood, it’s that every family faces some obstacle, difficulty, or heartbreaking challenge. For some, it’s breastfeeding or getting a baby to take a bottle; for others, it might be colic, illness or a refusal to sleep. This new role as a mother has certainly expanded my compassion for my fellow parents. We all work so hard!

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