Tag Archives: breastfeeding after an operation

The end of my breastfeeding journey

photo (9)It is with some sadness, but some peace that I write this.

I struggled a lot with milk supply. Not with breastfeeding – I was one of the lucky few to whom the act came fairly easily. Or, I should say that I am one of the lucky few who had great lactation consultants straight away, a great baby with a natural latch, and an iPad with Netflix to make the whole thing more enjoyable ūüôā But, my body did not have a great supply. Why? In my sadder moments I have blamed the separation after birth, the nights in ICU, the severe postpartum anemia, the extensive surgery on my breast (left side) at 22. In my guiltier moments I have blamed returning to work so quickly, going to a conference at ~5 weeks postpartum, and not eating enough. I hope, deep down, it wasn’t¬†ultimately¬†any of these things, and just one of those things that was not meant to be.

I have accepted now that I really didn’t go down without a fight. In fact: I didn’t so much go down, as willingly jump off the ship in the end. When I last¬†wrote about this, ¬†I was in the throes of upping my supply with various tricks. Since that post, many internet surges, many forum chats and many lactation consultant visits actually got me to match my son’s needs. It required two things:

*A large bottle of V8 fusion a day

*Power pumping.

Power pumping, to the blissfully unenlightened, is pumping for 20¬†minutes¬† then having 10 minutes on, and 10 minutes off for a full hour. The idea is to teach your body to produce more. You do it for a couple of times a day, for a period of time, and then you wean yourself off it. Hopefully your body will have learned to produce more. Unfortunately, my body never ‘learned’. It would¬†respond¬†to power pumping with increased production (I got to, and beyond, my hallowed 30 oz a day), but as soon as I stopped, my supply would sink again. Ultimately, power pumping for each and every pump, 7 times a day, plus the shorter pump at night, meant I was pumping for a whopping 6-6.5 hours a day.

I did it for 3 weeks.

Seriously.

And it was every day – weekends included. Sam got so used to the speed of a bottle, he would not take the breast.

photo (2)

I told myself that breastfeeding takes at least that long per day, so I had to suck it up. There was no way I was not doing something for my son, which other mothers were doing all the time. Even if I worked, which some people see as a free pass out of such¬†things¬† I was not letting my son miss out because I had to work. I couldn’t go less, because if I dropped one session (even the night session) I lost not only the oz from that session, but all the others went¬†down¬†dramatically.

Then I had surgery (another blow to supply, by the way). I still fought to keep it up. I think the ultimate symbol of my dedication to me will always be coming around from the general anesthetic in the recovery room, and noticing the time on my monitor. The operation had been supposed to take under an hour, but the infection was deep, and it took over an hour. Upon realizing this, 3 minutes out of general¬†anesthesia¬† all I could say was “Please get me a breast pump. Please find me a breast pump, I have to express milk”. My body was so broken at this stage (from the op, not the pumping), that nothing came out. But I lay and did it for 20 minutes, and then asked the pump to be brought to my second recovery room.

The next day, I was¬†feeling¬†uber sorry for myself, and put myself on strict bed rest. I took Sam, and told Wes to have a day for himself. I couldn’t give Sam my milk due to the effects of the surgery drugs, so I just didn’t pump as much. In fact, I ended up only pumping three times that day: morning, lunch and night.

photo (5)

Dear God, it opened a world to me. A world in which my contribution to mothering did not consist of just¬†sitting¬†in another room,¬†either¬†earning money or producing milk (or, frequently, both) but actually looking after my son’s mental, and other¬†physical¬†needs. I cannot hold Sam close when I am pumping; in fact, I can barely hold him at all. I can barely play with him – just sit him on a mat and sing to him, or wave things at him. I spent a whole day with Sam in and out of my arms freely. It was the best day ever. I went to bed elated and happy. I thought it was just because I finally had time for Sam, but as I was giving him him Dream Feed, I realized it was because I didn’t have 6 1/2 hours that day where I could not be with him. And then just short 1 hour bursts of a day where yes, I could be with him, but it was also my only other chance to get other things done, like showering, cooking, shopping.

photo (6)

With that realization I wept. I cried harder than I have cried in a very, very long time. I cried for everything I have missed out on. For every bedtime since he was 6 weeks where I have sat across the hall watching him refuse to settle with his Dad, while I pumped. For every breakfast I have missed out on. For every play session where when he has cried, I have had to call Wes until I had finished pumping. I cried for all the smiles I had missed, all the hugs I had given up.

Then I went to bed and cried some more.

Eventually I emailed two dear friends and asked what to do.

They helped me a lot. Through tender exchanges with them I realized several things:

*Making it to 3.5 month breastfeeding, with just a few bottles of formula, was not a ‘failure’. It was still a gift to my son, and an¬†achievement.

*Stopping breastfeeding was not done for selfish reasons. Yes, there are advantages to me, but I am doing it to be there for my son. They made me see that Sam needs me physically, as well as more materially. That cuddles and kisses may be more valuable to him than anything else.

*There are other benefits that Sam will get, if I stop. My marriage will be a lot better when I can give Wes some breaks, when I can spend an evening with him without the pump, when I am just up for 30 mins feeding Sam at night, not 30 mins feeding + 40 mins pumping (I always kept the 3 am pump short).

*That, life is beautiful.

 Philippians 4:4-7:
 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
photo (1)

So. With some peace, but a heavy heart I decided to give up breastfeeding. I don‚Äôt think it is an¬†understatement¬†to say that mourn its loss. I do¬†grieve¬†for losing that experience for Sam. But, already, I was able to take Sam for a whole day: no¬†relief¬†needed. I have put him to bed every night. And I got off what a friend who went¬†though¬†a similar thing memorably¬†described¬†as ‚Äėthe rollercoaster‚Äô. The high of pumping enough, the fear when you don‚Äôt. That up and down every day.

When I had made that decision, I realized I could pump some without too much disruption. I could get up with Sam, spend time with him, and pump on the way to work. I could pump at lunch, and once, for 20 minutes, when Sam went to bed. My goal is 5 oz a day ‚Äď which Sam can have split into two portions and mixed with his morning and evening feed (yup, my average on this schedule Will probably be a little over 1 oz / pump). I suspect my supply will quickly dwindle to zero, and Sam will get zilch. But, that is better than a Mum who doesn‚Äôt really see her son in a meaningful way.

I am appreciating the benefits: the extra time with Sam, the extra energy for him, the extra ways to express our bond. My head appreciates this as the best solution, but my heart is still heavy

photo (7)

Btw – this was also a total pic spam post. Sorry ’bout that.

Advertisements

A little bit o’ surgery to brighten my day…

blog3

Beh. That’s for when ‘meh’ doesn’t quite cut it. Like for the following story.

About 2 weeks ago I made my nightly 3 am trip to the kitchen to drop off some post-feed expressed milk (<—- pumping at 3 am after being up for breast feeding is the definition of a labor of love I think). I am, as you may expect, not at my sharpest at this particular point of the day. So, when I looked down and saw a little whitehead on my hip, and thought it was an ingrowing hair, when I popped it and it didn’t seem quite ‘right’ you’ll understand why I promptly forgot about it and moved on.

The pesky thing formed a lump. A fairly painful lump, tiz true, but I paid scant more attention to it. Until at a point this week, when I noticed the lump was about the size of a lemon. ‘Hmmmm’, I thought, ‘that’s not good’ and made an appointment with the doctor.

That was Tuesday and the first appointment they could give me was Thursday afternoon, which seemed fine to me.

On Wednesday, I started antibiotics and noticed that the lump had cellulitis (hot, inflamed skin) for a handspan’s width around it, and the pain was enough to bring me to tears. It was also making me limp as the little act of stepping caused vibrations that added to the pain. ‘Hmmmmm’ I thought, ‘very not good’. I called the doctor and asked for an appointment that day, but it wasn’t possible. So, I carried on my work day and tried my best to ignore it. The drive home was horrendous. The seatbelt was placed right on the lump and I entered the house crying my eyes out. Wes looked after me that night, and 1/3 a bottle of wine later I managed to get some sleep (I pumped FIRST, people).

Now that I write it out, it seems crazy-bad. But at the time of going to doctors on Thursday, I was still concerned they would think I was being a hypocondriac, roll their eyes and reluctantly write me a prescription for antibiotics (I think this is a hangover from my days in the hands of the skeptical NHS). It was not the case. As soon as the nurse saw it she said “Oh, that is bad, bad, bad” and went and got Dr. Goodpastor.

I actually had several things to tell Dr. Goodpastor about, but as soon as she saw the lump, any mention of my sciatica and potential yeast (er… sorry…) went out of her head. She gently looked at it, while I yelled in agony. She was super concerned with how deep into my flesh it was, and how close to my hip bone. She was pretty sure it was MRSA and although she mentioned antibiotics, she felt it needed to be opened to drain. The problem was that it was so deep that she couldn’t get the local anesthetic in to really numb it. She was reluctant, but to mess with it, but with my encouragment (I REALLY wanted relief) a very sympathetic Dr. Goodpastor got lidocaine into the top layer (no stranger to pain, I swear that was as painful as anything that happened with the birth of Sam), while I yelled and sweated so much the bed was drenched. But, it didn’t numb the darn thing. As she lightly cut the top with a scalpel, all the inflamed bottom layers felt like someone was holding a burning cigarette relentlessly to my skin.

I figured she would send me home with anti biotics and try again later, but as she looked at it closely she noticed grey, purple and black patches and said ‘I am sending you to a surgeon’.

I was dumbfounded. I needed several rounds of ‘really?’ and ‘yes’ before it sunk in. The surgeon was closed right then (more rounds of ‘really? It is that urgent?’ and ‘yes’) and Dr Goodpastor was tempted to send me to ER. I persuaded her to give me one more night to see if the super antibiotics and anti inflammatories would work, so she booked me in for 10 the next day.

The saddest part of the whole thing was that I can’t breastfeed for a whole 2 weeks ūüė¶ The drugs are not good for Sam. It’s not so much the formula (although with MRSA around, I really would like Sam to be getting breast milk), but it is that 4-7 am stretch where Sam and I curl up together and he feeds from me on and off, which is so special to me. It is my absolute favorite time, and I know Sam will find it a hard adjustment losing that, and I hate that for him. He always wakes me with the biggest smile and I hate that we’ll miss it for a while. Plus, I HATE that to keep my supply up, I’ll have to pump and dump for a while. Pumping is the worst, but it keeps me going as it allows me to do those night feeds. Boo to all that wasted effort!

So sad to pump and dump this. SO SAD.

So sad to pump and dump this. SO SAD.

Sad to say that one very painful night later, it all looked just the same in the morning. So, off to Dr. Appel, a surgeon, I went. When he saw it, he too pulled a face and said that basically, the infection was drilling down and down (not working its way up and out) and killing tissue on the way, so that no antibiotics could reach it. Gross. He had to remove the infection and the dead fat all around it. Double gross.

On the plus side, he fast tracked me to St. Luke’s Hospital, where I immediately had a minor surgery (just over an hour) that went well. I did have a minor freak out about the procedure – not because I didn’t recognize that this was the most minor of operations, but because everything spiraled so crazily from a routine induction with Sam, the memory still haunts me a bit. I remember wanting to fight the anesthetic because they didn’t know if I would wake up, and that time (a split second really) thinking about Sam being left without a Mum, and how I wouldn’t know he had been, or see him, or be able to help him, and that deep sadness it made me feel remains with me. So, I wasn’t best pleased for a general. But, on the plus side, I think I am now over my fear of hospitals and procedures because this one went so well! I have been reminded that everything can go swimmingly! Although it still hurts, the pain is somehow less upsetting. It’s as if my body knew the last pain was a bad pain, and this is a healing pain, if that makes sense? I don’t fight this pain (although, they did also give me some pretty gnarly drugs, so we’ll see how I feel when those wear off ūüėȬ† ).

Workin' that hospital gown

Workin’ that hospital gown

St. Luke’s were super sweet. They let Sam sit on the gurney with me while I was wheeled from the prep room to the OR waiting room 1 floor up. He loved it! Everyone waved at him, and he was looking around, quite fascinated by the experience. It was like taking a little fairground ride with him. And of course, when they wheeled me to the recovery room, Sam was waiting for me with Wes, and both had huge smiles.

Sam loving his gurney ride

Sam loving his gurney ride

It’s all good now. I am in a fair amount of pain, which I guess you would expect when doctors dig out lumps of you for an hour or so, but in good spirits. I go for a check-up on Monday, and am optimistic that that will be the end of this whole sorry tale!

Thanks to everyone for their kind words and wishes ūüôā