Category Archives: Wellness

The Breastfeeding Posts: Reflections on Self-Judgement and Forgiveness

The most difficult part of writing about my breastfeeding experiences was silencing my defensiveness and self-judgement about my first go-around. How could someone like me, who has been studying and has been an active member of the “women and children” health community in some way since I was 19 years old be so blindsided, so unprepared, so sideswiped? I mean, I read all the motherfucking books. I have a master’s degree. Shouldn’t I have known better?

Maybe. But I didn’t. I had no experience. I had no new-mom friends to be like “Hey! Sometimes things go wrong.”

I had to revise these posts many times to remove defensiveness about my choices. Who was I defending myself against? Nobody but myself, and my own sanctimonious self-talk about formula, and bonding, and how I “wasn’t mom enough.” What that voice really covers up is a deep sadness about the days, weeks, months of my life I spent enshrouded under the shadow of post-partum depression. Time with my first child I will never, ever get back. A time I’ve tried to write about many times and I’m still not ready to reference as more than an aside.

I am still working on forgiving myself. I’ll get there.

My tiny formula-fed preemie is three now, and is healthy, smart, huge, and beautiful (of course I think so. I am her mother.) A recent study comparing siblings where one was breast fed and one was formula fed has found that the home environment appears to be a stronger indicator of child health and intelligence than infant feeding methods. A free full-text link to the study itself isn’t available that I can find, but for those of you motivated to access the study the abstract and citation is here.

It has helped with my forgiveness process.

Breastfeeding is hard, even when, like with my second baby, the “mechanics” come together easily. It’s a sometimes crushing responsibility to be another person’s food source. It’s exhausting. It’s emotionally taxing. If I had had to go back to work full-time, if my baby had food allergies or reflux, if, despite my planning, I relapsed into depression and anxiety…If I had decided that disliking breastfeeding was affecting my ability to care for my baby. Any of these would have brought about a different ending. I was truly privileged to have the opportunity and the support to organize my life this past year around my children and their needs. Too many moms never have that chance.

Also thank you. To all of you who reached out to me, for being encouraging, supportive, loving. You rule.

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Breastfeeding Part 4: Second Chances and Success

When my first daughter was 18 months old, I became pregnant with my second child. Armed with much more information about maternal mental health, and the confidence about taking care of children that only comes with experience, I readied myself for welcoming my second baby girl. I was determined to have a different experience, and assembled a team to care for my physical and mental health.

Mothers who have had one premature baby where, like in my case, prematurity is due to unknown causes, have a 25% chance of having another premature birth. Or, as my awesome OB/GYN pointed out, a 75% chance of having a full-term baby.

Knowing what I had faced before, I made plans for feeding my baby. My extremely wonderful neighbor works in an OB/GYN office and offered me two cases of formula samples, which I gratefully accepted. The place I took childbirth classes for my first child had finished its transmogrification and re-opened, offering a list of resources for obtaining pasteurized breast milk from milk banks if I wasn’t able to supply my own. My NICU had begun to offer donor breast milk for preemies. These alternative sources of breast-milk were unknown to me when I stopped nursing my first daughter. Mothers who were willing to donate their own breast milk “mom to mom,” was also an option we discussed, but didn’t agree upon as a first-choice option for our family.

After a pre-term labor scare at 32 weeks, my second daughter arrived at 37 weeks on the dot. She was placed on my chest, at which point she rooted around, found my nipple, and immediately latched on and began to gulp. Thus began one of the easiest, most uneventful nursing relationships one can hope for with a baby. My baby latched, nursed, and gained. She didn’t even lose weight in between birth and out discharge from the hospital! After my previous journey, I can only describe this feeling as magical, a miracle, and a complete gift.

My own breastfeeding goals were modest. Every day I said to myself, “I am going to nurse today, and maybe tomorrow.” This time around I again had dysmorphic milk ejection reflex, but as I did not also have post-partum depression and anxiety, I was able to breathe through the passing feelings of panic. Around 3 months the feelings passed entirely. I also had painful let-down, where I felt shooting pains at the beginning of each feeding in each breast. Again, around 3 months, this too passed.

My biggest hurdle came from my need to pump. Until the time came to pump for my new baby, I didn’t realize I had pump-related trauma associations from the NICU. I was unable to turn the pump on, to hear the motor. I began slowly, first by hand pumping, then by doing short stints, then longer with my electric pump. I took a pumping workshop at the childbirth education center. I worked through it in therapy. I still hate it, but I’m able to pump successfully.

Along with my pregnancy support team, I was also able to return to work part-time as opposed to full-time. This is a luxury I did not have after my first child. In charge of my own schedule, I was able to nurse, go to work, come back to my baby, nurse, and return to work. I brought my baby everywhere with me, including work meetings and trainings.

My baby will be one in two and half weeks (what?!?) and we are still nursing. She rejected a bottle at 3 months and with the support of my family, and the flexibility of my workplace, I’ve never had to push the issue. When she wants to nurse, she smacks my chest with her hand, as if knocking on a door. Her big sister is also an advocate for her, yelling, “Mamma! She needs the boob!” Her sister and I are currently teaching her the sign for “milk.” Since she still nearly always rejects breast milk from any container other than the breast, when I’m away and I pump, I give the breast milk I pump to my oldest mixed in with her cows milk. I figure it’s never too late for some of Mamma’s milk.

Tomorrow: some wrap-up reflections.

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Breastfeeding Part 3: PTSD, PPD, Panic, and the End of Nursing

I honestly don’t remember what day in the hospital it was, but somewhere around Day of Life 4, as the doctors call it, things started to crumble quickly for me.

My baby was continuing in the NICU because she had what is called “apnea of prematurity.” Basically, she would randomly stop breathing, mostly while in a deep sleep, and would have to be picked up and patted awake, after which she was fine again.

Even after I started nursing my daughter, she got one bottle with vitamins in it each day. This was to make sure she drank it.

I was giving her this bottle when suddenly, she went limp in my arms. The NICU nurse with me grabbed her and flipped her over and patted her back until she started breathing again. While I was feeding her, she forgot to suck, swallow, breathe.

Sometimes, though, I’m not sure I’ve ever started breathing again from that moment.

Simultaneously with this, my milk came in. At each pumping and each feeding, I started to feel like I was having a panic attack with each let down. I know now that this is actually a “thing,” called dysphoric milk ejection reflex. However, as I was exhausted, and guilty, and overall in a bad space, I didn’t mention it to anyone.

Besides, breast is best, right? How could something so “natural” do this?

I kept on trucking, and after ten days in the NICU, we were sent home.

Once home, anxiety started to take over all my days and nights. I started having panic attacks multiple times per day, and combined with the bad feelings I got with each milk letdown, I was afraid to be alone with my baby. One of the few non-negotiables of breastfeeding is that you have to eat and drink to make milk. I was so anxious I could barely eat, and my supply was not that great. My baby was constantly nursing for hours at a time, day and night.

Finally, after a day where I slept for 20 minutes in 24 hours, I broke down and finally started the process of getting help. That is another story for another time, but that resulted in my needing medication, first to sleep, then to get the panic attacks under control, and finally, long term to treat the anxiety. I had post-partum depression and anxiety, along with PTSD from my premature birth and my baby stopping breathing in my arms. I was not in good shape.

No doctor I met with could inform me about medication transmission in my breast milk. I was exhausted and scared. And so, when my baby was three weeks old, I stopped breastfeeding her.

The guilt that I felt at what I perceived to be yet another way I was failing as a mom was incredible. Looking back, it was the best decision I could have made with the supports and information I had available at the time.

But it didn’t feel that way.

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NyQuil, Neti Pots, and Natural Healing Part 2- Internet based experiments

For the record, my right ear is completely plugged. It has been for DAYS now. I am currently fighting the urge to put a sharp object into it and pop it.

By the way, I know this would be a bad idea.

Also by the way-I did go to the doctor and get antibiotics. Not because they are for every illness, but because when you have a fever for four days and a sinus infection, they are recommended.

But back to the ear.

I had to get some relief from this fluid. So I googled, “drain ear fluid”.

I found Massage By Heather.

Heather details a method called “lymphatic drain massage” that is a series of light touches to coax your ear fluid down the paths it should be draining down. She does the series of massage positions in video. It’s easy to follow.

I figured I had nothing to lose, so I tried it.

It definitely helps! I would say it reduced my ear pressure by 30%. I could also feel the ear fluid trickling down my neck and into my throat (gross, but that is how drainage works).

This is basically my approach to natural healing and self-directed remedies. I research. I ask myself, can I do this? If it doesn’t work, is no change in my condition the worst possible result? If the answers are “yes”, I try it.

Since the Massage by Heather experiment, my friend, an actual massage therapist, let me know that it really is safe to do this type of massage on yourself. I found that reassuring-because I’m about to do it again.

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