Right after my baby, Naomi, was born, I embarked on a maddening hunt for what was going wrong, so I could breastfeed her.
When Naomi nursed, she sucked and sucked, but her lips didn’t seem to pucker right. When she was done, I felt shooting pains and my nipples turned white. Naomi was still super-fussy like she was hungry.
I went to the lactation consultant at my hospital and she assured me that our latch was fine. But she told me I had thrush.
We raced to my OB, before she closed for the weekend, and she gave me a prescription—which I was not eager to take, while nursing. The pediatrician was closed until Monday, so we couldn’t get a prescription for Naomi.
I didn’t think I had thrush, though. We went to get a second opinion and the doctor explained that my white nipples were caused by an autoimmune disorder called Reynaud’s syndrome, which affects circulation.
I had no family history of autoimmune disease though or other symptoms, and I wasn’t eager to take the medicine she suggested, either. So I asked for bloodwork. Everything came back fine.
I started seeing another lactation consultant that came directly to our house.
A couple days later, my breast became hard and sore—a plugged duct. I tried soaking and massaging it, but after four days it turned into mastitis. It was awful. I had to take an antibiotic, too, which I really didn’t want to do while nursing.
Right after the plugged duct got better, a milk blister formed on my left nipple. My lactation consultant didn’t suggest soaking it in olive oil or any other treatments.
That’s when my supply started to drop.
The lactation consultant suggested supplementing with breastmilk from my freezer stash. So I did. Every time I gave her milk, I pumped, so I’d keep my milk supply.
The milk blister got bigger and angrier. I saw a breast specialist, who recommended surgery to treat it.
I didn’t want my milk to be contaminated, so I insisted on no anesthesia. I agreed to a topical anesthetic that wouldn’t enter my bloodstream or my milk. The pain was like having a baby all over.
The surgery left me with stitches in my nipple and no feeling on that side.
At this point, I’d seen four lactation professionals for a total of twenty-four visits. I couldn’t nurse anymore.
So, I became a prisoner to pumping. I had my own little dungeon—a small, dark room, where I sat alone for eight thirty-minute sessions each day (which were more like an hour after set up and cleaning the pump parts). That was all I did for weeks.
It was a dark time.
Naomi still couldn’t get her lips around the bottle nipple, and the milk just spilled out when I fed her. I asked her pediatrician about lip tie, but he didn’t seem too concerned.
I just knew in my gut though that it was a real problem. It made perfect sense—my nipples were turning white, because she was sucking so hard that it was cutting off the circulation. And, she couldn’t get her lips around the bottle, because a piece of skin was holding her lip to her gums.
We found a physician who specialized in lip tie, who worked a couple of hours north of us and we made an appointment.
“How would you grade her lip tie,” I asked her, having completed hours of online research, “from one to four, since I believe that’s how they’re graded?”
“Oh,” the physician answered lifting Naomi’s lip, and giving a little gasp, “four-and-a-half.”
The specialist released the lip tie using a laser. Naomi had to wear goggles, and we had to hold her down. If we hadn’t done it, though, she probably would have had problems eating solid foods and speaking.
I tried putting her back on my breast after that, but after two months on the bottle, there was no way. So I kept pumping, in that dark room, for four hours each day.
After about three months, I told my OB about the pumping, and I just burst into tears.
My OB wanted to put me on Zoloft. I just really didn’t think this was postpartum depression or something out of my control.
“OK”, said my OB, “But then you should really think about stopping all this pumping.”
I couldn’t stop though. I was beyond obsessed. I had charts. I took my pump with me to restaurants. I never missed a pump.
Finally, one day I caught myself moving plans with friends, so I wouldn’t miss a pump. I decided this was ridiculous and it was time to stop.
After that, the clouds parted. I could spend time with Naomi. I felt even closer to my fiancé who has been such an amazing partner through all of this. I have new mom friends and I’ve taken up photography as a hobby. I love this beautiful, smiley, easygoing baby. I love motherhood and I feel fulfilled.
There are some things I still really wrestle with—I’m still so sad I couldn’t get her all of the benefits of breastfeeding. I still cry, today, when I talk about it. There was one a social media post a couple weeks ago, saying breastfed babies have higher IQs. I just don’t know if what I did was enough. Also, I still won’t mix formula in public. I don’t want people looking at me, thinking I don’t love my daughter enough to breastfeed. And, I’m so sad that we didn’t get that extra special bonding that you hear about with breastfeeding.
But, I think it worked out how it was supposed to. I think it worked out how God wanted it to.
I’ll tell you what though—If I could go back and redo it, I would do it all again. I might try to be gentler on myself. But I think I’d still put myself through all of it.
I’d do it, for her.
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