I am a huge advocate of breastfeeding. Not one to judge mothers who choose not to breastfeed, but I can spout out the benefit of it if you ask me to and many of my most treasured memories with my children as babies and toddlers are of me breastfeeding them. My first son was a preemie and I knew nothing of proper latch, good pumps, donor milk, etc as a new mom so we only lasted 6 weeks in our nursing relationship. But my next 5 babies all nursed like pros, each for at least 2 years. It was a joy. Were there issues sometimes like a clogged milk duct or a milk blister? (Blisters on your nipples are NOT , in fact, quite as fun as they might sound.) Sure. Nothing in life is perfect all of the time. But the good outweighed the struggles. My children grew up healthy and strong and happy on my milk. They were easy to soothe. Boo-boos were made to feel better with some nursies. Sadness or sleepiness or general grumps all were helped with mama milk. And the feeling I got at the end of a tough day, cradelling my child in my arm and watching them drift to sleep filled with breast milk, their sleepy little eyes rolled back in euphoria before passing out, a tiny drop of milk glistening on their rose petal lips…..well, nothing makes me feel more at peace and more accomplished.
Lucy was tricky from the get-go. Being my 7th child you would think she would be easy for me. After all, this wasn’t exactly my first rodeo.
But apparently it was going to be different.
She wouldn’t latch. Couldn’t latch. Had a lip tie. Needed a nursing shield. Needed different positioning. I was learning as we went along right with her. I got advice from a friend online. I powered through. And it got better. Gradually. But it got better. And all along the way I shared photo on my Facebook. I began posting a daily nursing photo. Hashtagged it 365 Days Of Lulu Nomnoms. I wanted to show others that breastfeeding was normal and natural. Plus I was so in love with my baby girl and thought breastfeeding was such a lovely part of parenting her and I wanted to share small glimpses into that world with others.
And then December came. With a huge wave of PPD that threatened to drag me under in tidal waves. And I tried to keep on keeping on, but every thing required so much damn effort. I skipped a nursing session here and there, just one or two a day with formula in a bottle instead. Handed her off to a big brother or to Justin to feed her. I was lost in my own darkness. And she sensed it. Of COURSE she did, she was cut from the very fabric of my soul. She sensed it and took space, began to fuss at the breast when it was offered to her, began to squirm away in my arm. One day in mid December she simply quit nursing. I don’t know what day. I don’t know what day because I didn’t realize at the time it was her very last time. You never DO pay much mind to the last time of anything until after the fact. It started with one day she just refused to nurse. Then two whole days, then three……then it became weeks.
I was failing at this. It was exacerbating my depression. In every single other area of my life I saw failures. All I had that I knew I was needed for on this earth was nursing Lucy. It was the ONLY thing I could do that no one else could do. The thin thread that kept me here. And it was gone.
I found myself on a dock one rainy day, staring into the ocean water at the patterns the rain was making and contemplating dark thoughts that were darker than any I had ever had. Stuff that didn’t even scare me to think about despite the fact I always thought it would. About how drowning works. About defeat and uselessness. About how maybe my kids would be better off without me. About how nothing really mattered. About how it had been a really long time since I had heard Gods voce and I tried talking to Him out there that day but all I got back in return was the way the rain sounded on the hood of my sweatshirt over my ears.
I’ve lost people to suicide. I know what it is. What it does. How it works.
But I am infuriatingly stubborn.
I stood there and kept thinking. About my kids. About love. About God. About purpose. Kept thinking until my thoughts started circling back to where they were proper again and in a sane place. I understand now how so many folks get caught up in that point and choose death. Those dark moments wrap you up tight. There is no hope in them. No feasible escape. You cannot see it possibly getting any better. I am lucky. I am wired in such a way that I am no quitter. It was something I got into trouble for as a kid all of the time, my stubborn tendencies. I latch on and start biting and screaming and fighting and I don’t let that fucker go until it’s dead. Tell me I can’t do it. Even if I didn’t INTEND on doing it….well, now that you said I can’t I sure as fuck am going to. I am thankful for this quality in myself because that day at the dock alone I talked myself down off of a ledge so to speak. I made a choice that day. The cards were spread out before me and I had a choice to make. I chose life.
I walked back home in the cold rain. The kids were in the living room. They didn’t know where I had been. I told them I had gone on a walk. Justin went to go get pizza. I went to go take a hot bath and remove the chill from my bones. Life continued. As it will. As it always does. And I was grateful.
Meanwhile, I had been trying for 3 months now. 3 months of daily failing failing failing to nurse my baby daughter. She wouldn’t. I would offer her the breast and she would scream and arch her back and turn her face away from me as if breast milk was awful. I found donors and I was so very deeply grateful for the sacrifice they made, the time they spent to help Lucy stay strong and healthy. But she was drinking another womans milk and refusing mine.I made jokes about how my milk wasn’t gross and she was cheating on me with another mama but I didn’t really think it was funny. It broke my heart. I couldn’t pump.I tried but it wasn’t helping. My supply kept dropping until it was gone. It took me 3 days just to manage to pump a quarter of an ounce. I would pump for a half hour and get maybe 3 drops. I was failing. I bought a new pump. Took fenugreek, took milk thistle, drank 4 cups of mothers milk tea a day drank dark beer, drank malted milk, massaged my breasts, tried hand expression, power pumped, pumped every 3 hours, meditated, tried positive thinking and visualization, kept offering her the breast, drank my greens every morning, ate so much oatmeal I grew sick of it, put flax seeds in everything, drank tons of Gatorade, tons of water, tried brewers yeast, bought ANOTHER pump, this one costing almost $300, found an SNS on ebay for only $30 brand new, ordered domperidone online, NEVER. GAVE. UP.
Because I am obnoxiously stubborn.
And I thought “How stupid am I being about this? When is enough enough? She is 11 months old now. Isn’t it time I quit? No one will understand why this matters so much to me.” Because it did. More than anything. Not only was it the very best for HER, but it was something I had to do for me To prove to myself I COULD, that I am no quitter.
And the SNS arrived. The pump was working better than the old one. The domperidone arrived and was making a true difference. Bit by bit. She still hadn’t latched on but one night she BIT my nipple, and I was ecstatic. Not about my nipple being bitten. That part kinda sucked. But the fact she seemed to understand my goal here was to FEED her from my breast. As if she had some vague recollection of it all. So, Justin ran to the store and bought a nipple shield. And I tried again. What a pain in the ass it all was. Figuring out how to hook up the SNS and fill it with donor milk, get her positioned , keep her from tugging on the feeding tubes, keep the nipple shield in place. I wished I was an octopus with a few more hands.
And she latched.
I sat in perfect awed stillness for a moment, watching her little mouth and jaw work at it. I had been trying to do this for 3 straight months and had pretty much convinced myself it would never happen and now holy shit it was. “Get the camera!” I whispered urgently to Justin. I was afraid at any moment she would stop and it would be over. Like it was a dream I didn’t want to wake from but knew the dawn was coming soon. He found my camera and snapped a couple of pictures. I wanted to share this moment. With those who had supported and encouraged me throughout this journey.
I cannot tell you how happy I was.
And how moved I was at the outpouring of support I received when I shared the photos. I expected a few close friends to say “Great job” and pat me on the head. What I got was dozens of responses, strangers commenting how I inspired them,people shared my post because it meant something to them. folks were celebrating with me. It made me cry, realizing I really did have a community. I had lost sight of that that day on the dock.
Lucy turns 1 in 8 days. I am currently on a regimen of flax seeds, blessed thistle twice daily, domperidone 4 pills every 6 hours, pumping every 4 hours, power pumping once a week (pumping ten minutes on, ten off for a cluster of hours) and babywearing as much as possible to stimulate milk production. I can now pump an ounce per 20 minute session. She has continued to latch on with the help of the nipple shield and SNS. Today she will drink MY milk from the SNS. I am pretty damn excited about that. It takes me 2 days to fill a bottle. But I’m doing it.
Sometimes it pays to be so stubborn.
Cheers to new beginnings.
Just please be careful not to spill the breastmilk on the table next to me when we clink our glasses.
I worked hard to get that. And it was worth every drop.