The Moo Diaries

Breastfeeding is one of the most- if not the most- challenging things, both physically and psychologically, I have ever done in my life. It has overwhelmed my life since my son was born. Granted, we had a particularly bad run at it. My son had tongue tie so he was mostly chewing on my nipples, causing them to scar, bleed and bruise, rather than suckling milk out. This lowered my milk production as well as causing plugged and inflamed milk ducts and in turn mastitis, a yeast infection and vasospasms. The lactation consultants that saw me both said that I had pretty much everything they treat women for. Lucky me. It's three months since my son was born and I am still breast feeding him and while I fear to write this in case I jinx our progress, we have established a routine, which albeit it includes supplement- thank God you can find organic milk based formula (thank you to all the cows feeding my son!!)- is a routine I can keep without going insane. When the milk runs dry, so be it.

Before we had L clipped, breast feeding was a nightmare, but I pushed through it, believing the incredible pain was due to a low pain threshold. After all, all my friends told me the first week was a nightmare. Maybe for me, this was just extended to two, three, four, five, six weeks - then I called it, and called a lactation consultant. When she  inspected my bleeding and bruised nipples and his obvious tongue tie, she dignified me with the description of being the most stoic mother she had ever met, noting that she did not believe any other mother would have continued to feed. Had she arrived narry five minutes before, she would have seen a perfect example of stoicism by the expression of what it was not. My daily breakdown: I was on the bed, crying, in the foetal position, wanting to crawl into a hole and not feel, exhausted and overwhelmed by the sheer scalding pain of my nipples. In the first few weeks, when my stitches were still healing and it was mired misery down there, I was overloaded by pain, my body collapsing and not being able to register where the screams should be directed. Conscious that anything I took passed into my milk, I kept off the meds and suffered through it. My pain was so overwhelming that I all I could do was feed. When he finished - which at times took two hours as he was unable to latch properly, unbeknownst to us- I would fend him off to whomever was closest as it was too painful to have him lie on my chest. We missed out on pressure cuddle time - which not only is a magical experience but important for milk production as it releases oxytocin, mammals' neurohypophysial hormone.

No pain was greater, however, than my husband poking my nipples with a needle and squeezing out milk (mastitis was nothing compared to this! Possibly because my fevers were so high I was too delirious to register the pain), trying to unplug my milk ducts (before his clip, my son was not pulling my milk out and I had numerous plugged ducts). It was at that time I realized that either our walls were super soundproof, or none of the neighbours cared (which reminds me of the NYC saying, "the best thing about New York, is that no one gives a fuck. The worst thing about New York, is that no one gives a fuck") and I was ready meat  to be chopped up by any psychopath that roamed our West Village condo complex (surprisingly, in the three and a half years there, the only skirmish we witnessed was outside our window on  Christopher Street, where the drags queens had a punch out).

It was a downward spiral - pain increases stress and decreased the "love" hormone, the decrease in milk supply in turn caused me further stress and anxiety, which caused cortisol to rise and oxytocin to fall, further decreasing my milk supply. The repeated infections - the mastitis infections and yeast infections - further dropped my supply so that I was pumping anywhere between 1/3 of an oz to 1 oz from both breasts. My husband asked me to quit. I growled at him. Increasing my milk production became a crusade.

I became obsessed with the fact that I couldn't feed my son without supplement and became quite depressed, anxious and embarrassed, feeling guilty and inadequate. I imagined we would be stuck somewhere in the wilderness, where I could not obtain any formula, and my son would starve as he looked desperately at my dry mammary glands (yes, that's how crazy I got). All my insecurities and regrets in my life, all my perceived failings, were zoned in to producing milk - if I produced for my son, none of it mattered. If I failed - it was the final expression of everything that I had failed to achieve, solidifying my inadequacy. I felt I was a bad mother and undeserving of my son. Unfortunately, stress and depression increases cortisol levels, which depletes milk production and so I descended deeper into the downward spiral.

For nearly two months, I would feed my son, bottle feed my son and pump. I would also get up a few times in the middle of the night to pump, so that I was sleeping in two and a half bursts, failing to enjoy the fact that my son was a super awesome sleeper that slept 7 hours straight after two months. During the day, I gorged on galactagogues - oatmeal, Guinness et al and rigidly took my supplements fenugreek and blessed thistle - and watched the trickle of my milk as I pumped. My lactation consultant advised that I watch a sitcom while I pumped. So I re-watched nearly all of Frasier and as we live in a loft, so did my husband to his increasing chagrin.

My mother in law came to help out and she - who bottle fed- was gently trying to persuade me that it wasn't worth it. I took this opinion as a challenge and plundered through the last of my wits, until I collapsed and decided I was no longer going to pump and I would sleep when my son slept. Slowly, I decreased my rigid routine, felt better and - when I said to hell with it - my milk went up! I was pumping 3 oz from both breasts (which I understand is laughingly meagre compared to most lactating women but for me was a deluge! And I stood proud).

I made peace with my milk, or lack thereof. In fact, since I have accepted that I have done everything possible - both physically and emotionally- to provide milk, I now even enjoy the convenience that providing formula can offer. He sleeps more during the night because we provide him a bigger feeding when he goes to bed, giving me and hubby some needed time as well as some much needed sleep. I still breastfeed every time he feeds and provide him all my antibodies and all that good stuff and I have accepted that the organic formula we give him (which in a way is an oxymoron for by its very definition, "formula" is formulated and there are additives in there which are not natural, even if good for the baby, such as DHA, Vitamin D etc) provides him whatever my milk lacks (for mother's milk is only as good as the mother after all). So in a way he gets the best of both worlds. For me, it's still double the work - I have to breast feed and bottle feed each time - but knowing I supply my son my milk and bonding with him (he stops during feedings and gives me a bashful smile as if saying "thank you mum! I appreciate this!") is all worth it. I've made peace with the way we feed and with the fact that my milk may dry up - until it does, we feed and feed and feed. I'm much happier and a better mother for it as I am not discarding my son for the pump.

One of the reasons I was so against formula (apart from anxiety that a corporation was feeding my son and wondering how tightly controlled this psychopathic creature was) was that I believed it was the "easy way out" - certainly now, breast and bottle feeding - we did not choose the easiest option (nor the least expensive by any means). Being ignorant of how difficult it was to breastfeed, I had incorrectly assumed that mothers that fed formula to their little ones were choosing the convenience of it and denying the good stuff to their babies (in my defense, I had read that one of the main reasons women choose not to breastfeed was fear that it would affect their breasts - such a cosmetic and selfish reason, I found unpalatable). These mothers, in my mind, were therefore not as good, as they preferred their own convenience and appearance to their babies' health. It's always good (and sometimes necessary) when the universe slaps you a lesson that unveils your ignorance and increases your empathy. My forage into the stygian side of breastfeeding has taught me the lesson that women do not make this choice easily and most of the time, it is made for them.


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