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Monday, April 2, 2018

State of Our Boobs

In the lunchroom, many conversations happen that tend towards the edge of curious (see the 4th grade team's obsession with the "Dark Web")  to downright weird or alarming (I'm looking at you fear of drowning in a car conversation).  Truthfully it is far better than some teacher lunchrooms where you sit through an endless barrage of bemoaning student choices/personalities, however, I wonder if we may seem off our rockers to the occasional substitute or block student who wanders over to our table.

This past week the table was outnumbered with ladies as two of our fourth grade teammates took early Easter vacations to warmer parts of the globe.  So naturally we talked about our children which led to talking about boobs and sustaining the lives of our children.  I think we ended up in this topic because one of my currently BF coworkers was looking forward to the long break where she didn't have to pump/BF on any given schedule.  She is a badass for many reasons, not the least of which is that she is BF her baby boy and working full time and raising her toddler as well.

Before going to much further down my own personal experiences with breastfeeding, let me say to any woman or man who stumbled onto this page, these thoughts are my own personal experiences and do not at all resemble opinions for any other living person out there.  Some advice, you will read so many things; SO MANY THINGS, telling you what you should or shouldn't be doing.  I read them too, sometimes at 2am when nobody should be reading things, especially sleep deprived, especially with a squalling infant who won't budge in the sleeping direction.  Almost none of those things are written be the people that actually matter in the feeding my child conversation (just a reminder-those people are you).

I found it helpful to confide deeply in my spouse during my boob journey and it would be a much better world if men realized how grateful they should be that (1) some mother possibly sustained their life early on with their boobs, (2) boobs are almost magical in their ability to produce what a baby needs during the phase they need it however that magic doesn't make the process any less work, (3) boobs are sexy and curvy and cool in a fashion sense, but the price for that is they are a nuisance when it comes to having mobility in life, work, fashion, comfort, and independence after having children.  So men, all one of you who is probably my husband, take a moment to say a kind word of praise to the woman in your life who grew your baby and is working (or fighting) with her body to continue to provide sustenance for that child.  If your baby mama would not or could not breast feed, praise her for that too because too often we are not celebrating all the different choices that are available when raising children.  We're all doing it, we ought to celebrate our efforts.

Along with PAG, I was able to easily talk to my mother and my doctor about the issues I faced.  Even before the babes were born, I remember mom showing up with a box that I called the boob box and if I were to pay it forward to any mum planning on breastfeeding, a boob box is a must.  It had things I had never even heard of before the babes, but was well versed in after my breastfeeding journey.

Lactation specialists and other moms are helpful as well, however, there is a problem when adding more voices and choices.  It's kind of like the wedding dress shopping problem when you start to all see the same thing over and over again and it gets too hard to think what is right for you.  A couple key people are great and it is important to remember that your voice and needs are the most important here.  Your baby is going to be great no matter what you choose because you are making that choice out of love.  Your baby deserves to have a happy, healthy mama, so you do you and be proud of the choices you make.

Saying all that, I was not tight with my breastfeeding experience.  To be truthful, as we are nearly four months post the end of my breastfeeding journey, I feel like parental amnesia has set in to erase some of the early weeks of struggle an pain.

I was pumped about the opportunity to feed my children, and overwhelmed with how to do so with twins.  There are tons of resources, and I consulted many to see what advice and necessities for BF my boys.  I had absolutely nothing against bottle-feeding, but knew that I wanted to try BF and had the arbitrary goal in my head of feeding the boys for a year.  Where that number came from, I have no idea, but it made sense and many moms I know were able to do this if not go past to several months after this.  It was kind of the same feeling I had about the vaginal birth thing; I wanted to at least be given the opportunity to try because it felt like I could or at least I should be physically/mentally able to for whatever reason.

During my pregnancy, I was a big reader of any parenting advice book, pamphlet, blog that would lead me to having a plan for post-preggo life.  Let me just say that plans are great and everything, but when they don't pan out as intended, it is just best to be gentle with yourself and go with the flow (I know this but rarely am so easy on myself.  It is part of my anxiety that I am working on everyday).

I attended a breastfeeding class offered at our local hospital and was excited about learning all of the support the Family Birthing Center offered and would continue after babies' births.  The woman teaching the class is an angel who had just come back from her own maternity leave and was so easy going about questions and concerns that I had.  She ended up being one of the evening nurses we had during our stay after my c-section and I was so glad because things did not start as easy as I thought they would, or I should say painless.

I can recite over and over that breastfeeding should not be a painful experience, however, I did not have such an easy time, especially at the beginning.  I don't know if it was the twins thing, I don't know if it has something to do with my boobs or my nipples, but my babies' mouths and my ladies did not click and rarely co-exsisted nicely.  Bilbo and Wall-E latched fine, all of the lactation specialists came to make sure that was going well, and my milk came in not like a cute little milk truck, but more like a milk tractor trailer.  I am sure it is a different feeling for every woman, but it honestly felt like I had rocks coming out from my armpits down across the sides of my boobs to my nipples.

I tried not to be stressed those first few times co-feeding the boys, but I was so sore, so tired, and traumatized from the surgery, that every encounter after that felt like it was life or death.  I was worried my boys were too small, both babies were being monitored and toe-pricked for glucose levels, we went to feeding them every two hours for Bilbo who was on a glucose pump and Wall-E who was being watched for jaundice.  The girls felt raw within the first couple of feedings, and good Lord, there is no pain on earth like nipple pain (or at least I thought until I had mastitis the first of three times).  My nurses were so amazing, they brought me ointment, cooling gels, warm washcloths, and kind words of support and encouragement.  I ordered all of the gels (seriously all of the gels, there are some still in my refrigerator) while I was in the hospital and researched the best nipple balm I could find (yup-some in my bathroom cupboard), and was determined to the point of stubbornness that I would be able to get past the two-week period that everyone said was challenging without giving up.

We went home on track still making it work and feeding the boys every three hours.  I learned to set my alarm clock for 9pm, 12am, 3am, and 6am and hoped we could get the babies both fed, laid back down, and sleep a smidge before having to repeat all of that again in the dark.  During the day there was a lot of laying on the couch with sleeping babies while we watched TV between feeding sessions.  Sometimes babies could be laid down in their pack-in-play for naps while I showered or rotated laundry (but never both, because seriously, we can't have it all).  I felt we were eating alright.

And then we went to the pediatrician for the first time two days after getting home.  He has since grown on us, but those first couple of encounters were not my favorites and the Dr. did not win any supportive points as he expressed concern that the babies were born early (they were exactly 38 weeks), they were small (they were born 5+ and 6+ pounds), and that he was concerned about their size.  I heard "wah, wah, wah, your babies are too small, wah, wah, wah, your babies need to eat more, wah, wah, wah, you need to breastfeed your children better." No, those are not the things he said, however, new mamas are fragile and probably should hire an interpreter to help them communicating with other humans for the first few weeks.

So I panicked with his words in my head, and PAG and I rearranged the feeding schedule to get some nutrition in the babies every two hours.  We were told to use an SNS to supplement Bilbo's nutrition because of the extra help he had needed in the hospital and his smaller stature.  I don't know about you, but my experiences with the SNS suggest that the device is created by the devil.  It is a tiny tube that you dangle from your shoulder and slide into the baby's mouth as they are nursing.  They get extra food that slips in from a bottle attached and hanging on your shoulder.  Sounds simple, right?! Well you try tandem nursing two babies and getting the device all set up and in place without falling and then get the babies latched but with enough room in their mouth to slip in a noodle sized tube that bends and wiggles out and drips all over just to piss you off.  No lie, I threw the thing more times than it actually worked, but I would cry every time because I was sure my baby would starve without the SNS.

This is about when I started pumping regularly in between feedings.  Yes, feed, pump, enjoy ten or so minutes of nothing being attached to my boobs, then repeat.  I don't know what I expected with pumping, but I knew my coworkers had pumped at work, so how exciting could it really be.  Not exciting, terrible, just terrible.  I had never felt so alone and less human and more like a cow in my whole life.  Like is this why Darth Vader is so angry, because his body is part machine (and that is how Amanda ruined Darth Vader for fan boys everywhere!).  It hurt with or without nipple balm; it felt as though I was producing droplets and not ounces, but after just feeding two infants, and with the stress of the two hour schedule, who is surprised.  And the business with set up and clean up is just shenanigans.  I would later learn to love my hand pump that I had gotten at the hospital but by then I was on the downhill slide of my breastfeeding career.

About a month into breastfeeding, during one late night, I began running a fever.  I could tell because I would go for about a half hour of feeling all of the layers were not enough to make me warm even when it was the beginning of July to kicking off all of the covers and still feeling like I was going to sweat until I died of dehydration.  I was not supposed to be running any fever post surgery so we called my PCP and got in right away.  My Dr. seemed unsure what was the cause until I asked if it could be from breastfeeding my babies.  I told him that I had noticed a little open cut on my left nipple and that morning my boob was feeling heavier and harder.  He asked to see, and there was what looked like the worst sunburn on the underside of Lefty.  It had not been there getting ready to go to the Dr.'s office.  This was the mysterious mastitis I had heard about which is discussed only briefly when being told about the wonders that are breastfeeding joys.  Nobody likes to talk about how you'll hate everyone (malaise), you'll feel like throwing up and not eating ever (nausea), and you'll have seriously flu achy feelings in your boobs.  The cure, rest (HA), more breastfeeding and pumping on the affected side (did you not see how my tiny carnivorous dinosaur babies have murdered Lefty?), and antibiotics (but only certain ones because you are still breastfeeding).

That was the first time of three going through mastitis.  I must have been prone because I had it later on the right side and then again on the left.  I got so used to showing up at the doctors and showing them the girls that honestly if they asked to see them I probably wouldn't think twice (seriously, pregnancy and parenthood do weird things to your sense of bodily privacy).

It was the second time I had done the mastitis that PAG and I decided to alter our expectations for breastfeeding and planned to supplement with formula and take turns feeding babies.  I had struggled through the first eight weeks of my babies' lives beating myself up over breastfeeding.  I felt pain all of the time, I felt guilty I wasn't enjoying this part of motherhood as I thought I was supposed to, and I thought I was failing so many people with my struggles: my children, my husband, my mother, my pediatrician, my lactation specialists.

We made the change to PAG doing a bottle with one baby while I breastfed the other, and I started treatment for PPD/PPA to support me.  It was the best decision.  As I said, having a great man to share the load of parenthood is so critical.  We also let the babies sleep longer at night and they let us know when they needed to eat.  This gave us all longer sleeps so we weren't as sleep deprived and raw.

I still had one more bout with mastitis to go through, but the switch to bottle and boob were what we needed, especially going into the return to work phase.  I had wanted to be a super mom like my coworkers who pumped at work, but I just couldn't.  I have too much on my plate at school and couldn't do either job, pumping or working to the best of my abilities, so I chose school.  We decided to send our kids to daycare with the formula they provided.  It was another best choice because weaning them was not arduous and emotional for them.

I revised my goal of one year to six months.  We were starting to incorporate solid foods at five months and they were so happy eating all of the food.  At five months I researched painless ways to wean and landed on using cabbage leaves during the day to ease the engorgement and pain as my boobs were screaming, "think of your children!" (trust me, you think it's crazy, but my boobs had lots to say all throughout this adventure).  I enjoyed so much my last feeds with my kids, because I knew I had done my job as a mother, and done it the best I could (she typed as she got teary eyed just reflecting).  I was thankful we were done with BF when the RSV Christmas occurred because it was terrible being apart from either baby enough without dealing with my boobs' feelings at the same time.

There are times I miss it and as my babies approach one, I wonder what it would have been like to have made it this far like women I know have been able to do.  But, as I said above, my journey was mine and the choices I made were the ones that were right for me.  I'm thankful for the experience it was even as the memories blur and fade.  I'm thankful for the people who had kind words of support along the way.  And I'm thankful that my boobs have this story and this accomplishment, because, no joke, they are champions.  Get those girls a medal.

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