Tag Archives: postpartum

GUEST POST: Giving up the Ghost of Breastfeeding, Over Two Years Later

Welcome back to Kayla Borja Frost; we’re grateful to have her share more of her parenting journey. Kayla is a licensed mental health counselor, mother, wife, dog-owner, and blogger living in the Boston area. You can check out her blog at https://whatwemeanwhenwesaymotherhood.wordpress.com/ .

When I think back to the first few weeks of my son’s life, one word comes to mind: heartbreak. I feel immense guilt for even mentioning that word in the context of my now two-and-a-half year old son, who is healthy and intelligent and sweet and beautiful. There are so many moms out there (some of them known to me personally) longing for a healthy little baby to call their own. And I am so grateful to have my son.

But rather than browbeat myself too much (because I don’t think that’s helpful to me or to anyone else), I think it’s more important to be honest about my journey. And as I cared for my newborn son, my heart was most certainly breaking.

Because all was not going according to plan. In fact, nothing was going according to MY plan. I hadn’t planned to suffer a serious hemorrhage after my baby’s birth. I hadn’t planned on the sleeplessness and worry of life with a newborn plunging me deep into insomnia, depression, and anxiety. I hadn’t planned on the nagging thoughts of “I can’t do this” and “I’m a terrible mother” and “I’ve made a mistake.” But there they were.

Most of all, I hadn’t planned that the simple act of feeding my baby would have me feeling lost, helpless, devastated, and full of rage all at the same time. The problem: I wasn’t producing milk (no more than an ounce or so at a time). I tried to be patient with myself (perhaps the hemorrhage caused my body a set back) and with my baby (maybe he needed to learn to be a more effective eater). I saw several lactation consultants and followed their recommendations: pumping after every feeding, lots of skin to skin contact, eating specific foods and taking supplements to boost supply, and even using a torturous SNS device (basically a baby beer bong for formula). The one suggestion I didn’t take (which ironically probably would have helped the most) was to go to a breastfeeding support group. I felt far too ashamed and embarrassed to face a group of women and lay bare my nursing failures. Of course now, with some perspective, I realize that I likely would have met women with similar struggles and gained support and reassurance. Hindsight.

However, at six weeks postpartum, the situation felt hopeless. I could only pump the smallest drops of milk. My son would feed for 45 minutes or an hour, and then ravenously suck down a bottle of formula. Then I would pump. Then I would clean the bottle and pump parts. Then it would be time to start this whole process over again. And while I had imagined breastfeeding would be this great bonding experience with my baby, instead I felt a growing resentment.

I also felt a growing resentment toward my own body.  I had always been a strong believer in mind over matter. At my first spin class, my body said “Noooo!” But my mind said “if all these other people can do this, you can too.” I stuck with it and became an avid indoor cycler. But breastfeeding is not a spin class. You cannot force your body to make milk (believe me, I tried). And for all the “It will happen” statements I clung to from LC’s or well-meaning friends, I shut out my OB frankly saying “It might not work for you” and “No one will know on the first day of kindergarten whether he was breast or formula fed.” I shut out my mother and my husband gently saying “It’s okay to stop” because they could see how miserable I was. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t just QUIT. For a lifelong super over-achiever like me, that was the unthinkable.

I remember the morning I stopped nursing. My child was 6 weeks old. I had been awake all night with the feeding/pumping routine, and on top of that worrying, worrying, worrying about it all. I felt very close to breaking, mentally and physically. So finally, I felt able to tell myself that I wasn’t QUITTING. I just had to stop. For my sanity. For my wellbeing and that of my baby. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to be able to hold my baby without a boob or bottle involved. I needed to banish the nightmarish whir of the breast pump. Moreover, my baby needed ME. And he needed me to be sane more than he needed breast milk.

I would love to say that I made my decision about breastfeeding and stood firmly and proudly behind it thereafter. But that would be a lie. I have struggled (and still do) with so much guilt. More than two years later, I still find myself thinking, “If I had stuck with it for another week, would my milk have come in?” When I see another mother nursing her baby, I feel a hot rush of jealousy and inadequacy. When the topic of breastfeeding comes up, I’m tempted to lie or to over-explain my experience. I just haven’t been able to truly move on.

I experience a deep and profound sadness mixed with rage when I see “breast is best” advertisements. I fully recognize that this material is meant to inform and encourage mothers and the general public. And I am truly in awe of the superwomen who make breastfeeding work for their families, whether for a few months, a year, or longer. I now understand how difficult this is, even for a woman with adequate milk supply. There is no such thing as an “easy” road for any of us.

However, my problem with the current trend in breastfeeding education is that it frames breastfeeding as a choice. And if we feed our babies formula, we are not necessarily making a “bad” choice, but it’s not “best.” But what about those of us who did not have a choice? Adoptive parents. Parents with health problems that prevented breastfeeding. Parents that had to return immediately to work. Or moms like myself that just couldn’t make it work? It enrages me that I am thought to have made a poorer “choice” for my son, when what I feel is that my “choice” was taken away. It was out of my hands. I realize that just by writing this, I am opening myself up to criticism that I didn’t try hard enough. That I made the wrong “choice.” I’m sorry, but fuck that. I’m done feeling bad about this. Or at least I’m really, really trying to be.

So as my husband and I question if or when we might try for another baby, I find myself seriously concerned about attempting to breastfeed again and hoping that I can find a healthy, balanced approach. As I consider this, I am reminded of some good advice a mom friend gave that has stuck with me. As I complained to her about my breastfeeding woes, she said “There’s always going to be something in parenting that doesn’t work out at all the way you’d imagined.” For example, she had always imagined going for leisurely walks with her infant in his stroller. Unfortunately, her son had such terrible reflux that he couldn’t tolerate the stroller.  They never used it. Her stroller was my breastfeeding.

There’s something that just doesn’t work out for all parents. As hard as it is to accept that and move on. But we can move on. Because our children are fine. They’re better than fine. No one will know on the first day of kindergarten that her son couldn’t go for walks in a stroller. And no one will know my son was formula fed. Our children are fine. And we will be too.

Want to share your ideas with the village in a guest post? Write to us at raiseamother@gmail.com for more information. We’d love to hear from you!

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The Light at the End of the Tunnel Was REAL!

There’s something that I’ve assumed for a long time, but that I’ve been waiting to really claim as truth until I was a bit further in. But now that I’m 8 months into a mat leave, I can say it: the second half is WAY better.

With my first kidlet, I went back to work after six months, and my husband got to take paternity leave. I remember being very jealous of his experience, and assuming that the second half was the “good half” that I just didn’t get to take. I remember wishing we could have swapped halves, so he could take the first months of sleepless nights and never-ending breast feedings, and I could take the 6-12 month window with its boundless curiosity, increased mobility, and longer stretches of night sleep. So with the second one, it wasn’t even a question of sharing parental leave. I was taking the WHOLE. DAMN. THING.

I did wonder though, as I went through those first six months again with little R, whether I had bitten off more than I really wanted to chew. Through sleepless nights, struggles with naps, painful breastfeeding challenges, and anxieties over weight gain (not to mention hormones and postpartum recovery), I suspected that I might actually be happier going back to work rather than dealing with at-home mothering for the whole year. I worried that the second six months would be just as bad as the first. I worried that an ugly fear would be revealed as an ugly truth: that it wasn’t the halves of the year that made the difference, but the parent taking the leave – that maybe my husband was just more suited to full-time caregiving than I was. [Cue socialized mom-guilt over not instinctively loving every single second of motherhood here.]

Fortunately, I’m happy to report that, at least in my case, I was RIGHT! (Woo hoo, how many times do we really get to say that about something to do with parenting, mamas? Excuse me while I shout it from the rooftops.)

The 6-12 month window really IS the better half, I firmly believe. I started to see a shift right after R turned 6 months, and I thought maybe it was just a phase, but now that we’re going on 8 months, I’m sure of it. It is SO MUCH BETTER! My little guy wakes up for one feeding most nights, but sometimes sleeps all the way through. He belly laughs when I tickle him and flirts with his twinkly blue eyes when I fetch him after a nap. He can often play on his own with toys quite happily for twenty minutes at a time,  after which he crawls over to me with a big smile and pulls on my leg. I’m convinced he’s started using his own versions of two of the baby signs I’ve been showing him for weeks, and nothing makes my heart glow like receiving his communication. We’ve gotten into a good rhythm of breakfast, play, nap, and taking outings where he smiles and coos at strangers to brighten their day.

Now I know that this is not the case for every mama and every baby, and I count my lucky stars that this one sleeps fairly well and generally has a happy temperament. There are also things about life with R that still challenge me (I haven’t become a Stepford pod person!). There are days where he refuses to nap unless in the stroller, his continuing resistance to taking a bottle, his frequent clinginess as a “Mama’s boy” which means sometimes I can’t put him down or pass him to anyone else.

But I’m going to bask in this reassuring victory all the same. There WAS a light at the end of my tunnel; it wasn’t a mirage.  I’m going to be grateful each day that I live in a place where a year-long maternity leave is in line with workplace law, because it’s good for my baby, good for me, and good for my family. I’m going to ride the rest of R’s first year out doing my best to focus on the fact that this is a special time I’m fortunate to have with him.

Whatever your particular mom-tunnel is right now, I promise you there IS a light at the end of it. It might be really far away, it might be only a little brighter than the darkness, but it IS there. And I’m sending you speedy vibes to get out of that tunnel asap, because from a mama who just came out into the sun, I know the tunnel sucks, and it’s really, really nice out here.

Light on the end of railway tunnel.

Letter to My Postpartum Self

If you’ve read this blog before, you might have come across my account of the dark, twisty postpartum period I had the first time around that caused my current, second pregnancy to, well, basically scare the shit out of me. Fortunately, I’ve had time to reflect, talk this fear out, and hear some wise words from other mamas in my village. Still, I know it’s easier to keep hold of these calming thoughts while Mister Baby is still in my belly than it might be once he’s out here in the world and my postpartum hormones mix with sleep deprivation in a toxic brew of negativity. So this letter is not only for me, to come back and hold onto in any twisty moments I might find in the year ahead, but also for any mamas out there who are in the dark place now, or who are pregnant and worried about moving into the dark once their baby arrives. Much love to you.

Dear Mama,

I know things are difficult right now. That things may seem like they’re falling apart, or that all your preparation has been for nought, or that you don’t even recognize who you are anymore, or maybe even all three at the same time. You may be questioning core things about yourself, your abilities, your judgment, your life, your partner, and not believing there could ever be a time where this uncertainty ends. All I can tell you is that even though you can see no light at the end of the tunnel, there is a lightI promise. I’ve been down this road before, and so have mamas since time immemorial. But I know that right now this seems like cheap platitude, so here are some thoughts for while you wait for that little light to appear and grow larger:

Hormones

They are rampaging right now, and are extraordinarily powerful, so don’t discount them. Remember those horrible adolescent years where you didn’t know what to do, or who you were, or how you were ever going to get to where you wanted to be? Same thing in early motherhood. This is hormones mixed with being thrown into the deep end of new expectations and new experiences, while striving for independence and a sense of accomplishment within this new angle of what it means to be a woman. But remember those wonderful teenage years where it seemed like everything might turn out a moony fairy-tale after all, and you couldn’t wait for all the fantastic experiences that were certainly ahead of you? This is early motherhood, too. This is hormones mixed with the delight in your little one’s smiles, snuggles, and that unbelievably good baby-smell.   So it’s a roller coaster, but a roller coaster you’re riding with a blindfold on. To pretend you’re taking a train ride, or to feel as if you should have been able to predict that next rise or fall, is ridiculous. You can prepare a bit, but some days, a fall you didn’t expect will still knock the wind out of you. When this happens, you don’t need to justify why – you’re on the roller coaster, that’s why.

Feelings

Similar to hormones, these are only sometimes things you have any control over, and they come in waves. Sorting out whether this particular rage about some unfinished laundry is the result of today’s emotional tsunami or a legitimate, last-straw outburst you would have had in the pre-baby days will be difficult. So if you think something specific or tangible is causing your melancholy or exasperation, notice it, but wait until the wave passes to decide how to move forward. Never be afraid of identifying a feeling, or admitting that you don’t know where it’s coming from, or that it’s overwhelming you. This is not a failure of rational thought – this is rational thought, because you’re recognizing the reality of your situation. The incoming tide will eventually stop, and you’ll be back to the emotional levels you’re used to handling as a reasonable adult.

Your Body

After birth it will be yours again, but not yours. You will still be attached to your babe for most of the day. You will not look like your pre-pregnancy body, at least not for awhile. You will not have your libido back, perhaps not for a much longer while than you find acceptable. You will be exhausted, at first from the experience of birth and its initial recovery, and then from carrying your wee one in your arms instead of in your belly, from night-wakings and extended periods of crying (from you or your little one). This is okay. Motherhood and marriage/partnership are long games, and you have time to adjust. There is no need to freak out about where you are 6-weeks, 3-months, or 8-months down the road from the birth day, or worry that this is where you’ll be forever. It isn’t.

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Housework

Acknowledge your role as a new mother, and not, unless this is your long-term plan, a ‘stay-at-home parent’ (even if this is your plan, give yourself some time to just be a new mom first). Keeping your baby alive and yourself sane can be a full-time job in itself, with simply no room in that job description for ensuring a tidy living room, kept-up laundry, made beds, or washed dishes. Keep the division and expectations of household labour at pre-baby levels until you’ve had a chance to adjust; don’t take everything on yourself just because you’re ‘at home’ now. If you’re going back to work after a year, this adjustment could be the whole damn year. That’s okay. If it takes less than a year, bonus for you, but treat it as a bonus, not an expectation.

Family

Fuck the advice you’ve received about ‘managing’ family interactions in the postpartum period – you’ve probably been told to both accept all help that is offered, but also to guard time to bond with your wee one so you’re not overrun with well-meaning visitors. This conflicting advice, especially while riding the hormonal roller coaster, might have you torn in the same day between desperately needing someone to be there to hold your baby so you can have a shower, but feeling like a failure if you ask for help because you can’t even manage to get a shower without assistance. Or feeling incredibly lonely for another grown up to talk to but also so drained you don’t have the energy to contribute to an adult conversation. In those moments, identify your feelings – loneliness, or irritability, or  perhaps a desire to just be alone with your baby but only-after-that-shower-because-unless-that-happens-you’re-going-to-go-crazy. Look at the feeling for a minute, then let it drop beside you onto the floor. And then ask for that help from someone who loves you, and be honest with them about that feeling so they can help you in the way you need, which is really what they want to do. Trust me.

Bonding with Your Wee One

You are your baby’s only mama, and no one can replace you. Even if/when you don’t breastfeed, even if you go back to work early, even if your wee one loves spending time with other relatives and friends… none of these things change that you are momSo embrace those other relationships for your child, embrace the good things that come along with the absence/end of breastfeeding (inebriants, non-nursing clothes, and outings longer than 2 hours, anyone?), and embrace the return to the parts of your professional work that you enjoy. Cut yourself some major slack on the bad days (see all the thoughts above), and luxuriate on the good days, so that you live presently in the moment with this new tiny person who is constantly learning more about the world, and about you, his mama. Love every new discovery. Teach him to breathe deeply through pain even when you think you might fall apart instead. And remember that this moment in time, whether it’s going fantastically or horrendously, will end. Let that knowledge increase your appreciation of the moment or your comfort for the future – or perhaps both, if it’s that kind of day.

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Remember that you are working through a tremendous feat, walking on the rocky mountain that is the postpartum period. There is no finish line, no set path, no goal to get to the top, even though it may feel like you should have such a goal in sight. There is only your experience of each day on the mountain, how you feel there, and the memories you will keep later. Eventually you will leave this mountain, but you may not even notice when the ground evens out. So don’t worry about looking for the plateaus – just live in the place you are today, find a spring of fresh water and a soft place to lay yours and your baby’s head. Whenever the sun is out, take a pause to let it warm your face. If you do that each day, you’ll be just fine.

Love,

Lindsay

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