Marybeth's Story: The Beauty and Struggles of Breastfeeding
Today's blog post comes from my friend, Marybeth. She is a truly beautiful person inside and out and I'm so grateful to her for sharing her experience with me and with the world. She gave birth to her son right as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold in the U.S. and was also immediately faced with some important health decisions for her newborn baby. Today she shares her breastfeeding journey with humor, honesty, and appreciation. Please give it a read and take her words to heart: "we are doing it, mamas!" And please share with anyone who might benefit from hearing her story.
Thank you, Marybeth, for sharing your story and your voice! I'd love the opportunity to share more stories like this from moms, dads, and all parents. Please contact me if you'd like to share yours!
I am exclusively breastfeeding and have a beautiful and healthy 6-month-old son named Holden Day. This is the most important part. Healthy, not the exclusively breastfeeding part. (More on our health scares and implications later.) As I am writing this I have my second plugged duct in a week—what the heck!!?? And have absolutely gone down to our deep freezer to calculate how much milk I have in storage and what is the shortest amount of time left to nurse him until he hits one year. Simultaneously, I have also googled breastmilk jewelry, okay I thought it was weird at first too, but am absolutely buying a piece when our journey ends because dammit I deserve it. All frustrations and emotional and physical pain a side, I know I am going to cry like a baby when this journey ends because it has been challenging, growing, and the rawest kind of beauty I have ever experienced.
If my husband was to look at my browsing history over the past six months, he may think that I have developed a postpartum porn addiction due to the number of stranger’s boobs I’ve looked at. Queue what is a blanched nipple? How do I get a duct out? What is a vasospasm? What does thrush look like? Can someone PLEASE show me the C-hold? Is my baby latching properly? Google, show me your boobs this mama needs help! Never mind the first few weeks was straight up National Geographic in our house: if ya know, ya know!
Anyways, Holden was born in mid-February arriving 12 days late and only with 8,000 platelets. (Babies are normally born with over 150,000 again more on that later.) Due to the platelet count he spent five days in the NICU so our breastfeeding situation started out less than ideal. Besides the “golden hour” before they realized something was wrong, my journey started with a hospital grade pump. Being a first time mom I was optimistic and committed to trying it out, plus I had 12 hours in the NICU every day so what else did I have to do? I was discharged from the hospital the day after I gave birth and sent home without our baby (TRAGIC) and some quick directions on how to use my Spectra. My milk came in and I didn’t have a baby to help and was left engorged for days and instead of a sweet newborn in the middle of the night I was just trying to squeeze out a few ounces with a foreign machine. Thankfully after a few days in the NICU I was able to breastfeed him for his feedings and had the most amazing lactation consultant and nurse who was a mom of three who really changed our trajectory. I would come into the NICU every morning by 9 a.m. to give Holden what I had pumped overnight and then I would breastfeed then pump after at 9, 12, 3, 6, 9 and say goodnight to him and cry all the way home. I would then pump at night to keep my milk supply and repeat. It was hard and I know so many more mamas do it for longer than five days, but at the same time it gave me some peace because it was the one thing I had control of something I could do and provide to help out my baby boy while he was getting transfusions and closely monitored.
I wish I could say we went home and things instantly got easier. Our sleepy baby would take over an hour to feed in the middle of the night; it was painful and awkward. At our one-week well visit he wasn’t gaining weight like the doctor would like, in fact he lost some weight after hitting his birth weight, so we were immediately put on a pumping and feeding schedule. Feed Holden every 2 hours for 30 mins, pump 1.5 ounces after, and give him that in a bottle. In case you were counting, that is 12 feedings + 12 pump sessions + 12 bottles. Luckily my mother-in-law was here during that time as my husband, Chris, was back at work and was a God send. The first few weeks we were constantly at weight gain appointments and found ourselves either celebrating or crushed off of a scale reading. Though I felt really prepared after leaving the NICU with the support I received here, any confidence I had now plummeted. I was frustrated at myself, frustrated at him, but more importantly wanted him to hit his weight so I could feel like we were finally free of health issues in the first few weeks. A few weeks later he did hit his weight and we eventually were able to eliminate this process but it was hard and I’ve learned now, very common.
A month and a half in I finally felt like we were in an okay spot. We were down to maybe a few bottles after nursing, Holden was waking up a bit more so the middle of the night wasn’t taking quite one hour, and he was giving us pretty long stretches. I knew breastfeeding was hard so I assumed the pain I was feeling was normal. Finally, after a lot of googling (yep, more stranger boobs!) and an in-house lactation consultant appt. I was able to pinpoint that I was having vasoconstrictions and that it was not normal and incredibly painful. Not only were they trigged from nursing but from being cold—like walking your baby in March, getting out of the shower, basically at all times. After getting on some medication, treating the underlying Raynaud’s Syndrome, and some super awkward tele-health lactation video sessions (thanks COVID) we were finally getting into the swing of things
You would think that the hardest part of the journey was all the hoops I jumped through. Yes they were hard, but the hardest part has been the emotional piece of it. Constantly wondering if your child is getting enough and having zero confidence in yourself or your body, second guessing yourself if that 15-minute feed was enough when it should have been 30 minutes., and feeling 100% defeated any time you have to supplement with a bottle after a feeding because he’s still hungry, all while believing that it is all up to you despite a very helpful husband, for your baby to grow big and strong.
As I reflect on those early months I don’t think I wanted to quit just because we're told “breast is best” but I felt like I was thrown into a scary health situation, brought a newborn home during COVID, and was determined not to throw the towel in but wave my socially distant and washed fists in the air and say, "this is really hard but I’m doing it, I’m going to beat this, we are doing it mamas!!!" Whether it’s breastfeeding, staying at home, being away from family and extra hands, working from home with kids, navigating postpartum, whatever all while living in COVID, we are doing it MAMAS!!!!