You know how everyone says that you are your own harshest critic? There is no truer representation of that than me. It’s not that I’m a perfectionist; hardly, since my screw ups are often and daily. It’s more that I have high expectations for myself. In my mind, I should be amazing: an amazing wife, an amazing mother, an amazing boss, an amazing friend, the list goes on. Whatever role I take on, somehow in my mind, I should be able to do it and do it well. This, however, is so far from the truth, that when I stand in my reality, I can’t even begin to see the first signs of doing well, let alone amazing.
My breastfeeding journey with my last baby ended this past week and it’s the definition of a catch-22. With my first born, I wanted so desperately to nurse and struggled so badly. My body struggled to produce and on top of that, it went into further rejection with DMER (dysphoric milk ejection reflex). Basically what started out as a physical aversion to nursing (severe nausea) turned in full blow anxiety attacks when I nursed. They go to the point where I felt like I was crawling out of my skin and I had to force myself to hold my darling baby because all I wanted to do was put him down and walk away. We stumbled through somehow and at ten months, he thankfully weaned himself from nursing.
Fast forward almost four years and my darling second child is born. He latches with perfection right away, my milk comes in, and I do pretty well pumping, even though I still need to supplement. And then, when he’s barely two weeks old, I somehow manage to contract e.coli that causes a kidney infection that goes into my blood. The phrase “raging infection” is thrown around quite a bit and I’m hospitalized away from my new baby and my older baby for two nights (I was too weak to hold either. All my husband could do was bring me the baby to feed and then I’d have to hand him back). I was able to pump while in the hospital and managed to keep my supply intact.
Once I’m out of the hospital, I manage to stay well and enjoy my last few weeks of my maternity leave. My first week back at work ends with another hospital stay, this time caused my a UTI and pneumonia. A UTI and pneumonia. Yeah, even the doctors couldn’t believe I had both. I’m still able to nurse on the antibiotic they give me but I have to watch for signs of thrush. We make it through that and less than a month later, I’m back at my regular doctor’s office because this time I recognized the symptoms and sure enough, another UTI. With this came a referral to a specialist.
Meanwhile, my body is not only giving out physically but mentally as well. With my first son, I went through post partum depression but didn’t seek out help until he was almost a year and a half old. This time, I already seemed to be doing well. I was already on medication throughout my pregnancy and my moods seemed to be stable. But then it started. Nausea while pumping. Not ever while nursing, just pumping but that’s how it started before. Stress started to pile on, being a new mommy of two and a working mommy at that and a wife was starting to feel overwhelming. Someone always wants something from me and most of the time no will tell me what that is exactly. I have to play a version of twenty questions to figure out that someone needs a hug or a clean diaper or a snuggle.
It kind of all came to a head after I met with the urologist. I loved him immediately. He was kind, he listened, and he gave me reassurances he was on my side. I was ready to leave flying high until we discussed the antibiotic I needed to take after being catheterized. His final words to me, “There may come a time soon, where nursing is no longer an option, so be prepared for that.” He in not way said it in an unfeeling way. I know he said it to help me realize that my health is of the utmost importance but it still felt like I was glued to the floor unable to move. Here I was, thirty-two years old using words like medical team and long term care plan and knowing that my baby needs a healthy mommy more than he needs breast milk, knowing that I was not enjoying nursing at all, but all of a sudden numb by the possibility of having to stop.
That night I went home and fed my baby the bottle I had mixed up for his daddy to feed to him while I read to his big brother. He was not having it, so I sat down with him and he quieted and smiled at me from around the bottle’s nipple. His big blue eyes tracked my face and for the first time in quite a while I felt joy. I told my husband what the doctor said and what I was feeling and he said, “It’s your body.” No judgment, just a statement that as long as baby got fed, he was on board with any decision. That night I was so tired, I forgot to put my pumped milk in the fridge. The next morning I had to dump out ten ounces of milk and I didn’t even flinch. I knew then that I was done.
I’ve pumped when I was extremely full but most of baby’s bottles were formula. Despite my anxiety over this change (because let’s face it, at this point what doesn’t give me sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, and a general feeling of doom?), baby is still smiling. He still jabbers a mile a minute. He still wakes up the same amount of times. In other words, he still loves me. More importantly, he seems to still know that I love him.