Thanks, everyone, for your words of support and advice on my last post about breastfeeding. Things are getting better, but I wanted to go back to the beginning to give you an understanding of how far we’ve come, and to remind myself of the details. I’m nowhere near finished, but here’s the first installment.
I’ve been writing versions of this post in my head for weeks now, but the narrative keeps changing before I can get in front of my computer to document it all. So this is probably going to be a bit long, rambling, and highly emotional.
Notice I did not write “breastfeeding” in the title. That’s because, until recently, I had not put my daughter’s mouth anywhere near my breasts for two full weeks. And now we’re starting over. But let’s go back to the beginning.
Moments after baby girl was first placed on my belly, she was rubbed dry, moved to my chest, skin-to-skin, and covered with a heated blanket. The nurses encouraged me to try to breastfeed right away. Baby girl opened her mouth but would not latch onto my breast. Later, when she was briefly taken from me to be diapered and have her vitals checked, she refused to suck the nurse’s finger when it was slipped into her mouth. They made note of it but did not seem concerned.
In post-partum, a different nurse suggested skin-to-skin contact again, this time not to encourage breastfeeding, but because baby’s breathing was rapid. She was placed on my chest and left there. I don’t know how long it was before we tried breastfeeding again.
The second time around went much better. She was able to latch and suck. I felt triumphant. Here was my baby, who just hours before had refused to do either, doing what she instinctively knew how to do. And I was producing the food that would nourish her from the very beginning of her life. I loved the sweet scent of colostrum, especially on my baby’s breath.
During our hospital stay (of just over 36 hours) four or five different nurses would check on us, observe how feeding was going, offer suggestions (usually completely different from what the previous nurse had suggested), and look at the color of my nipples. No one seemed concerned when I started to develop dark lines across the tops of my nipples. “That’s normal,” I was told again and again, both regarding the color and the tenderness.
It was a relief to come home, to try to settle into a routine. But that first night was rough. We’d been warned that the second and third nights would be the worst, with baby figuring out how to be in this new world of eating, digesting, sleeping, and enjoying human contact. I had hardly slept at all while in the hospital, where, the night before, she had fussed and wanted to nurse almost constantly. Our first night home was no different. I was exhausted.
During the day, she slept. So much so that I had to wake her in order to make sure she ate at least every three hours. I was diligent in this, as well as monitoring the status of her poop. It had started to turn from black to green. Again, she was doing just what she was supposed to do. It was Saturday, and I had missed a call from the local nurse, who was trying to schedule a visit to come to our home and check on the baby. I wasn’t worried about it. Baby girl was doing well. I’d call back on Monday.
That night was another rough one. I spent half of it trying to comfort and feed the baby in bed, and half of it with her in the nursing chair in the living room. She would sleep in my arms, skin-to-skin, so we stayed there for hours, even though I still wasn’t getting any sleep. Sometime during that night, I noticed a change in her suck. It was becoming deeper. My milk was coming in. This is progress, I thought. Maybe now she’ll eat well and we’ll all get some sleep. But with the change in suck came something I wasn’t expecting: pain. Intense, toe-curling pain.
I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. After a few seconds, the pain would lessen, but it didn’t go away. I would take her off my boob and try latching again. I knew what a good latch was supposed to look like, and I knew we weren’t always getting it. But nothing made the pain disappear completely.
And by Sunday, there were other concerns. Her poop had turned black again. She seemed lethargic, a symptom of the jaundice she’d been diagnosed with in the hospital. Feeding was supposed to help flush it from her system, but feeding was becoming more and more difficult. And when she was feeding, she had a tendency to doze off, so I was stroking her jaw, tickling her feet or jostling her wake every 30 seconds or so. On top of that, my hormones were crashing. I was a mess. Completely overwhelmed. At one point, Hubby looked at the two of us, baby girl cradled in my arms, and said, “You were meant to be together.” And I started bawling. I sat on the toilet and cried my eyes out. A big, ugly, snotty cry. Because I couldn’t even bear to feed her.
By Monday morning, I was frantic to get a nurse to come see as ASAP. When I called, I was asked a series of questions, both about myself and the baby. When the question of poop came up, and I explained that it had gone from black to green and then back to black, the woman on the other end of the line seemed very concerned. She had been talking about scheduling a visit for the next day, but she suddenly wanted someone to come out immediately.
Suddenly, I was panicked. What was wrong with my baby? How had I not known this might be a serious problem? Was it related to the feeding issues we were having? The jaundice? Some other illness? The 40 minutes between that phone call and the arrival of Nurse J were the longest of my life.