We graduated from the breastfeeding clinic today. It was not unlike graduating from the RE all those months ago. Bittersweet. A sign that things are going well. But what am I going to do now without constant monitoring, both of my nipples and baby girl’s weight?
I realize that our experience is not typical and that what eventually worked for us won’t work for everyone. But I wanted so much for someone to tell me that it would all turn out okay when the pain was at its worst and I felt like a failure. So if this post can do that for someone else, it’s worth putting it out there.
I can’t stop staring at my nipples. They’re pink and healthy and brand new. No more gaping wounds. No more white macerated skin. No more cracks or bleeding or blisters. They just look…normal. And I haven’t seen that for more than 14 weeks.
All over the breastfeeding clinic there are posters advertising the benefits of breastfeeding. Better for mom. Better for baby. Decreases infection, allergies, and on and on. The ones that make me laugh, though, are the ones that tout breastfeeding as the “free” option.
I thought about tallying up all the expenses here, but it’s too depressing. Thankfully, every visit to the breastfeeding clinic (at both hospitals) was free. Beyond that? There was the breast pump rental, followed by bottles, a $20 nipple that is supposed to simulate breastfeeding, and ever larger flanges for my enormous and wounded nipples. Then there were the dressings and prescriptions, none of which was covered by our health care (because of Hubby’s position as “trainee” making him ineligible for group coverage). And that shit was not cheap. Then I had to buy a nipple shield and box after box of nursing pads for the constant leakage (not sure what caused this, but as soon as my right nipple healed, it also stopped dripping like a leaky faucet). What am I forgetting? Oh, yeah. Two visits to the osteopath at $85 a pop, also not covered by our insurance.
So, breastfeeding as the free option? Not by a long shot.
“You’re stubborn,” the LC said. She intended it as a compliment, and I took it as such. “You must come from strong stock. I’m always impressed with my mamas who stick it out with open wounds like you have.”
Baby girl must have been 10 or 11 weeks old. The wound on my left nipple had started to heal, and I watched in amazement as the skin slowly zipped itself back together to cover the “angry red flesh” (as LC #1 had called it) beneath it. But there was no progress on the right, even after two rounds of antibiotics (the second of which gave baby girl diarrhea) and continuous use of silicone dressings meant to keep it dry. I was using a nipple shield to decrease–not eliminate–the pain. But nothing seemed to be working to heal it.
So LC #2 suggested Melgisorb, an algae-based dressing to suck up all the moisture and help aid in healing. And it worked. The following week, I was ecstatic to finally be able to show some progress. The LC measured the wound. It was slowly shrinking, millimeter by millimeter. (At its largest, I think it was something like 16 by 8 mm.)
After everything we’d been through, baby girl and I–multiple frenotomies, week after week of visits to the breastfeeding clinic, tongue stretches, antibiotics, sessions with the osteopath, worry about weight gain, and wounds that refused to heal–feeding her without pain came as a revelation. Oh, this is what breastfeeding is supposed to feel like. It’s pleasant…enjoyable, even. I used to worry that I would never come to love breastfeeding. My goal for so long was for it to become tolerable. I worried that I would always have to be hyper-vigilant about the latch, as I was in the beginning. But now baby girl pops on and off of her own accord, with very little help from me. Sometimes she slurps my nipple into her mouth like a fat spaghetti noodle. Other times she misses all together and gives me a little hickey, her sucking is so ferocious. But we’re doing it.
And I’m proud of that fact. I’m proud of my body for finally healing, for continuing to feed my baby, even through the pain. I’m proud of baby girl for handling whatever was thrown at her: bottles, formula (briefly), the nipple shield, all the taking her off my breast and re-latching until we got it right. And I’m proud of myself. I wanted so badly to make breastfeeding work, and it finally has. Even though everyone (including one of the doctors at the breastfeeding clinic) gave me permission to quit if I wanted to, I didn’t give up. Because stubborn is persistent. Stubborn is tenacious. That’s the kind of stubborn I hope baby girl gets from me.