Recently, a study has found that women who struggle to breastfeed in the first two weeks after giving birth are more prone to postpartum depression. This finding, whilst hardly groundbreaking, gives scientific credence to what mothers have been saying for decades – we need more support and less sabotage, particularly in the early days. Young mothers are especially vulnerable to postpartum depression, as are those who did not plan their pregnancies.
It would seem therefore that the odds were stacked against the young protagonist in this story who unexpectedly fell pregnant in her teens. She was immediately launched into a battle against the very people that were under duty to care for her. Despite being sabotaged from every angle, she somehow managed to pull through, against all odds. Here, she explains how she did it:
Induced without warning
For the entire pregnancy, there was no doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed. It seemed like the obvious choice, and, as I mistakenly thought - the easier choice. At 40+5, I was at my final prenatal appointment, where I was told I was being induced due to low fluid. No warning, I wasn't allowed to gather my things, I had to beg to eat. I was given a stretch and sweep without permission. I was told nothing I should have been told, given no information. The midwife simply told me she was going to do a cervical check and then I felt an immense pain, yelled out and told her to STOP and she told me she was doing a stretch and sweep and if I couldn't handle that then I had better ask for an epidural because I surely couldn't handle natural labor. I was distressed and frustrated and wanted to cry - not only was I teased for being in pain but I very much felt violated, and seeing the blood of my plug coming out scared me. She stretched me from 1cm to 3cm. I was then brought into a Delivery room, hooked up to pitocin, given a catheter and that was it.
Except, if it was okay, why, the second I pushed my son out, was he taken from me?
I didn't get to see him. My husband didn't get to cut the cord. I didn't get immediate skin-to-skin, he was given all his shots and such without my being informed of anything. He was taken, and doctors surrounded him for nearly an hour. My husband got to see him but they wouldn't let him touch him. And to this day, almost 4 months later, I still don't know why.
My birth plan expressly stated that I wanted the vernix to remain on him for a few hours. Yet the nurses were sitting my baby in the tub and beginning to wash him when they asked, "Oh, by the way, did you want him to have a bath?" At that point, it was too late anyway!
Clueless and confused
He wouldn’t stop crying
I pulled my top down and tried to breastfeed. But I didn't know how. And it wasn't easy, and he wouldn't stop crying. Soon, I was crying. My husband came back, took him and called for help. The nurses told me he wouldn't breastfeed for a while. I thought that was okay.
The first night was horrible. The nurses and doctors refused to help! They told me everything was normal. They acted like my concerns were absolutely insignificant. I begged for a lactation consultant, who eventually came in and told me he probably wouldn't latch at all for about 3 days and that was "normal" and "okay". That didn't seem right, but no matter what I did, I couldn't get him to latch... so maybe it was normal?
But then why did he scream all night? We had no idea. We were lost, and upset, and I was scared that because I didn't get skin to skin, I had ruined the bond already. It was my fault.
“If you don’t formula-feed, he will die”
The following day, we'd had enough. They told me he was healthy, and we fought tooth and nail to be able to leave early. The pediatricians told me despite my baby being healthy, if we left, he would die. I KNEW that was wrong.
In the end, they finally let us leave - but only after giving us formula, giving me the mini pill (and telling me to start IMMEDIATELY) and telling me I probably couldn't breastfeed because I was already 'troubled', and I'd definitely need to supplement. Another prerequisite for us being allowed to leave was if we agreed to take him back the next morning. The same pediatrician who yelled at me seemed gleeful that he had dropped more weight, and said if, by his one-week appointment, he wasn't back to his birth weight, they'd take him and call social work since we were insisting on leaving.
Before leaving, I was shown the football hold, once, and told to twist my nipples. The staff literally meant twisting my nipples around with my pointer finger and my thumb. I'm not quite sure the best way to explain it... ever heard of a "titty twister"? It sounds terribly vulgar but that's what they told me to do, just lighter, to harden my nipples so he could latch. Then they reminded us of the formula and sent us on our way.
The first night home was the epitome of hell. He still wouldn't nurse. I tried so hard and felt like such a failure. Nothing seemed right. Nothing was how I imagined it. I thought it would be a breeze, easy and perfect and simple. I locked myself in the bathroom and sobbed for hours as my husband gave him formula. Our son barely drank any, but he tried anyway. And I cried. I didn't want to look at my own baby. I didn't want to see him, or hear him, or be near him. I didn't care if he disappeared overnight. I didn't want him. I had already ruined him, so what did it matter?
But we made it through. I tried again to get him to latch, and he did for about 45 seconds. And that was it. He was forming big, bubbly blisters on both lips.
Shortly after, I got my Zoloft anti-depressants. But we still didn't bond. It was a little more bearable, though. We made an appointment with a certified LC, because I just didn't feel right giving my son formula. At a few days old, we met with her. She checked him over, showed me good nursing positions, taught me different holds, and then informed me that he had an upper lip tie, AND a tongue tie, causing a shallow latch, which caused those blisters... and that nursing would probably be pretty rough until we got the ties cut. We set out to make an appointment for that, but the hospital (same one I delivered at) told us it would be about three months. I felt in despair, like the world was absolutely against me.
When I was close to a month postpartum, I got a fever of 104.3. A trip to the ER revealed mastitis in both breasts, and retained placenta. A few days later I had a vacuum DnC. I got 6 shots to help numb my cervix and I was completely awake for the whole process. I got to watch the ultrasound. I had a female Hispanic doctor and a young Scottish male doctor - I was the first DnC he had seen. The look on his face was priceless, the poor guy seemed shocked. But it hurt, and it hurt a lot. They couldn't even get all of the 'products of conception' out, there was so much, and I had to be given a pill, inserted into my cervix I believe, to force contractions to get the rest of the placenta out. It was frightening.
By this point, my milk supply was down to nearly nothing. I continued pumping, every hour, putting him to breast, every hour. I tried so hard. I drank Mother's Milk Tea, took Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle, ate oatmeal, did a couple of nurse-ins. But nothing worked, nothing helped, he'd scream and wail and vomit.
“You must give him rice cereal”
We visited his ped at his 2 month checkup and were informed that he had reflux. We were told to give him Zantac, and that we had to switch to formula and give him rice cereal at every feed... but that didn't sit right with me. In fact, it only made me more determined. I wanted to scream at her that he was too young for rice cereal, that he'd never touch rice cereal. And man, I was wrong.
Within a few days my husband had enough. He started making bottles the second our son cried, and, yes - putting rice cereal in them. He told people that I was too stubborn to give formula and he didn't like me breastfeeding because it "wasn't doing anyone, any good". We butted heads, big time. This went on for about two weeks. I still put the baby to breast constantly, pumped constantly, took my supplements, everything. But the formula always seemed to win out and it never stopped. It seemed like everyone was pushing formula - "It's not that bad, you NEED to do it," or "YOU were formula fed and you're just fine".
They didn't understand. No one understood! I kept falling into deep depression where I would cry, and yell, and I kept wanting to just punch things. I hated feeling like such a failure. I hated not being bonded with my first child after 2 months. It was WRONG. Something was wrong.
Still no bond with baby
Mid-July we went on a ten-hour roadtrip, where, to my glee but my husband's dismay, I HAD to breastfeed, for three whole days. Our son fussed, and fought, but latched more, as if he could sense my own urgency. He rarely got full, because my supply was ruined, but at least he nursed. But where, where, where was the bond I so hoped for? It wasn't that I didn't love him, I did. I just felt hollow. It was no secret that I was struggling with PND... but instead of helping, or even humoring me, everyone around dismissed me. Told me I was being silly, or stupid, or I shouldn't be a mother.
“You are selfish not to formula feed”
The ENT called us, finally, around 2 1/2 months after he was born. We went in to get it all checked and they... well, they refused to cut the ties. They told me by cutting the ties I would be endangering him. They said his tongue tie was "thick" and he had to be anesthetized to cut it, and cutting it during the appointment would endanger him, yet anesthetizing him would endanger him. So either way, according to them, he could bleed out, or die from anesthesia. They refused to even admit there was a lip tie! They told me it was selfish, why not just formula feed? Not everything was about me breastfeeding after all... and once again, I was crushed. I was devastated.
Resentful and jealous
Two days later, with no milk supply to speak of and a baby who didn't want anything to do with me, I quit breastfeeding. And I sobbed, and cried, all while my son smiled at me. It made me feel worse. I hated myself. The ONE thing I was supposed to be able to do for him without fail, I couldn't do it. I was resentful and jealous of every woman who could. Everyone around me seemed to have it easy. Little to no problems, yet some of them quit just because breastfeeding was 'inconvenient'. Whereas I was doing so much, trying so hard. I kept thinking that it was just unfair, why did I have ALL of these problems yet others, who didn't appreciate that they had it much easier and much more natural than I did, throw away that gift? It didn't seem right. I was wallowing in self-pity. I had expected breastfeeding to be a challenge, but nowhere NEAR as much of a challenge as it's proven to be, and this was my lowest point. I was just livid at the world, and at every mom who had been able to persevere and continue breastfeeding, and every mom who could do it, but gave up.
But that's when it all turned around.
The next morning, I woke up with my breasts hugely engorged and a squalling baby. I had the inspiration to put him back to the breast after guzzling two water bottles, some oatmeal, and my usual herbal supplements. And somehow, for some reason, after I lost every bit of hope... he latched. It hurt, it wasn't perfect, it was shallow, but he latched and began sucking like he never had before. I was shocked, and I cried. I cried so hard. I cried even harder when he unlatched to look at me, and coo, and then latched again by himself.
Right then I decided I would throw every single bottle out if I had to, I would throw the formula out, because I would not give up.
Using donor milk
But with my supply still low, we HAD to supplement. And as luck... or maybe fate, would have it, I found out about Human Milk 4 Human Babies that day. And that day, I decided my baby wouldn't touch formula ever again. I quit the mini pill (saw a near-immediate supply boost!) and set out more determined than ever.
And the best part is, we finally got our bond. I don't know when it happened but now I can't get enough of my little one. And I'm so happy, and finally thoroughly enjoying motherhood. We definitely plan to keep this up until HE decides when he wants to wean.
The biggest lesson I have learned is genuinely to not give up. This is probably my single greatest accomplishment, we overcame so much. I'm so proud of it. I'm so proud of US. It was so hard, but it's been oh so worth it, and I would honestly do it all again.”
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