Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Talking About Breasts Because No One Else Will

Let's talk breasts shall we?

Warning: This post will include words like boobs and nipples in regards to breastfeeding A LOT! If that is not your thing I suggest you stop reading now. Also, it is an extremely long post that I was even exhausted after writing, but my fingers wouldn't stop so I apparently had a lot to say about this. It's consumed a large part of the last 6 weeks!

Prior to delivering my sweet son I never put much thought into how I would feed him. Honestly, I don't think I put any real thought into it. There were no pro's and con's lists of breast milk v. formula. No extensive research on the hows of breastfeeding. No clipping of formula coupons. Nothing. Looking back this is completely crazy given all that I have experienced and how much time the kid spends eating. You should definitely put some thought into it pre-delivery. First time moms, take note.

I know this sounds completely ignorant on my part. I mean, I should of known to spend hours pinning tips to a successful breastfeeding relationship rather than how to make his room cuter right? In my mind I knew he would get fed some way. And I kinda knew it would probably be off my breast, but looking back I didn't really know why that would be the case. I think I just assumed since EVERYONE around me always talked about breastfeeding that it was simply what I would do. Duh.

I think I now understand why everyone talks about it. Those that do it are very proud of it and those that don't are scared to talk about it. There is very much a crazy cult like fan club of breastfeeding and if you aren't in....well you are out and they are there to tell you how out you are.

"You can't possibly bond with your baby through a bottle"

"Your baby is going to be so sick"

"Your baby is going to have terrible allergies"

I mean the criticisms go on. Let me just get one thing straight. While I do think there are a lot of great benefits to breastfeeding, I don't in any shape or form buy the "breast is best" theory. There is a whole list of reasons that people will give you about why breast milk is the best milk and most of them are related to a baby's health, but I don't buy it. I'm sure they are added bonuses. However, my three sisters and I were all formula fed and we happen to be some of the healthiest people I know. Great immune systems and no allergies. My husband tells me all the time, "must be hell not to have allergies", when I'm giving him a hard time about his. Who by the way was breastfed and has asthma. Another person I know breastfed her baby for 11 months and they have been in the doctors office more times than she count this year. She is not convinced she will breastfeed her second for as long because of it. Now I know 5 people can't tell the whole story of breastfeeding benefits, but I just want to demonstrate that formula babies do turn out to be healthy people you crazy "breast is best" lovers! ;)

So back to my experience of breastfeeding thus far. I am sure many of you are wondering why in the world I'm investing so much time into making lactation cookies and pumping if I feel the way I do about breastfeeding. I will get there. So throughout my 9 months of pregnancy I had many conversations about the baby that would come. Things like how we picked his name, the theme of his bedroom, and how long I would stay home were all frequent topics of conversation. Nobody ever bothered to ask how he would be fed. No one ever made the effort to discuss the realities of breastfeeding. I think a lot of it has to do with the American culture. America is still very shy about breastfeeding. It's the reason breastfeeding in public is such a controversial issue. We don't want to see it and we still can't even talk about it. In fact, most of the research I have read around the topic has come from Canada or Europe. What I did know about breastfeeding came from the few times I had been in the presence of another woman feeding her child and the book my boss gave me about 4 weeks before I went into labor. When I had witnessed breastfeeding it looked easy and my assumption was that it would be no big deal given the lack of attention. SURPRISE!

In the weeks leading up to my delivery I received a few gifts to help with breastfeeding, lanolin and breast pads. Those gifts didn't come with much explanation other than start using the lanolin immediately. Don't wait until it hurts. Until it hurts? Ok....

Then about 2 weeks before my unexpected delivery I read a friends blog that said breastfeeding had been the hardest thing and was toe curling pain. Wait...what? How come I haven't been told about all of this pain I will experience?

Before I knew it, I was giving birth unexpectedly early and being asked over and over how I planned to feed him. Breast or Formula? My answer was always breast and it was welcomed with much delight. Grady was able to latch on immediately after birth to try and feed, but didn't get to for long given the complications he was experiencing. Within hours of my delivery I had a lactation specialist in my room with very aggressive hands on my breasts trying to extract colostrum. While she was doing this she was explaining to me how to hand express and telling me I had great production already. She quickly ran through the importance of beginning my pumping schedule since I would not be able to breastfeed right away. Given all that I had gone through that day her directions were a blur and it wasn't long before she was gone and I was trying to remember how she hand expressed and how to use the pump she brought me. Boy was I in over my head.

Over the next 6 days I spent every 3 hours attached to the pump since Grady wasn't ready to give breastfeeding a try. It felt pretty easy. I hadn't experienced the engorgement that I was told I might when my milk came in and I was happily providing milk for the NICU nurses to mix in with the formula they were tube feeding my sweet boy. By the time he got off the feeding tube I was producing enough milk for him to be off formula all together. Before Grady could be discharged he had to eat good for a full 24 hours and since I had said I was breastfeeding it meant we were fighting to breastfeed in the NICU with lots of eyes and hands on us. I felt a lot of pressure to get him on and eating well so we could go home all the while realizing this was not going to be easy. He wasn't latching well. Ultimately we defaulted to the bottle just to prove he could eat well and remember our sweet angel nurse Beth? Well she encouraged me not to worry about it so much and to just work on it once we got home in the comfort of our own surroundings with no audience. Thanks again Mrs. Beth! :)

In the days following arriving home we began trying to breastfeed. He did great when I used the nipple shield they gave me and finally was able to transfer to the breast without the shield within a few days, but it wasn't long before I was in the worst pain I've ever experienced. I would brace myself before he latched on, hold my breath and then push him on. I would howl in pain, curling my toes, and praying it would end soon I would be tense through the whole feeding. I would burp and then do it all over again on the other side. Because of the transparent person that I am I started to talk about this with people when they asked me how things were going. Almost every time I got the same response....

"Oooh yeah. It's hard. I remember crying for weeks everytime he/she latched on. But it gets easier I promise! Stick it out and it will be worth it."

I am not kidding. I literally heard that in some form from every previous mother I talked to and I was dumbfounded. Why had no one told me about this? Why didn't anyone mention that Lanolin was actually a saving grace and breast pads should be worn all the time? Why didn't anyone tell me my nipples might bleed or how to know if I have a clogged duct or to watch for infections or yeast? Holy cow there was a whole plethora of knowledge out there that was completely unbeknownst to me! Did I mention to anyone that I was a first time mom and these things might be good to know!

So after about a week I finally started asking people how long till it got better? I heard everything from a couple weeks to a couple months. I then started diving into Google. I quickly discovered how many women out there were actually suffering like me and I now knew why breastfeeding was either going to work or not. I also knew why my pump might become more important to me than I ever thought.

I started reading a lot about how important his latch is and how it can make all the difference in successfully breastfeeding. I also read that the pain should go away and if it isn't getting better there is probably a problem. On the Monday of our 3rd week I went to the weight clinic our hospital does for breastfed babies to make sure they are gaining enough weight. While there I started talking with the lactation specialist about what I was experiencing and she asked if she could watch us nurse. Before I even got Grady latched on she inspected my nipples and told me, "oh honey your nipples look bad." Thank you, they feel even worse. She looked at the girl she was helping nurse right before me and told her how much better her nipples looked than mine. That certainly made me feel better. ;) I then latched Grady on and she quickly pointed out that he wasn't nursing well. Apparently he is a chomper. Rather than drawing the milk out, he is chomping it out which is obliterating my nipples and more than likely causing bad transfer of milk. We were both falling victim to his bad nursing. Before we went home she suggested I look into getting on some medicine. She wasn't sure if it was thrush or a bacteria infection, but my cracked nipples weren't healing and we were trying to rule things out in order to help me get better. She also recommended taking him off the breast for a few days in an effort to help them heal. My nips had to get better or this kid was going to be off the breast for good.

That was about when it all came crumbling in on me. I spent the next three days emotionally spent. Poor Zeb put up with a lot. I spent almost every waking moment reading more online literature about breastfeeding, yeast, bacteria, and sore nipples than I ever cared to. I was completely frustrated that this wasn't going better and I was hopeless in terms of the end result. Zeb kept trying to encourage me that pumping and feeding from the bottle wasn't so bad and to just relax. However, I felt like a complete failure if I couldn't feed him directly from the breast. It was messy. By about mid-day Tuesday I had gone from pumping a solid 3 ounces per session to a measly 1 ounce if I was lucky. The stress and tension I was feeling was coming through and my milk was deteriorating because of it. Imagine the added stress that now I wouldn't pump enough to even feed him from the bottle. Oh dear. I went to bed that night with an incredibly bad headache and so much pain in my upper back/neck from all of the tension. Wednesday was my melt down and I finally decided I either needed to figure it out or let it go, but I couldn't continue stressing everyone in the house out over my boobs. Come on Sasha, get it together. Wednesday was also the day, Grady started to show signs of Thrush. Great. At least now I know why it's hurting so bad and can work on remedies to make it better. Which by the way, I don't recommend any doctor prescribed methods. There are great natural remedies that work a lot better so if you ever find yourself dealing with the evil Yeast overgrowth give me a shout!

So here we are exactly 2 weeks later. Grady has been on the bottle and I have established a wonderful relationship with my pump. Everyone in the house is happy. It hasn't happened since, but that Thursday that I decided to just pump and bottle feed, Grady slept from 11:30pm to 7am. I think we were all relieved from the stress I was experiencing. Yesterday marked the re-introduction of the breast. Yes I am mostly pumping, but I am also in some prideful, determined way trying to overcome the obstacles I have experienced with nursing. Maybe I just want to be able to say I did it successfully or maybe it has to do with the cult people out there. Whatever it is, even though I have complete peace about pumping and bottle feeding, I am still very much in desire of a successful nursing relationship. So I am not giving up.

Throughout all of this I have learned a whole heck of a lot about breastfeeding! I have a wealth of knowledge to pass on to anyone who may need it and I am finding ways to be successful without the use of nipple shields or lanolin. Did you know Coconut Oil is actually a much better option?! So again, why am I so determined to make this work if I am also a firm believer that formula works great too? Truthfully, the few times nursing hasn't hurt so bad I've actually really loved it. I've loved the closeness I feel with Grady and the satisfaction in his face while he is on the breast. I've loved how it has required me to slow down and enjoy the little person he is and won't be for long. I want it to work because I think I might actually like it. I also think it is the way God intended it to be. He gave us the gift of nourishment for our little ones and I want to use it. It is also a great savings. Formula is expensive!

All of this to say that breastfeeding has been hard. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. If you wanna know the truth, I am a quitter. I tend to quit when things get hard and so this has really challenged that flaw of mine. But I am also excited to say that I am completely at peace with however it ends up. I read a book over the last couple days called Exclusively Pumping Breastmilk. It is a great resource for exclusive pumpers, which I might well be on my way to becoming. I go back to work next week and Grady will be mostly bottle fed anyway, so the opportunity to nurse exclusively isn't really there. I am also OK with formula if it comes to that. Truth be told I hate "breast is best" because I think "what works is best". I think the bonding my husband gets through bottle feeding is best. I think a less stressed house is best. I think not trying to do something because it's what everyone else does is best. I think whatever way works that feeds your little one and keeps everyone happy is the best. And no one should make you feel bad about it.

Nurse on friends! or pump on! or bottle on! Just feed and love on! :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Birth Story Filled With All The Unexpected Including An Angel

As I type, Grady Cole Austin, is snuggled up on my chest fighting his afternoon nap. I never thought on March 8th as I was typing my last post about being 37 weeks pregnant and sharing nursery pictures that I would be holding this sweet guy 4 days later. It has been the most unpredictable and challenging 5 weeks of my life, but I wouldn't trade any of it for the wiggling worm that rests on me now.

For about 4 weeks leading up to the birth of Grady  I spent my evenings reading birth stories, talking to friends about their experiences during labor, and trying to mentally prepare myself for what would become my own story. Little did I know that no amount of stories from others would prepare me for what was to come.

I woke up early Wednesday morning with contractions. This was strange for a few reasons:
1. I had been to the doctor the day before. He checked my cervix and flat out told me I would be pregnant still next week because my cervix was nowhere near ready to deliver.
2. I had not had any sort of braxton hicks or contractions my entire pregnancy.
3. It was way to soon for me to really be going into labor.

However, I laid there for about 30 minutes grunting through each one thinking what if this is really it. I didn't want to wake Zeb and I surely didn't want to go to the hospital with a false alarm so I was just gonna play it cool. Like they told me drink lots of water, take a warm bath, walk around, they should go away. That would be my plan. Suddenly I felt some pressure in my lower area and jumped up to go to the bathroom. It was that moment that I had my first gush. And then another. And then another. I sat there for a good 15 minutes trying to convince myself this wasn't what I thought it was. I was not going into labor. No need to freak out. Finally, I came to terms with reality that it was what I thought it was and proceeded to protect myself long enough to wake Zeb up and inform him of what the day would hold. It would not be the chiropractor appt and work like he originally thought.

I woke Zeb and told him that I thought we were having a baby today. Half asleep, you could hear the sarcasm in his voice, oh really? Yes. My water broke. Well that woke him up! We discussed what should happen next. I told him I wanted to make myself presentable and then we could head to the hospital. I had been timing my contractions and they weren't to close together nor were they very strong so I felt OK about delaying the trip. Within about 30 minutes we were on our way to the hospital.

Once we arrived and got settled in our room it was time for the nurse to check my cervix and confirm that my water broke. I told her I knew I hadn't just been peeing myself for the last little bit, but she said they still needed to confirm in order to officially admit us. Well she had a very hard time reaching my cervix and therefore, was unable to confirm my water had broken. After about an hour and a lab test the confirmation was received. My water had broken and labor would take place that day. My doctor arrived within about 15 minutes and told me that I needed to figure out when I wanted my epidural. He also explained that if I got the epidural soon I needed to be committed to getting the kid out of me which meant if my body was not progressing quick enough I would need to consider taking some pitocin. As he walked out I immediately looked over at Zeb and tears started to well up in my eyes. I was so incredibly scared of everything that was going to be required of me in order to get this little guy out. Zeb reassured me that everything would be fine and not to get so worked up.

Since I had no idea what the ideal time was, I decided to go ahead and get the epidural put in. I also wanted the nurse to check me again and she wouldn't do that until I was numbed up since it was so painful for her to check me before. The epidural was by far the scariest part. I think it was more the unknown, but I was terrified. With the exception of my blood pressure plummeting as they were doing the procedure, it turned out to be just fine. I can't say I would ever want to do it again, but I would be OK if I had to. Fast forward to epidural in and body numb. Nurse starts to check me. Find out I am a good 4, almost 5 dilated, but she was concerned. In fact, "what is that?", were the words she uttered with her still inside me. Oh no. What was it? She said she was going to need to call my Dr. to do an ultrasound. She wasn't feeling a head anywhere near my cervix. All she felt was maybe a hand or foot. My Dr. showed up minutes later and it was confirmed. Grady was breach. Now all my fears of labor were gone because I would be going in for a C-section immediately. They were concerned about waiting too long since my body was progressing pretty fast on its own. Within about 45 minutes I was prepped for surgery and Grady was born!

Welcome Grady!! Born 11:26 AM. 6 pounds 14 ounces and 20.5 inches long.

Still strapped to the operating table and getting to see him up close for the first time. I was crying mess!

First family picture!

I wish I could say that was the end, but in reality it felt like just the beginning. Grady was grunting quite a bit after being born. This was not at all alarming to me, but apparently this is a sign that things may not be going well internally. I got about 45 minutes of skin to skin time with my sweet little boy before they told me they needed to take him to the nursery to be watched. Grady was only 3 weeks early, but little boys have slow developing lungs. This means that sometimes when they come early they might need help breathing. This is where Grady was. After about 2 hours my nurse came into my postpartum room and told me Grady was getting a bath. He should be in soon! Hooray. After an hour and half passed I started to wonder what they considered soon. I finally received an update. During the bath Grady had begun to show signs of bad respiratory. They had made an executive decision to take him to NICU. 

I was far from prepared for all that had happened that day and this was the final straw. I was an emotional wreck. They reassured me it was just for precautionary measures, but it didn't make any of it easier. I had only gotten 45 minutes with him since he was born 5 hours before and now I wasn't sure when I would get to hold him again. 

They brought him to my room right before taking him to NICU. 

I had figured out that the sooner I got feeling back in my legs and forced myself out of bed, the sooner I could get down to NICU to see my baby. While I was very determined mentally to do so, physically it was going to take a little bit. I finally made my way around 10 pm. 

Getting to see him and hold him again for the first time since birth! Talk about an emotional moment. 

It was a long 6 days to say the least. The first 48 hours were the hardest because Grady didn't get better right away. He kinda got worse and then better. Can I tell you what made it the absolute best though? There was an angel I swear, sent straight from heaven, to take care of Grady. You see, I believe God's hand is in everything and I also believe that sometimes when he throws a lot at you, he also sends an angel to relieve some of it. Nurse Beth was our angel. She took care of Grady I think 4 out of the 6 days he was in NICU. She taught Zeb and I how to bathe Grady, how to not freak out when he pees all over you and reminded us to laugh. She was the absolute best person to have around during this time. She was our nurse the day we discharged too and when she walked us down to hand Grady off. I gave her the biggest hug and held back tears. Thank you Beth.

So that was our story. It was completely unlike anything I dreamed of going into that day. I'm drawn to tears a lot when I look back on the pictures. The last 5 weeks have been both challenging and fun. We have laughed a lot because of the new adventure we are on. I've cried, only a little, ;) thanks to hormones re-balancing and breastfeeding. Oh deserves a post of it's own! But mostly I have just stared and been so incredibly thankful for the sweet gift that Grady is. I can hardly believe he is mine and yet I thank God for him every day. 

We were extremely blessed to have our families here to help in those early weeks and then friends after they left to continue providing gifts and meals. Our hearts are full.