Recently, I ran across a bunch of worksheets I had used when I was pumping milk for Madeleine. It brought me back to those crazy days with a laugh and a sigh of relief. Like many other areas of my life, early motherhood did not follow the blueprint that I read about in books. Confined to bedrest due to pre-eclampsia, I didn’t walk the hallways or dance with my midwife to get the baby to come. I thank god for the epidural since Madeleine was eventually taken by suction (something I definitely didn’t anticipate). And then there she was in my arms as I tried to feed her…and she was getting hungry. My milk didn’t come in right away and I had read that the baby might not take the breast if a bottle was introduced at the beginning. I was hoping to breastfeed to give her a fighting chance against my three-ring circus of allergies (seasonal, environmental, food…it’s ridiculous). So, committed to the idea of breastfeeding, I started down that bumpy road with this demonic contraption called the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS).
Imagine a hungry baby is crying in your arms and you turn to her to say, “Hold on, honey, I just have to slip this tiny tube underneath this piece of plastic attached to my breast and make sure the bag is high enough so that gravity can drip the formula down to you.” And this is before I try to position her to latch on – a whole different kettle of fish. Imagine doing this at home without the help of nurses and having the container holding the formula continuously break open, spilling formula all over you in the wee hours of the night. All of this in the name of having the baby’s natural suction encourage the milk to come in while getting nutrients from the supplement. By the time we saw the pediatrician a few days later, my husband and I were raw with worry. I finally agreed to bottle feed formula but vowed to keep pumping manually and continue the fight to breastfeed.
The pediatrician sent me to a wonderful place called Lactation Care in Newton to help me in my crusade. After getting a more customized approach to positioning Madeleine (positioning for breastfeeding is just another form of baby yoga in my opinion) and renting a pump to help with my milk woes, I started to calm down. Along with a visit, you get unlimited phone support and I was on the phone with their knowledgeable staff pretty much every day. I was just about to get the hang of things when another curveball arrived: DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis. DeQuervain’s is a repetitive motion condition similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (if you use a keyboard a lot you may have encountered this) and affects the tendons that travel through the wrist to the thumb. So, often and without warning, I felt like I was dislocating my thumb and it hurt like a sonovabitch.
One of the biggest worries of a massage therapist centers around physical injury. What if it’s something that takes too long to recover from? What if you can’t recover from it? In my ten years as a therapist, it was the first time where I took these thoughts seriously. And, how was I going to keep feeding Madeleine when it hurt to pick her up? I found myself again at Lactation Cares but the answer to my question involved having to feed her while practically lying down and when I pictured doing this with her anywhere outside of my house I realized that I had to lay down my sword. She had to eat in a timely manner and I had to figure out a way to rehab my wrist to go back to work.
So, when I wasn’t snuggling up to Madeleine, I was snuggling up to my breast pump every three hours (I wasn’t a gusher, so I had to pump often). We spent time in the wee hours of the night together. We went to work together once I returned to the office. We even went to the beach together (pumping in a hot car under a blanket was not our most romantic moment). But soon, little plastic bags grew in my freezer like an army of Stormtroopers and Madeleine was filling out. I pumped until she was six months old and had enough of a supply on hand to keep feeding her until she was around seven and a half months. My wrist slowly got better but it wasn’t until after I stopped pumping that it made significant progress. (Relaxin, a hormone that is produced to help a woman’s body stretch when the baby is delivered, does not leave the body until several months after you stop breastfeeding. It was not helpful in the healing process). By this time, Madeleine was being cared for on the days that I worked and my head was spinning: this was the beginning of motherhood.
[to be continued – Next Stop: The Sweet]