I am honestly feeling so drained from yesterday’s work on Part 2. I felt panicky and out of control the whole day and today, I’m feeling super apprehensive about continuing the series. I spent the afternoon at my parents’ yesterday and when I arrived home, Jay was waiting for me in the garage. We hugged and cried together. He said he didn’t realize it was so bad and that he wished he had done more.
So, today, before I get started on Part 3, I want to tell you about how amazing he was. I wouldn’t have been able to survive this without Jay. He stayed positive during my most difficult moments, which, frankly is out of character for him. He supported me. He took care of everything. The laundry, cooking, caring for our dogs, bathing our girls, feeding them, feeding me. I did nothing but pump and obsess about milk and breastfeeding. He did everything I asked. He never made me feel crazy. Or gross. Or pressured. He was, and still is, my rock.
We are both in better places now, and while he was my rock, he was also suffering from paternal postpartum depression. That’s right, partners aren’t immune to postpartum mood adjustment disorders. For Jay, his depression showed up well after I was on somewhat of an upswing. Jay chose to forego treatment in hopes that his depression would resolve on its own. To a degree, we both feel like ourselves again. But the scars of Maggie’s postpartum are still here. We will never overcome the fear of more children, of living this nightmare again.
Many people have reached out to me to tell me how brave they think I am for sharing this dark time in my life. He is the brave one. He is the one who got up every day and lived with me. He is the one who kept our family whole.
So, here we go. On to Part 3.
Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of my journey.
I had a new mission. Make milk. Make more milk. Make more milk than Maggie needed every day. Make enough milk to stop pumping and feed Maggie breastmilk exclusively for 18 months. I downloaded a new app, Milk Maid, and cataloged every. single. drop. of milk I produced...even the 4 oz bag in my parent’s freezer had a home in my app.
I borrowed a baby positioner and left Maggie in it for much of every day. I had to pump. I developed systems. Systems I refused to deviate from. I joined a Facebook group for folks who pumped exclusively. No one was allowed to talk about breastfeeding. I was safe here. I searched all the posts and fantasized about 20 oz pumping sessions. I would pump just before midnight every night so I could count the ounces toward that day’s count.
I set my alarm for 2 and 4 am. I didn’t sleep. I had to pump. Pump. Pump. Pump. June stopped nursing her babies. She just wanted to pump her ninnies. I always wanted to see her breastfeed her baby dolls...like all of the pictures I’d seen people share in various groups I’m in. She wouldn’t. She just wanted to pump. I cried. Time to pump again.
Social media posts about breastfeeding made me sick. I would read them and become furious with the poster...especially if she didn’t like it [breastfeeding]. Or wanted to stop. Or, God forbid, asked questions about lip or tongue tie revision. I blocked every friend I had who shared brelfies or discussed breastfeeding in any way. I would pray against their success. Hoping someone else could feel my pain. Anyone.
I hated the pump. This ball and chain I carried everywhere.
I never left the house.
It was too hard to pump while out, or warm milk for Maggie. What if she was hurt or scared? How would I comfort her? How could I give her vaccinations without the ability to breastfeed after? I hated the need I felt to explain away the bottle to strangers, judging myself enough for everyone…”Don’t worry,” I’d say, “that’s breastmilk in there.”
Maggie bobbed up and down in the mamaRoo. I pumped. I was anchored to the couch. People in my EP group shared tips and tricks for staying mobile. I couldn’t leave the couch. The dogs earned my ire. I left them in their crate nearly all day. And if they were out, I would assault them with whatever I could throw from my seat. Odin is still deathly afraid of packages of wipes.
I obsessed over the benefits of breastfeeding that Maggie was missing out on because she didn’t nurse directly. I made sure to lick her mouth multiple times a day so that my body would learn what antibodies she needed. I pumped. I grew comfortable with the idea that we would never be close. I accepted that she would never need me. I pumped. I apologized to her. Profusely. Daily. For ruining her. For ruining us. I pumped.
Two months and one day after her birth, I gave Maggie her first bath. She had curly hair. I was embarrassed to share with our friends and family. I knew they would wonder how we’d just found out. I pumped. We visited family for Christmas. Jay’s cousin assured me that we did the right thing. She worked for a dentist. She couldn’t breastfeed either. I knew she understood me. I faked a smile. I pumped in a little girl’s room while the celebrating went on without me. I hated being there. I hated being anywhere. Except my couch.
When I was called to my first birth after Maggie, I was grateful for the break. Until the baby, this beautiful, unmarred baby latched to its mother’s breast. I felt my face flush and start to tingle. Why did she deserve this more than I did? Why was I so alone? I had to get out of there.
It was better the next time. At least I told myself it was. I could be happy for them. I could celebrate their success. I had no other choice. I turned my focus back to my stash. I pumped.
We ran out of room in the freezer. So Jay bought a deep freeze. I wanted it in the corner of my bedroom. I checked to make sure it was on multiple times a day, overnight, always looking for the green light. Praying the electric would never go out. Worrying over every storm. I pumped.
I refused sex and secretly hoped my husband would just find someone else to meet his needs. The pump couldn’t keep my fertility away. My supply would dry up. How could I be open to life if a pregnancy meant the end of Maggie’s? I pumped.
Maggie refused her bottle once. She didn’t like my thawed milk, so soapy with high lipase. I had a new plan. Every ounce must now be scalded. Every time. Scalded and then rapidly cooled. 54 oz per day, scalded, cooled, cataloged. 6 oz per bag. Weighed on a scale. I couldn’t trust the lines on the bag. I needed to know exactly how much I had. 2/12/16-A, 2/12/16-B, 2/12/16-C and so on and so on. I wrote down the exact time of each pumping session. I had to know when to feed Maggie. I had to rely on the bag.
She started holding her own bottle. I didn’t fight it. I wanted her to grow up. I wanted to see her at 18 months when she would toddle around and drink milk from a cup. When my breasts would belong to me again. When I could forget all of this. When I could have another baby to start over with.
She had milestones. I didn’t record any. Each month passed by and I didn’t snap a styled photo like I had for her older sister. I didn’t write in her baby book, except to apologize for ruining us. I hoped she would forgive me. I didn’t take any videos or pictures. I never wanted to remember this time. Never. But, daily, I was reminded. Reminded that we weren’t normal. Reminded we were broken.
In March, a client’s baby wasn’t nursing well. I could see what was going on. I knew what was coming. I called in JoEllen (our IBCLC). I trusted her. I knew she wouldn’t send this unsuspecting woman to the fancy room at the dentist unless it was her last option. I believed she had a magic trick up her sleeve to save this baby. To save this mother. She didn’t. I don’t know why I offered to sit in for the consultation. Something about wanting to hear JoEllen’s care plan since I was doing overnight shifts. But here sat this mother, trying so hard. And it made me realize I wasn’t trying hard enough.
That night, I sat down on the couch, I put Maggie to the breast again. I sang. I did everything right. She screamed. She screamed like I’d just punched her in the face. She was terrified. So I yelled. I dropped her on my lap and threw my head back and yelled.
WHY WON’T SHE DO THIS? WHY WON’T SHE NURSE?
I screamed it over and over, sobbing. Jay ran in from the kitchen and hugged me. I was inconsolable.
My client wanted me to come the night after the revision for an overnight. I was scared. Could I do this? Should I do this? Somehow I managed. Her sweet baby was swollen. But she slept. And she didn’t scream in pain. She wasn’t the 1% like my baby. She was okay.
But, after that shift, I knew I wasn’t okay. It was time to admit I needed help. I called and made an appointment with a psychologist.