For those of you struggling with breastfeeding after revision, especially if you’re among the countless women who’ve reached out to me after learning of my story to share the similarities of yours, know that Part 4 might be difficult for you to read. I’ve struggled with sharing Parts 2 and 3 for my own vanity and pride. I hesitate to share Part 4 because if I’d read it a year ago...it would have killed me. I don’t want to be the source of anyone’s pain.
I’m sorry if this hurts you.
Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 here.
The first time I met her, I was skeptical. How was she going to fix me? She asked me random questions; we talked about the house I was trying to convince my husband to buy (we bought it, by the way). We talked about my parents, and the weather and other inconsequential things. I wanted to get down to business, so I unloaded. Pretty hard. I told her everything...well, as much as I could get out in the 49 minutes I had left that session.
She validated my feelings, nodded her head, told me she understood it must be very hard. And she smiled a very sweet smile. That was it. We were to pick back up next week.
When I came back the following week, she asked me questions. How often did I think negative things about my baby? One time a day? Five times? I answered, closer to twenty.
I knew it was irrational.
I knew I was her mother. I gave birth to her. I have photographic evidence. But my identity as a mother was so intertwined with breastfeeding, I didn’t know how to be her mother without it. I couldn’t move on. Everyone around me told me it was no big deal. She was getting my milk. She hadn’t had a drop of formula in her life (as if that mattered to me). She was happy. Such a happy baby. She never cried. She was so content to be ignored, bobbing up and down in the mamaRoo. Everyone commented about her outlook, and how pleasant she was. Didn’t I support women all the time who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed? Did I think they were any less a mother? And of course, I didn’t. That was what was right for them.
But not for me.
I couldn’t forgive myself for the choice I made 6 months earlier. I knew that as long as there was a drop of milk in my breasts, I would carry around this hope that things could get better. That I could get better.
It had to stop. The pumping.
It had to stop.
I told her about my routines. My scalding. My cataloging. My obsessing over bricks upon bricks of milk in my deep freeze. My internet shopping for another.
She asked why Jay couldn’t scald my milk. Or catalog it. Or store it. I panicked. He couldn’t handle the responsibility. He would mess up my tracking. He wouldn’t weigh the milk right. He would spill it. He would do it all wrong. I picked a fight with him over it when I got home. But he did it anyway. I still pumped. I still sat on the couch. I still tracked my milk. But it was different, then. I can’t explain it.
I once asked her, “What are we doing here? I keep coming here and telling you about my life, but I don’t feel any better. When do we solve this?”
She told me that folks suffering from postpartum OCD responded best to medication.
It was like she punched me, right in the stomach. She wanted me, the woman who robbed her baby of a connection, a bond, a mother...to make milk tainted with an anti-depressant? My rational mind knew it was fine. It was safe. But I couldn’t do it. I told her I would consider it again once I weaned from the pump. I was pushing the date up further and further.
She said we would continue talk therapy. It would help. I would slowly back off of my pumps and in June, when I weaned, I would start medication. I kept telling her I would get better if we just bought a house. If I could get organized. If Maggie would come back to the breast. If. If. If. I didn’t need medication. I would be fine. If only I could fast-forward this part of my life.
April 28th, I traveled to Columbus for the day and only pumped 3 times in 24 hours. Three. Times. It was liberating. But I barely produced 35 oz. I was losing my supply. I decided to start weaning right then and there. I suppose talk therapy was helping after all. At least it was helping my pumping relationship. Mine and Maggie’s wasn’t salvageable. I debated when I would tell her what I had done. Would we talk about it when she was 10 and asked why I didn’t love her the same? Would we talk about it when she became pregnant? When would I share with her the damage I had done?
On May 4th, I was down to around 24 oz of milk per day. Exactly what I was feeding Maggie. She was sick. Her nose, stuffy. She had fallen asleep on my chest and was stirring from her nap. I needed to pump. And to make a bottle. I didn’t want to. I dreaded getting off of the couch. I was so tired. Of pumping. Of warming bottles. Of everything.
I’m not sure how it happened, or why I did it, but I offered her my breast. I should never have tried, the timing was awful. She was hungry and tired and sick. I don’t know why, I most definitely didn’t deserve it, but God reached down and touched us in that moment. He saved my life. He saved Maggie’s. She latched.
I was afraid to move. Or breathe. I didn’t sing. I didn’t cry. I listened. For her gulps. For swallowing. She nursed for a long time. I don’t remember quite how long. Enough that when I pumped after, there was barely anything in the bottle.
And two hours later, when she was hungry, she nursed again. This time I sobbed. I sang. I praised God. I was reborn.
Maggie is still breastfeeding today, exactly one year later. She hasn’t taken a bottle in my presence since. I never went back to my psychologist...though I wish I had. It wasn’t until this past February that I started to feel like myself again. I still struggle. I am not yet whole. I don’t know if I ever will be.
The six months after Maggie’s birth are difficult for me to remember. Not because they hurt to revisit, but because I honestly don’t remember much. I recently asked a girlfriend if she was ever going to meet Magnolia. She said she had, twice. I cannot recall either visit.
Sometimes, out of nowhere, I’m back there again. No warning. No consent.
At a professional conference this past October, I had to get up and run out of a seminar lead by a lactation professional. I was sick. Miserable. Panicking. She talked about pumping. Or tongue ties. I’m not sure. I just knew that I couldn’t be there. I had to get away. I went to my hotel room and cried. And then I pumped.
Little things will trigger me now, and I almost never know they’re coming. I can’t breathe. I’m sitting on my couch, my head thrown back with a screaming baby on my lap. And I am lost.
When Maggie came back to the breast, she threw me a life raft. But it was a long 9 months of treading water holding onto it before I felt like me again. Now I live on the shore...the deep water of depression always licking my toes, beckoning me to come for a swim.
A friend once said, when I shared that I didn’t feel like I was Maggie’s mother, “that’s Satan telling you those things. Don’t believe him.” I don’t know why that stands out to me, or why I want to share it with you, but I’m going to anyway.
Friends, if Satan has your ear, if he’s telling you lies... Don’t believe him.
Admitting you need help is the first step. It breaks my heart to think that if I had just gone to the doctor sooner, if I had started medication back in November, after Maggie’s pediatrician not-so-subtly recommended I seek help, I’d have pictures of my baby. I would have had a bond with her. I would have held her close to my body and fed her. I would have looked in her eyes. I would have treated her with respect. I would have treated myself with respect.
Special thanks to Anais McKinney for hearing me. For being the only one to understand. Even when I hated you because you had what I so desperately craved. You were, and are, an amazing woman. Thank you for using your voice to save others from what we went through.
To all of you sent me well wishes or prayed for me during this time, thank you so much. I made it through because of you.
Finally, I thought I’d share one picture...for the record. I debated sharing the picture I took of Maggie nursing for the first time a year ago today. Or the one I took this afternoon of her smiling up at me from the breast. But, instead, I want to leave you with this… a picture of her smile. Of her teeth. Looks like I’ll be paying for braces, after all.