For nearly 42 weeks, I was the jolliest, happiest pregnant mom-to-be. I was fortunate to have that “glow,” not an ounce of morning sickness, drinking kale smoothies every day, and dreaming of a natural childbirth.
My due date of 10-10 came and went, but we weren’t bothered; I could have stayed pregnant for another month. There was no rush to meet our little nugget, and with this being my first, but our family’s last (I have two amazing stepsons), we made the decision not to find out what we were having. Because I was hoping to have an unmedicated birth, but the overdue days were beginning to accumulate, my nurse-midwife suggested a membrane sweep. Here is where the beaming expecting mama suddenly realizes that easy pregnancies do not necessarily lead to easy births.
I woke up on the morning of October 17th in a teeny puddle, and squeaking with excitement because my water had trickled instead of broke, and we drove to the hospital and checked in. That morning, I was running stairs outside of the hospital to keep labor progressing. In-laws were notified and had started their drive to San Luis Obispo, and my husband was by my side as the contractions grew stronger. Long story short, hospital protocol dictated for intervention after 24 hours of labor, and in the wee morning hours of October 18th, I was dilated to 2cm and in a lot of pain. I labored in the pool, bounced on the ball, and walked in circles, but changes were in the making. Fast forward to the afternoon, an epidural, and a 9cm dilation, and let the pushing begin!
Fast forward one more time, to four and a half hours of pushing, a lot of vomit, crying, falling asleep for minutes at a time, and a baby whose hair I could see when the nurses held up the mirror while I pushed, but whose head I simply could not get past my pelvic bone, and then there I was in the operating room, my husband and the anesthesiologist holding my shoulders so I didn’t fall off the table while the nurse on the other end superman-style pushed my baby back into my uterus so the obstetrician could perform a c-section.
Well this wasn’t really in the birth plan.
I found myself searching for excitement but I was sedated and exhausted and sore. The nurses were pushing formula as an easy transition since I was dazed and our baby (girl!) was jaundiced. I consented because I was now in the blur of motherhood and was taking any advice anyone offered. If it weren’t for my husband, who was adamant about breastfeeding, Teya would have been on formula from day 2. He kindly, but firmly, declined every offer for a bottle during our 5 day stay after she was born.
Every half hour, I tried the football hold, the cradle hold, used the Boppy and the rocking chair. My husband taped a baby-bird style supplemental breastfeeding starter tube to feed Teya in the first few days, just to get her all the milk we could, and I just watched in confusion and awe. I pumped to get my milk to come in and when Merrilee, the kindest, sweetest, gentlest and most helpful lactation consultant in the universe came to check on me and this little ray of sunshine in my arms, she said that the latch looked good.
Motherhood has turned into a series of “Am I doing this right” inquiries, but hearing that we learned to latch and that my milk had come in allowed me to take my first metaphoric exhale. We’ve got this. We actually did not have this, at all.
After returning home, life didn’t turn back to normal like I had assumed it would. The lack of sleep caught up fast, and I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I was suffering from moderate, and sometimes severe, post partum depression. Teya was a voracious nurser, but my toes would curl and my body would shudder every time she latched on. My nipples were raw and cracked and sore, and I was in a place where I thought I should be enjoying every second, but instead found myself terrified and filled with guilt that my birth ended in the dreaded c-section and that now I was this distant and confused mama, some days afraid to leave the house.
I attended the Baby Hour for new moms at the Lactation Clinic, and it saved me and Teya by uniting us with women who were all going through similar experiences. Aside from Teya screaming the entire way there, those meetings were where we had found some much needed clarity and calmness. Those meetings were also where I learned to feel comfortable breastfeeding.
My mom breastfed me for two months, then went back to work. I was bottle fed formula and didn’t even know it until after I had a child of my own. I had no anchor to get advice from, no tried and true maternal voice to guide me through these struggles. Yet here I was, surrounded with good vibes and endless support.
In the first weeks of becoming a mother, I had been ashamed of my breasts and how hard the first few weeks were. I used a cover or tried to breastfeed upstairs in my bedroom with the door shut. After realizing that feeding my newborn calmed her down, soothed her cry, and got her to that milk-drunk happy sleep, I began to feel empowered and confident. My husband had taken a new job and was gone during the week, so while I had a lot of anxiety trying to care for this life by myself, I also was able to exclusively breastfeed and since I was home, we never ended up using a bottle. I did a fair share of pumping and freezing my milk, but it just sat in the freezer with no intended future use.
I never got righteous with breastfeeding, never was asked to cover up or gawked at for nursing in public, but I still learned to not be ashamed anymore. I was open and willing to nurse Teya whenever the need arose, and I have a few great pictures of her snuggled up against me at the top of mountains, camping in the wilderness, and in the parking lot of Target. I didn’t shy away from letting her lead the way either, which led to co-sleeping and bedsharing and an entirely new process of parenting that I had no idea I would be so keen to follow. It was new to my husband as well, and his openness had made everything a lot easier.
I let her wean at her own pace, and she eventually only nursed to go to sleep, which put me in an entirely new predicament because I didn’t know how to get her to nap or go to bed unless she was breastfeeding. For some reason, my right breast had less milk than my left, so I found myself lopsided and left-side heavy, (because supply and demand of course), and my body was just fatigued, mentally and physically. But, it worked for both of us so we charged on. Our routine was steady, whether we were traveling to see relatives or taking vacations, and it was beautiful. Our family successfully normalized breastfeeding. My husband, my stepsons, my daughter, and especially myself; we all learned so much from this experience.
On St. Patrick’s Day of 2016, my little wuppet had her last nursing session, ending over two and a half years of being consoled, fed, and bonded at my breast. She wanted to be a big girl, she wanted to go to school, she was simply growing up.
I am so proud to look back on what a journey it was to become a mom, and to have been given the opportunity to breastfeed at a pace that Teya set for herself has always been a calm in the storm that is mothering. We have a beautiful bond and a relationship that I cannot say I share with anyone else in my life, and I believe that it is due to us learning to nurse together.
I have gratitude to my husband Dylan beyond the scope of words, because when I was lost after my c-section, he was grounded and steadfast that I healed entirely and that I breastfed our daughter. For a few months, I became the mom wandering around the house topless with disheveled hair and mountains of laundry, and he supported me through all of it.
Looking back, I am proud to say that I persevered. Becoming a parent is by far the most challenging thing I have ever done, and it certainly does take a village. With nothing but gratitude and appreciation, I can happily say that I am surrounded by that village.