I had a bit of a meltdown yesterday.
I'm feeling much better, so it wasn't just that I was sick, exactly. It was mostly a pity party of sadness, and frustration that I had to deal with mastitis and a fear that it will be recurring and I will want to stop breastfeeding.
Except I don't want to want to stop breastfeeding.
Not because I totally love every minute of it (although I do like it far more than I expected to) and not because breastfeeding is the only way to be a good mom (I completely understand that many people need to use formula for physical or mental reasons and I think that's absolutely fine and no child with loving parents is harmed by taking formula instead of breastmilk).
When I was pregnant with Eliza, I planned to breastfeed to save money and because I just assumed I'd be able to do it. I wasn't all worked up about the bonding with baby or anything like that. I knew it was good for the baby's immune system. Mostly I felt obligated to try it and I just hoped I wouldn't hate it. Also, I figured it would eventually be easier than trying to deal with formula and bottles.
This time around, I wanted to breastfeed for all the same reasons, and I was so relieved that (1) it was going well because the baby was gaining weight and (2) I didn't hate it. Honestly, I was surprised by how much I liked being able to do it, and I really thought we'd mastered it. After a very challenging two weeks when she was first born, nursing became easy and relaxing. I love holding the baby close and listening to her little grunts as she eats and her contented sighs when she's milk drunk and sleepy. I wanted to do it because I felt like it was the best thing for her, but I'm not continuing to do it merely out of obligation. It's true that I'm tired of my boobs being ridiculously huge and I'd like to wear a normal bra again someday (along with my old jeans), but I'm glad that I can do it for her, and I really don't mind it at all. I like feeling so close to her and I like feeling that my body is doing something right.
But I realized last night (post-meltdown) that a big part of my anxiety about the mastitis issue was exactly that--my body was no longer doing something right. In fact, something was terribly wrong. And even though it doesn't affect the baby (she's still nursing just fine and it was only painful the first two times I fed her on Sunday morning--the boob is still tender, but nursing doesn't add to the pain at all. In fact, it mostly relieves it.) I am freaked out that something is going on with my body that I can't control--something that made me both miserable and helpless.
Everything I read about mastitis has a list of things that cause it, it frustrates me because I wasn't doing ANY of those things! I got fitted for nursing bras, I drink lots of fluids, I wasn't skipping feedings or pumpings, and even though she does go long stretches without eating at night, that's been going on for a month or so. I know they make those lists to help people avoid having this issue, but every time I would read those things, I'd feel like I was being told that getting mastitis was my fault. Like I must have done something wrong or this wouldn't be happening.
And if I hadn't done anything wrong, then WHY was my body messing this up? What is wrong with me? It makes me feel like I can't take care of a baby, like I can't keep my baby safe. I couldn't keep Eliza alive, and now I can't feed Caroline the way I wanted to.
And I know that's crazy because (1) I AM still breast feeding and the only effect of mastitis was that I felt like total shit for 24 hours, and (2) there's probably nothing I could have done to save Eliza OR prevent mastitis and (3) I don't think you have to breastfeed to be a great mom. But somehow--in the exhaustion and frustration of not feeling well yesterday--mastitis felt like one more way my body was failing my baby.
I realized (post-meltdown) that I am putting a lot of pressure on myself not just to be what I feel like is a "good mom" but to do everything exactly right. Like I have to prove that I can do this--easily! effortlessly! happily!--so that I don't give anybody the idea that I can't take care of this baby, either. (And here I thought I'd done enough therapy to work through my guilt about losing Eliza...)
Honestly, the only reason I've even been able to have this idea of having to be "good enough" to keep my baby and not be completely stressed out of my mind is because Caroline is such an easy baby (she's not fussy and she's a good sleeper) that she makes me feel like I'm doing a good job. I can only IMAGINE what a wreck I would be if she were colicky or sick...
I don't exactly have a solution for this--I know that the way I feel is illogical, but that doesn't mean I can just turn it off. So I'm just trying to remember that everything doesn't have to perfect all the time, and that most babies survive and thrive (some of them in spite of their parents). If breastfeeding continues to work for us, then we'll keep doing it. I'm don't need to be some kind of self-sacrificing martyr, but I don't have to stop if I don't want to. And, if I want to quit, I can do it without it being some kind of failure.
(I also know that I can't really take credit for Caroline being an easy baby--it's not like she sleeps well because of anything we've done!)
It helps that I know a few other people who have gotten mastitis but had no other issues (as in, their babies didn't die) so that helps me feel less like my body is broken and more like this is just a shitty thing but things could be much worse.
That's the real mindf*ck--that getting sick made me feel broken, like my body can't keep babies healthy. I know that's not true, but knowing it and feeling it just aren't the same thing.
It helps that Caro started smiling FOR REAL this week. The last couple days I've been sure it wasn't just gas. She's actually interacting with and responding to David and me. It's basically the most heart-melting adorable thing EVER. I haven't captured many good pictures of it (she smiles at my face, but looks quizzically at the iPhone) so this is a bit blurry, but you still get the gist of her adorableness:
OK, time to get out of my crazy head and go nurse the baby.