Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Crazy Talk

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.


  1. You don't have to imagine how crazy you'd be if she were colicky or difficult, because you lived through that madness with me and Owen! ;)

    Seriously, though, I relate to all of this. The fear that our bodies will fail us, and our babies - I am not sure that that fear will ever truly dissipate after having lost our firstborn babies. And I think, timing wise, that about 8 weeks was when I totally lost my trust in myself and in breastfeeding (it was when Owen got truly colicky, and refluxy, and I learned I had oversupply issues and overactive let down and *IT WAS MY FAULT* I was choking my baby at the breast) and I lost my mind, losing my faith in my ability to feed him, to care for him, to be a "good mom."

    Sending lots of love, as always. You're doing an amazing job - hiccups and mastitis and anxiety and all, mama. xoxox

  2. Oh, and YES - the smiles just make so much a difference. It's like you get these first glimpses that there's an independent personality in there, and, golly, it is just so delightful.

    She's gorgeous.

  3. Whatever decision you make will be the correct decision for YOU. Screw all the this is best, do this, don't do this OH NO LOOK! SHE DID THIS people. It's hard not to beat yourself up about the possibilities of your decisions, especially if the decision is taken from you, but you have to try. It's no one else's concern and you most certainly are a wonderful mother whether you continue to nurse or not (insert other publicly discussed bad mommyism here). You love your child; you're doing whatever it takes to keep her healthy. The end.

    Also, I could stare at that smile and those cheeks all day.

  4. Aw, what a beautiful smile!!

    The breastfeeding stuff, oh I get it.

    I'm pretty sure I'm going with the belief that easy babies make hellion toddlers, so hopefully you'll get over the notion of being perfect soon or Caro may do it for you! I love this blogpost, keep it handy for in a few more months: http://momastery.com/blog/2012/01/04/2011-lesson-2-dont-carpe-diem/

  5. Dear Brooke, It sounds to me as if you are fighting that constant, free floating fear that comes with having a child die. Mixed up nicely with guilt, of course. For me, it was and is like white noise in the background, always there, always sounding away, but often ignored or not noticed.

    However, if something real happens, that sound goes from white noise to an ultra clear, blaring siren, shouting, "DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!" And by real, I mean: the baby's hand moved funny, twice, in five minutes; there is a red spot on her back, it wasn't there an hour ago. What is it? Where did it come from? What does it mean? And, God forbid, I once asked a normal question of my kid's doctor and he took a breath before he answered. I melted down inside and died on the spot. I call it "0 to Dead in 10 seconds flat".

    I process the written word best, better then audio or video. I made myself a list of questions to help assess the fear. (More of a flow chart really. Yes, having a dead child does things to your thought process:)) First question: Is this a life or death situation? (No, go to next step. Yes, skip this part and go to next section.) Second question: 2a What do I have control of?; 2b What do I not have control of? 2c What can I get control of? And so on, until I had listed as much of my fear and my workable responses as I could.

    Feel free to laugh at me! My friends, family and I often did, as I paged through notebooks, folders and reminders in my purse and pockets! But it was my way of learning to face the fear, to train my mind to cope and still function. To turn the siren back down to white noise. To stop a cut finger from turning into a horrible death from lockjaw.

    Caroline is beautiful, Brooke! What a living doll!

    Jill A.

  6. I think all of us who have been fortunate enough to have a living child after being unfortunate enough to lose one, have a lot of fears and worries that your average parent just doesn't have. Sure we have the typical fears that a "new" mom has, but our fragile egos are way more on the line. I have felt many of these same sentiments. And I was (still am, but especially in the beginning) very self conscious about getting advice. Because as much as I wanted to say "This isn't my first baby!" that didn't really matter - beacuse it was my first time getting to parent. I think I wanted Cale's life validated more - like "oh, I know how to do this - I was READY to do it with my first" despite never actually doing X and maybe not actually having a clue what I was doing.

    Anyway, I had a lot of trouble breastfeeding. In the beginning it was great. I didn't feel that it made me bond more or love my child more, but I felt like I was doing something good for my baby and that made me feel good. A couple months after going back to work I started having supply issues and tried EVERYTHING, but by 7.5 months I had to start supplementing. That was a total mind fuck. It's not like it's a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, yet I felt like a total failure. Around 10 months I threw in the towel altogether and by 11 months, Finn drank the last of my freezer supply of breastmilk. I knew that Finn deserved a mom who wasn't freaking out about her milk supply so much and stressing endlessly about breastfeeding, but I WANTED to not have an issue. I wanted to quit on my own terms - not becuase I couldn't produce enough milk. So again, felt like a failure despite the fact that my child is happy and healthy and always has been.

    Anyway, this is long and rambling and I probably should have word-vomited all over my own blog instead of yours - but I just want you to know that I get where you're coming from.

    Parenting is hard. Parenting for the first time when you are a mom for the second time is even harder.

    Hang in there - YOU are doing a great job. That smiley baby agrees.

  7. Ah, breastfeeding. Even the word torments me.

    Actually I'm over it now - I think. I failed at breastfeeding the first go round. And I use the word failed very intentionally. I never got my first to latch on correctly or get enough milk. I pumped for seven months until I could no longer make enough to warrant the effort. Even with pumped breastmilk I felt ashamed to pull out a bottle and feed my child in public. I was even so ridiculous about it that I would premix formula so that I wouldn't have to pour and shake - oh the shame of the formula feeding mother.

    I'm almost embarrassed to even type that, it sounds so silly. But I truly felt like such a failure at the time. Everyone else could do it - why couldn't I?

    When my post partum depression was so much worse with my second child I was really forced to make some quick and difficult decisions to get myself sane and healthy and safe. Deciding to not mix drugs and breastfeeding was a more abrupt choice, and I grieved that loss so much. But then I moved on, felt better and never looked back. I was truly in a corner, and despite the overwhelming depression and suffering, I also knew that I was making the best decision for me and my child.

    I went from hating those formula cans in my shopping cart (failure! failure! they screamed) to realizing what a nice shape they were once they were all cleaned out. I saved every single one of them and covered them with beautiful papers and used them to hold my kids art supplies, pencils on my desk - I even made them as gifts for my niece and nephew. They are all over my house. Later, once F was ready to eat real food I really got into making her baby food - something I did not do with my first child. That process was so much more fulfilling for me - and although anecdotal - my oldest (bottlefed breastmilk) is extremely picky about food, and my youngest (formula only) eats absolutely everything - she's a three year old foodie. I rediscovered my love for cooking, greatly expanded our vegetarian repertoire, and finally - finally! - was at peace with my "failure".

    I am in awe of those who choose and are able to nurse their babies - for the first few weeks or the first few years. You and Caroline will find your way, and in the end you've got those smiles. She doesn't give a flip how she gets fed - she just wants you to make her giggle like she is in that picture.

    What a doll. She is really, really cute. (And obviously thriving!)

  8. Thank you for being so very honest about breastfeeding and the 100000 emotions wrapped into it. Obviously, we all know the importance of it...but sometimes I loose my patience when people fail to see the big picture of breastfeeding. This little person is joining your family and it is about what meets all of your needs. I despise it when women are made to feel less than because of decisions they made for their families.

    You are doing what is best for you and Caro right now and when what you need changes I will never judge you on what works for you and your girl!

    Isn't it great that the emotional meltdown always has to come after the physical fall? Whether it would be an illness and body trauma, afterwards there always has to be a meltdown. It is my pattern after loosing Ava. I hope you are able to feel like yourself again soon.

  9. I realize that you don't need me to remind you of the following, but I'm going to anyway. You are sleep deprived, (I'm assuming you haven't yet achieved 8 hours despite her being a good sleeper.) sick, and have a bazillion hormones coursing through your body on top of losing Eliza.
    I was IN-SANE with G for at least the first year. I could feel it, I could see it, there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. And I hadn't ever lost a baby at that point!
    It will get better. Not the worry, not the grief, but your ability to deal with it.
    Sending light and love.

  10. Beautiful smile! I bet that really brightens your days.

    Don't underestimate the absolute f'ing crazy that breastfeeding hormones can bring to the equation. I totally empathize with the stress of trying to be a good mom through breastfeeding. Add lack of sleep and being sick... you're doing a great job. So glad you are feeling better.

    And, on the breastfeeding thing, remember that it's not all or nothing, even though a lot of the media out there makes it seem that way. You can breastfeed and still use formula (and vice versa). I'm breastfeeding still, but baby girl is getting half formula overall because my supply didn't cut it. I'm doing what I feel good about, and meeting her needs, and I'm grateful for both the breastfeeding relationship and the good food that formula is.

  11. What a beautiful smile!

    I think all of the craziness is really normal. Well, normal for a babylost mom, anyway. I wish you didn't have to cope with this particular brand of normal, and with being sick on top of it (because that *is* quite the mindf*ck and much just suck tremendously), but I think you're doing a really good job, and Caroline is obviously thriving.

    So much love to you as you work through all of this.

  12. I so know what you mean...

    That sweet little smile makes all this frustration worthwhile though- huh? :)

  13. I have had mastitis several times, usually twice with each baby, once early on and once towards the end of nursing them. I'm a little prone to it! My first experience was much like yours, totally miserable! But every time after that I was able to see the signs early and get on antibiotics at the first sign, which helps so much. I did not suffer like ever again with mastitis. Still no joy ride, but I could function. I've nursed 4 babies for over a year in spite of being so prone to mastitis. But I totally agree, formula or not, babies thrive on love most!