My breastfeeding story includes such a wide range of emotions. I loved it. And I absolutely hated it. I breastfed my two babies (now 7 and 5) for 14 months each. It’s been two of the greatest accomplishments of my life. It was definitely easier the second time around having more confidence and wisdom, but I really struggled with my first baby.
I had a c-section with my first, and was in the hospital for 5 days since my baby had jaundice. My milk did not come in until Day 6 postpartum. It was a long, tearful, and scary 6 days not being able to feed my crying, screaming baby. I was so lucky that he latched on right away. It felt like winning a gold medal! He was always ready to eat, but I had nothing to give him. I used an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System) tube to help feed a small amount to formula to him while he was latched onto my breast. This ‘hamster feeding tube’ as I quickly nicknamed it was a life saver. It helped satisfy my baby without pulling him away from my breast. It felt like a huge victory!
On Day 6 postpartum when I milk finally came in, I felt a wave of burning energy, heat, and anxiety flow through my body. It was very intense, scary, and I did not know what was happening. I felt like the ceiling was crashing down on me, and that there was not enough air in the room to properly breathe. I was literally gasping for air. I tried to take a shower to relax, but I felt like I was drowning standing up in the water. I had to open every window in my house, even though it was December and very cold outside. My body temperature was burning hot. I could not sleep, could not drink water, could not swallow any food, and I constantly felt like my heart was going to explode. I would feed my baby, and would feel so claustrophobic I would have to put him down the second he was done eating. It felt like I was constantly suffocating. And I was in so much pain from my c-section, that I wanted to claw the skin off my body. Now that it’s been 5 years, and I can look back at that time with 20/20 vision, I now know it was the start of my postpartum anxiety and depression.
I had so many triggers that would cause postpartum panic attacks, and unfortunately breastfeeding was one of them. However, I was so determined to breastfeed my baby, like it was the greatest mission of my life, that I silently struggled through these feelings, and learned how to pretend like everything was ok. I would breastfeed my baby and look at his face and love everything about those special moments. He was my miracle baby and I loved him so much. But then 10 seconds later, I would put him down and not want to hold him again, and felt the urge to run away. I would constantly ask myself what kind of mother am I to feel this way? How could I want this baby for so long, and then feel like I had to run away all the time? The guilt was tremendous and all consuming. I felt like I was truly an unfit mother. Then the freight train of emotions and thoughts truly began. I doubted my ability to care for my newborn, I doubted my marriage, I doubted every decision I made.
These panic attacks were consistent during the first 6 months postpartum, and I continued to breastfeed through them all. I then started to feel more joy breastfeeding, and less claustrophobic. I felt more connected to my baby, and the urge to run away was less. But my feelings shifted to more anger, rage and frustration. I was so mad that no one was helping me. That I asked for help from my OB and I was completely overlooked and forgotten. I was mad at the moms that seemed to have it all figured out. I was mad at the sight of my breast pump. I was mad at my husband for not making me feel better, and for not understanding what I was going through. I was so alone, and so sad. Around 9 months postpartum I was convinced my husband and I were going to get a divorce. I could not stand to even look at him. And this was so unsettling because I truly loved (and still love today) my husband, and thought he was the greatest man alive. We were able to work through it, and after my son’s first birthday, I started to see a sliver of hope for myself, and my marriage.
I decided to wean my son when he was 14 months, and luckily we both had a smooth transition. My anger began to subside, and I gained more confidence in my ability to care for a small human. I felt like I was finally able to enjoy the small things I used to before, like simply going outside for a long walk. I was able to look at my son and see that he was thriving. He was a happy, outgoing, loving kid, and it was the reassurance that I needed that everything was going to be ok.
Today my son is 7 years old. I look back over these past years, and it truly feels like the longest, shortest time. I am thankful that I was able to breastfeed him, and I feel so proud for finding a deep strength from within to overcome all the obstacles along the way. It ignited a deep love and understanding within me for all women, in all situations. We are all so different, and everyone has a story of struggle and triumph. And everyone’s story matters. The beautiful gift about being a woman, and now being a mom, is that I can hopefully help other moms with unconditional love and support. We all need each other.