That first hour after giving birth I was exhausted but the adrenaline was still pumping, keeping me wide awake. I lay alone with this brand new human curled on my chest. She was staring at me, fixated and I was a mixture of emotions: love, shock, elated, scared. Was I ready for this huge responsibility? Now that the room was empty and I was alone with her, would I know what to do? Would we get to know each other? Who was this little soul lying on me?
I had watched all the breastfeeding videos but it didn’t prepare me for what was about to happen. In my breastfeeding class, I learned to allow the baby to find the nipple on her own. So I placed Mishka on my chest and waited for her to find her way.
As if by magic she started to wriggle her way towards my nipple. I didn’t direct her, she knew where to go. This was the first time I felt my eyes well up with tears. As she nuzzled at the nipple I felt overwhelmed with love. She latched on and I saw a radiant purple form in my third eye. We were completely connected, like puzzle pieces. She took her first feeding there that evening. It felt strange, new, interesting, comfortable. For the next two nights in the hospital I fed her every hour and a half.
On the second day we found out Mishka had a high bilirubin count so she needed to be placed in an IV incubator.
It was so hard being blessed with this beautiful child and then not being able to hold her for numerous hours a day.
The doctor told us the best thing to help her was to give her as much of the colostrum as possible. Colostrum is the first “milk” your body produces. It’s like honey or nectar and its full of great nutrients for the baby. So as much as I didn’t want to, I was told to pump to give her all the colostrum I possibly could.
My first experience with a breast pump? I hated it. I completely understood how cows felt and it actually turned me off milk knowing they were strapped to these machines all day. My husband, Rob, actually had to reward me every time I pumped for more than 5 minutes because I hated it that much.
The hospital was like a cocoon. I felt protected and safe. If I had a question, there was a nurse or a doctor or a lactation specialist. Though I didn’t get much sleep, there was a warm meal for me to enjoy every 4 hours. I felt nurtured, I felt like I had my little family in this cocoon and everything was going to be alright.
The breastfeeding was interesting. I had to get used to the feeling. I didn’t know if I loved it or hated it. And I was truly shocked. I thought it would all just come so natural. But at first we struggled. She seemed okay with the colostrum but when I got home everything changed.
Driving out of the hospital really felt surreal. I was in the backseat with Mishka holding her tiny hand as she sat in the car seat. Rob was driving- very slowly, stopping cautiously at every stop sign. I said, “it’s like we’re flying out of the nest.” And he agreed. I was so excited to be going home, but once we got there it was anything but relaxing. There were dishes from when we ran out the house in labor, the place was messy, I didn’t know where things were, and I felt stressed. There were no nurses checking in on me, I had to galavant in the fridge for a microwave meal, and the pain from the labor finally hit me like a ton of bricks. Every movement was painful; my body was sore and my mind was exhausted. And now on top of that I still had to breastfeed and change diapers.
I broke down in tears.
The first two weeks were the hardest. When my milk came in I was so engorged I could have fed twelve babies. Mishka was having difficulty latching because my breasts were so swollen. The less she ate, the more pain I was in. I called the lactation consultant in tears. She calmed me down and said, “look having too much milk is a good problem to have! Think of all those mothers who can’t produce enough!” She instructed me to ice my breasts after every feeding, stay away from the pump, and stay away from any heat (heat makes you produce more milk). On an online form I saw a woman recommend a nipple shield. Thank God for the nipple shield! It directed my nipple into her mouth and hurray we had a latch!
As week three rolled around we were getting into a routine. The sleepless nights continued but now thanks to the nipple shield,we at least had a latch. The next problem we faced was an overproduction problem. Like I said, I think I could feed twelve. So with such strong letdown and so much production, little Mishka was drowning in milk. She had terrible reflux and spitting up and I felt so guilty thinking it was my fault.
I may have an addiction to Internet research.
But thankfully all that online reading paid off. I found out I have “overactive letdown” which means you basically just release milk fast and hard. They recommend laying down to feed or have the baby on top of you. Nowadays I lay down a towel underneath us and have plenty of burp rags on demand.
I don’t use the nipple shields any more and we have settled into a pattern of feeding. It’s nowhere near as hard as it was at the beginning and I truly was one of those girls who thought breastfeeding would be easy as pie and “completely natural.” But just like the whole pregnancy journey, breastfeeding has been about learning, surrendering, and being gentle with myself.
And I will never forget the way she looks up at me, with those knowing eyes.
I’m thankful for my breastfeeding journey and hope to continue like this for the next eight months.