Things I still think about, six months later

I wrote this over a year ago, when my babies were only a few months old. I never published it at the time partly because I wasn’t sure how it would be received–I never read  about these kinds of opinions and experiences. And partly because after I wrote this, I realized that I felt a lot better. Getting it all out on virtual paper proved to be truly cathartic, and a year later, yes, I’m still annoyed, but nowhere near as upset and emotional. I decided to publish it now in order to get it out there for anyone else who might be able to relate. I have edited a few details and fleshed out the links at the end, but kept it mostly how I wrote it. Sorry that it’s a little disjointed.

If you talk about or read about birth, chances are you’ll hear about a woman who is devastated about her birth plan going awry and having to endure interventions that she didn’t want. That the birth went completely opposite of how she wanted a beautiful, natural experience. You might also hear about someone who was ‘forced’ or coerced into using formula, or who wasn’t encouraged or supported in breastfeeding.

I had the opposite experience.

I’m still irritated, angry, sad, about breastfeeding. It wasn’t my attempt, it wasn’t something I wanted to happen. For two solid days someone was poking and prodding at me, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t know why it was happening.

I think during the intake questions before the c-section, the nurse asked if I wanted to breastfeed. I think I said, sure, I’ll probably try it. I guess I thought they were asking just for informational purposes or something? But that was it. Nobody laid out what would happen or what that would actually, logistically mean for me and these two new babies.  Nobody asked me anything about it after the babies were actually born. Certainly nobody told me that whatever I had said would result in such a frenzy of unwanted activity.

It literally only occurred to me like 5 months post-partum that I could have said STOP. I had just had two people cut out of my abdomen, and my system was full of various drugs. I felt completely helpless and I was completely out of it, physically and emotionally.  Half the time I wasn’t sure if I was awake or asleep. I had no idea what was happening but this stupid breastfeeding thing CLEARLY wasn’t going to work with no milk. Duh. What the ever-loving fuck did they think was going to happen?!

It never even occurred to me to say no, any more than it would have occurred to me to start tap dancing on the ceiling. I was in the hospital and nurses were taking care of me. They knew what was going on. I didn’t know what I was doing; I had never done any of this before!

I think back to that recovery room. My first minutes with these brand new babies, but I didn’t get to enjoy them–I mostly remember that dumb frazzled nurse trying unsuccessfully to latch two 36-week-old babies to my very dry boobs. Seriously, what did she think would happen? Even I knew it wouldn’t work! Why couldn’t they have just left me alone? Why couldn’t they have ASKED me what I wanted to do? If someone had asked me if I wanted to breastfeed–as in, right then, not as in a hypothetical, sure I’ll try it–I would have said no.

She (and the other nurse she brought in because she couldn’t handle two babies) must have eventually backed off or given up. I so wish that I had a better memory and know why and how. Did I tell them to give it a rest? (No. I so wish I had.) Did they just get tired of trying to force something that wasn’t going to work? What made them finally go away?

It makes me kind of mad, and kind of sad. It’s such a frustrating thing to remember and I really wish I could go back in time and slap that nurse’s hands away from me.

But again, it literally didn’t seem like it was my decision. It’s like my body wasn’t mine.

And I feel like I’m the only one who feels this way about breastfeeding.

The hospital was a great hospital, and I loved the rest of the nurses during my stay there. I felt cared for and cared about. This hospital–and many hospitals–boasts of being ‘baby-friendly.’ The more I learn about what that actually means, I’ve come to think of it as ‘mama unfriendly.’ There’s no nursery to give you a break. One nurse sort of broke a rule and took the babies for two hours one night. And those two hours of blessed silence made a huge difference for us. If we had had that first night to sleep and rest and, I don’t know, start to RECOVER FROM THE MAJOR SURGERY I’d just had, I would have felt so much better and more with-it. I understand that rooming in with your baby gives time to bond and a better chance at breastfeeding. But why didn’t we have an option? A choice? Why weren’t my boobs allowed to be in peace? Why on earth are the baby and the boobs more important than the mama who owns the boobs and who just birthed that baby?

I think that’s a key factor–all these well-meaning lactivist folks are thinking about the baby. I guarantee you that the baby has no idea what’s going on. The mama is the one you need to worry about. There need to be guidelines, sure. But why can’t there be very clear questions, options, or statements given before and after the birth happens?

They need to re-name “baby-friendly” to “breastfeeding friendly” because, really, that’s all they’re trying to do.  Apparently that’s all that matters–not what mamas may actually want or need. All the things they do are done solely to encourage breastfeeding. (That’s not hyperbole, either–go look at the policies.) If the goal were to encourage bonding, they would give mothers the OPTION to get some goddamned rest. Our hospital apparently no longer had a regular baby nursery, so we were forced to be woken up every ten minutes by our two newborns. I can tell you that both my husband and I would have been exponentially more sane had we had at least one night of good, solid sleep in the hospital. And I promise, our bonding with our new babies would not have suffered one bit. It might have even been better, if we hadn’t been so desperately exhausted.

Here are two semi-relevant articles that really spoke to me:

America’s Post-Partum Practices

We were in the hospital for four nights, and I would have happily stayed a lot longer (well, if they would have stopped waking me up every two hours, that is). It was a relief and a blessing to have knowledgeable people coming in to help and advise us all day long. To not feel alone.

“The problem is that no one recognizes the new mother as a recuperating person, and she does not see herself as one.” I actually did–but didn’t always have the luxury of acting like it, with two babies to care for.

“Perhaps if we started talking about the time and energy it actually takes to recuperate from childbirth, women wouldn’t feel the need to return as quickly as possible to “normal.””

And a Jezebel piece about that same article: Stop Acting like Bouncing Back from Labor is Even Possible

THIS: “What’s really cool is that, on top of all this you’re-on-your-own-sucker bullshit, the conversations a new mom will likely encounter are along the lines of: “Do you love it?! Is it everything you dreamed?!””

I have no doubt that many women have a blissful, zen-like post-partum experience. I was not one of them.

15 thoughts on “Things I still think about, six months later

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  1. Thanks for these links, Julie. My boss at work actually asked me the other day “why do women have to stay in the hospital after they give birth?” and I swear my mouth just fell open, I couldn’t believe he was so clueless. But I guess the U.S. as a whole is pretty clueless about this whole process. I’m sorry that you had a hard time especially with the BFing thing postpartum. I had a similar experience at the hospital I had Lila at only sort of the opposite challenge – I really wanted to nurse but nobody showed me how. They just left Lila in the room with us and said “feed her every 3 hours”. No one showed me what to do. I remember Eric and I trying to figure out how BFing worked by reading a poster on our hospital room wall. Ridiculous. It is really great of you to share this experience so that other moms will know to really prepare themselves ahead of time about what route they want to take with their babies’ care and make their opinions known. I know with mmy current pregnancy I feel so much more grounded because I am armed with so much more knowledge and experience this time. Thanks again for sharing this!

    1. Wow, that does sound like a crappy way to start! That person with us was just a nurse, but clearly one who didn’t really know what she was doing. And we didn’t see the hospital lactation consultant for like three days, so I never knew how to attempt anything on my own.
      It does sound nice to do the pregnant thing a second time around, just to know more about the whole thing and really understand and cherish it better! That’s so exciting that you’re getting so close–can’t wait to see the photos of your sweet little newborn! 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for publishing this. I have grown so tired of the “miraculous and nothing-but-blissful” experience of giving birth and parenting a newborn. Our hospital had a night nursery, and we felt guilty – guilty! – using it the first night, even though the nurses bring the baby back in to feed. Finally one very kind and gently nurse talked us into it at like 3am, and thank god she did. We were only there for two nights, and I don’t know how we could’ve gone home if we hadn’t gotten that bit of rest each night.

    And your comments about the baby-friendly/baby-centric mindset also resonate. Do I not matter? Do my sanity, patience level, mental health, and happiness not matter in the face of my child’s well-being? Sure there are plenty sacrifices I have to make as a mother, but I matter, too.

    1. Haha, bliss?!! Where, when was that supposed to happen?? 😀 That’s wonderful that you had a nurse help you understand the importance of some rest. It clearly didn’t change how you felt about your baby! 🙂 We need to spread the word that Mamas Matter Too! 🙂 I’m actually glad to hear that I’m not the only one who thinks that.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I wanted to breastfeed, but couldn’t and I swear I cried about it for 3 months after. I look back at those first few days and wish I’d done a hundred things differently. I wish I didn’t feel cheated out of the short amount of time I had with my tiny son.

    I can’t imagine doing it with two!

    1. Haha, well, we just had to do what we could to get through everything. Not knowing any better/different probably made it easier. I am so sorry to hear that you were sad about not breastfeeding. I want to give you and past you a hug! You love your baby and fed him, and that’s what counts! 🙂 It is hard to look back and wish things could change, though. I’m getting better about living more in the present instead of dwelling on stupid shit in the past–it helps that my babies now run to me for hugs, that’s pretty fucking awesome. 😀

  4. I had a super, super shitty birth experience (nobody’s fault) and a moderately shitty hospital experience afterwards (mostly because of the postpartum nurses, some of whom were downright MEAN). I still feel traumatized and upset by it, but now you’ve given me some hope that maybe I won’t in a year. 🙂 anyway… I frequently comfort myself with the thought that at least breastfeeding has been what I imagined. (actually much easier than I imagined; I thought I would have to suffer through months of bleeding nipples or something like that.) but thinking about how frustrating and horrible it was to feel like the nurses weren’t listening to me about stupid little things like the timing of my pain meds or how elevated my bed was… gosh, it would have been infinitely worse if I’d been having those kinds of interactions around something as intensely personal and sensitive as breastfeeding. ugh.

    1. Oh no. I am so sorry that you had mean nurses! And not being listened to is just awful. That really sucks that you had such bad experiences, I am so sorry. Maybe you can write it all out (on paper or online/offline) to get everything ‘out.’ And/or send a letter to the hospital–I think they have people to do ‘customer service’ in a way, I can’t think of what it might be called.

      That’s great that breastfeeding is going really well for you and Volcano! It’s always happy when families do what works best for them!

    1. Heh, seriously! In any other surgical experience, aren’t you expressly forbidden from moving about?

  5. I have two separate reactions/points:

    1) When we decided to try to conceive, I was taking anti depressants. I asked my doctor if she thought I should stop taking them, and her response was this: Mothers who are happier are more likely to conceive. Mothers who are happier during pregnancy take better care of themselves and produce healthier babies. Mothers who are happier after their babies are born have happier, healthier children. This really struck true to me, and I have considered it when making many of my choices related to pregnancy and having my twins. I was one of those who really wanted to breastfeed, because my “dream” of having a baby included breastfeeding that baby. Faced with the reality of twins who had latching issues, fell asleep after their first gulp, and low milk supply, breastfeeding sucked (unfortunately not literally). So I pumped. I tried to say, “at least I’m doing this, right?” And clung onto that dream. Unfortunately pumping sucked worse. I was unhappy, I felt like a bad mother because all my time was spent pumping rather than holding my babies, and my nipples were really unhappy. So I quit, and it was such a relief. I am SO HAPPY that formula exists, and is such a wonderful alternative. Because if things are not going well, you can choose something else. Because if it was never your dream, you have another option. I wish I could go back and trade in those awful first few months where I tried to breastfeed, and just start with formula. Being a mom is hard enough, being a mom with twins is hard enough.

    I have heard from many other twin moms that did the breastfeed/pump/supplement dance. What a shitty, shitty practice. How about encouraging moms to take care of themselves? No wonder our postpartum depression rates are so high.

    1) The breastfeeding lobby is in reaction to a very strong formula campaign our mothers and grandmothers were subjected to. People in my grandmother’s generation were told that formula was better for babies than breast milk, and breastfeeding was seen as something those too poor to afford formula or too ignorant to know about formula did. Unfortunately, I think the pendulum has swung too far in the reverse. The La Leche League and other breastfeeding initiatives seem to think that villainizing formula is the way to increase breastfeeding adoption and acceptance. Because current public opinion is so strongly pro-breastfeeding, breastfeeding is promoted above the wellbeing or wishes of the mother. I think this is really sad, and I hope people who share experiences like yours can help to moderate the formula/breastfeeding battle.

    1. I love that your doctor was looking out for not just your physical health, but your mental health, too. I hate that you felt so bad at first, but good on you for realizing that your situation needed to change so that you could be the best mom you could be. It IS such a relief to quit pumping, isn’t it?? (I have a huge long post about that…been sitting in drafts for months now.)
      It’s interesting–I see a lot of general encouragements for new mothers, but mostly it’s unhelpful things like ‘you’re doing fine and keep going’, in addition to the litany of breastfeeding advice. Nothing about, ‘hey, take a step back-what’s best for YOU?’ Nothing about, ‘hey, a lot of this stuff sucks, doesn’t it?’

      You make a good point about the campaigns in the past and also that the pendulum has indeed gone completely the other way. In no way should feeding one’s baby/ies be a battle of any sort. Formula is now ignored by a lot of medical people, so new parents are not getting a fully informed choice (just focused on ‘informing of the benefits of breastfeeding) without judgement. I don’t see why there can’t be people and paperwork that say, ‘here are your choices for feeding your new baby. If you need help with either, here are some answers and resources.’ A lot of people end up supplementing and need to know some basics about formula.

      “Breastfeeding is promoted above the wellbeing or wishes of the mother” = YES, exactly. And I hate that. It’s why I want to speak up a little bit and let people know that it doesn’t have to be that way, or at least that not everyone agrees with it.

  6. I couldn’t help but gawk at the “changing of care,” I experienced after giving birth. It’s 9 months of mostly you check-ups, oh a little monitoring of the baby, but mostly you. Then once that baby comes out, it’s like they forget about you! I experienced both vaginal and c-section births and it was the same! All the attention was on the baby- and rightly so, but “hello, I’m still here!” i wanted to say!

    And with the breastfeeding– it’s a tough one. I had plenty of milk, I was giving it away even. But I still felt, trapped, tethered to this new baby. I got depressed, didn’t/couldn’t understand why I couldn’t leave the house alone for two hours!!! That was the hardest part for me. I know another mom who had so many issues with breastfeeding a nurse a few months later practically whispered to her that she consider stopping. She was so thankful later for that nurse suggesting it. It’s like you need someone else, an authority to give you the “ok.” It ultimately saved her sanity, her health, and happiness and of course you know her baby was…..FINE on formula. I’m sorry for your experience, but very glad you wrote about it. Share it, especially with new moms. It’s a very delicate situation, but I know you will be there to share it to the right person when they need to hear it. That’s how I am with postpartum depression. I make it my goal to check in with new moms about this topic, because so many have come to me now saying they didn’t get the help they needed. Go Julie!!

    1. You are so right–the mother totally disappears from the radar! Everyone is all baby-baby-baby.

      That’s wonderful that you got to share some milk. I too felt tethered–I literally spent 20 hours a day on the couch! And I wasn’t even breastfeeding! Honestly that was one major reason I never wanted to do that full-time. Especially with two–when I did try to latch them on (with a shield), the entire process (try to nurse, then feed bottle to top up, then pump) took SO FUCKING LONG and that was only ONE of the babies! I was like, no freaking way. I’m amazed that so many new moms WANT to do that, or at least push through it. And being the sole provider/direct source for the baby’s food…that is a lot of pressure! When you’re already exhausted and trying to physically heal. I’m so sorry that you experienced that depression.

      I’m always so glad to hear about medical folk who do give the ok–I wish that it was more common, and I wish it didn’t have to be so secretive. I hate reading about rabid lactivists/LCs who just want you to keep going and try this drug and eat that thing and do all this crazy shit just to nurse your baby. That seems way overboard to me, like it’s not worth it. But obviously I’m a little biased. 🙂

      I love that you check in with moms about this–maybe I will start doing that too, if I can come up with a polite and friendly way to do it. Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your story!

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