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Adjusting to Motherhood

Catherine Szabo
Toronto ON Canada
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No 4, July-August 2006, pp.154-155.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I wasn't thrilled about the idea of breastfeeding. I remember saying to my husband, "I think I'll try to breastfeed for three months," and he said, "What about nine months?" I thought breastfeeding seemed strange, and I didn't like the idea of having a little person suck on my breasts. I was too squeamish to even attempt a breast self-exam.

After Madeline was born, I still wasn't too eager to breastfeed. Now I know more about breastfeeding, and I know that babies have an alert period right after birth, which is the ideal time to begin breastfeeding. I missed this opportunity with my daughter. That evening, Madeline was quiet and my husband went home because the only place for him to sleep in the hospital was on the floor. At 2 am, Madeline woke up and I nervously struggled to pick up my fragile baby.

As my epidural wore off, I found I couldn't move easily. When I tried to sit up or even position myself, I had excruciating pain in my lower back. I struggled to put my daughter to the breast, thinking this was my first test of mothering. I couldn't seem to get her to latch on and she started flailing and crying. I struggled for an hour before I finally called for the nurse. She helped me latch Madeline on, but by then Madeline was so tired she just fell asleep so I carefully laid her back down.

The next day, with my husband there, the nurses helped me breastfeed while lying on my side, which was comfortable. One nurse thought the pain I was experiencing was due to the tearing and stitches I had, and advised me to use a sitz bath when I got home. When we got home, I knew that I should relax and try to rest, but the first thing I saw when we walked through the door was the towels I had used to mop up my water breaking. I was also ravenously hungry, but I had no energy to make any of the leisurely meals that I had been accustomed to eating during my pregnancy.

The first two weeks were a struggle. I could not sit without pain. At night, I had sweaty fevers and chills, which left my sheets and pajamas drenched. The fatigue was incredible. My daughter woke up every two hours at night, and I would stagger over to her crib to get her. Each time she woke up during those first few weeks, I felt nervous about how she was going to feed, how long it would take, whether I was doing it right, and whether she would cry. I felt as though I was waking up to go to work in the middle of the night.

After two weeks, my mother arrived with pot roasts, pork tenderloin, salmon, and berries for my strong appetite. I discovered that milk was the ultimate fast food for me. At times when I would have had a cup of tea before, I drank milk instead, which helped keep my hunger at bay.

Flipping through information from my prenatal class, I found the phone number for my local La Leche League Leader. I told her that I could only nurse lying down and she assured me that this was fine. I also talked to a nurse about the pain I was having and she recommended I see my doctor. I didn't want to do that, though. When my husband and I had taken my daughter for her first checkup, we had to wait an hour sitting on hard chairs. I was in pain and when my daughter wanted to nurse, I could not get her latched on. I wanted to avoid going out. When I was having a conversation with a neighbor about my pain, she said it sounded like I had a fractured tailbone, which my doctor later confirmed.

As the early weeks wore on, I still felt that breastfeeding was strange. In addition, my house was a mess, my days had no rhythm, and I felt as though everything was out of control.

When she was about six weeks old, Madeline finally had a big sleeping day! I was so excited that I cleaned my whole house. That evening, I noticed a hard lump in my breast. I talked to my LLL Leader, who said it was probably a plugged duct, told me how to care for it, and cautioned me to be careful of mastitis. The duct remained hard and a couple of nights later, I developed a fever. Because it was late, it seemed that my only option was to go to the emergency room. I knew it was possible that I would have to wait for hours to see a doctor while sitting on a hard chair and struggling with my daughter and my fever. This thought made me anxious and desperate. Then I remembered that my LLL Leader had told me that when she had mastitis she had found a doctor who made house calls! I looked him up and he came over to examine me and give me a prescription.

I spent the following two days in bed with Madeline resting and reading magazines. Those were actually the nicest days of early motherhood for me. Madeline, lying beside me, would reach up and pat my leg. I finally felt relaxed.

Even though things were improving, I thought my problems were caused by breastfeeding. I decided to try to wean my daughter onto bottles. The first day, Madeline refused the bottle. The next day, she took two ounces after a struggle. On the third day, she took four ounces at most (after shrieking and a five hour wait). She was angry. My husband was angry. I was shocked by by how expensive formula was and how much work bottles were with the cleaning, sterilizing, and mixing.

One day, while this struggle was going on, my husband suggested a drive to a nature area to get away. As usual, I could not relax and enjoy myself because I worried Madeline might want to nurse. So far, all my attempts at nursing sitting up had been met with beads of sweat forming on my forehead and my body shaking with pain. My husband encouraged me to try nursing in the backseat of the car. That day I must have finally healed enough to be able to comfortably nurse sitting up. I sat on the bench seat and cradled my daughter in my arms as she nursed. I finally felt as though I knew what I was doing.

After this, my husband and I started going for long drives and visiting bookstores again because I knew I could nurse in public now. I stopped trying to get Madeline to take a bottle. She and I still had some trials ahead, but from that point on, we both loved breastfeeding.

When my son was born a little over two years later, I did my best to prepare. I cleaned the house fastidiously at the end of my pregnancy and even during labor because I didn't want to have to deal with it when we came home from the hospital. I had my husband bring me steak from a well-known steak house to help ward off the hunger I had experienced after my daughter was born. And I hired a cleaning lady for several months after the birth. I also talked to my doctor about avoiding another broken tailbone. She said that because it had happened once, it was actually much more likely to happen again. Because of this, we decided I should have the epidural just in case my tailbone did break again. As it turns out, though, and much to my relief, my tailbone remained intact, making for a much easier recovery from labor the second time around.

I'm glad I stuck with breastfeeding Madeline. I learned a lot and was able to apply the knowledge to my breastfeeding relationship with my son.

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