I haven't nursed a child in over five years, but my breastfeeding experience spanned a continuous 5 years and 9 months. In this series I'll share my breastfeeding story, with all of its ups and downs, for the purpose of inspiring and encouraging both new moms and those who are years into their breastfeeding experience.
We had entered into the promised land of breastfeeding. Gazing on my sweet baby's milk drunk face after a nursing session was my reward for having met the challenge of my struggles. It was empowering to know that when he cried any couldn't be consoled by anyone else that I, and I alone, had the magic he needed.
He nursed often, sometimes for food, sometimes for comfort. At first, I worried about overfeeding him or "spoiling" him. In online breastfeeding circles I read a lot about attachment parenting. It was foreign to me and certainly not how I was raised. This form of parenting was not modeled for me and I wasn't sure what it looked like in practice.
Fortunately, just days before my son was born, Dr. Sears published The Attachment Parenting Book and when I read it, I realized that many of things I was already doing were part of attachment parenting. My hesitancy to embrace attachment parenting stemmed from my belief that attachment parenting equaled permissive or lazy parenting and that attachment parented children were, in short, spoiled brats. Of course, as I continued to research this style of parenting and to talk with parents of teens and adults who had been parented this way, I saw a clearer picture of how it worked and why I wanted to practice it myself.
So, there I was in an established breastfeeding relationship with my son, co-sleeping, working from home, and truly enjoying being a mother. I look upon this time as the single most blissful time of my life. I had never before and have never since felt the feelings of peace and adequacy that I felt during those months.
And then one morning I woke up with pain on the side of my left breast. It was a sharp pain and upon examination, I saw a red spot under the skin. I thought that maybe, during the night, my son had latched onto my skin by accident. I was shocked by how painful it was. I tried to nurse my son on that side every other feeding as usual, but the pain was too intense. Of course, the less I used that breast, the more engorged I became, further adding to the pain.
By that evening I felt dizzy and fatigued. While holding my son, I realized that he felt cool to the touch. I had a fever. Mastitis! Before I typed the word into Google, I knew that was what I was dealing with. I sat at my desk, barely able to hold my head up, and searched the symptoms and treatments. Most websites recommended seeing a doctor for antibiotics, but I felt so sick that I couldn't imagine going to see a doctor. Anyway, I needed to get through the night before I could visit my doctor because I didn't think this warranted a trip to the emergency room--least of all with my infant who would have to come with me in order to eat!
I found a recommendation to nurse from the infected breast as much as possible and shivered at the thought. (Or from the fever. Whatever.) But I decided to give it a try. As my baby latched on to my painful breast, I began to cry. All of the physical and emotional pain of our first weeks of breastfeeding came flooding back. What if this happened again? If I could get mastitis once, I could get it again. I never wanted to experience this pain again.
I nursed through night, as usual, and did not feel any better when I woke up. I called my boss to let him know that I would not be working that day. My husband, who went to work at 4am, was gone for the day and I did not feel up to taking myself to the doctor. I decided that if I did not feel better when he arrived home that afternoon, I would go. While I waited, I stayed in bed with my baby and nursed and slept.
By that afternoon, my fever was gone, but I was still very tired. I continued to nurse on the infected side and the pain decreased a little each time. Or I got used it a little more each time?
My fever came back a little that night, but went away the next morning and stayed away. I was able to get some work done that day and went to bed early that night. By the third day, the pain in my breast was still detectable, but the redness had diminished. By the fourth day, I felt much better and was nursing with no pain.
I came out of the experience feeling brave and empowered! I hadn't visited the doctor nor had I used antibiotics to help me get better. My mastitis experience may have sparked the beginning of a lactivist spirit in me.*
My breastfeeding experience so far had taught me a few good things. First, breastfeeding is incredibly beautiful. Secondly, I can, indeed, do anything I decide to do. Lastly, I am so much stronger than the twenty-year-old me ever dreamed I could be. Would I have known these truths about myself if not for breastfeeding? Maybe. Maybe not.
*I no longer embrace "lactivism" because I've discovered that I don't care about what other moms do with and for their children. I choose to use my energy to decide and to do what's best for my own children. Yes, the only *ism* I currently embrace is libertarianism. I certainly don't mind sharing my experience in various areas of parenting, but only via my blog or with people who have asked my opinion.