Thursday, November 18, 2010

What happens when you stop producing milk? - Cosa succede quando smetti di produrre il latte?

First two months: Ouch, do I have to continue?

In my life I thought I would do anything but certainly never thought I would produce and offer milk. I remember being completely puzzled when an English friend of mine, who was the mom of a 10 months old at the time, told me to start wearing nipple shields, cups, pumps and breast lotions. After talking to her, I tried to figure out ways to explain to the world that I did not wish to become a cow and that formula would have been just as fine for my baby.

Then, just before William was born, I attended an hypno-birthing class. The class was full of tips and scenarios to visualize in preparation for a happy natural birth. Natural means "drug free". I was attending the class with my husband, with one strange couple who was not comfortable hearing words like "vagina", and the other even more strange: 4 people in a group marriage. During the class, I was often asked to close my eyes, to relax and to "picture a big giant thermometer containing a rainbow of colors which, color after color, would get me deeper and deeper into relaxation". How can you not laugh when someone says this to you? The purpose of this exercise was to help us achieve maximum relaxation which would help our mind control the pain of the contractions during labor. For someone like me who used to shake or faint before getting a flu shot, imagining a colorful rainbow coming out of someone's ass (as my husband would have put it) would have been as helpful as constructing those weird scenarios.

What helped, was the idea I got from the hypno-birthing class that I was doing 'the right thing' for the baby. This thought became my most powerful weapon for challenging pain. During and after labor. Same with breastfeeding. Did I say breastfeeding? What happened to make me change mind on that?

William was born and I started telling myself this over and over again: "as long as the baby benefits from it, I will do it!". All of a sudden, there was a new me out there, wearing nipple shields, cups, breast pumps, experimenting with nipple lotions to reduce the breasts pain and, listen to this, old me, using needles to unclog the milk ducts! Painful but, as long as the baby was gaining weight (that was the right thing to worry about) and as long as I was still able to carry those two bowling balls around, everything was good. I had basically become one of those Italian mother-martyrs trying to make the "sacrifici" for my child. Bless me!

Have you heard of the moms' baby blues? Shortly after William was born I was having days with ups and downs (more downs than ups) and breastfeeding was a major cause. There were days when I was looking outside the window of my living room at 4 pm still in my PJs and I was thinking: yet another day is about to finish with me breastfeeding all day with just poop and burping in between. Nice. The hardest part: my tits had to be on display on a self service basis all day long and in the middle of the night, both in the heat in summer and in the freezing cold in winter. No clothes on me as it would have been more painful. No excuses, they had to be available. In bad and in good state, in sickness and in health.

Having been told the benefits of breastfeeding from literally every person I talked to, it would have been too irresponsible of me to not give it a try. I thought I would give it a go in the hospital, where the help was at hand. So my baby would have got the precious colostrum with the nutrients. I would have then be able to seamlessly move to formula. Great, easy, not quite.

If I had rubbed my nipples with sand paper, I would have probably felt better than when I was trying to latch my little vampire on. They kept telling me that 2 weeks of breastfeeding would have made it better. At the back of my mind, there were all those comments: "Don't give up. It is good for him. He will not get sick. Stick to it. I promise. It gets better" So I made the promise of continuing until William was one month old. Two weeks later, I was crying at the Baby Cafe', a crisis center for breastfeeding moms. There I was, sitting next to a confident breastfeeding pro of 6 months. I felt she was looking at me with an air of superiority while I was helplessly trying to latch my baby on. There, the guru of breastfeeding told me that cutting the frenulum would release William's tongue and all my problems would be solved. Hallelujah!, I thought. I will soon become a pro like that mom. Nope. A week after the surgery, I still had cracked nipples and a couple of milk ducts plugged making me scream in the bathroom.

Stubborn like a donkey, like we say in Italy, I decided to move the target to two months. At the end of the second month, despite seeing 5 lactation consultants, my breastfeeding journey was not getting better. In addition to the plugged ducts, I was experiencing blood circulation problems, issues that were later solved by the 6th lactation consultant I saw. She had the brilliant idea of making me try lecithin for eliminating the clogged milk ducts and vitamin B6 for addressing the blood circulation problems. Bingo! Most of my trouble started going away.

I was then able to move my target to three months. This was the first serious achievement in breastfeeding. I was getting close to being a good mom. But why give up after achieving so much? - I decided to try one more month. I started feeling like a runner who starts a 10k but wants to keep going at the finish line. My husband asked me how long my breastfeeding marathon would last. Answer: all I know is that I want to continue.

Every other mom I talked to had forgotten when their torture ended - my pain continued for almost exactly three months. Then what happened? My breastfeeding experience completely changed. I used to close my eyes and grind my teeth while waiting for William to stop biting me and draining the energy from me. Now, I was free from all the pain and was happy to spend the whole time starring at him, without a single worry in my mind. Not even the fact that I had forgotten to take my lecithin pills for 4 days in a row (which in the old days would have caused me to panic!) In those golden days of breastfeeding, I just wanted to lock eyes with my baby, to look at his playful activities and his occasional smile while he nursed, and finally to see him falling asleep with a full belly and his head on my chest. Breastfeeding was a wonderful thing and I was happy. Despite seeing many friends with similar age babies giving it up, I didn't want to stop.

Recently, he had been pulling my shirt to ask for more milk every morning even though his nursing sessions were getting progressively shorter. Finally, three days ago, I was about to feed him when something unexpected happened. William was about to nurse, but suddenly turned away, rolled on the bed, and started playing. My milk supply was gone. Goodbye breastfeeding. He was not upset. I was the one who needed consoling! He was happy to play.

Welcome back...
martini rosso, campari and punt e mez,
Dolcetto, nebiolo and barolo
moretti and extra cold guiness
limoncello, amaretto and bacardi and coke,
margarita, mojitos (White Russian and Sex on the beach included)
and as many double espressos as I want!! Uoouuoooo!

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