milk (part 3)

Photo by Brooke Collier.

The days that followed felt less like a Christmas miracle and more like a bad hang over. I limped about the house with an aching vagina, while my boobs leaked everywhere. And I was out of my mind exhausted. I don’t even think there is a word to describe how fucking tired you are in those first weeks. I felt like a two year old who had missed their nap. Except, way worse. By dinnertime I had lost my ability to positively interact with adult humans. And in the middle of the night, I’d sit on my side of the bed feeding Mila while sobbing my eyes out.

But little by little, nursing got better. It took two more trips to the lactation consultant, lots of reading on and La Leche League resources, and umpteen emails/texts to my sister asking, “is this normal?”

On one of the visits to the lactation consultant, I learned that I had overactive letdown, which caused Mila to cough and gasp every time she ate. To compensate she would flick her tongue to keep from choking on the milk, which in turn caused my nipples to become terribly bruised. She suggested lying down while nursing so gravity would help control the amount of milk she was getting. Even though it was pretty inconvenient, it worked like a charm.

I even stopped being so negative with myself. In fact, any time it felt hard, I channeled my frustration into a little pep talk to Mila. “We’ll get it, girlfriend. Let’s try again. We’ll get it.”

I may have really been talking to myself.

While the mechanics of breastfeeding were improving daily, there was one part that continued to be disappointing. I never got those super happy feelings while nursing. Instead, every time I’d feed Mila, and we’d settle in, I’d get this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like doom or that everything was falling apart. It was predictable and depressing. I chalked it up to hormones and sleeplessness.

When my sister came to visit, I mentioned it to her while complaining about how much I didn’t love breastfeeding. I was surprised when she said that there was a term for what I was experiencing. Apparently there’s a condition called “D-MER” which stands for Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. Which basically means that, while most women get a fantastic rush of oxytocin, giving them all these loving, amazing feelings, some women’s bodies do the opposite. They get a rush of anxiety and deep hopelessness when their milk lets down.

For eight weeks straight, I thought I was just super depressed and that I just happened to notice it while feeding her when I slowed down enough to think. But learning that there was an explanation for those feelings was very helpful for me. When we’d settle in to nurse and I’d feel that anxious rush, I’d tell myself: This is just a mixed signal from my brain. You’re ok. Everything is ok. Somehow naming it helped me cope. And as time has passed, though I still feel it, the rush has become far less piercing.

If you had told me on day one that we were going to make it a week breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me in week four that I’d ever wean her off a nipple shield and breastfeed in public, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me in week eight that I’d ever enjoy breastfeeding, I would have told you to shut your pie hole.

But I’m there now.

Right now Mila Marguerite is lying in my arms nursing. I’m doing it one handed, nipple shield-less, while typing with the other. Her little hand is sweeping up and down my left arm as if she is saying, “There, there mama. There, there.” I look forward to it now and I know that I will miss it when this part of motherhood comes to a close.

I’m not writing this to convince anyone of anything. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty about how they feed their kid. Formula, boob juice, Kool-Aid, whatever. (OK, don’t be a dummy and feed your infant Kool-Aid.) But I get it. Breastfeeding was really, freaking hard. I think the only reason it worked for me was that I tapped into a huge network of support. (THANK YOU to those who helped).

This piece is just a little, personal manifesto of something I followed through with that was really quite difficult. Which is a big deal for me. I don’t run marathons. I got the stupid (but glorious) epidural during birth. I’m really not a disciplined, tough it out, kind of person. But here we are, my girl and me, nursing with the best of them. And I’m proud of myself. Motherhood has sparked something in me that I didn’t know was there.

And if you are also on this journey, it’s in you too. I’m sure you’ve noticed it. You are doing things you never dreamed possible – and you are doing it with inexplicable love and grace. Your days (and nights) are laced with both joy and pain. And they will fly by, as I’m sure everyone and their mother likes to remind you. Just remember, whatever it is you are trying to figure out, you’ve got this mama.

© 2016 D. Willson

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