Guest Post: Tits Up

It doesn’t always go as planned, or even remotely close. Sometimes you have to cope with turns you never could have imagined. Tierney offered to write her story to share with you, in case your birth and feeding journey don’t go the way you planned. You are resilient! So is this beautiful family.

Their sweet baby Nola arrived on the day after Christmas, and they coped with many unexpected, and pretty severe, turns of events. As Tierney likes to say, her birth and feeding experience went “tits up.” 

Read her story below.  – Kristina


I went in with a plan. Don’t we all? I was going to give birth naturally at a birthing center away from all the buzzing and blinking of a hospital room because that is what women can do. Everyone would relax and enjoy while I gave birth in a lovely room with a sweet jacuzzi tub, snacks and sweet tunes. Birds would freaking tweet and a burst of light would randomly appear from above. After my super natural birth, my baby would latch effortlessly and I would breastfeed like the wonder goddess I am because obviously that is the next step. My hair would also magically grow 5 feet with flowers everywhere. I would basically be the cover of natural mama-hood. That was the PLAN. Right? Wrong.

            At 30 weeks I went to Labor & Delivery because I was spotting. I had been spotting my whole pregnancy so my anxiety was starting to peak. It was at this visit point that they determined via ultrasound that my cervix was close to my placenta and this distance ruled me out of having my previously planned midwifery care. Essentially, it put me at a level of risk for bleeding heavily during birth. So it was better to give birth at the hospital because obviously emergency intervention if needed can really put a damper on things. I saw my plan start to disintegrate.

            Shifting gears, now I was giving birth in the hospital. It was the smart move. It was the necessary plan. It was not what I wanted, but it is what we had to do and for our baby. I went in ready to keep it natural. No drugs, no way. Yea. About that. We tried to labor naturally. However my contractions never became consistent and we had to use pitocin to move forward. After 18 hours contractions that were 2 minutes long and an incorrect measurement of how dilated I was by a poor intern who learned a valuable work lesson, I broke down and got the epidural. Damn did it feel good. I will not pretend that my 3 hour nap post epidural was not the best break of the event. Another plan out the window, I wanted an unmediated birth and here I was, pumped full of epidural juice. But hey, sometimes a change of plans can be a good thing.

            Thankfully with the help of my wonderfully amazing doulas I was able to push my kiddo out without any further unplanned interventions. I enjoyed the sweet tunes of Elton John, my sweet doula/nurse tribe and my husbands jokes to get me through those last bits. Upon her arrival, we began to navigate the process of her latching to feed that I just knew would be a seamless journey, because that is how I planned it. Another plan out the window.

            I started to wonder if my body was failing me and my baby. That had to be the reason none of my plans were sticking so far. Maybe I waited too long to have a baby. Maybe I slept too much on my back during my last trimester. Maybe it was that sushi I ate. Maybe it was all the podcasts I made her listen to in utero Maybe, maybe, maybe…

            The day we were discharged from the hospital the lactation consultant had me and 22 other parents to send home. While the consultant worked with the time she had it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t in depth. Despite what I thought, it is not as simple as I have nipples and she has hunger. Off we went home and it went down from there. I couldn’t get the latch to work. I couldn’t tell the difference between this is uncomfortable and this is painful. I wasn’t sure what it should feel like and so I assumed all the feelings were how it was until we got a hang of it. Six days after our daughter was born she slept straight through the night. We woke her to feed multiple times, but she wasn’t having it. No way. There was no way we had a miracle baby that peacefully slept through the night at a week. We got worried. I called the lactation consultants at the hospital but they are closed on weekends. I called our doula and she immediately directed me to someone. This wonderful person came over within 2 hours of our call with a scale, donor milk and the knowledge to help. My plan to breastfeed my child and rely solely on “instinct” or “intuition” …well, that too was a plan not fulfilled. I needed help. What I received then, was more than I ever could’ve asked for.

            Turns out our kiddo was hibernating. She hadn’t been getting enough food due to our latching issues and shut down to conserve energy. She went into power save mode. I mean come on. If it wasn’t the most heartbreaking thing I had heard to date I would have acknowledged how freaking cool it was that humans can do that. Especially little humans. Armed with donor milk and new information we forged ahead ready for the upswing into breastfeeding bliss. Right? Negative ghost rider. Enter nipple torture. Let me break this down. My child ate my nipples. Ate. My. Nipples. I mean seriously I give you life and you give me open wound injuries? The lactation consultant at my doctors office, after my 3rd visit about the same issue, prescribed me a triple ointment to help my 3rd and 4th degree wounds because they kept going. You know the term rubbing salt on the wound? Try rubbing $56 ointment on the nips because that is a gut check for sure.

            Ok, I’ve got the info. I’ve got the ointment. I’ve got the will power. Ready for breastfeeding bliss to start. Anytime now. Actually, lets get some blocked milk ducts going. Well, the kiddo wasn’t pulling all the milk out. Why? Combination of latching, knowledge, and a sweet tongue and lip tie in her mouth preventing proper latching. Right. That checks. So little miss needs a frenectomy. I need to have a pediatric dentist laser parts of her tiny baby mouth so she can better attach to me. Because breastfeeding bliss, right? How much worse can it get? Well, the blocked ducts did not go away. One week, two weeks, almost three weeks. We try massaging, heat, showers, vibration, gravity, pumping, wishful thinking, sunflower lecithin, my husband literally trying to pull it out himself (no quicker way to bond with your partner in hysterically uncomfortable laughter than this). End of third week I go in to my doctor and ask specifically for the mastitis antibiotics. I do not have a fever, flu symptoms or anything else. I only have blocked ducts and some light redness. I ask for it regardless.

            The next evening I am in the ER. It hurts. So bad. I cannot take much more of it and the last place I want to be with my 5 week old on a Saturday night is the local ER, but I do not know what else to do. They run tests, pull blood and check every thing they can. Nothing is coming up alarming so they send me home with instructions to keep on the antibiotics and take morphine if it gets too bad. But I cannot nurse on morphine, so beware.

            Fast forward to Wednesday night. My best friends fly in for a visit. We are going to hang out, see the sights, eat the foods. Nope. I show my friend that is a mom my breasts for her opinion. Consensus is that they shouldn’t look like that while breastfeeding. We call my doctor the very next morning and ask for immediate…. literally anything. He schedules an ultrasound at 1pm and off we go. I get my ultrasound. I also get a nurse and doctor using the phrase “biggest I have ever seen”. Biggest what you ask? Well it certainly isn’t biggest rack or biggest personality. It is biggest abscesses. Score.

            I cannot leave the hospital. I am immediately sent to the ER to be admitted for surgery. Here I am thinking I am going to spend a wonderful week with my friends of 10+ years and our beautiful kiddo. Instead I am informing them I need them to babysit while I had emergency surgery.

            What does this kind of surgery look like? Well, they cut into your breast to drain out the infected pus that is making you sick. They then stuff it with gauze and start pumping heavy antibiotics and pain meds. Hello Law and Order on heavy narcotics!!! New perspective I tell you. During this time they also find that I have developed sepsis, but don’t tell me. In retrospect I wonder if they had told me, but I was watching L&O high so I don’t recall it. I am oddly grateful for that as I was anxious enough to go into major surgery and my poor husband was simply trying to keep his head above water with a wife in the hospital, a newborn and the epic snow storm that was hitting our city. We are thankful for our friends being here as there was no one better to be there than them. Back to the surgical fun. An abscess has to heal from the inside out. So it is not as simple as stitch and go. You have to daily change out gauze from an incredibly sensitive part of your body a during an incredibly sensitive time of your life. Allowing it to slowly heal, millimeter by millimeter.

            Fast forward 6 weeks and here I am. My breasts look like I have been shot on the right and slashed on the left. Basically a sweet bar fight where I came out victor. Doctor said it was either give me scars or lose my life. I still leak every now and then. My body seems to be trying to hold onto the memories I have of breastfeeding my daughter.

             I am still trying to sort out how I feel about it all. I tell the fantastical story of my journey at gatherings and give my token joke line of “Have a kid they said! It’ll be fun they said!”. However, I mourn my experience. It wasn’t my plan. It wasn’t what I said I could do.  I question my body and my plans. Whether I was stubborn and caused my own pain or just naive and didn’t seek answers quickly enough. I should be sitting here writing about how magical bonding time with my daughter while feeding her from me. Instead my husband and I feed her via bottles of donated breast milk or formula. We clean those bottles 2 to 1000 times a day and endure the smell that is extra spit up everywhere. No I mean everywhere. Everywhere.

            But the truth is we did it. I am still here and while healing from that surgery is the single worst physical pain I have ever dealt with I have a beautiful kid. It is the furthest thing from how I planned it, but it is how it went. I want women to know that your journey may not even remotely resemble the way you planned it, but that doesn’t mean you cannot do it. You may be experiencing something and thinking you must be the only one. No one else has told you these things and so that means it is you. It is not you. It is real and you are not the only one. I promise. It does not mean you didn’t give birth or feed your child. That looks different for everyone. This may never happen to you, but still know that just because it was not the plan does not mean you cannot handle it.

            Just say to yourself I am a freaking unicorn. Unplanned, but unicorn nonetheless. See me sparkle.