Continued from Part One – breastfeeding hurts, and maybe I have Reynaud’s – and Part Two – is that a light at the end of the tunnel?
TL;DR version: ouch that hurts real bad, vasoconstriction is for lamers, drugs are good and so is sleep and books and growing babies with bigger mouths.
Around the middle of January, I seemed to reach a place that seems fairly sustainable. I pump four to six times a day, while reading books on my shiny new bribe kindle. I nurse the baby when it’s convenient – when she is hungry and I don’t feel like going upstairs, when we are somewhere where I can’t pump easily (like a frisbee tournament, or on a long car ride). We are both a lot better at the mechanics, but she still doesn’t stay full for very long – usually no more than a couple hours on the outside. We always give her a bottle before bed because she’ll sleep all night that way, and I usually have to pump before she wakes up in the morning due to discomfort. In terms of pain, we have reached a much better place. 75% of the time, pumping doesn’t hurt at all. It doesn’t feel good at all either, but it doesn’t hurt. I’m not sure why it hurts the other 25% of the time, but it’s usually no more than a 4 on the pain scale. Nursing is pain free but unpleasant about 50-75% of the time. I do not enjoy the sensation, I don’t experience warm fuzzy bonding feelings. I spend the time thinking about when we should get a bottle ready for when she is still hungry, or wishing I’d remembered to grab some ice water before I sat down.
I have a host of issues relating to breastfeeding – I hate pumping at work, I feel some degree of shame when I have my door closed, thinking about how everyone can hear the pump working as they walk by. This was compounded after a janitor walked in on me (my door doesn’t lock, he knocked and entered in one single motion). I was incredibly anxious about breastfeeding in front of people, which I did for the first time at a frisbee tournament in January, out of necessity (the baby was hungry, and full boobs meant I was very uncomfortable). It ended up being no big deal, but I still get stressed about breastfeeding in public – I won’t do it in front of people if I can help it, even with a cover. I hate how I have to plan every little thing around my breasts – pump right before leaving the house, which means I have to factor in an extra 30 minutes to everything I do. If I forget anything for work (cooler, flanges, valves, bottles), I have to go home. I get a three hour window to accomplish anything, unless it’s exercise – then I get an hour and half before I get uncomfortable. between pumping, breastfeeding, and my full time job, I have maybe 1 or 2 hours not accounted for, in which I play with the baby, do chores (dinner, house cleaning), and have me time. As I try to get back into shape (previously I played a good bit of sports, frisbee and soccer), I find that I don’t have time. Breastfeeding (or, having to empty my boobs) makes planning adventures – out of town trips, day trips to snow shoe or ski, etc. – much more challenging.
I’m also absolutely terrified of what will happen to my body when I stop. I lost the baby weight easily, without trying, I assume because that’s just how my body reacted to nursing. I’m about five pounds under my pre-pregnancy weight, or at about what I weighed when I started college. I like my body more than I ever have – it’s not perfect, but I’ve always liked its lumps and bumps best when it is doing something for me. That used to mean when I was doing best at sports, but apparently extends to carrying, birthing, and nursing a baby. I have friends who gained significant weight as soon as they stopped nursing, and I’m scared of that happening to me. I’ve always had a pretty tenuous relationship with my body image, so it wouldn’t necessarily be a win, trading in the fretting I do over hating breastfeeding for fretting about my body.
And yeah, I still spend a lot of time wanting to throw in the towel. But I feel very guilty about it – like, it doesn’t hurt that much anymore, sometimes not at all, so it would be entirely selfish if I stopped. There are bright spots, or advantages – sometimes I relish the luxury of reading (13 novels since Eliza was born!!), and sometimes when I don’t feel like doing something else I have used pumping or breastfeeding as an excuse to zone out. Both of these bright spots actually make me feel worse – the only good things I can come up with are actually bad! They are selfish too! And then the sillier ones: maybe it hurts and I hate it, but if I do it, I can eat cookies without gaining weight! And, maybe it hurts and I hate it, but if I do it, I don’t have to make formula and clean as many bottles and I hate formula!
It’s like my brain is kind of warped, at this point. I think I am motivated to continue by this guilt over feeling selfish, worry over what other people think, and some degree of wanting what is best for my child. That last part – only some degree – that’s because, as a scientist, studying what I study (toxicology, physiology, and development), I know that the effects of breastfeeding are quite subtle even at the population level. That is, if I switched to formula, or had only ever fed formula, there would be no measurable effect in Eliza herself, because the sample size is just too small. I know this – I understand it, and I could probably convince most people of it. But on some irrational level, I still feel like I have to keep doing this if at all possible because it’s so much healthier for my baby. Like the reasons that make me want to stop are all about me, and now I need to be all about her.
But lately, I’m feeling like even if it is a ton of tiny little reasons, nothing so huge all by itself (like the initial pain was), it still adds up to something big. And that over time, if I keep it up, it’s akin to putting her oxygen mask on while ignoring my own.
I just wish there were an obvious line, a clear point at which I could say “enough is enough,” quit doing it, or at least quit worrying about it, and get on with the rest of this parenting business.