Thursday, April 14, 2011

On breastfeeding

Here we are, a little over a year later, still breastfeeding.

And I couldn't be more grateful.

How much longer will we continue? I have no idea. Honestly, Luke could probably take it or leave this point. He's SO busy these days, his patience for my slower letdown wears thin sometimes. He pretty much has two good nursing sessions a day (first thing in the morning and right before bed). He would probably be totally fine to completely wean if I wanted to. But, I'm not ready, and he seems willing to indulge me awhile longer.

And Abbey is not ready at all. She still very much likes to nurse, and that's just fine with me.

Whenever the time comes where they are both weaned, I imagine I will have very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I can see how it will be liberating, as other mothers have told me it will be. No more short leash. No more restrictions on certain foods, alcohols (not that I'm looking to attend any keggers), caffeine, or medicines. No more thinking about what I'm wearing and making sure it will be easy to nurse in before I go anywhere. A lot more freedom.
On the other hand, I know I will miss it. I am sure of it. I get sad -sometimes teary eyed- just thinking about it. I have loved the cuddle time. I have loved the bonding as we look into each others they play with my hair that hangs down in their they give me a half smile while they eat. I have loved providing for them in this way, and knowing that what I am doing is important and nurturing on so many levels.

But, when the time comes, I will try my best to just be grateful for the time we had and appreciate the season for what it was.

And that shouldn't be too hard, seeing as how in the early days I never thought we'd get here.

Breastfeeding. It's the hardest thing I have ever stuck with in my entire life. Hands down.

And that was something I never saw coming.

My high school best friend had her two kids while we were in our early 20's, and so I got to watch her bring home babies and thought I was getting a good perspective on how things "went". She had no trouble breastfeeding, at all. Never once took a class or saw a lactation consultant. Babies came out, went right to the breast, and nursed successfully until all parties were ready to wean. Never a supply issue. Never a latch issue. Nothing.

I just assumed it would be the same for me.

Let's just call that thing number 1 on the list of 1,327 things I was naive to about new motherhood.

I did have some inkling that breastfeeding twins might be a little challenging. But I read books, consulted websites, and attended a class, so I figured I was just about as prepared as I could be.

Oh, and I had A Plan. A Plan as to how my labor was going to go, and how I was going to breastfeed each of my babies within minutes of delivery, and how that would get us off to a great start. Also included in My Plan was lots of pumping during my luxurious hospital stay where I basically just laid around and watched TV and stared at my precious newborns while nurses took care of me and I caught up on sleep. Let's mark that down as thing 2 on my list.

As those of you who have read this blog for sometime know, my labor did NOT go as Planned. It went horribly awry from any Plan. And there was a serious aftermath from it. Yes, we are very blessed and grateful that all of us are alive and healthy to tell about it, but that doesn't mean it didn't leave some marks. My doctor diagnosed me with PTSD shortly after. Not to the degree that War Veterans suffer, but the kind that people suffer for awhile after they are going about their day and suddenly they get a call where in which they learn a love one has died. For awhile after, they tense up anytime the phone rings, anticipating it also is going to bring bad news. I'd jump when the timer on the stove went off or the doorbell rang.The times that I actually could fall asleep, I'd wake up constantly hearing phantom baby cries. I couldn't drive, because it'd throw me into an absolute panic if someone tried to turn in front of me. I couldn't watch the news. Hyper-vigilant doesn't even begin to describe it.

In short - I was completely cuckoo.

And that lasted for weeks - if not months.

But that was only one hurdle. We had so many. I had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia I was given, which caused me to vomit and dry heave for about 36 hours after delivery, which bought only IV fluids during that time and then only a liquid diet for 24 hours after that. Not exactly gonna cut it for producing milk. Not to mention the other ways in which my body was working overtime. I am told that while I was under my blood pressure hit the floor and I had to be filled with fluids. I was SO SWOLLEN for days after delivery. My body was so taxed trying to get rid of the excess fluid. I also had to be intubated at one point, and I had a residual cough left over from that, which killed my c-section incision every time I did so. A lot of my body's systems were still on slow down mode from surgery. Without getting too graphic, there are certain things the doctors usually like your body to do before they discharge you post-operation, and my body still had not done them even after a 6 day hospital stay and an army of medicines to help move things along. Nor did it happen right away when we came home. My body was just barely hanging on, trying to recover from all it had been through.

And when we came home from the hospital? I had so much guilt over missing Abbey's birth and feeling like I had failed to give my children a "good" entrance into this world that I was severely overcompensating. I didn't want anybody to do anything for them. I wanted to do IT ALL. I was desperate to prove to everyone, myself included, that I could do this twin-momma-thing. So I pushed myself way beyond what I should have. We had family here to help our first few weeks at home, and I let them help, but then I helped too. When my mother in law did a load of laundry, I unloaded the dishwasher. When my sister cleaned the bathroom, I made lunch. Why? Because I wanted SO much to feel like I could do it all. Like order and routine would be restored quickly to our home. Like our days would have be as calm and organized as they were pre-babies, and I was not only SuperMom but SuperWoman.

Ridiculous, I know. And I can't tell you how many times I have replayed these days in my mind and yelled at That Kendra "for the love of all that is Holy woman, go TAKE A NAP! You'll have plenty of time to do it all on your own in due time!!"
But you can't speak sense to the insane.

And there was another reason I was so insistent on making breastfeeding work. I'm about to confess something to you that I have to only a handful of people... my bond with my children was not instant. Don't get me wrong, I thought they were beyond adorable, and I felt a love for them, but it wasn't this overwhelming since of those are my babies that I had just assumed it would be. This came as a complete surprise to me (thing #53) because while I was pregnant I felt like I knew them both so intimately. What I understand now that I couldn't at the time was that it takes time to learn them and their personalities. And at the newborn stage, those personalities and temperaments are apt to change often. Anyways, since I was completely cuckoo, I was unable to accept that this was not only common, but that it was ok. I just assumed it made me the worst mother ever. I was SO overwhelmed and still so stunned at how our delivery had gone. Add in severe sleep deprivation and a sharp hormone drop, and I was ridiculously emotional about my abilities to be a mother. Everything felt so unnatural. I would watch others with my babies and they just seemed to know what to do better than I did. I felt like everyone else could stay clam and relaxed and I was a giant stressball. At times I found myself even wondering if perhaps I had been wrong...perhaps I really wasn't made to be a mother. These thoughts made me fight all the harder to breastfeed my babies, because it was the one thing only I could do for them. For quite awhile, it was the only thing that made me really feel like a their mother.

But pushing myself so hard wasn't really working for anyone. I pushed so much that some of the stitches on my incision popped at 8 weeks postpartum. Seriously. If that wasn't a sign to slow down, I don't know what was...but I barely listened.

I broke out in hives for weeks from stress.

I could not sleep, and at my six week postpartum followup my blood pressure was higher than it ever was during pregnancy. I had wicked, horrid nightmares and even some hallucinations during the middle of the night. My doctor labeled me with anxiety induced insomnia, and gave me something (that was safe for breastfeeding) to help me sleep.

For those of you wondering, I was never diagnosed with Post Partum Depression. My doctor watched me very closely, but was careful to diagnose me correctly, and I am indebted to her for it. While I do absolutely believe PPD is a very real and very serious, and it takes a brave woman to speak out about it and get help, I am grateful I was not lumped into that category and thus treated incorrectly.

She kept telling me a good sleep stretch would make a big difference, but I fought her on this for a long time because I was so worried that if I missed even one feeding that my already low milk supply would diminish even more. What took me weeks to finally listen to, was the truth that you need sleep to make milk. Sure enough, once I started taking one feeding off a night, and getting a 5 hour sleep stretch while someone else fed the twins a bottle, not only did I start handling life better, but my milk supply increased.

Rest. It's SO important.

So those were my physical and psychological limitations for breastfeeding.

Now lets talk about the twins.

They wouldn't latch. They'd fall asleep two minutes into a session. They were small at birth (or at least Abbey was, and then Luke dropped more than 10%) so we had to keep them on a strict 3 hour feeding schedule for a lonnnggg time. And even when we did have a good nursing session, I didn't have enough milk for them fully until they were about 11 weeks old.

We saw lactation consultants twice weekly for the latching, and after one session, Luke go the hang of it. It took Abbey another session or two, but she finally got it.

As for the drowsy babies, we were advised by the lactation consultants to strip them down to a diaper. So we did. Here's how a feeding session would go in the early days: we'd strip both babies down to their diapers, and wrap one up in a blanket to be held by someone else while I nursed the other. I'd nurse about 20-30 minutes, and then pass that baby off to someone else (David, my mother in law, my sister) to be fed their supplement (either formula or pumped milk), while I'd then nurse the other one for 20-30 minutes. Oh and we had a special bottle that we fed them from which was supposed to make a little more difficult to drink from so they didn't get too "spoiled" by how much easier it was to drink from a bottle. Then the second baby would get supplement while the first baby was getting redressed. Then I'd pump for 15-20 minutes. Then clean my pump supplies. The whole process took about an hour and a half. Each time. Only to start up at the 3 hour mark from when we'd started the session. That's right. A 1.5 hour break in between to sleep ourselves, 24 hours a day. And let's not forget the need to eat, shower, or complete other household tasks.

It was insane.

I was insane.

But, I really, really, really wanted to breastfeed my babies.

Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of days where I wanted to quit. Days where it all seemed too hard and just not worth it. Especially in the very early days when they wouldn't latch, and they'd scream bloody murder when I'd try and get them to, and then I'd pass them off to someone else to bottle feed them while I pumped, and they'd totally calm down and be comforted in that other person's arms while having only screamed in mine.

Honestly? If the birth hadn't gone the way it did, and if I didn't have so much guilt over it at the time, I am pretty sure I would have given up on breastfeeding very early on. So, see...there is good that came from all the drama.

I am so glad I didn't quit. I am so glad I kept at it. For our family, it has been the right choice. It has been SO rewarding. I feel so blessed that I actually get to do it, because there were many, many moments in the beginning where I didn't believe it would ever be possible. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit there have been times where I've resented it, like when I had the stomach flu last fall. Oh how I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed (between puking episodes) and lay there uninterrupted for hours on end. But I couldn't, because I was a breastfeeding mother whose twins nursed every 2-3 hours during the day and at least once if not twice at night. But we powered through, and I am pleased we did. Like I said, most the time I am just so grateful I get to do this, that I don't mind the short leash that comes with it. On the afternoons I work (4 or 5 hour shifts) I often get asked to go somewhere with a coworker after work, which is not an option for me because I have already missed (and pumped through) one feeding that day, and missing another, especially the bedtime feeding, is not something I want to do. The same with dates. Dave and I are ridiculously blessed with many people who offer to watch our babies for us so we can go to dinner and a movie some night. But I am just not ready to miss a bedtime nursing session yet. Why? Because I recognize that this is just a season. Before I know it, Luke and Abbey will be wanting to have sleepovers at friends houses, or spend their evenings at basketball games and movies, and Dave and I's freedom will return. I enjoy nursing my babies before they turn in for the night. It allows for some wonderful cuddle and wind-down time before they go to sleep and we don't see each other for hours and hours. Those last nursings of the day make me the most grateful I never gave up.

I know it's not for everyone, and hearing things like this make my head want to explode. To me, that just screams ignorance. As if it were that easy. Believe me, I wish it was. I wish every mother WANTED to breastfeed and COULD breastfeed. The benefits to both mother and baby are incontrovertible. Flat out. For some women, like my friend, it might really come naturally and they may never encounter any trouble. For others, it may not. And if my situation had been much different, I don't think I would have been able to stick with it...

If it hadn't been for David, my sister, and my mother in law trucking me and the babies to twice weekly lactation appointments and weight checks for weeks on end, then I wouldn't have been able to do this. If it hadn't been for my doctor spending so much time with me and working with me - as opposed to just throwing prescriptions at me, I don't think I would have been able to do this. If I would have had to go back to work full time (and I believe some women really do, it's not a matter of being unwilling to sacrifice luxuries), I know I wouldn't have been able to do this. I am a terribly inefficient pumper, and if I would have had to be away from my babies 8+ hours a day and rely on that much pumping, there is no doubt my supply would have diminished and probably disappeared.

And most importantly, if I wouldn't have had the kind of support that I did (and do) I know I wouldn't have been able to do this. My sister Amanda set the example that ANYTHING was possible when she re-lactated in order to pump so her daughter could have breast milk before her open heart surgery. I clung to this fact many times as I felt discouraged while I hardly had any milk my first few weeks.

My husband was incredibly supportive, even though there had to have been many, many times where he thought that just giving up and formula feeding would have been 1,000 times easier on all of us. But he knew it was important to me, and so he lovingly encouraged me without ever pressuring me.

My mother in law Donna and sister Natalie, who came to our house a night or two each week and took the night shift. They tended to babies in between feeds, so all I had to do was get out of bed and nurse, and then go back to sleep, getting the rest I very much needed to make more milk.

I've spent hours on websites like this one and this one.

My friends Amy and Sarah are experienced breastfeeding mommas who have been a wealth of knowledge, support, and encouragement to me. I owe these ladies so much. I can't tell you how many times I was ready to beat my head against a wall over low supply, or battling a nursing strike (Lucas, twice), or thrush (I think we've fought that six times now??), and these friends have given me advice and helped me through.

So many of you encouraged me and told me stories about how breastfeeding had seemed impossible for you in the beginning, but had gotten much easier over time. I clung to those!!

And today? I am a Mommy-Mentor to new breastfeeding mom's in my Mom's of Multiples Group. I signed up to do this because it's something I am passionate about. I so want to be encouraging new moms who want to breastfeed but may be struggling. I want to encourage them to all the benefits and wonderful things that come along with sticking to it. I want to encourage them that if I can successfully breastfeed twins for an entire year after every obstacle we faced, I feel like anyone can!!!


Lauren said...

This is such an amazing story. You have battled through so much in order to breastfeed your kids, and I think you are such an amazing mother for doing that!

And I feel the same way about it. I will miss breastfeeding soooo much when Noah is done with it. 13 months and still going strong!!

Aunt Carol said...

What a tremendous blog, Kendra. Kudos to you for sticking to your "guns". You'll enjoy your freedom when it comes, but it so nice that you are enjoying this special time with your children now.

Our Family said...

Thanks, Kendra for sharing your breastfeeding journey. I didn't BF with my first DD, but am trying with our newborn at this time. Yes, it is challenging and the support of others is necessary to make it all worthwhile. I can't imagine doing it with twins. I love and appreciate your transparency and honesty on your blog. Your little ones are adorable and are blessed to have parents like you and your DH. Have a great weekend!

Lana :)

nbrown said...

God bless your honest heart. You will reach so many women with your story, Kendra. Your little family has come so far and I'm beyond proud of you.

Reading this and re-living those first few weeks (months!), especially from your perspective, brings tears to my eyes. They were so exhausting, yes. But so precious too as you were stretched to the limit and molded as a mother with more empathy than anyone I know.

I love you.

Vanessa's Dad said...

We are undone. Ann & I are absolutely undone by your blog, your wisdom and your courage. You and David are such wonderful parents. Parenting is the most rewarding, hardest, most rewarding thing I have ever done. And, we know you can relate. We love having grandchildren. We also love having children who parent so well. We know how hard that is. We know how important that is. WE love you, and we am so proud of you.

Grand Dad & Ann

Kaycee said...

Wow, what an amazing story you have to tell. You have been through a lot and should be proud of what you have done and learned. I am sure that posting this is going to touch many woman in ways you may never hear about. It took courage to be honest and share, you should be proud of that too. :)

Sarah said...

Kendra, it is so awesome to hear that the kiddos are still breastfeeding! AMAZING job, Mama. I know your experience will help so many others.

Let 'em keep going as long as they want to. :)

Linda Lee Brown Ayers said...

Perhaps you'll end up weaning Luke and continuing to nurse Abbey. I am so proud of your tenacity.

Julia said...

This made me tear up to read. It's hard to think about those early days. It's so fraught with emotions and just craziness!

Our schedule was very similar to yours in the beginning. Breastfeed one, breastfeed the other, bottle feed them both, then pump. Every three hours, which translated to only 1.5 hours of sleep inbetween. It.was.insane. You are completely right! Exhausted doesn't even begin to describe it.

Today, I am still breastfeeding those fifteen month olds! Hard to believe it started off being so crazy, yet not so hard sometimes. I am so thankful I was able to do it, because it was so very important to me. Praise. Praise.