So something that women don't tell you is that they are SUPERHEROS!!! And I don't say this lightly. During my early postpartum weeks, I soon learned that women are even more incredibly strong and resilient than I already believed. I also learned that we go through sooo muuuuch shiiiit and really no one is talking about it. Just me? I dont know, I figured i'd have a good grip on what women were going through as it was my day in and day out. But no...there is a secret underworld that mama's go through postpartum. I think maybe what happens is that when we finally get outside of that underground, we hit the ground running full speed and don't have time to remember, or we don't want to? Or life just gets so much better than those moments that you just move on. Maybe not all, but I quickly learned that most have been there before and live to tell the story. I would not have made it out of those days without the support of each and every mama who reached out to me and said "oh..yea...i've been there." I was floored with how many of you have been through the breastfeeding war game, or birth trauma, and have managed to make your life look like a shining work of art. Let me tell you...social media DOES NOT tell you just how much someone goes through to get to those shining moments. Now i've been told that "of course you would have made it through without others help..." and yea, i'm sure I would have. But i'd be a hell of a lot more out of sorts, unkempt, and maybe even a little terrifying to be around. haha. Women are strong, so strong, but we are so much stronger when we have each other.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about how things used to be arranged. The men would go out and hunt, or do business, go on long journeys and come back for some intensely awesome love making and baby producing, absence makes the heart grow fonder right? Meanwhile, the women would stay together, tending the babies, keeping their homes immaculately clean because they had other clean women to share the space with, and sharing the duties of homemaker. Delicious meals, homemade bread, sewing or knitting their own clothes, talking shit, and yea probably getting on each others nerves. But the point is...they had each other!! Now don't get me wrong, I love my husband very much. I love doing life with him and I love our home together. He is above the rest and does a very good job at caring for us and hearing me when I bitch about any and all stresses of the house. But don't tell me that you haven't daydreamed about sharing a house with another woman friend. Women just get it, without it having to be said. Why do we get it? Because we've been there!!
LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THRUSH
I left you off at day 4 of my postpartum journey...and oh lawd were those the easy days. Around day 5, I started really paying attention to the pain I was experiencing when nursing her. Was this seriously NORMAL?! Her latch was making my nip look like a tube of lipstick or a flattened little pancake. As the days went on, the pain only intensified. My nipples were cracking and I was dreading the moments she would root and want to nurse. It just hurt sooo baaaad. Now part of being in this postpartum underworld is that you now are suddenly Google searching the shit out of everything. Pinched nipples, pain with latch, baby makes weird sound when she lies on her back, torticollis, tongue tie, thrush, repeat x1000. Because you're so damn tired, and because even if you've known these things in your mind and work for years, when you're sleep deprived and in pain it all seems to just pour out of your ears and disappear. These Google searches were usually done in the wee hours of the night, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Along with these Google searches came the Nursing Mother Text & DM Society. Haha. I spent many hours chatting back and forth with other nursing mama's about all the things.
It didn't look to me like she had a tongue tie, but obviously her latch isn't right. And why do my nipples feel like someone is GRATING THEM WITH SHARDS OF GLASS?! I was literally breaking out into an instant pit sweat from how bad the pain was each time she nursed. My reflex to want to throw her off of me was STRONG...and maybe even kinda happened twice. Knee jerk pain reaction.
At day 8 I finally put it together...I have thrush. It has to be thrush. So I wee hour texted my friend/midwife Lindsey Meehleis and told her I was going to lose my mind and that I was pretty positive we had thrush. At the time, I had very limited experience with thrush in breastfeeding, but don't worry i've gotten first hand double experience and a shit ton of researching and learning under my belt now guys...my future clients are set! Haha. Lindsey told me to get out of bed and to go watch the Royal Wedding to take my mind off of all of it. So I did...Junie and I had our first mommy daughter English show moments and it was lovely. Just what the midwife ordered. My phone buzzed with a text and Lindseys sister Jennifer texted me from Sweden to send me love and encouragement, knowing that breastfeeding was taking a toll on me. She and Lindsey both told me many times...just get yourself to 6 weeks, its better by 6 weeks. I trusted them and held onto that hope for dear life.
SO! Thrush. Let me list off all of the wonderful things I did to treat my thrush over the course of 4 weeks (maybe more?). Like a crazy woman, I kept a list, so that I could ensure I had checked all my boxes and done every possible thing to get rid of it.
Candida Diet (which...not really...I thought I could be a little lenient. Yea...NO!)
Spilanthes Tincture all day err day
Daily changing of every single towel, piece of clothing, blanket, wash cloth, onesie, we touched. Including our sheets if my boobs touched em.
Daily washing of all of the above with Melaluca (tea tree) & Thieves essential oils and Vinegar
Daily showering (hey, this isn't always a given-lol)
Stopped using deodorant and threw old deodorant away
Coconut oil with Melaluca, Thieves, and Lavender essential oils on my nips after each feed
Hydrogen peroxide on my nips
Gentian Violet (no photos for that, sorry, lol)
THRUSH LOG FOR MY VAG (because not only was it on my nips, it was in my vagina too..GAH)
Tea Tree oil suppositories
Grapefruit Seed Extract Spray on the vag too
THRUSH LOG FOR MY BABIES BUNS & MOUTH (Yep..seriously)
Zinc butt cream
Grapefruit seed extract spray
Gentian Violet (See photos below)
After doing many of the above things, I resorted to the very very messy use of Gentian violet on my nips and Junie's mouth. Basically, that looked like spending memorial weekend topless in our back yard trying to sun the yeast off of my nips and with gentian violet covering me. Junie's mouth was the lovely shade of violet and she was just the cutest thing you've ever seen with her big purple wide mouth smiles, although sometimes she looked like The Joker. Violet, you're turning violet! This was the first thing that actually did the job of killing the yeast on my nips (besides later using Coconut with the thieves, tea tree and lavender later on)!! I was finally getting some relief and feeling so hopeful about there being the possibility of normal life. But MAN was it a complete mess. All shirts, towels, swaddles, etc. that touched my boobs or her mouth, or any of the surrounding areas, they'd be stained and turn into your daily washed thrush clothes and towels. My stomach was stained purple from when I would sit and my boobs would sit on my belly...sexy huh....and Junie's hands and tummy were stained from her sticking her hands near her mouth and face and then touching any and everything. BUT! It was working, so it was wooorrthh iiitt?
During our awesome memorial weekend of Gentian Violet, I also got a prescription for Diflucan for myself and Nystatin for Junie, just so that I had it on hand in case GV couldn't conquer the pain and infection. I gave Junie a dose of Nystatin in her mouth and immediately after her face began to turn red. Intuitively, it didn't sit right with me and I thought maybe she had an allergy. The next day, I gave her a second dose of the Nystatin and she immediately turned red in the face again, this time a little worse. About an hour later, she spit up some blood. Nope. No thanks. Buh bye! No more Nystatin for my babe, she has an allergy.
What I later learned was that we were dealing with a case of systemic candida (yeast) overgrowth, caused by the several doses of antibiotics I received during the end of our labor and birth. I mean, it even got so bad that I was also dealing with infected hangnails...which i'd NEVER had a freaking hangnail before and OUCH! Enter Google again...I was dealing with paronychia, again stemming from my systemic candida overgrowth. UGH. SO while I was doing everything I could to try and get rid of the issue, it was a little too out of control to reign in at that point, and at some point in this saga I began a 14 day Diflucan treatment. If you know me, I'm not a fan of meds. I'm that hippy chick saying to put some essential oils on it, take an herbal supplement or vitamins, or rest rest rest and clean up your diet. At that point I didn't have a good enough grasp on the nutrition aspect of it yet, don't worry, there will be a nutrition post coming for another day. I was frustrated that it resorted to taking western medication, but then again western meds got us into this insane mess, so western meds (I guess) had to help get us out.
BUT DID YOU BURN YOUR BABY?
As the pain was starting to subside and the yeast seemed to be getting more under control on my boobs and her buns and totally cleared in my vagina, I was starting to get sick of using the gentian violet in her mouth, since it was the only thing that worked at the time, and having to be trapped without visitors and a perpetual mess. I guess I should explain why I was still using remedies in her mouth.
Thrush thrives in warm moist places (yuck) and so an infants mouth is just the right environment for it to live. Basically, mama or baby gets thrush and the two of you can keep passing it back and forth to each other unknowingly. So you have to treat both of you, because just when I was feeling like it would get better, it would come back with a vengeance. I think the mental aspect of having thrush was doing me in as well. I was starting to spiral a little bit and felt like I couldnt evade the microbes. My poor husband was being told to wash his hands over every little thing. Because, you can't see it!! These microscopic little fungus beasts are everywhere, but you don't know where, and they are hard to get rid of. They can stick to your towels, bedding, clothing, etc. So I was losing my mind a bit at the idea that the situation was being perpetuated by my inability to see where they were or what was making it get better and then worse so many times.
I texted with a friend about her thrush experiences and she recommended another grapefruit seed extract product that I hadn't used yet. So, I made the purchase on amazon and waited for the delivery. Side note! WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT AMAZON PRIME?! My use of amazon prime in my early postpartum days skyrocketed! I was daily purchasing all things breastfeeding, tools, remedies, bra's, shirts! Online shopping can quickly become a postpartum mother's vice, or the biggest godsend of modern technology. I choose the latter.
The day the grapefruit seed extract arrived I had just woken from a nap and was groggy and hazy. I saw that the package arrived and was excited to try the next remedy to (hopefully) cure our issues. Without a second thought, I opened the bottle, gave it a glance and began to put some in my precious little 2+ week old baby's mouth. The fluid was super thick and came out in a big glob and I was totally confused? I looked at the bottle as she began to scream and cough and realized that the bottle was NOT DILUTED! (Insert all the sob face emoji's here, from now until the end of my days because I will carry this with me to my grave). The one I had previously been using was diluted, so I didn't even think about the possibility that this was concentrate. And instead of being a cautious, safe mother, I was reckless in my sleep deprivation and nap fog and burned my baby's mouth with concentrate Grapefruit Seed Extract.
Ryan and I both freaked out as she choked and vomited and screamed. I thought the worst, that I had killed my baby. I could tell her airways were closing and that she was struggling to breathe and I was getting dizzy and feeling so afraid. I immediately Facetimed Lindsey with no answer, called Nancy, no answer, called Lindsey again. Finally she called me back and I told her what happened and she helped to ground me and remember who I was. "Ash, feel your feet on the floor. You are a midwife, what do you need to do?" She then instructed me to begin washing her mouth out with a towel and water. We did that. For hours she screamed and choked and vomited. And for hours I cried and cried and cried. I was a fucking mess. I was so upset it came to the point that Ryan took her from me and said I needed to go outside and get it together. He had work the next day, so I had to get myself collected so that I could get her and I in bed and he could sleep for the next day.
Neither of us realized how bad the burn was until hours later. It was the darkest and scariest night of my life. She couldn't nurse because her mouth and tongue were completely swollen and she was in so much pain. So I got to business, no more crying, time to mama up!! I held my crying baby, pumped my boobs for the first time with the Medela pump, and spoon fed her what I could get in. She would finally give into exhaustion from crying and sleep for about 10 minute increments and then cry again, or choke down the breast milk I was spoon feeding her. This was not practical, but it was all I could figure to do as I thought it important to let my husband sleep. At about 3am I called Lindsey again and was freaking out. I called and texted our prospective pediatrician at about 4am and waited to hear what I should do. I toyed with the idea of taking her to CHOC ER, but knew that there was nothing they could do that I couldn't do myself and at least we were at home. I sent Ryan to Walgreens twice, once to get children's Advil and then back for children's Tylenol. Once the pediatrician responded to me and confirmed what I was thinking, he told me that the only thing we could do was wait it out. She was too young for meds and there is nothing that anyone could do, unless its so severe that she needs to be intubated. Which, thank god she didn't.
At 5am Lindsey sent over one of my fellow Doula friends & chiro Jennifer and she just so happened to have visited another mama the day before and had a syringe in her purse that she purchased for them just in case. I was so beyond grateful for that little gift from the universe. I then realized that we were in it for the long haul. So I called my mama and my husband took the day off and we settled into the morning. It was a 3 person job. We each took turns caring for her, loving on her, shushing her and comforting her. She continued to cry. She cried for 18 solid hours, with only her short 10 minute sleep breaks to allow her body to shut down, or to take in the milk we had to sip by sip squirt into her cheek to fill her hungry belly. It was horrible. The worst thing i've experienced in my entire life. I thought I was traumatized from my birth...but the birth had NOTHING on this. In the moments that my mom would care for her, I would step outside to sob. I sobbed and apologized to Ryan relentlessly for that whole day. And continued to apologize for the rest of the week. Its one of those moments in time that you wish you could go back. Why can't we go back and erase these things?! Why can't we have a do over? It was a split second decision that wreaked so much emotional havoc on our little family and so much pain on my precious girl.
The only thing that healed my broken mama heart from that experience was the many friends who said "OH ASH! Wanna hear the stupid thing I did that hurt my baby?!" I was floored. Literally blown away. AGAIN with the secret underworld! So many amazing mothers texted or called me and told me their own stories of how they stupidly did something that hurt their kid. I found so much comfort in those stories. Not in their pain, but in their shared understanding. If those amazing, well educated, wise women could do something stupid...maybe I wasn't the worst mother in the world. Maybe I have a fighting chance at being at least a decent mother. So many mama's comforted me in saying that there are no "mom fail's" just moms doing the best they can and learning along the way. So yea, i'm sure you've thought that you're a bad mother once or twice...but did you burn your baby?
PUMP, SYRINGE FEED, SLEEP, REPEAT
The next 5 days were ridiculous and challenging. Her mouth was not only swollen, but it had peeled entirely. If you've ever seen a mouth heal, it gets lots of thick white healing tissue in it as it begins to form the new skin. I can't even share the photos on the interwebs of her at that time, because its too damn sad and too weird to share. Plus I don't want that out there floating in the abyss. But if I see you in person and you need to see, feel free to ask.
We spent the next 5 days in a routine of pumping, syringe feeding her slowly and resting or sleeping. I didn't know what would happen. Would her mouth ever be the same? Would she heal? Would we ever be able to breastfeed again? It was a nice time of bonding between Ryan and I, because visitors slowed down except for dinner drop off (can I get an AMEN for meal trains?!). I settled in to this new "normal" and did what I needed to do to keep my baby fed and happy. Its amazing how when you're in the depths of something, you just do what you have to do to survive. Its the only way. I am deeply grateful that babies are so resilient (especially my girl), that mouths are the quickest healing part of the body, and that I have a loving husband.
Because we still had thrush....didn't forget about that did ya?! (ha)...I was extra careful in sterilizing the pump pieces, bottles, and syringes. The only good thing to come out of that experience was that the thrush went away. My boobs got a break from nursing to heal the cracks and let the yeast die off (or so I thought), and sadly (and I guess thankfully) any yeast that was in her system was burned out of her mouth, gut, and buns. Poor girl.
I got little sleep in those 5 days, because if you've ever pumped in the middle of the night and then syringe fed your baby, you know that once she falls asleep there is then little time for sleeping yourself and you'll be back at the routine again soon. All the while, my poor husband was going to work each day, totally exhausted. Thankfully I had a mother, mother in law, and sisters to support me during that shitty time. My mom is still traumatized from that whole experience, I think we all are. But she was our saving grace. My sisters came over, fed me as I pumped, got me water, cleaned the kitchen up, picked up stuff, and brought in joy to the house. One sister even came over to stay the night with me the night after the burn happened, as I realized I was NOT going to be able to do a 3 person job (me, my mom, and Ryan) alone in the wee hours. She, Junie and I all hung out on the couch that night and she helped me get through it. I should say that Ryan felt terrible that we were all on the couch, while he was in the room in our bed. Haha. It was easier in the living room, I had everything all set up. Plus he needed sleep just as much, or more, than I did. He was sleep deprived without all the wonderful hormones that keep a mama going.
Alright...thats enough for now... Lets get to our lessons
Lesson #2: Thrush is a bitch
Lesson #3: READ INSTRUCTIONS!!! Don't do anything in your sleepy post nap haze. And maybe test things in your own mouth before giving your baby something. *Face Palm*
Lesson #4: There is no such thing as a mom fail, only a mama doing the very best she can in a moment of weakness. Be kind to yourself. Trust your intuition.
Lesson #5: You are not alone in this crazy ride. There are other mama's out there who have gone through similar things and who have lived to tell the story. So hold onto that hope and reach out to your mama friends. They've been in the underworld, they know just the right things to say and do to bless your heart. They will come over with presents and food and encouragement and love and you will not feel as stupid or alone. And if you have no friends, or no friends who tell you the truth, then count me as your friend and know you're not alone. You've got this, you're beautiful, you're wise, and you're doing an incredible job at this mothering thing. Fuck ups and all.
Now i'm sure you're wondering if there is a happy ending to this whole saga. Yes, let me reassure you there is. BUUUUuuUT first! There are a few more shit show's and lessons to be learned. I mean, we're still only two weeks into my breastfeeding days....they said 6 weeks right?! Post #3 coming at you next time! :) Until then, here is a sweet happy photo of my precious baby girl at the 4 day mark of her burn days. On this day, I felt hope that we were both going to be ok.