Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!! How about Thrush and Tongue Tie and mouth burns and Raynauds and....OH MY FUCKING GOSH...is this some kind of sick joke?! Insert laugh crying and sob face emoji's here. You don't realize how much you rely on emoji's until you're going to write a blog and there are no emoji's to be had. Anyways...lets get back to the nitty gritty.
DESPAIR AND SELF LOATHING
5 days after the worst day of my life my sweet girls mouth is looking SO much better than it did even just the day before. The white tissue in her mouth was now almost completely replaced and new and my girl was GUZZLING down the syringe, at times sucking the milk out herself, and we weren't able to keep up with how fast she wanted it to go down anymore. I was SO grateful (again...all the sob face emojis here).
I decided that maybe she was ready to attempt breastfeeding again. Maybe we would get her back on the boob today! A little bit of patience and encouragement was all it took for sweet and instant relief, she latched back onto my breast way sooner than I had imagined she would. I was ELATED. No tears, just complete and utter joy and relief that it was an easy transition back on. I even texted a few friends about it all proud and happy.
And then the day progressed and her feedings were short and frequent and not thorough and it seemed like she was still in some pain latching on. The joy and excitement I had felt in the morning soon turned into afternoon meltdown for both of us. She was not latching anymore, crying hard, popping on and off of my breast and not sucking. She was pissed! I was stressed. And I started to lose it. The trauma was still so fresh in my heart and I was starting to feel worried that maybe i'd truly ruined everything for us with breastfeeding. By late afternoon, I thought maybe I didn't have enough milk, or maybe she was in pain, or maybe it was just taking too long for my let down to happen for her liking (I mean she was being spoon fed without any work, haha). I finally gave in, despite my stubborn heart, and tried to give her a bottle of pumped milk to see if that would change anything, because the syringe wasn't working with her anymore and I was at the end of my patience.
She took the bottle easily and immediately and chowed down like a freaking champ. Hurray right? Yes and then no. This was not comforting for me at all, except that she wasn't screaming anymore. Instead, I quickly melted into despair and started having dark and twisty thoughts (yessss Meredith Grey style). I spiraled FAST and HARD. The dark and twisty thoughts turned into me sobbing, deep heavy gasping sobs. In this moment, I had a deep and existential crises and I brought my self worth to the chopping block.
A few things played over and over in my mind....Who am I if I can't breastfeed my baby?! Who am I if I am a failure at both birth and breastfeeding?! I had a c-section and my heart was already in despair about that and now i'd have to bottle feed my baby?! How can I even be a midwife if I can't homebirth and I can't breastfeed!? I had visions of Junie and I going to mama meet ups with bottles instead of breastfeeding and I felt so overwhelmed with grief and judgement and self loathing. Which, for anyone else I wouldn't think twice. You do you mama, you're doing great. But for me, it wasn't what I had hoped for. What would people think?! Would anyone ever trust me with their pregnancies and birth experiences again?! if I myself couldn't practice what I preach, why would anyone ever want to have me as a part of their journey?! But it even went beyond that...I believe in birth with all of my heart and trusted our journey, but instead I ended up crushed and doubting that belief. And I wholeheartedly believe in breastfeeding and here I was again getting punched in the gut, with a baby who no will no longer take my breast and is mad at me. My hearts desires were all there in my face, but not for me, for everyone else.
As I sobbed, Ryan sat with me and rubbed my head and listened to these dark and dreadful thoughts as I let the truth of my feelings come pouring out. He let me get it all out, say all the nasty things about myself that I could muster, about our journey, about the universe and God, and then he gave me a nice sobering "now thats enough." He reminded me that this morning I was syringe feeding our baby and had no expectations that she would even be able to latch again. Her being back on the boob so quickly and so easily had surpassed my hopes, so why now suddenly was I spiraling over a little set back? I needed that sobering reminder. I needed to be brought back to where we just were that morning, even the day before, and to have grace on myself and on Junie. We started at a syringe and an owie mouth...baby steps.
Then we got to the deeper truths...where were all these feelings stemming from? Where am I placing my value and worth? If my value was placed in having a successful homebirth or being able to breastfeed my child, there is something very wrong here. We need a whole new rewrite then. What was the truth? Who are you? Who are you without this calling/career that you've lived for 8 years? Who are you without a successful homebirth? Who are you without successful breastfeeding? Who are you without anything at all, when you stand alone, naked, before the universe. SO I spoke to myself.... you are not valuable and loved because you breastfeed or have a vaginal birth, or homebirth, or are an almost midwife. A woman is not more or less valuable based on those choices and things. Those are not the sums of who we are, those are just things. Titles. Badges we wear.
You are loved simply for the deep core truths of who you are, with or without those badges.
SIGH! Take that statement and breathe it in mama's. Let it sink in.
That night, in the wee hours of the underworld, I texted my friend Allie (mother of 6 and homebirth/breastfeeding/babywearing guru) and told her that I was drowning and lost and I told her everything that happened with Junie's burn and how our day went with breastfeeding thus far. She said she knew that if I was reaching out to her and saying those things, that it meant I really needed support. Friends who know you are really the best aren't they? So she did what amazing friends do, she rallied her group of girlfriends who live in the area, since she moved out of state, and got me more support. Allie sent me the name and number for a (retired) La Leche League leader that had taken care of her and her group of mama friends so many times. One of my lifelong friends volunteered to call that lady for me in the morning. I then felt my strength coming back, we had a plan! I was going to get this babe back on the boob and have all the support I needed to get there!
I had located an SNS (supplemental nursing system) at a nearby hospital and decided that maybe that was going to be how I get Junie back on the boob. I reached out to my friend Megan who happens to live a few blocks away AND works at that hospital. She went down to the center for me right away and picked me up the SNS (she also brought me and my mama breakfast-who had shown up for the morning shift-...can I get an AMEN?!). A mama friend of Allie's also wrote me in the early morning offering her unused SNS. Another mama signed up to bring us dinner on the meal train, since we were on the tail end of those coming. In that moment, I felt seen and heard. I knew that there was a battalion of mothers and women out there, near and far, who had been here before me and who I could call on at any moment of need. I remembered the tribe that I had so many times told my clients to lean on and find support in. I wasn't alone. I was valued, no matter what badges I wear.
WOO YOUR BABY TO THE BREAST
That morning I called the La Leche League Leader, Sue, and I started from the beginning. I told her our birth plan, our birth story, our issue with thrush, the sad saga of pumping and syringe feeding, and that we were now between a rock and a hard place, reestablishing breastfeeding. Her communication with me was so warm and so loving and so motherly. She talked to me so gently and said she understood, she had been here just like me. She told me about her children and how she had had both vaginal and c-section births. She told me about her battle with thrush and nursing and how painful it was and how she had to change her diet as well. And she told me that she also burned her son once with a nasal spray that she was directed to use by her physician. Again, ladies, the underworld. She had been here, she heard me, she knew. The comfort of hearing those words and understanding will never get old. Its so invaluable to the new mother. Well, to human kind really.
She then said a simple statement that will stay with me forever..."you need to woo your baby back to the breast." She talked about Juniper as a soul who needed nurturing and encouragement, just as I needed it. About the brain waves and connections that form in those formative days of introducing the breast and about the need to reestablish those connections since they had been disrupted in those 5 days. "Get in the bath, for however long it takes and sit with your girl. Talk to her, love on her, sing to her, and rest with her. Woo her back to the breast." So we did just that! I got Junie and I in the bath tub together and just rested with my girl. My mom got my diffuser going for me with some oils, turned on my birth music playlist and closed the bathroom doors. She would come peek in only to check on us, make sure I was hydrating and see if I needed anything, and then she would leave us again (cleaning up my house and doing laundry and dishes-more sob faces here).
I talked to my girl. I smiled at and sang to my girl. I loved on my girl. And sure enough, she breastcrawled herself right to the boob and latched on like nobody's business. She stayed there, drank there, nestled into my body there, she fell asleep there, suckling off and on in her sleep. As she suckled, I quietly and full of gratitude, let the tears flow. I wooed my baby back to my breast. We stayed there for hours.
THE ELUSIVE TONGUE TIE
Now that we had found our groove again at the breast, I was finally able to start putting the pump supplies and syringe and unused SNS away. We didn't need those anymore, my baby was back on track! It was glorious. I was grateful. But it was painful. And the pain was grating on my nerves...again. Thankfully, this time it was less painful than before, since there was no thrush drama going on. I was finally really able to dial into what was going on with her latch, without the trush factor. It was like we had a restart button, with the help of a now googled and wisened up mama.
Her latch was not good. It was shallow and painful and pinching my nipples on her hard palate and her lip had a tight tie. Something needed to change. I forgot to mention in my last post, that before the burn happened and I was in torture land with the thrush and latch issues, I had been researching lip tie and releases. In those days and wee hour conversations, I was reaching out to mama's who had just recently had their babies tongue tie observed and released. I needed to know all the things. We thought that her lip tie was possibly the cause and agreed I needed to have her evaluated so that we could breastfeed and it not be excruciating. I had even called a pediatric dentist and made an appointment for her to be evaluated and possibly have it released. But then I burned her mouth. So obviously that appointment was cancelled, and in the week following her being back on the boob, I was SO hesitant about even going there. We had just gotten over the hump of her healing, she had already been through so much pain, I couldn't even fathom the idea of putting her through more, especially in her mouth. I could push through the pain, or so I thought.
In reality, the pain was starting to grate on me in a big way and I could tell she was not properly transferring milk, which was creating a whole new paranoia about weight gain. I was still extremely hesitant to have a release done and I felt like my wheels were spinning. I had spoken to so many people recommending I have the revision done, or at the least be assessed. Lindsey also recommended that I speak to a gal she had just connected with about tongue tie. I was so over my head in calls and advice and recommendations, it just felt like so much work and nothing was changing. Also, Ryan and I were still both so traumatized by her mouth burn, that we didn't want to inflict more pain or continue to go rounds about it. Ryan suggested I see the La Leche League leader in person, since I had already connected with her well. So I called her and scheduled for her to come over and then I called the physical therapist/feeding specialist/speech and language pathologist, Jamie Keller of Tiny Mouth Speech & Feeding Therapy just to get feedback from her. The conversation was so encouraging and I really felt heard and understood. If anything, I thought, this may be an amazing connection for future clients....HA! But you know, usually the greatest healers are the ones who have been there before...so...here we go again!
The La Leche League leader came over to visit and assess the latch on Friday and gave me some great suggestions and mostly just reminded me of how important my energy and connection with Junie was during those feeds. But as babies usually do, Junie was on her best breast behavior that morning and showed off her amazing latching skills and gave no example of how our nursing sessions were really actually going. Haha. I guess I should let you new mama's know....when a professional comes to your house to help you with nursing, know in advance that babies can be good little liars and make you seem like you don't know what you're talking about. Lol. Of course after she left, we were right back to poor latch and pain...GAH! That evening, Ryan and I talked about having Jamie over to assess, what I thought was only lip tie, but Ryan felt like maybe I just needed to breathe for a minute. Take the weekend to just relax and settle in. I had spent so many days and weeks searching for remedies, and supplements, and issues, talking to everyone and doing all the Google searches one phone could handle. I think he thought maybe I was just mentally spinning and that maybe instead of there being an actual issue, I just needed to slow down and breathe for a minute. I wasn't so sure that I wasn't just losing it either.
By Sunday I was at my wits end. This was NOT just me spinning, although maybe that was thrown in there for good measure, there really HAD TO BE SOMETHING WRONG!! So I found my mama bear power again and realized that I just needed to make the call. I knew in my heart she needed to have something released/revised and I knew that in order for me to find peace again, it would need to happen soon. I called Jamie and asked if she would please come over at her earliest convenience and check her mouth out. Two days later she came and did all the things! Our appointment was incredibly helpful, because I finally felt like I was getting real feedback. Real answers. I wasn't losing my mind, there was something else going on. Jamie assessed her for lip tie and confirmed that she did have one, but that she also had what is called a posterior tongue tie. I will save the deep informative post on ties for now, but trust me one will be coming as I continue to expand my knowledge on it. Jamie will also be coming to teach at a Mindful Mama Tribe meetup mid September, so mama's come to that if you're local!!
I have learned so incredibly much from that initial meeting with Jamie and in the days and weeks since then. She taught Ryan and I exercises to strengthen and release her tight neck muscles and core, observed her preference of one side vs. the other, her latch/suck, gave us mouth exercises to begin, recommended tummy time and various instagrams to follow on tummy time education. She then offered referrals for pediatric dentists that she recommended for the release procedure and suggested we see an Occupational therapist and/or Craniosacral therapist as follow up, along with Chiropractic. Yep, another new full time job.
Ryan and I discussed it more and thought maybe we could just do these exercises and chiro alone to see if the improvement made enough change to the latch. But after a day or two I listened to my heart and realized that, for my mental health at this point, we needed to have the release done and follow through with exercises later. I was at my breaking point with the pain, with the pit sweat and gasping, with the endless spinning of my mind of whether she was actually transferring enough milk or gaining weight properly. There was one very intense night when she was just SO NOT HAVING IT and would latch on and off and on and off for HOURS and each latch was excruciating. She was mad and wiggly and making me sweat and ANGRY. So much so that Ryan had to take her from me so that I could recoop myself for a bit. Honestly, I think he lost some trust in me after the burn and all the things going on, which was a dagger to my heart. I am thankful for the healing of time (and life returning to some semblance of peace) to repair those damages and trust.
SHIT TONS OF RESEARCH AND INSANITY
I don't know if i've done a good enough job at conveying the level of insanity that was my researching. But it was insane. Even I knew it was out of control. But I desperately wanted to make sure that I was making the right choice. Its a fault in my makeup, in my system, in the core of who I am. That somehow I will make "the wrong choice" with any and all big decisions. And since my failure had been confirmed by my post nap groggy decision making, I knew that I needed to be clear and wise and level in all choices going forward. I see now that this thinking was only a half truth, but...you know, we gotta work things out in our own timing.
SO! After much researching, several calls to several different pediatric dentists and appointments falling through or being way too far in the future, I found my gal. Dr. Jenna Khoury of Brush Stop Pediatric Dental in Carlsbad. She came highly recommended from a client of ours who had to have both her sons revised. I was originally going to go with a doctor who came highly recommended who was equal distance and a bit less money, but for whatever reason my heart felt really unsettled with that option and I couldn't shake it. Thankfully, Dr. Khoury had an appointment open the next day and I booked it.
I booked the appointment for a tongue tie revision/release, for my painfully hard breastfeeding journey, while I was sitting in the Orange Circle, for our first Orange Circle outing together with a friend. I share this information because I was in public!! Nursing my baby in public! And my friend got this really beautiful picture of us nursing in public. I look so happy and peaceful and like a boss nursing in public. Because I WAS! Haha. I was insanely happy to be out of the house, to have a delicious sugary coffee drink (as ryan and I call them) and to be with a friend talking about life and just being a normal human being!! All of that surpassed the pain of the moment, because I needed that like California needs rain.
Mental health is LIFE!! The thing that is missing from this photo is the intense hard that was the wee hours of the night. The brest friend, the pain of trying to move my body to get up every few hours (I had major abdominal surgery, remember? Oh yea...that), the exhaustion, the pillow set up. All of it. Because of my incision, I was unable to side lie to nurse her. Which to me felt like another dream crushed because of my birth. I envisioned us snuggling together and sleeping while she nursed in those wee hours. Talk about adding insult to injury, because I would have to literally sit up with each feed and try to stay awake as my heavy head would nod off and i'd pick it up to nod off again. All the while my husband slept, snoring loudly. It felt so unfair. I like fair and it was NOT FAIR. But then i'd remind myself that life isn't fair and going to work hard labor all day was is no walk in the. park...so... to each his own.
That evening I spoke to my client friend and felt even more encouraged as she shared with me her experiences with her son's, the trust she had in Dr. Khoury (after one of her son's had to be revised TWICE because it was done improperly by another doctor) and gave me an incredible information form from an IBCLC in Tennessee that she had consulted with. This form had exercise recommendations and homeopathic remedy recipes for the post revision care and was above and beyond helpful. We went to Mothers Market and got all of our homeopathic goods and I came home and made her post op medicine and read through those instructions, and the ones from Dr. Khoury's office, several more times to ensure I was prepared for the experience before, during and after.
BRING OUT THE LASER!!
My mom and I drove down to Carlsbad very early the next morning and got to our appointment. I was nervous to put her through more pain, but sure of our decision to at least have it evaluated and given a second opinion. The second I stepped into Dr. Khoury's office, I knew we were in safe hands. The energy just felt good, right, this was the right place to be. They also had essential oils diffusing and their own homeopathic remedy to offer the clients for post op, which to me signified that they understood holistic medicine, they spoke my language, we were in the right place. Dr. Jenna Khoury was amazing and kind and informative and just all the things that I needed to put my mind at ease. She spoke clearly and confidently, assessed Junie in the sweetness of a mama and gave her opinion. She talked mama to mama and care provider to care provider with me. She had even done her own son's revision!
It turned out that Junie's lip tie was not the major concern to her, but the posterior tongue tie was very tight and the likely source of my major pain during feeds. She recommended the revision. She offered for me to decide whether I wanted to have both her lip and her tongue done or just one. I was apprehensive, but sure that I did not want to have to come back and have the procedure done again, so we chose to get both released. The beautiful thing about her communication was that she did not say that the release was going to be the end all of this journey with our girl. She said that they highly recommend you have IBCLC support as well as Chiropractic and Craniosacral work done. That this is a full body issue, not simply just the tongue. I really am so grateful she did, because it helped me set myself up with realistic expectations and goals. Again, sooo much education in this whole journey/process.
They got us water, suggested we go sit in the waiting room and that she would have someone get us when she was done with the procedure. I was nervous to have Junie go into the room without me, but...I trusted her. Dr. Khoury uses a special laser procedure to release the ties. We handed her over, and before we could even get to the waiting room, the procedure was done. Haha. It was quick and easy and Junie was back in my arms within minutes. The only remedy for any kind of owie is some boobie and breastmilk. So first thing we did was try and latch her back on. Guys. It was a night and day difference in her latch, in her suck, and in the sounds she was making swallowing. It worked!!!!
A NEW CHAPTER (with mostly tolerable additional garbage)
For us, this was a whole new beginning. The weeks that I spent spinning and stressing and wondering if I was crazy, or if this was the right choice, all gone now. We were finally good. Finally. Now I say all of that, but that doesn't mean that the procedure was the end all be all. We had 6 weeks of mouth stretches to do that were brutal for the first several weeks. I'd have to do several things to stretch out the areas that were released, every day, every 3 hours and she hated them and cried pretty hard. It was rough. In addition to the mouth release exercises, I had to make sure I was doing all of the exercises and tummy time that Jamie recommended to continue the progress. I now know that I would NOT hesitate to do this procedure again with another baby. It was a complete turn around in our situation, and maybe if I had been able to get it done sooner, our saga would not have lasted as long as it did. Poor latch = thrush. Thrush= pain. Pain=poor latch. The cycle was perpetuating itself.
Whenever her latch would start to get pinchy and uncomfortable again, i'd make an appointment with Dr. Brittney Cicon (a dear friend and colleague) so that she could get adjusted. Brittney has been such a gift to us. She came into the hospital to see me and adjusted Junie right out the womb, came and adjusted her at our house postpartum when we were in our thrush throes and loves on Junie so well each time I take her for a visit. Since the tongue tie procedure, i've noticed that Junie has a case of torticollis. Which (knock on wood) seems to be getting better in these recent days. Torticollis is a condition where the baby has a chronic "crik" in their neck. She would favor looking to one side only and would not be able to turn her head to the other side. When she would try, she would quickly and uncomfortably move her head back to center. This is not an uncommon issue with breech babies, or those who had a c-section or any type of trauma or injury in birth. Dealing with that made me feel both reassured and frustrated. Reassured because it was confirmation that she was malpositioned in utero and frustration because I just wanted things to be normal. I wanted my whole story to be different really. I was so sick of having thing after thing go wrong. And honestly, the torticollis was a little triggering for me in regards to the birth.
I'll spare you all of the details of my SECOND round of thrush right after this procedure was done. I mean i'm impressed if you've stuck it out and are still reading this...hi mom! haha. But suffice it to say, I was ready to tackle what we now endearingly call The Yeast Beast. I overhauled my daily food intake and have had to learn how to feed myself with the Anti Candida Diet. Basically another version of Whole 30, but with less fruit. Its been no walk in the park, but getting easier with each passing day. Plus I had all of my remedies in place, ready to take this shit out. And I went back on Diflucan again, because again, the systemic breakdown in my gut was too much. I am hoping that this nutritional overhaul will heal my gut and create a happy and whole system.
A few weeks after her procedure and the second bout of thrush was handled, I was back at square one with one of the issues I was facing. I no longer had a weird latch, my nipples weren't getting pinched anymore, but my nipple would sometimes hurt and feel a sharp or burning pain. When I would look at the nipple, it would appear white and freak me out that I had thrush again, but then I realized that it eventually turned back to normal color. When I asked my mother in law and sister in law if they experienced this before, they both said no and were confused by what I was saying. SO. Back to Dr. Google. I discovered that I have Raynauds Phenomenon. A condition in which the tiny blood vessels go into spasm when they are cold or when there is a bad latch, or just any pressure on them at all (like my bra's and t-shirts). So my nips will be hurting and burning and sort of replicate the feeling of thrush. BUT ITS NOT THRUSH!!!!!
Yep. Yep. YA! NO WONDER I COULDN'T FIGURE OUT WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON WITH ME!!! We had tongue tie, actual thrush, and a random rare condition that cuts off circulation to the nips. I had never even heard of Raynauds before, despite taking a breastfeeding course in my midwifery school and plenty of other breastfeeding classes throughout my time as a doula/student. Of course not right? "Let the education continue," said the breastfeeding gods, "she will learn by a fire initiation." Haha.
Now that I know what the hell is going on, I just release my bra a bit or open up my top so that these babies can get some circulation back in them whenever I feel the pain. Its not thrush again, just a little lack of circulation is all. We good.
So my friends....that leaves us to today. And I could just cry getting to this point in our story. Because its just SO SO good. I am so beyond grateful that we pushed through, that we had options, that we had support, that I could stay home and figure all of this shit out. Because now, now it is heaven. Now our relationship at the boob is pure joy and bliss. I mean, she'll do weird and pinchy things on me just to keep me on my toes, but its nothing, NOTHING compared to the things we've endured before. She is such a pro these days, she will grab hold of my boob and plant her face into it like..."MY BOOB!" And then she will sit with her legs spread eagle and get her milkies or she'll lift her top leg on my shoulder and knead my breast with her fist. We nurse in public with ease and I can now side lie with her easily and rest with her as she gets her milk, seriously this is the stuff my dreams were made of. I have told Ryan many times in the past few weeks..."THIS is what I imagined postpartum would be like. THIS I can do."
Its just the sweetest thing to experience and so special. It forces me to slow down and to be present with Junie. I can't just speed through life as fast as I would like to sometimes. And honestly, I appreciate that. I need that. Looking down at your baby, getting food from your body, its the most insane and beautiful creation. I am grateful for everyone who supported me. I am grateful for my girl, who is so incredibly resilient. Grateful to my husband for encouraging me and being a good support. And last but not least, I am proud of ma damn self ya'll. Because I did it. I'm doing it. We're doing it. I pushed through insane pain and crazy and got to the other side. My gratitude for this gift runs so incredibly deep, because I know just how hard it was to get here. Its just a badge, it does not give me more value than anyone else, but damn am I going to wear my badge with pride.
To conclude this World Breastfeeding Week series, and wrap up our learning, its time to finish the lessons!
Lesson #6: Ask for help!! You are not alone and you should not go through the hard alone, we need each other. So call a Lactation consultant if you need it, go to the La Leche League for encouragement and knowledge, ask your midwife, call your friends, DO NOT LET YOURSELF DROWN!! Find a raft and float.
Lesson #7: Your value is not in your badges. Whether you had a vaginal homebirth, a planned c-section, breastfed your baby for 10 years or gave them formula right off the bat. These are not the sum of who we are. Being a woman and a mother is REAL and instead of beating ourselves up, or comparing ourselves to other instagram happy moments, we need to be building ourselves up and supporting each other. If there is anything i've learned through this experience, its that you have NO IDEA what someone is going through. So don't be a judgmental asshole. Just listen and support the women around you. You have no idea what their history is, what they've been through, what their deep trauma and triggers are. So how about we just love and. support the heck out of each other. THAT should be our default.
Lesson #8: Social media is only a happy half truth
Lesson #9: Trust your intuition. Yep...its on here twice. Because it's probably the most important mama factor in this journey.
Lesson #10: Nothing worth having comes easily. But maaaan is it worth it. You can do hard things.
To conclude...here are a few pics of me and my girl getting our boob game on these days...