I remember the day we went in for the first ultrasound. We knew it was too early to determine gender, but Jose and I were hopeful we would see something. Naturally, all we saw was a blurry blob, but we did leave with a due date – November 10th. Right smack dab in the middle of Wurstfest, the 10 day salute to sausage (and beer) celebrated annually in our old German town. It’s a pretty big deal and we were stoked to be expecting a Wurst baby!
Finding out I was pregnant more than 17 years since I had last given birth was certainly a surprise, but we were both excited to welcome a new baby into our lives. The memories of my previous pregnancies and births flooded back to me. My adult children were loving and supportive. I was ready to quit drinking, start eating healthier, and to get my 40 year old body ready for the baby. I quickly made up my mind to not have an epidural and I was definitely going to breastfeed. After all, I successfully breastfed my three children and often joked that I hoped my “old girls” we’re still working. Even though it was said in jest, part of me really was worried the old girls wouldn’t be able to produce. I put those fears aside and moved forward… or so I thought.
When Halloween finally rolled around, (Saturday) I was over being pregnant, ready to meet my baby, and praying she would enter this world on my favorite holiday… but she didn’t. I went to bed early and disappointed that night. I woke up a few hours later, (Sunday) contracting! I took a shower and tried not to disturb Jose. He woke up anyway and we timed the contractions. Before we knew it, we were headed to the hospital. By the time we arrived, they were 3 minutes apart, I was dilated to a 6, and very uncomfortable. It all happened so fast. I knew it was time to push and told my doctor so (who still had residual make-up on from his Halloween costume the night before.) He checked me and agreed. I squeezed my eyes as tightly as I squeezed Jose, imagined The Joker delivering my baby, and with all my might I pushed her out on the first try. I heard Jose’s voice crack as he exclaimed, “She’s perfect, Baby! She’s so beautiful!” And she was.
The next hour, we stayed in bed cuddling, skin to skin while my husband showered us with kisses and praise. It was one of the most wonderful hours of my life. She began to root around in search of food. It was the moment of truth as I offered her my breast. She latched on like an old pro! I was so proud that the pain of my uterus contracting didn’t bother me at all. We got settled in our recovery room, entertained a myriad of visitors, and were gracious during every vitals check, blood draw, bath time, housekeeping visit, and car seat challenge – all the while nursing away when she was hungry. At discharge (Monday) her weight was 5 pounds, 3 ounces. She had lost 3 ounces which was totally normal. Jose pulled the car up, expertly strapped her car seat in, then strapped me in the back seat next to her and chauffeured us home. I’ve never known Jose to have road rage, but he was hilarious the whole way. “Yeah lady, I see you eating your sandwich. Put both hands on the wheel and pay attention. Jesus Christ, we have a newborn in the car!”
We pulled up to the house and I was relieved. He was walking around to come unbuckle us when he noticed an unleashed dog growling at our postal carrier. Like the superhero that he is, he ran across the street to intervene. My heart swelled with pride. He took us inside and got us situated on the sofa. We just sat there for the longest time, marveling at what an amazing thing we had created together. Like Shakespeare once said, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”
She took turns nursing, napping, and pooping the rest of the day and through the night. When I woke the following morning, (Tuesday) my nipples were sore. Really sore. They were cracked and bleeding, but I didn’t care. I found it odd that this happened as I had never endured it before. I chocked it up to her tiny mouth having to suck so hard to get that colostrum. I figured when the real milk came in, things wouldn’t be so bad. By that afternoon, it was painful to nurse. I winced every time she latched on. In fact, I had to hold back tears. It hurt so bad. We picked up some nipple cream and it genuinely helped.
The next morning (Wednesday) we had an appointment to see the doctor. After what seemed like an eternity, the nurse called us back. She had been wonderful the entire nine months of my pregnancy. She always put my mind at ease and answered my thousands of questions patiently. I enjoyed being around her and always looked forward to my prenatal visits. She checked Ollie’s vitals and put her on the scale. She weighed 4 pounds, 14 1/2 ounces. She had lost even more weight. My heart sank. The nurse was busy chatting away when she blurted out the words that crushed me. “You’ll probably have to give her supplemental formula. You may not be producing enough milk.” I was so taken aback that I had to sit. She left the room to get the doctor and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. She didn’t intend it, but in that moment, her words make me feel like a failure. I wasn’t enough. My “old girls” weren’t working like they did 20 years ago. Jose looked at me and asked what was wrong. I shook my head, but he persisted. “Baby, talk to me. What’s going on?” I tightened my lips. I was on the edge. I knew if I opened my mouth to speak the floodgates would also open. He pushed. “She said I wasn’t producing enough milk,” I managed to eke out in between gasping for air while tears streamed down my face. He got me some tissue and held my hand. “Let’s just see what the doctor says.”
Turns out, Jose was right (again.) The Doc said we need only be concerned if she lost more than 10% of her birth weight and she had only lost 7% . He scheduled us for another weigh-in on Monday when she is 8 days old.
We got home and settled in on the sofa. Jose had to go to work. I could sense the guilt – he didn’t want to leave us, but he is devoted to his clients and their pets, so off he went. That first feeding after he left was brutal. My nipples were so sore that I cried out in pain when she latched on. The nurse’s words hung over me like a black cloud while Olive fed. I was determined to work through the pain, I was determined to provide for my baby, and I was determined to prove the nurse wrong. Things stayed the course through the afternoon and the night. The next morning (Thursday) Jose had to go to work. Olive nursed at 6am and when she was hungry again, I dreaded the pain. I positioned her in my lap and gave her the breast with the least amount of cracking… still, it hurt like a son-of-a-you-know-what.
I tried. I swear, I tried, but it was too much. I was defeated. I popped my finger between my nipple and her mouth to release the suction. I couldn’t take it anymore. My breast felt instant relief as my pride felt instant heartache. Tears were streaming down my face as I slowly made my way to the kitchen to make Olive a bottle of supplemental formula from the many samples that had come in the mail. Once I got her positioned and put the bottle to her lips, a funny thing happened. Her nose scrunched up, her eyes squeezed shut, and I swear, the stuck her tongue out at me! She didn’t want the formula. OH MY GOD! WHAT WAS I THINKING? WHAT WAS I DOING?! I quickly put the bottle down, pulled out a breast, and offered it to Olive. She latched on right away, painfully, but I didn’t care. I sat there feeding her until she fell asleep. Once I was sure she was down, I jumped up and ran to the sink to pour out the bottle, to pour out the evidence of what I had done. I felt dirty, I felt ashamed. For a moment in time, I had let my weakness get the best of me. I ran scalding hot water through that bottle until my hand hurt and I was sure it was clean. I put the bottle back away in the nursery, but it wasn’t enough. I still felt dirty. I decided to take a shower, a virtual cleansing away of my sins. I scrubbed my body like I scrubbed that bottle under water that was just as hot. It was the longest amount of time I had spent away from Ollie and as I got out of the shower, I ran to check on her. I slid across the wood floors of the living room, still naked from the shower, and dripping wet. She was fine and peacefully sleeping. When the cool air hit my breasts, they tightened up and milk began to flow from both of them. It was a sign. I quickly got dressed so I could get back to cuddling her. I couldn’t wait for her to wake up so I could nurse her again.
There was a knock at the door. It was my friend, Pam. She stopped by to meet Olive, check on me, and drop off a gift. It was a nipple beanie! (And another sign from God – don’t give up on breastfeeding.)
Visitors came and went the rest of the day in between feedings. The nipple cream was healing and the nursing was improving. When my husband got home, we decided to buy a pump. I knew he wanted to help feed and I wanted to make sure to keep my supply up. While browsing different pumps online, our friend Laura stopped by. Remarkably, she had a hospital grade pump she wasn’t using and offered it to us. Yet another sign from God.
By Friday, the cracking and bleeding had vastly improved as did Olive’s appetite. My feelings of inadequacy were diminishing. I was dying to know if she had gained any weight and even entertained the idea of weighing her in the produce scale at the market. Only a few more days before we were back at the doctor for a weigh-in. That afternoon, my friend Amy showed up with a breastfeeding pillow that our friend Shay was giving us. You know what that was, don’t you? …Another sign from God.
Today is Saturday, Ollie will be one week old tomorrow. All of my friends are checking in to and posting photos of Wurstfest to Facebook, but I’m not there. Instead, I sit here typing this one-handed while the other hand nurses Olive and you know what?
…It really is the breast of times.