Nursing Wounds

babymamaWe have all heard or read about those fairytale stories on the bonding that comes with breast-feeding your newborn. While I was pregnant, I  wondered if that would be my experience. It was exciting to look forward to all of the unknowns that having a baby would bring. Little did I know the act of feeding my son would become what I dreaded the most every day as a new mom.

When I was wheeled in to meet my new baby ( I had him via C-section), I could not wait to snuggle and take in everything about the first moments. The nurse lifted him and placed him on my chest and helped to get him into position as most new mothers appreciate. I waited for something to happen. Not much did. The first latch was not comfortable and much to my baby’s dismay nothing was happening. I tried and tried to get the milk to flow, but my efforts were fruitless and I started to feel anxious.

A few hours later, I felt like Pamela Anderson.  I became engorged. I’ll save all of the unpleasant details of this since it was not pretty. In a nutshell, two nurses tried willfully to assist me while my husband shared some terse words with them. Things were getting pretty tense in the room. The nurses were rushing around the room and running down the list of things they could try to get the milk to come out. Hot compresses and pushing down on them did nothing. Eventually they had to have me pump and give my baby some formula since my milk seemed forever stuck.  My husband and I felt really stressed during this time because our baby was crying so hard and was clearly very hungry. The pain was searing. Thankfully, the pump worked wonders and I had some relief. I also began using a shield (which I think is one of the best inventions) since the latch was also so painful.

I attended one of the hospital’s new mom gatherings to learn how to bathe my baby and ask questions about any issues I was having. It seemed my breastfeeding troubles were quite common, and they assured me that soon I would be well on my way to smooth feedings.

A few days after returning home with my newborn, once again, I was in a lot of pain in my chest. A fever showed up and I felt as though moving my body and even carrying the baby was really difficult. I called a lactation consultant. She told me I had mastitis. This is when a milk duct becomes clogged and infected. You pretty much have  flu-like symptoms- chills, fever, and a sharp, cutting, shooting  razor blade feeling all throughout your chest. The internet will tell you it may last for 48 hours but every time I had it, it lasted for 4 days at a minimum.

After the storm of engorgement and mastitis cleared, I thought I was through the woods and that  I might be onto having those blissful nursing moments with my child that I had heard so much about. I would come to find out I was being overly optimistic.

Something was actually very off when I would nurse.

Each time the milk would let down, there be an avalanche of anxiety that would come with it. I began to dread when each feeding was approaching because of symptoms that followed.

I started to pay close attention to what was happening to me each time the let down began. First came the extreme thirst, then the hollow homesick feeling, then the feeling of wanting to close my eyes or drop my head, then a blanket of sadness so thick that the need to cry out in complete despair would overtake me. It was like I had taken a pill that made me feel concentrated grief. Then the worst part of the roller coaster would come- the self loathing. The feeling that there was nothing to live for. The feeling that  I did not deserve this child let alone deserve to be a mother. And then just like that, as soon as these negative emotions would come over me, they would vanish. I would snap back to life; content and calm while holding my baby and nursing him.

After a growth spurt night of marathon feedings every hour and feeling these wretched emotions 5 or 6 times throughout the night, I decided it was time to go in and see my midwife. Something was certainly not right.

My midwife thought it sounded  like post partum, but she did agree it was strange that it was only surrounding the times I would nurse.

I went home feeling depressed and wondering how I would ever get through this. At the good advice of a friend, I called the lactation consultant and she said she’d be right over.

She came right over and within 2 minutes of talking to me, she said, “You have D-MER. Otherwise known as Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex”.

What in the world was D-MER?

She explained it as a misfire in the brain. Hormones have a job when you breastfeed: oxytocin pushes the milk out to begin let down while prolactin (the milk-making hormone) goes up. Prolactin cannot go up unless dopamine comes down.    People with D-MER have a different chemical reaction with those hormones- specifically dopamine. Instead of the dopamine slowly going down, it drastically plummets during let down.  In someone with D-MER,  because the dopamine is dropping so rapidly, it causes a despondent or anxiety laced reaction.

According to, D-MER follows the same pattern as any other reflex. You can tell yourself your knee isn’t going to jerk when you hit it… but it does, just as much the hundredth time as it does the first, and it stops as soon as the stimulus stops. D-MER is physiological, not psychological. It is hormones, not past experience or repressed memories, that cause it.”

The lactation consultant explained to me that this was a very new discovery and most people in the medical profession had not heard of it,  did not know much about it, and there wasn’t much of a treatment for it.

As I allowed myself to take in the information, I became acutely aware that what I had feared most surrounding breastfeeding actually had come true. Instead of feeling euphoria or bliss, I would feel as though I were in eternal sadness during the very act.

I tried to find the silver lining in the situation.  I was grateful for having an answer. To know that what you’ve been experiencing has a name and is a real thing is comforting. I honestly thought I was going crazy prior to her telling me this.

My lactation consultant explained that there was no specific way to make it stop. With  little info from the medical field, all I could do was try to manage it with herbal supplements or by talking myself off the ledge each time it would occur.

My goal had been to make it to 6 months of breast-feeding back when I was pregnant and unaware of what lay before me.  How could I meet my goal of nursing for 6 months if I had to swim in this mental sewage for up to a minute multiple times a day?

I pushed on. It felt like a marathon without a finish line, but I did end up crossing it.

I was sure to share the info the lactation consultant had given me with my midwife so she could be aware of it and advise her other patients should they have it as well.

I’m thrilled to say that there is now an organization called Hopefully medical professionals out there in the OB/GYN  field will study this condition and more info will become attainable. I remember trying to run a search on Google for it  and there was little to no info on the internet about the topic.

I’m sharing this very personal story because it may help a fellow mom that is going through this madness. It’s not your fault and it’s not controllable.  Call a lactation consultant, pep talk  yourself while it’s happening, ask your husband or partner to sit with you and say uplifting things during let down or just sit and hold your hand so that you can make it past that awful first part.  Be sure to share with your doctor that you’re not depressed consistently – it’s specific to nursing. That’s a big indicator that it’s D-MER.

Thank goodness for my smart as a whip lactation consultant. She ended up on speed dial – not only for the D-MER but because I ended up with mastitis 3 more times! Man, sometimes life is punishing.

In the end, I got through it. We moms are strong. Our bodies are truly amazing. We give birth and go through quite an intense healing process all while learning to navigate sleeplessness, breast-feeding, and the biggest role we’ll ever play in life: Mommy.  There are so many unexpected things that can show up on our doorstep as moms. Incredibly, we persevere because in the end we have to show up for our babies each day.

I’m happy to say I made it to my 6 month goal of nursing with my first son. It was and still is the hardest feat I have ever conquered. I threw a little private party for myself when it was over.

When my second son was born I was hopeful that it would be easier since I had been around this block once before. I had made a personal pact not to be so hard on myself and to throw in the towel if needed. Turns out I made it to 5 months- and guess what? It was equally as hard and unforgiving; I had mastitis the same amount of times as I had with my first son and the D-MER was a regular visitor with every feeding. That’s enough to make someone pretty bitter about breastfeeding.

The positive here is that I felt like I had sacrificed something for the betterment of my child. It seems the most selfless things we do feel the most rewarding-as hard as they might be and as impossible as it feels while going through it.While I was often frustrated that I would never have that blissful experience with breastfeeding, it did seem to get easier to manage the longer I nursed.  It’s so true that oftentimes no one else knows just how hard you’ve worked at something more than YOU do. When I was finished with breast-feeding my second son, I felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest.

Women sometimes discuss their stretch marks and such, showing the traces of pregnancy and no longer walking in their youthful scar-free bodies. And while we all have one mark or another on the outside that reminds us we’re in the “mom club”, there’s a pocket of pride within that holds the secrets of  motherhood’s other battle scars. The kind of scars that aren’t visible on the outside.


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The Truth Or Half The Truth? That is the Question

As your child starts to get older, he or she starts to ask really good questions. It goes from “Why?” when they are 2 or 3 years old to “Why not?” to “Why is the sky blue?” to “Why are we here?” to  “Why do we die?” and so on. The questions are sometimes really thought-provoking. Honestly, I’ve had some of the most interesting conversations while lying on my son’s floor at bedtime. These precious talks ensue when he’s groggy but hanging onto random tidbits of info from the day. It’s like he thinks if he can just get that one answer to his one burning question of the day, then he can finally relax and fall asleep.

As with every phase of their growing minds, some days are more difficult than others and some questions are more difficult than others. Let’s start with a light-hearted and easy example first shall we?

“Mom, is Jesus a zombie?” Well, let’s face it, this is actually a very smart question. There are many stories of Jesus dying and coming back to life and a lot of the images on TV and in churches showing him frail, very sad, and with blood in certain areas. I took this question and felt like I was able to answer it decently without having to really alter the truth in any way to soften the info.

Then came questions like, “What does it mean when on [the cartoon]Go Teen Titans they say ‘Mother Nature is evil’?”

This one was a bit trickier to answer. I chose to give an example of how we see jaguars (his fave animal) chase and eat elk or other furry creatures. I asked him if he would feel sad if he saw a jaguar chase and eat another animal.  While these cute creatures can run fast, they can’t really defend themselves against a jaguar. This was my explanation of how Mother Nature is sometimes cruel. I may have also given the example of how mice sometimes eat their own babies. Was that too much? I know, I questioned that extra example myself, but sometimes I get carried away.

There are always some fuzzy adorable questions that are easy and fun to answer like “How did you and Daddy meet?” and “How did you know you wanted to have a baby?” followed up with the infamous question “HOW DO you create a baby?”


I recently dodged this gem with a horribly lame response, “Oh, you will learn about that in school and it’s a really long complicated story of science. When you do start learning it in school we will talk about it and I will answer anything you want, but it’s far too complicated to get into right now.”

Crisis averted temporarily. But he’s a thinker and I know that one will resurface again very soon.

Then there are the questions that you just can’t tell them the answers to yet.  Let me rephrase that. You can tell them the answer, it just has to be a special version of the truth. I’m not going to tell my kid why I’m weepy after reading about the latest school shooting. I want him to think school is safe, so I don’t mention these things yet.

Instead, I’ll say “I read a sad story about a child”.

Then I leave it at that.

But how about the questions that we do need to answer that are tough? It’s not really nice or encouraging to push them off.  Their inquisitive minds are flourishing and it’s healthy for them to want to learn about the world.

But MAN, some of their questions knock you upside the head when you least expect it!

Like this scenario here.

My sons both absolutely love Michael Jackson and his music. This was something they developed on their own. After watching Bad, Beat It, and Thriller videos they were hooked on him. Soon came the questions: Can we go to his house? Can we call him? Where does he live? How long does it take to get to his house?

I explained that whole annoying thing about how when people are famous you can’t really hang out with them, even though you really want to and just KNOW you’d be besties. I also broke the news to them that he had died. Well that prompted an onslaught of questions: HOW did he die? When did he die? Who was he with? Can we see him? Can we go to his house even though he isn’t there anymore? Can we see his dead body?


This is easy, I thought. I’ll go with the least amount of info is better in this instance. So I told them he died from too much medicine. It seemed to cease the storm of questions for that moment. Until one day when I had the news on the TV.  I honestly try not to have it on when they are in the room because these days everything is so depressing. They saw a flash of Michael’s face and then the doctor in the courtroom that had been tried/was on trial for his murder. And my oldest son heard the word “murder”. So, naturally, then came the “what is murder?” question.

OK, I thought, this is heav-y for your 7 year old mind, however, in this moment I went with my gut and told the truth. He immediately brought up the too much medicine comment I had made a month or so prior. Damn, these kids are too smart for their own good!

I explained, “The doctor gave him too much medicine -on purpose-and he died.”

He chewed on this for a moment or two, his green eyes staring in serious deep thought. “There are actually bad doctors that can give you too much medicine?” Oh no, had I just given him a phobia of doctors now? CRAPOLA!

I tried my best to reassure him that doctors can be trusted, and this was a sad, unfortunate story.

How do you know when to tell the truth and nothing but the truth so help you God when you’re trying to tap dance around giving them too much info? Sometimes, depending on how heavy the topic is, I use my judgement and try the less is more style of answer. But the thing is, I don’t believe there IS a right answer to all this! Mostly, I think us parents are winging it.

So what could possibly go wrong with deciding which version of the truth to give your child…?

My oldest hops in the car after school and is all cranky at me out of the blue.

“What’s the problem?” I ask.

“You lied to me about how Michael Jackson died.”

“No, I didn’t honey.”

“Two of my friends said that their moms told them he died in his sleep. He wasn’t murdered by his doctor like you told me! They were arguing with me. They called me a liar Mom thanks to YOU.”

Well folks, we can’t win ‘em all.

Go With Your Gut

Do you trust your intuition? Chances are you should be listening to your inner voice.

A few years ago, I read a really fascinating book called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  It’s a book about the science behind a gut feeling. It goes into depth about how the body and mind are actually wired to have intuition as a fight or flight sense from back when we were cavemen and cavewomen.

For example, you might get a feeling when you go to buy a car that the salesman is lying to you, but you can’t put your finger on how you just KNOW he is lying. There must’ve been something during your exchange that made the wiring in the brain send off an alarm telling you to watch out. Or maybe you’re interviewing a potential babysitter and during the interaction you feel as though there is no way you will hire her. That inner voice in your head is telling you to wrap up and tell her sayonara, but you’re not 100% sure why you’re feeling this way. There is just an uneasy vibe you’re getting.

Only recently did I realize how much this book could have helped me in my life had I read it sooner.

There is this re-occurring scenario that has appeared throughout my  life and it is the ability to trust myself – to trust in my own instinct. I’m not talking about trusting friends, strangers, other people in general …trust as in acting on the initial vibe I get in certain situations. My mind is completely blown on this topic. I could think of experience after experience where I trusted what someone else had said to me over my own intuition or knowledge. In other words, I  didn’t believe that I could be right in most circumstances.

If someone else was telling me something they were thinking was right, surely I must be wrong.  It was rare in my twenties that I ever argued my point on pretty much anything. In my early thirties is when I actually think I started to speak up more and actually debate things with people, friends, and even family. If you’re reading this and you can relate, hopefully some of my experiences below will bring you to your senses-your gut feeling matters! Your opinion matters!  I can’t believe this is something I’ve uncovered only in my late thirties. Knock knock self- where on earth have you been?

Here are some significant instances in my life that are prime examples of how ignoring that inner voice  can get someone into trouble!  I actually trusted what someone else had said to me over what my brain and body were screaming at me.

  • The birth of my second son was a doozy. I almost had him in the car, then again on the pavement in the hospital parking lot, then in the elevator on the way up to delivery. I was physically trying NOT to push so we could make it to the room and my body was like HELL NO. This was because I was holding onto the numbers the midwife had given me: 4:1:1. She had told me if my contractions weren’t 4 minutes apart, lasting for a minute and starting again each 60 seconds, then I should not go to the hospital. This was because I really wanted a VBAC and the concern was that if I went to the hospital too early the doctors would come up with a reason to give me a c-section. She also said if I could still walk and talk I should not head to the hospital or call her either. Well… we almost didn’t make it to the hospital room thanks to me not listening to my body. I went from 11:1:1 to 9:1:1 to the uncontrollable urge to push him out pretty much. Forget the contractions being 4 minutes apart! I had a strong feeling that I should have headed to the hospital sooner, but flat out ignored my own sound advice.
  • I made a stupid health-related decision that could have caused me paralysis.  A few years ago I had a tiny pea-sized bump on my lower spine. My primary doctor told me it was not a problem and not to worry. One day it grew to the size of a golf ball and looked like spider babies were going to hatch out of it. I went to a dermatologist and had them drain it (yuck!). They said if I started to feel sick or if it started to ache to go to a walk in urgent center.  30 minutes later I was in horrible shape. I called my husband and asked what I should do. He said it was probably infected, no big deal, and to follow the dermatologist’s advice and head to a walk in clinic. Looking back-I must’ve been delirious because I knew it was serious and I should have gone right to the ER- not a walk in clinic! The doctor said indeed I had an infection that must’ve got into my blood when the dermatologist had drained it.  He asked if he should operate right there to pull out whatever was left and to see what else was going on in there and he told me it could be serious. I was passing out and nodding my head to do what he needed to fix me. This part is nasty- just warning you. The local anesthetic needle missed the area and I felt the numbing medicine drip down my back. I let the doc know I didn’t think he got the needle in and he said legally he could not give it to me twice. I died at this moment. I lay there feeling every cut and tool digging into my back for what felt like an eternity. I am pretty sure there was convulsing going on- no lie- and I cried pretty hard. The deeper he cut into my back, the more he explained how serious the situation was. The cyst had penetrated the 4 layers of skin and was breaking through the final layer, the fascia,  that protects the spinal chord. Had I waited a day or two longer, he said I would have lost the ability to walk for up to 6 months, maybe longer. When he got it out, he helped me up and the nurse walked me to the waiting room. I went into shock there. You can’t go through something like that and just walk out of an urgent care center like you’re ready to carry on with your day! My husband called me upset asking which clinic I had gone to -he had been trying to reach me for awhile. I tried to tell him but I could not speak properly. My mouth and brain did not work together and I was starting to oddly shake uncontrollably. The gauze on my back had already  been soaked in blood and saturated my shirt, ran down the seat of my pants and was dripping on the waiting room floor. When my husband arrived, he placed his hand on my back to help me out the door and there was so much blood  he had to borrow towels to put on the car seat for the drive home.  I had to go back 3 times to have drains put in and bandages changed. There is a nasty hack job of a scar on my back now as a result. What’s the take home message? I should have never gone alone and I should have gone to an actual surgeon in the ER at a hospital. I should not have listened to the derm, or my husband, or the urgent care doctor. I should have followed through on my gut instinct telling me “this is damn serious girl”.
  • I questioned my smart decision to run like hell from a job with a predatory boss. One of the first corporate jobs I took when I  moved to CT at 22 years-old was for a small business that was owned by a couple. There were 3 other employees and we all worked out of their home.  One day the wife went on a business trip.  That night at around 5 when I was packing up to leave, her husband, also my boss,  asked me to stay after everyone else “just for a minute”. He called to me from their basement to come downstairs to his work station for a talk. He started asking me about my life, why I moved from Chicago to CT, and my boyfriend. Then it got all types of creepy and he moved over to the stairs blocking my only way out. Then he SAT on the stairs just as we were wrapping up the conversation. This completely blocked me from getting up the stairs to the exit. He started asking me really personal questions about my relationship and I told him I had a dinner plans and squeezed past him running out of there.  I drove the next morning to the recruiter’s office who placed me there and told her I was never going back and why. She debated with me that she had known the couple for many years and surely this was a misunderstanding. She called the couple on speaker with me there and when she explained I was quitting because I felt uncomfortable, the man AND woman flew into a rage screaming into the phone. The recruiter turned bright red and took them off speaker so I could no longer hear their name-calling. I left her office upset and she said she’d call me when things settled down a bit. Thankfully, I had a job at an accessory store in a mall to bring in money until I got another corporate position. To my horror, that was not my last experience with that man. He proceeded to call my cell phone for weeks leaving messages begging me to come back and work for them. Then he started showing up to my night job at the mall at closing time and I would have to hide in the back or duck behind the cash register, petrified he would see me and follow me to my car. We started getting hang ups on the days I worked and even on days when I wasn’t in. The staff also said he left his name a few times and asked that I please return his calls. To this day, it baffles me that the recruiter tried to coerce me into going back there! She had actually made me feel like I was overreacting and had dreamt up the whole thing. I actually doubted myself and thought about going back at one point!

These are only 3 examples where not trusting my own intuition got me into trouble.  The crazy thing is -I could give you so many more examples. What’s so interesting about life, that is often forgotten or unrealized is that we’re still learning about ourselves . I challenge you to find out what you could be doing differently to improve yourself.  At 37 I learned to trust myself. Who knew?