Wow. So. This entry somehow turned into an insanely long missive on... my boobs. And yeast infections in said boobs. Yes. Yum. Ever heard of thrush? I hadn't either, but let me tell you something: I now know more about getting rid of thrush than I do about killing tapeworms. Oh, you weren't planning on eating today, were you? Because guess what, my pregnancy carpal tunnel syndrome has finally cleared up and I can type again and I have many, many words for you. All of them about boob infections.
I was terrified of breastfeeding before the baby was born. (Is it weird that I still call her "the baby"? Someone on Facebook asked me jokingly -- at least I think she was joking -- if she didn't have a name. I guess that after nine months of not knowing whether Hannah was going to be a girl or a boy, "the baby" has just sort of stuck.) I heard other people talk about how hard it was and I wasn't exactly sure why it was so difficult, but then we took a breastfeeding class at the hospital and it was only slightly less terrifying than the childbirth class that landed Joel in the ER. But when we took a breastfeeding class at the hospital and they showed pictures of a proper latch that looked like this:
That looks... uncomfortable. Right? I was not looking forward to the whole operation.
But then Hannah was born and forty five minutes later I was shoving my boob in her mouth in a sleep-deprived haze. To my amazement, it really didn't hurt. I was completely unconvinced that there was anything actually coming out of my boobs because that still seemed kind of insane (I also couldn't believe that I'd just had a baby, despite the fact that I was holding said baby on my chest). In the days that followed, breastfeeding was hard because it was time consuming and somewhat uncomfortable and Hannah wanted to eat all. the. damn. time (turns out babies do that), and no one else could help even a little. Several times Joel asked what he could do to help me with the baby and I answered "grow a pair of boobs and feed this baby for me." But Hannah gained plenty of weight and overall the experience wasn't terrible, as I'd been expecting. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
And then around the three week mark I started to get sore. By four weeks I was REALLY sore. I decided to break out the hand-me-down pump my coworker had given me and start pumping a little bit to give myself a break from nursing all the time. That helped a little on the weekends. But during the week, you can't exactly tell a hungry baby to just hang on for half an hour while you pump, wash the pump parts, and get a bottle ready. I had hoped I could bank up a little reserve and be able to feed her a bottle and then replace it right away by pumping again afterwards, but HAHAH NO. It doesn't quite work that way. No matter how much I pumped I could just not get ahead of her. She ate everything I pumped and demanded more. Sometimes I ended up pumping and then nursing her afterwards, which defeated any sort of purpose. I tried pumping more often. Every two hours on the dot I'd pump and get such measly amounts that I felt like the whole thing was a waste of time. It took me an entire week of furious pumping to save up three ounces so I could go to yoga one time. And when I got home from that class she was screaming and starving. It was horribly frustrating.
More time went on and I stopped being sore and started being in serious pain. It got to the point where I dreaded nursing. I'd feel angry when Hannah wanted to eat again ninety minutes after her last feeding, like OH MY GOD YOU JUST ATE. In my head I knew that newborns are supposed to cluster feed and this was good and normal. My boobs told my head to shut the hell up because they were tired and just wanted a goddamn break for two minutes. I winced and had to catch my breath every time she latched on. I hated feeding her. I made her stop eating when I just couldn't take any more, rather than when she was full. Hannah cried for hours every night and I wondered if she was hungry or if she was just crying because babies cry.
By the time she was six weeks old, I could not bear the thought of nursing her directly. I vowed that I would not directly breastfeed her the entire weekend, that I would pump like crazy and feed her bottles the entire weekend. Hopefully by the time Monday rolled around my boobs would have recovered sufficiently to get a fresh start.
Yeah, no. Even pumping hurt pretty bad. And no matter how often and for how long I pumped, Hannah wanted more. More, more, more. She cried for hours and hours at night and the only thing that shut her up was a bottle or a boob. She can't possibly STILL be hungry, we told each other. There is no more food to give her. I felt so anxious that I was sick to my stomach. My baby was crying and I couldn't feed her. No matter how much I pumped and fed her, it wasn't going to be enough.
Finally, I decided to call the lactation consultant at the hospital. She listened to my symptoms (we had a few great weeks of nursing and now it feels like someone is drawing a razorblade across my skin when my baby nurses, don't mind if I just cry a little on the phone here) and her first suggestion: I think you might have thrush.
I had no idea what thrush was. I had pretty much convinced myself that this was just how breastfeeding was, and this was why everyone said it was hard. She assured me that so much pain, especially after three pain-free weeks was very much not normal and told me to call the pediatrician's office and request prescriptions for both Hannah and me, emphasizing how important it was for us to both be treated simultaneously. And that is how I found myself having this conversation with the scheduler at our pediatrician office:
Scheduler: You'd like to make an appointment for... thrash?
Me: No, thrush. With a "u". T-H-R-U-S-H.
Scheduler: I'm sorry, did you say "thrush"?
Me: Yes, thrush.
Scheduler: I... don't know what that is.
Me: It's a yeast infection. In your nipple.
The pediatrician couldn't get us in (unsurprising, as it was a Friday afternoon), but after hearing the symptoms -- which I got to describe in embarrassing detail to the male scheduler, she was happy to call the prescription for Hannah into the pharmacy without seeing her. I'd have to call my own OB, though, for my own prescription.
Frantically, I called the OB's office, which was closing in half an hour. I got their answering machine and left a message with all the details, hoping they'd get it and call it in before everyone left for the day. I called again five minutes before they closed and left a slightly more desperate message about how I wasn't trying ot be annoying but I was in a lot of pain and I really couldn't wait until Monday and no I'm not crying YOU'RE CRYING. And then I cried because I knew they'd already closed up shop for the weekend and I was stuck until Monday.
BUT! THEN! The receptionist called me back, fifteen minutes after closing time. I explained the situation again to that scheduler (who either knew exactly what thrush was or didn't care enough to ask) and she said she'd pass the message along to the doctor and they'd call my prescription in to the pharmacy. I felt the weight lift from my chest for the first time days. It felt like there might actually be a solution to this problem. It's hard for me to convey the level of anxiety that I was feeling over feeding the baby, but it was all-consuming. It's a strange and heavy responsibility to be solely charged with sustaining another human being. It's amazing and it's stifling at the same time when it's going well. When it's not going well... it's horrible. I felt like my body was refusing to function correctly, like I was failing at my most basic and important responsibility. And I felt completely helpless. And I felt like it was never going to get better.
So obviously I handled it very well when the OB nurse called me back and informed me that they didn't treat mothers for thrush. Just treat the baby, she said. I explained that the baby wasn't even having any symptoms but I was in an incredible amount of pain and I didn't see how treating her was going to help that. Plus, the pediatrician and the lactation consultant (along with every reputable source on the internet) had both emphasized that it was imperative that Hannah and I be treated simultaneously. "Yeah, that's what pediatricians and lactation consultants think," she said. That's a direct quote. Like I was telling her the opinions of my psychic adviser and my cat, not a well-regarded fellow physician and the lactation consultant at HER OWN HOSPITAL. I argued with her for a few minutes and got nowhere.
I hung up the phone and cried. I cried a lot. At the time all I could see was an interminable weekend stretching before me, filled with pain and hours of hungry babies wailing and staring longingly at the unopened tin of formula. (Let me pause to say what should be unnecessary, but in this world od mommy guilt and breastfeeding nazis is not: i have nothing against formula. I was exclusively formula fed and I think I turned out OK. My reluctance to dive into that tin of formula is because I have worked so hard to build up my milk supply and I knew that if I had an alternative to the incredibly painful nursing and pumping, it would just be too easy to give up breastfeeding altogether.) I was convinced that I had thrush and was going to have it forever because the stupid doctor wouldn't treat me. At the same time, I was convinced it wad not thrush and this was just how breastfeeding wad going to be forever. Both possibilities were utter doomsday scenarios, because that's what a chronic lack of sleep does to me.
So I did the logical thing and sent a series of increasingly desperate text messages to my friend Sarah, who is a doctor. Beware, all ye considering medical school, for it shall doom you to a lifetime of hypochondriac friends asking for medical advice about their possibly infected boobs. And tapeworms. Because OH YES I was convinced I had caught that tapeworm from my goddamn dirty cats rubbing their goddamn dirty butts on my pillows and desperate times call for desperate measures. However, I did NOT text her a picture of my poor, sore nipples. Which is what Joel thought I did. God, even I have standards. And also I couldn't figure out how to get a good picture because my phone camera sucks.
I spent the entire weekend feeling sick to my stomach. I resolved that I would only pump again and not nurse at all, and it was horrible. Every two hours I'd sit upstairs with my stupid pump and eek out a few measly ounces. And by "a few", I mean "one". Maybe one and half. Which was about half of what Hannah would have liked to eat. I left a tearful message for the lactation consultant on Saturday night, hoping she worked on the weekends. She did not.
On Monday morning I called the pediatrician's office first thing in the morning and made an appointment to bring Hannah in that afternoon, hoping that I could convince her to write me my prescriptions as well. An hour after I made that appointment, the lactation consultant called me back. She offered to call my OB's office for me and speak to a doctor in the practice that had worked with her on thrush before. An hour after that, I had my prescription.
The whole experience has been absolutely maddening. The lactation consultant told me to call the OB back and ask for another week's refill if my symptoms hadn't completely cleared up within a week. When I did just that, the doctor on duty refused to give me a refill and made me feel like a drug-seeking addict. I mean, if this stuff is supposed to be getting me high, it's doing a crap job. All I want is for it to not feel like someone is hacking my boobs to pieces with a rusty razor when my baby nurses, and this lady is making it seem like I'm cooking up some sort of yeast infection breastfeeding meth in my trailer.
The moral of this story is that I'm getting really tired of typing, thrush is a fantastic pain in the ass, and from now on I am only seeing the one doctor in my OB practice that I saw today, the one who apologized that I'd had to come all the way into the office with a baby in tow to get a refill that could have been done over the phone and wrote me a prescription without making me feel like a crack addict. The end.