by Laura Cullum

I’ve known since I was a teenager that I wanted to have a water birth one day. I saw a video of my mom’s friend giving birth in a tub at a birthing center and since then, that was how I wanted to do it. It looked so calm and pleasant: no harsh bright lights and being surrounded by your support team without the chance of unnecessary medical intervention. I planned to have my son at the Birth Center in the birthing tub. I planned on breastfeeding him. I didn’t feel there were any other options. I’m stubborn and I know plans can change. When I was in labor at the Birth Center, I was unable to deliver my son in the tub, but to my surprise, I wasn’t upset about it. I was able to labor in the tub, which was wonderful. We had a smooth delivery.

After delivering Caleb, he was put in my arms right away. I was able to just soak him in. Soon, we started to try to feed him. I was given a nipple shield to help. It seemed to be going well. He was latching and was getting colostrum. A couple days later at my home visit, I was told that it was time to start nursing without the shield so that we would both get used to it. We stopped using it immediately. That same day, we had Caleb’s pediatrician visit, and he had lost six ounces, which I knew was normal. Later that evening while Caleb was nursing, I noticed he had cracked my nipples. One was very severe and 20 minutes later, he spit up a lot of blood. But I kept nursing him. I thought, “This is normal. Breastfeeding causes cracked and sore nipples; they’ll heal and we will be okay.” Little did I know at the time, it would take a long time to heal.

Before I had Caleb I was working as a chiropractic assistant and recently we had been adjusting a lot of infants who had lip ties and/or tongue ties. So when I had Caleb, after he cracked my nipples, I checked his mouth and noticed that it looked like he had a lip tie. I debated whether or not to call the pediatrician, but I knew I had an appointment coming up and would ask about it then. At my one week post partum visit, I brought up the lip tie and was told that it probably wasn’t affecting his latch and to start using the shield again. I knew better and should have listened to my gut. Caleb was weighed at the visit and he was down two more ounces, which worried me. I thought, “He should be gaining weight by now.” I set up an appointment to see Katie Madden for a lactation consult for the following week. At Caleb’s two week check up, I asked his pediatrician about the lip tie, and she confirmed that he did have a lip tie and he had a tongue tie. He was weighed and he was down another four ounces. I started crying. I was starving my baby. That was the worst feeling in the world. I felt helpless and scared. The next day I was able to get him in with an ENT who used a laser to fix his tongue and lip. I was able to immediately nurse without a severe amount of pain. His latch was better! I was thrilled and couldn’t wait for him to start gaining weight. I had a great pediatrician who was willing to work with me and not quickly jump to giving him formula. I just had to go for weigh-ins a couple times a week to make sure he was gaining weight.

I saw Katie the day after the lip and tongue ties were taken care of. I felt great, ecstatic that we were seeing a positive change. Katie and Michelle were both helpful with latching Caleb and just listening to how the last two weeks had been going. We made a plan to help get Caleb back up to birth weight and to make sure my supply wasn’t hindered from him not being able to nurse efficiently. She prescribed all purpose nipple ointment, which I am still using. I saw Katie on a Thursday. I was thrilled to be on the up-and-up from all the pain.

The following Tuesday, I started to have increasing pain again. I called the Birth Center and described the symptoms I was experiencing and was diagnosed with thrush on my nipples. I was given a prescription and had to give Caleb medicine as well to keep him from getting it. On Friday I went to the breastfeeding support group at TBC. It was amazing to be there and get out of the house. It made me feel human again and it was great to hear that I wasn’t the only one struggling with something that should come so naturally. Caleb was already starting to gain weight.

Over the next month, I used two rounds of the medication cream but wasn’t getting any better, so I was prescribed oral medication. I took one round of that and I refilled it. I spoke with Katie at a meeting weeks later and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t getting better. I was in so much agony every time I nursed Caleb. I dreaded every time he cried wanting to nurse. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I wanted the bonding time with him; the connection that everyone talked about. But all I could think about during the 45 minutes it would take him to nurse was “Oh my God, please stop!!” I wasn’t healing and it didn’t seem like I was ever going to get better. I looked up natural remedies for thrush, hoping I could get it moving along. I used gentian violet for four days. After using it, I started to peel and was left with open wounds on each breast from peeling. I scheduled a consult with Katie.

Two months after Caleb was born, I saw Katie again. Luckily, at one month old, Caleb was back up to his birth weight. We were in the clear with him. He was healthy and that’s what mattered most to me. I didn’t need to supplement with formula, but we still needed to figure out what was going on with me and why I wasn’t getting better. Katie and I talked at length. She finally determined she thought I had vasospasms and most likely never had thrush. Thrush and vasospasm symptoms are similar. She advised me about what to start taking to help with the vasospasms and also suggested I start pumping in lieu of nursing to help me heal. I cried. As much pain as I was in, I couldn’t imagine not nursing him and losing hope of ever having the bonding time with my baby boy. But I did as advised to an extent. I pumped during the day and nursed at night. The supplements for the vasospasms were helping and I was having less pain and was healing, but ever so slowly. I followed up with Katie and we made a plan to continue doing as we had been. Around Christmas, Caleb was three and a half months old and I did not want to lug the pump around to all the family holiday get togethers, so I stopped pumping. A week later, I had a major flare up. One of the wounds swelled up and was excruciating. It even hurt to pump, which I had to start up again with the flare up. It started to get better again. I decided that I needed to completely stop nursing until I really started healing.

I pumped for two weeks and it was healing, but at a glacial pace. I used lavender essential oil on the wound that was still open and that gave it the kick it needed to heal quicker. At four weeks into pumping exclusively and using the lavender oil, the wound was closed up. The nipple crack was still healing, but it was less painful. I decided to do away with the pump again and start using the shield. I used the shield for a couple days and then I did away with that, too. I am nursing exclusively. I’m still healing, still uncomfortable, but no longer in pain. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Caleb is four and a half months old.

I’ve made it so far when at times I felt so discouraged. It has been a long four months of brutal pain. But I knew that I wanted to continue to nurse Caleb at any cost. My husband was a huge supporter and helped me every time I was weak and wanted to quit. He gave me the pep talks I needed to continue. I’ve always known I wanted to breastfeed. I never knew what a struggle it could be to do something that should be so natural. Many friends and family didn’t understand why I didn’t just give up and give into formula. Formula wasn’t for me. If Caleb wasn’t gaining weight, then we would have had to supplement. I would have done what was best for my son. But I had the supply; I was producing enough for him. It didn’t make any sense to give up when I could do it. Breast was best for him. I am taking it one day at a time now, happy for each day I do get to continue nursing him. I would love to be able to nurse him to at least a year, but as I know, plans can change! Katie has helped a lot through this experience. She has been a wealth of knowledge and has been encouraging and uplifting. She’s made me feel like I’m superwoman! I just wish I had seen her sooner!