about 4 years ago

The few times I cried during the last three weeks were almost exclusively related to --- not surprisingly, the baby crying.

And it wasn't clear exactly why I was sad. I think it's a combination of everything. I knew I was going to suffer a bit of postpartum depression, I have the natural aptitude for such things, but I also know I won't DIE from it.

But I definitely see the symptoms in me. They come and go. But I got a bit of them here and there --- I feel down, I cry, I'm sad, and yup, I have thoughts like "I don't want to deal with this --- why don't I just go back to work now and hire a full-time nanny to deal with this?"

But I also am too stubborn to give up. I vowed to breastfeed for as long as I can, at least until I go back to work. Naiively, I had thought I would go back to work after one month. Now I am emailing work about returning after I use up SDI + PFL. Turns out, returning to work is the easy way out. Deciding to stay longer and feel a bit of what it is like to be a SAHM, even for a little while, is the tougher choice.

I thought about why I was sad or why I should be sad. And I figured out an explanation that suits me: I like to be in control and have a solution for everything. And I get very easily frustrated when I don't necessarily know what to do, like, why is the damn thing still crying after all its needs have been met?

But really if I were to put this baby on a scale of angel to demon (the PTT forum term for "easy" versus "difficult" babies), I'd say she's just a human baby. She doesn't really cry that much, and most of the time it's very obvious what she wants, which is 99% of the time my boobs.

So, let's talk about my boobs. There will be some foul language and explicit details in the following page, so scroll down at your own risk.

OK. I have given you 20 line breaks for a warning. You've been warned.

So, this is what baby looks like when she is crying. Yes this picture is her crying after a sponge bath so it's not technically a "milk cry", but heck, they are all the same. Don't believe in the BS they tell you about different cries. She has three stages of crying, as I'm sure most babies do. Stage 1: low, intermittent moaning with an "eh--ehh--ehh" sound, getting attention. Stage 2: your typical medium volume baby crying, the "wah--wahh--wahhhh" sound. Stage 3: a very recognizable and individualized, high-pitched, shrieky scream that she yelps with her entire body, the "MY LIFE IS RUINED" cry.

Anywho, this pic is the stage 3 cry. Pretty dramatic.

And this is what she looks like after milk.

This is the "ohhhhhhh I am sooooooo drunk on milk (to be precise, lactose)" face.

If only she is always either milk drunk or asleep. Or just being amused. That's OK too.

But breastfeeding, oh, the "I must do this" list I set up for myself. I said I would breastfeed and I knew it wasn't a light committment. From reading PTT I knew how it killed the ego of many mothers when they:

  • Was told from day 1 that they don't have enough milk and had to see baby go on all-formula or supplemented with formula
  • Was not given proper instructions and suffered too much pain and gave up
  • With everything else done right, still suffered from mastitis and swore that "it hurt more than labor" and had to nurse through the bloody pain

So I prepared. I took breastfeeding classes (the UCSF one was great), I stocked up on nursing supplies, and I cross-referenced both Chinese & Western blogs for what to eat and what not to eat for lactation.

And there was one thing I think I got right from the beginning, that is: my nipples are like, a limited resource. It starts out with MAX HP, and everytime you damage it, it's not like most load-n-save games where you just respawn with a fresh new set of pristine nipples --- NO! you are left with that injured nipple and only few more hours away from bearing another attack. I haven't played this game, but I swear breastfeeding is like Dark Souls II where you lose health points every time you die. It's like: F***K! *this is already super hard and I don't even get to replenish my energy level? Can't it be like the first half of Edge of Tomorrow where I get to pick up from where I failed and perfect each step?

And it's not like I did it all wrong. But like real world battlefields, training can only get you so far, and if you step on an IED taking your first step off a vehicle and it only caused a splinter, you're gonna have to live with that for the rest of the tour!

My first wrong move was trying to detach her from my right nipple on day 1. Babies have no teeth and they are so soft and useless and weak you'd think they can't suck hard.....WRONG. This one I got had a strong jaw and a formidable suction power. I was alone in the hospital room trying to switch her from one nipple to the other (later I realized I really didn't have to in most cases), I thought I was doing the right thing by inserting my pinky finger into the corner of her mouth, and then I stupidly jerked my right nipple off her. I immediately could tell that was a bad idea because it hurt, and breastfeeding --- when done right, they tell ya --- ain't supposed to hurt.

Every time the nurse came in during my brief 1.5 day stay at the hospital, the nurse said my latch looked good. Well she didn't see the poor detachment that happened. I asked for the lactation consultant to come by more than 5 times. Each time they said she will come down, but she is VERY BUSY. So I kept nursing, through gradually having both nipples being sore but the right one being especially in pain. Finally, on the day I was to be dispatched, the lactation consultant showed up. Damn these lactation consultants are like precious metals, they're rare and high in demand. I guess there's just too much nipple casualties everywhere.

The lactation consultant said my right nipple did look a bit worn but is still looking OK. She advised keeping the right side less nursed for the day and recommended I do the clutch/football hold instead of the cradle hold. I tried under her supervision and did not like it at all. For one, I have never held a football and have no desire to, so I had no idea what she meant by holding the baby like you hold a football. Second, my baby may not be very long, but I got short arms and the geometry just doesn't feel right to me. She did make the reasonable suggestion that I let my nipples feel the fresh air so they heal/dry better, so for the first week at home, I walked around with my shirt down like a tribal women. It was a good idea, until the next hurdle came by: engorgement.

I was sent home on Wednesday. The next day, Thursday, UCSF sent a nurse for a home visit. The baby gained back a bit weight in the single day she was home, so that was good news. The nurse looked at my latch and noted that I have big boobs and suggested elevating them with rolled up towels to level with the baby's position. She also told me: "You're probably going to start feeling engorged tonight. Be prepared. You can express it a little if it becomes unbearable or baby has trouble latching. And you can use icing post-nursing to ease off the pain."

I remember thinking: hey, my nipples may be hurting but my boobs are fine. What engorgement are you talking about?

And I was so wrong again. That night, I did start to feel my breasts getting a little tight & bigger. Still, manageable. Then on Friday we took the baby to the pediatrician. Again the doctor warned about engorgement and said I would have to let the baby suck it even if it "starts out painful...will be worse if she doesn't nurse".

I made the mistake of nursing the baby not twice, but three times, on the SAME LEFT SIDE, that Friday morning. For a good reason, cuz my right side hurt. The nipple was slowly healing, but it was healing with scabs on top. And you know what happens when you peel a scab before it's time for it to come off on its own? IT BLOODY HURTS because you're exposing the pink new flesh under it! And that's exactly what was happening to the right side. It was hurting, stinging, and I did not want the baby to suck on it. That was such a wrong move.

By Friday evening my right boob was engorged. It was like a balloon being filled to the brim, about to explode but cannot. Even my mom could tell that my right side was much bigger and swollen than the left. With the engorgement, the nipple shortened and I knew latching would be hard, so after dinner, I pumped a little on the right side. I got maybe 10-15 cc of milk out, then downed my ibuprofen (I have never been so diligent on painkillers my entire life), and went to lie down with the baby in bed. I worried that she wouldn't take the right nipple, but she did. She opened wide and started sucking hard. And it hurt like a MOTHERFUCKER. But did it hurt more than labor? Well, no. And miraculously, like the doctor said, it started out hurting like the depths of hell and gradually hurt a little less to, maybe like, the penthouse suite of hell.

So I nursed through the first two weeks with my right nipple in constant pain. Maybe I could've used a nipple shield or something, but heck, I just bore through it. And it is finally getting better.

Until another issue started happening: forceful spitting up.

The first time it happened the baby was on the bed. My left boob (the GOOD boob) had started to leak. Not your tiny drip drops leak, oh no no no, the left boob would be leaking like a faucet wetting my entire clothing and bedding while I was nursing the baby on the right side. The flow became uneven. The left side was too fast, and the right side being still injured was slower.

I could tell she was sucking rather awkwardly. I put her down after nursing. She continued to make weird breathing sounds. As I got up to check on her, she throw up a stream of milk all over my arm and the bedding.

This happened one more time the next day. And twice again two days later. I called the UCSF consulting nurse and left a message. When she called back, I happened to be just suffering through another uncontrollable sadness/blue/crying bout.

The nurse on the line was very warm and friendly. It's a learning phase for the baby to get used to the quick letdown, she said. There are ways I could make it easier, like pumping a little first. But other than that, since the baby is in good spirits after feeding, there is nothing to do or worry about.

Nonetheless, I scheduled a lactation visit at my pediatric clinic. The consultant, Charity, is said to be "on a mission to make the world a breastfeeding world" (she's going to the breastpump hackthaon this weekend, if that's any indicator).

I called on Tue and the visit was today (Friday), because, like I have already observed, lactation consultants are rare precious metals.

It's been 10 days since the baby's last visit. They weighed her. She gained 1 lb 3 oz in 10 days.

The lactation consultant came in and was all cheerful and happy. She looked at the baby's chart and said: It does not seem like you have a problem with the baby gaining weight this fast. What is the problem?

Hmm, I dunno. My ego being injured because she spit out milk I produced?

Charity showed me a few more tricks. I am beginning to feel like lactation consulting is like yoga...the same move, yet every yoga teacher has his/her own way of correcting you or finding the "right alignment/posture". I'm not saying it's not useful, just an observation.

"You don't have a milk problem as far as I can tell," she said, "You just have a laundry problem."


I did feel a little better after checking her in on the weight. I guess from my persepctive, things are crazy/hectic/uncontrollable/confusing. And from the baby's perspective...she's just drinking milk a lot and pooping a lot. Like she should.

I guess it's normal to be unrationally emotional during these days. To balance things out, I'll note the one time I do remember shedding tears that aren't of frustration.

It was the day we left the hospital. Check out was by 11AM. I was wheelchaired down by transporters along with the baby in the carseat to the first floor. There was a waiting area. The transporter sat with me in the waiting area while Ian went to get the car.

We thought the baby would be unhappy in the carseat and expected crying. Instead after the initial struggle to get her properly strapped in, she immediately fell asleep. Peacefully.

In the waiting area there were other people sitting and waiting. And there was a harpist playing. Yes, a harpist. A person with a harp! She was asking for requests for songs. Some folks lazily suggested a pop song that she didn't know, so she instead played another. Then without prompting, she started playing Scarborough Fair.

I felt like she wanted some interaction, like all musicians (remember not so long ago, I was trying to be a musician too...).

I tried to talk to her: "I could sing it if you want."

But my voice was drowned out by the crowd noise outside the waiting area and her playing.

So I just went ahead and sang anyway:

Are you goin' to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there,
she once was a true love of mine.

And I could tell she lit up. Or so did the people in the waiting area too.

I thought Ian would be here immediately with the car, but turns out he was stuck in traffic around the corner. Unfortunately, I had not sing pretty much since pregnancy. I couldn't remember many of the lyrics to the songs she proposed. But I did some All I ask of you from Phantom of the Opera and later, when Ian finally showed up, I was able to read her sheet score to sing the full lyrics to Colors of the Wind from Disney's Pocahontas.

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you'll never know
And you'll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon

For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you'll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

I was definitely sleep-deprived and a bit delirious then. But I did feel very emotional. Afterall, singing in a public hospital area with a harpist is like in a FREAKIN MOVIE SCENE. I could not have invented that scene. I had to be emotional.

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