The day I told my husband I wanted to die was the end and the beginning of various difficulties.
For three weeks before this day I had been fighting mastitis every hour of every day. I will write about the whole breastfeeding experience one day and include a link to this post here (when it exists).
However this post starts at the end of my breastfeeding journey – I didn’t know it but when I woke up feeling as if I’d been hit by a bus, overcome with pain and trapped in an oversupply cycle of pumping – that this was the last day I would pump breastmilk for my child.
The thoughts that went through my head along with the pain and the sadness on this morning were ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and ‘if I go back to sleep maybe I’ll never wake up’. Not because I actively wanted to hurt myself, but because I was just so done with the 3.5 hourly pumping that I was trapped in; with endlessly searching the internet for answers to decreasing supply or dealing with blocked ducts; with the pain; with the $100 a pop ultrasound sessions; with the antibiotics; with being told by everyone who saw me (the physio, the chiro, the maternal child and health nurse, the doctor and his dog) to ‘keep pushing through because breast is best’ as if the pain from mastitis was a tickle under the arm and my anxiety over an oversupply was unwarranted; and I was done with crying in the shower everyday whilst drowning in sorrow at my dreams of breastfeeding my baby slipping through my fingers, the guilt and shame that I couldn’t do this, that my body was letting me down again and in turn letting my son down.
In the morning after a long night of calls to nurse on call after waking up at 3am with an terribly painful & engorged breast, my husband walked in to the bedroom and I broke down in tears again – I showed him my very red breast (picture a huge peeled watermelon) and told him ‘I just kind of want to die’.
He burst into tears, the exhaustion and worry overwhelming him and I lay there sick and lost as I burned up in a mastitis fever and watched the shadows on the wall dance (I’m not sure what that was but I remember the shadows dancing as tears rolled like a river down my face).
He went off and called the maternity ward at the hospital in hope he could get some advice from our Obstetrician (it was a Saturday so we couldn’t call direct) and I remember hearing him upset as he repeated what I’d just told him. They set off to contact our obstetrician on our behalf and returned the call only minutes later asking us to come in to the emergency room with items packed as it was likely I would spend the night.
It was almost like we both breathed a sigh of relief at being told to go to hospital – we both couldn’t do this anymore, it was too much for us to carry. My body was sick but my mind was sick too, I couldn’t cope with an unending track of inflammatory breast conditions, pumping, lactation consultants, tears, hope that continues to be dashed, we needed outside support and guidance and it needed to be all encompassing, swift and nurturing.
We at this point had to figure out what to do with our 5 week old as who knew how long we would be waiting in the emergency room. Faced with being away from him for the first time we didnt have time to panic & we called our sister-in-law who had a 4 month old & the most recent experience with a newborn. She was over within 20 minutes and we were off. Bless her heart for stepping in and enabling us to do what we needed to do, for between the time of her arrival to our home and our arrival to the hospital the redness of the infection had crept from my breast up to my arm pit. It really was the time to act fast.
It was a whirlwind, within hours I had been admitted to the hospital after a mental health evaluation in the emergency room. They started IV fluids for dehydration, and antibiotics for mastitis and told my blood infection markers were so high that I would get worse before I got better. But I was in the right place. I took Dostinex to suppress my milk supply on the same day and my pumping was over just like that (to read my post on the Dostinex experience see it here).
I was in hospital for 3 nights, too unwell and exhausted to have my husband and baby room in with me, which was an option.
For weeks after coming home I remember that stay in hospital so fondly, I think because I was so unwell that first night and the nurses were so nurturing to me that it almost seemed like a holiday. I was given painkillers and sleeping tablets and all manner of medicine (for now I wasn’t breastfeeding), and as the calm warm grog of the sleeping tablet kicked in that night alongside the whirring of the IV machine administering the fluid and Antibiotics, my golden haired nurse angel came in with a warmed blanket from the birth suite and tucked my shivering fevered body in and told me I would be ok, that my baby was home and was ok and that they would take care of me and I would get through this.
I slipped off into sleep that night feeling loved and nurtured and cared for, in that moment life wasn’t out of control, in that moment I was in someone else’s care and I wasn’t responsible for the life of a little person that I didn’t understand. I was the sickest I had ever felt and yet felt better than I had in a long time. Now these feelings were surely encouraged along by the medicine I was on, but I think also when I became a mother I felt more like a child in those early weeks than an adult with such huge responsibilities because I felt so unqualified, so panicked, so unsure of each step of each day and all I wanted was to be the one with someone looking after me.
Whilst I was well looked after by my husband who stepped up in so many ways the reality is no matter how much someone looked after me in those days it would not have been enough because what I didn’t understand at the time was that it was both the necessary stretching of comfort zones in a huge life transition, an uncomfortableness that had to be felt in order to find that new knowledge to manage the new normal, but it was also the onset of postpartum anxiety which would need to be treated in order for my mind to be at ease.
In hidsight this experience was a blessing in many ways – it forced us to ask for help and enabled various family members to help care for us, to leave our new precious bundle in their care for periods of time and learn that he would be safe. It enabled me to suppress my milk as I’m not sure how long we would have muddled through if things hadn’t escalated and forced me to acknowledge I couldn’t go on the way it was. It gave both me and my husband a few days of much needed rest and nurturing to slog out this new parent situation again once home. It made us aware that I wasn’t coping and that it was more than just the breastfeeding situation & got the ball rolling on a referral to the local postnatal depression support centre in our area.
I don’t want to die, I didn’t ever want to die, I just really really wanted and needed the crazy to end. After that hospital stay some of the crazy was over, and some was only just beginning. But this is one of those times I’ve been able to look back on now some 8 weeks on and realise that this was a really hard and difficult situation and it would have been difficult for anyone. I am not weak for struggling, I am strong for persevering, I am not defective because I succumbed to postnatal anxiety, I am capable because I have been proactive in getting help. What it comes down to is a desperation to be the best mum I can be, now is not the time to resist help or refuse medication, because I have the most important job in the world right now in loving and nurturing a boy who deserves a mum who is the best she can be and I will do whatever it takes to get there.