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Pregnancy After Infertility: Tongue Tie, Mastitis and Abscesses, Oh My!

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After 28.5 hours of labor culminating in a perfect baby boy at 4:49 in the morning, I had a slew of visitors to contend with on day one in the hospital. It was partially exciting, somewhat chaotic, completely exhausting and absolutely wonderful all at the same time. I’m a people-pleaser, so I wasn’t going to tell anyone “no,” plus I wanted to show off this miraculous little creature. When it came to breastfeeding, I knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t have a problem doing that in front of people as long as they didn’t mind, but I also wouldn’t want to make my friends uncomfortable that would mind, so I would just play it by ear.

(Except in front of my dad. My dad can’t know that I have breasts. Or sex. Immaculate conception. Shh.)

Pregnancy After Infertility: Tongue Tie, Mastitis and Abscesses, Oh My!

But what I didn’t know was that I would have a problem breastfeeding. Scratch that – a hundred problems. I had taken a breastfeeding class and was awesome at it. It’s super easy to hold a doll in the right positions and to recite back the proper words to a teacher in an hour-long session. But when you have a squirmy newborn with a tongue tie that’s just been snipped (again, I didn’t know that was a thing…), it’s another story. When you have nipples that won’t listen to you when they need to be perky, when you have no clue how to physically hold an actual child six months after taking the class, and when you’re physically and emotionally exhausted, but have a hungry newborn constantly seeking sustenance – everything you know goes right out the window.

The nurses and lactation consultants in the hospital were so patient with me. I tried over and over again to get a good latch and when it would happen, he’d pop right back off a moment later and we’d have to start fresh. They gave me a nipple shield, but didn’t show me how to use it properly, so I couldn’t get that right, either. How am I ever going to do this at home without help? I wondered. Well, it shouldn’t be a problem – I have two and a half days here to get good at it. I’m sure by the time I’m released, I’ll be a pro. Women have been breastfeeding for millennia – how hard can it be?

Pregnancy After Infertility: Tongue Tie, Mastitis and Abscesses, Oh My!

I must say now that, if my mother had not come to spend the first week at home with us, I might not be here to tell the tale. Along with the third degree lacerations I had from giving birth, the discomfort from my nipples cracking and bleeding was awful. (Lanolin. Nobody thinks to tell you about lanolin, either. Use it.) I tried different areas of the house to sit, different arrays of pillows to prop myself and baby up, various positions for my feet, several ways of holding him, and still couldn’t get a proper latch right away. It would take so long he’d be sobbing, and then I’d be sobbing because I couldn’t get this right. This thing that should be so easy for me; I’m intelligent, healthy, very spatially aware, I love children, I’d wanted a baby for a decade, and here he was and I COULDN’T DO SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS FEED HIM!

He was getting nourishment, not to worry. The process just took so much patience, effort and time that I could barely believe it. I remember one night when he fed for three hours. My back hurt, my breasts hurt, my neck hurt, and I just hung my head over him and cried, wondering how much longer he was going to eat, and then feeling guilty because he was this tiny helpless creature and I felt like a monster. Day to day was different – the amount, the time, the difficulty level of the entire process – and I never felt like I got a good rhythm. I saw lactation consultants at the doctor’s office and the WIC office who were extremely helpful. One even came to my house to help out, free of charge. And I’d feel like I was in a really great place, and then the next day, it would all come crashing down again.

Somewhere in the fourth week, an uncomfortable lump formed in my right breast. Knowing that it was likely a clogged milk duct, I continued to feed on that side since I’d taken the class and done all the reading to know that it would probably come out during a feeding and I’d feel a release. I massaged it, while feeding, did everything right (even the doctor said so), but to no avail. The pain became massive. The breast became enlarged and flared up with hot, red, radiating pain. I had developed mastitis, a nasty breast infection, and it hurt to touch. Of course, the books said to continue feeding through that as well because it would work itself out eventually. I could take some antibiotics while continuing to feed, so I chose to do that because I wanted to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. I wanted to do what was best for my baby.

After it didn’t go away and continued to get worse, I did more research. I read that only 10% of women with a clogged duct developed mastitis. Of that 10%, only 3% of those will develop an abscess. I asked my doctor about that and she said that in 10 years, she’d never had anyone develop an abscess, but to keep her posted and we’d cross the bridge if we came to it.

We came to it.

Pregnancy After Infertility: Tongue Tie, Mastitis and Abscesses, Oh My!

I ended up at the emergency room getting my breast sliced open, a tube the diameter of my index finger inserted inside, and for 10 minutes they pumped out pus, blood, milk and whatever else was lurking around inside of my poor, abused breast. My mom sat in the E.R. waiting room with my five-week-old baby and the whole time I was getting the procedure done, all I could think of was that infants are not supposed to be in the E.R. Never mind that I was in searing pain, that it looked like they were performing liposuction on my boob, or that a scalpel had recently been inserted deeply into one of my most private places… I needed to do this so I could keep breastfeeding my baby! The doctor packed the wound with a long strip of gauze and said I’d need to get it checked in a couple of days.

Pregnancy After Infertility: Tongue Tie, Mastitis and Abscesses, Oh My!Two days later, I was back in the E.R. When it was unpacked, it began spurting like a fountain, so they opened it more, drained it again, dressed it and packed it again, and gave me the information for a wound care clinic that was near the hospital for follow-up.

For five weeks, I went to wound care, had the same procedure done (without the scalpel and hose, thankfully), and then spent my days at home pulling out my own gauze and repacking it with fresh gauze all the way down into the wound, by myself, looking in a mirror, with a hard-tipped sterile instrument. I should’ve needed a nursing degree to do what I was doing to myself. Another infection flared up, I had more antibiotics, collagen and saline to seal and heal the last parts of the wound, and now I tout a scar and a large amount of scar tissue below the surface because I didn’t have an abscess as I was originally led to believe. I had had several pockets of abscesses all in one area.

I say all of that to say this: the one thing I knew for sure I wanted to do with my baby was breastfeed him, and I ended up having to quit after five weeks. I pumped as long as I could, then started supplementing with formula, but the time came when it just wouldn’t work. I mourned it, deeply. The mastitis and abscesses were more painful than labor had been, but I did everything in my power to continue feeding him with my own body for as long as possible until my body just shut down. My right breast completely dried up. I was pumping and dumping the left one for the weeks I was on the heavy antibiotics and it began to dwindle, so I put some cabbage leaves in there until it dried up as well. Yes, cabbage leaves. Apparently that’s a thing, too. They’re cold, smelly and itchy, and if you have a miniature pinscher that eats anything, if a piece falls out of your bra, he’ll grab it right up.

There’s an aura of judgment that goes along with not breastfeeding these days. Pressure from everywhere welled up – online forums, nurses, doctors, lactation consultants, the WIC office – everyone says it’s the right thing for your baby. But I found out that the right thing for my baby was a happy, comfortable mother who was not stressed out by trying to do something she just couldn’t do. I would get upset, then he would get upset, then neither of us could get it to work, and we were both so exhausted and frustrated in the end. And that was BEFORE the clogged duct, mastitis and abscesses. Once I gave it over to God and just said, “Look, you know what I want, but I want what you want…” there was this peace that came over me and I knew that I had done all I could.

I have a happy, healthy, formula-fed four-month-old baby boy. He smiles, laughs and already has said his first word, “Hi,” so many times that we know it’s not a fluke. He’s just about to roll over, he grabs his toys, his neck and arm and leg muscles are great during tummy time, and he weighs just over 15 pounds. Life is normaling out, if there is such a thing. He sleeps five hours at night, eats for a half hour, then goes back to sleep for three more and I feel refreshed every day. I read to him, play with him and love him more than life itself.

Pregnancy After Infertility: Tongue Tie, Mastitis and Abscesses, Oh My!

If there’s one thing to take away from my story, it’s this:

The right thing will happen at the right time, in the right way, if I just surrender and do my best. I am not a perfect person, nor will I ever be a perfect mother, but there is no such thing anyway. It’s all about love. If love leads the way, everything else follows just as it should.

I’d like to thank Unexpectant for allowing me to share my story. I’ve been honored to be a part of this site, and I’m grateful to each of you for following along. ~Stephanie Jean

StephanieSalisbury_HSStephanie J. Salisbury is a writer, editor, minister, wife and mother in Middlebury, IN. She is the founder of A Journey of Reinvention, an inspirational blog for everyone whether or not they are spiritually inclined. A graduate of the University of Michigan, she roots incessantly for the Wolverines. Go Blue! Find her on Facebook, Twitter @OnOurJourney and Instagram: Adventures.Of.Baby.Stephen.


Many thanks to Stephanie Jean for so bravely and honestly sharing her journey from infertility through pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and beyond. I truly believe, that the more we share our stories, the more we can learn from one another. If you have a story to share, stop by the contact page and send it my way. In the meantime, please make sure you continue to follow Stephanie Jean through her website and social media.

And, as a gift for my {awesome} readers… get your FREE copy of my eBook “Motherhood Doesn’t Come with Sick Days…and other lessons from parenting”

Motherhood Doesn't Come with Sick Days

Have you followed me on Pinterest yet? Also, be sure to find me on Instagram at meaganchurch.

{Professional photo credit: ©Hanah Tepe Photography.}

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