I Lost a Part of My Breast to Breastfeeding
I believe in breastfeeding. I’ve seen all of the stats. I’ve read all of the research. I know it’s what I’m supposed to do, if I am able.
So, for the first few weeks of my daughter’s life, I would feed her on demand (which roughly translated to once every hour and a half for anywhere from 20-40 minutes). At night I would settle into my corner of the couch for marathon cluster feeding sessions from 4-11pm. About a week and half into breastfeeding, I didn’t feel good. My body ached and hurt all of the time. I felt tired, run down, and I had constant chills. But I was a new mom. I had been told the same thing for the last nine months: Sleep now, because you won’t be able to sleep again until they’re in college. And I had just given birth to a human being. This was par for the course, right?
Then one day, I felt a small lump on my right breast. My lactation consultant said it was a clogged duct and gave me a whole host of home remedies to try and break it up. I continued to feel crappy and the lump didn’t ever fully go away, though it did get smaller. After more hot diapers on the boob than I can count, I called the doctor. My boob was angry, red, and painful—and the lump was still there. It was diagnosed as mastitis caused by a clogged duct. I did everything they tell you to do with mastitis: hot showers with massages, soy lecithin capsules to break up the milk, frequent nursing, rest and water, and, of course, hardcore antibiotics.
Five days of antibiotics, and nothing had changed—except that the lump was now very large and the boob was insanely angry and red, so very red. The pain was unbearable. My daughter would cry to eat, and then I would cry. The pain of feeding her was excruciating—so much worse than actually delivering my baby. I hated breastfeeding. Everything about it. If I could’ve stopped right then and there, I would have. But the only way to cure mastitis is to remove the milk, so I dutifully kept on nursing. This meant 8-12 times a day of fighting tears as I fed my daughter.
My best friend was in town and very simply said, “I know the doctor said mastitis is painful, but this is nuts. Let’s go to the hospital.” My head was in a daze, and crying was now just my normal state. I knew she was right. I couldn’t be a mother to my little girl in this kind of physical and mental state. I called my doctor’s after-hours line and told her I was in extreme pain, my fever was over 105, and I was now going to the ER. I can’t explain the body-convulsing sobs that came out of me when I left for the hospital that night.
I didn’t know when I would return back to my baby, who was only 19 days old. I hoped I'd be in the ER for a few hours, but instead dealt with a painful separation for three and a half days. They found a 6-centimeter by 3-centimeter abscess in my breast. No wonder it was so angry. And I was furious. This is what beautiful, bond-inducing breastfeeding had gotten me?
I remember sitting with my husband as the surgeon came in to tell me what they found in the surgery. The abscess was very large, the surgeon told me. “We had to cut quite a few of the milk ducts, and the abscess ate through a good portion of the breast. We had to remove a lot of necrotic tissue.”
“You removed part of my breast?” I asked her. She nodded. “And cut milk ducts? Will they grow back?” She took a deep breath and before she could answer, I asked a question I didn’t know I needed the answer to. “Will I still be able to breastfeed?”
She looked taken aback. Was that something I still wanted? The moments before the surgery, as I lay on a hospital bed, pumped full of painkillers and four types of antibiotics, I thought, Finally, I won’t have to breastfeed anymore, and no one can blame me or call me a bad mom for it. And there I was, an hour post surgery and fighting for my right to breastfeed.