It’s been just ten months since I’ve stopped nursing but I find that my post-labor/new mommy brain fog had blocked out so many of those rough early days. It’s only now when I start writing about it that the memories are coming back.
I was fortunate enough to go into motherhood knowing that nursing can be a difficult experience. I had my mother and friends warn me throughout my pregnancy that nursing wasn’t for everyone and that it was ok if I decided it wasn’t right for me. Maybe it would be fine, but maybe I wouldn’t produce enough milk, or maybe my baby wouldn’t latch on well. I knew that formula was a good option and at the end of the day the most important thing was a fed baby.
But I was lucky. Well sort of lucky. My beautiful red headed boy (known affectionately in Israel as a “gingi”) came into this world as a latcher and hungry. I was so amazed at how wide he was able to open his mouth and latch on even in the delivery room. Yet I found that there was so much more to nursing than latching - for instance, unlatching. It appears that I gave birth to my son on a very popular day. So popular in fact that I was wheeled from the delivery room to a section of a hallway that was covered with a curtain so I would be provided with “privacy.” It was so busy that while everyone told me how to get my baby to latch on, no one bothered to tell me how to break the suction between his mouth and my nipple. This resulted in many tears and painful sores.
I was also blessed with an abundance of milk. I felt lucky to have this much milk since I knew of so many women who had experienced trouble producing milk. However waking up every morning in a pool of my own milk made me feel more and more like a cow each day.
What truly made this experience so difficult was how my body reacted to a let down. I was always told it was hard to nurse, but if my milk was flowing my hormones would do their magic and I would be overcome by love and my baby and I would share these wonderful bonding moment. But for some reason my body did not react in this way.
Nearly every time my milk came in I felt a cloud of depression come over me. It literally felt like I was being covered by a weight of sadness.
There were even times that out of the blue I would feel somewhat depressed, and sure enough I would look down and be leaking.
When I spoke to my doctor about this at my six week check up she just told me that what I was feeling didn’t make sense and brushed it off because breastfeeding was supposed to do the opposite. Luckily for me, I am a self-proclaimed Google search expert, and Dr. Google had all the answers. What I was experiencing was something called Dysphoric milk ejection reflex, or D-MER for short. It is a rare condition in which women feel dysphoria right before and during the first few minutes of a let down. What I read described what I was feeling perfectly - a feeling of homesickness when my milk came in.
This knowledge empowered me. While there isn’t a way to treat this condition, just knowing that I wasn’t the only woman to experience this and to know that I wasn’t crazy or making this up made me feel so much better.
To be honest, those first two months of nursing were a version of hell for me (especially when 5 weeks postpartum you throw in a case of thrush). Yet I continued to nurse. I’m not even sure why. I was so miserable that I was being told by my friends and family to give it up. But I couldn’t. I think I was just too stubborn to give up on something I knew my body could do, also, I was too lazy to wash bottles.
While I write these words I have to admit I even miss nursing a bit. After the first few months the D-MER let up a bit. It was getting easier. My baby and I were getting the hang of it. Instead of binging Netflix shows to distract myself from the sadness that overcame me when I nursed, I started to look at my beautiful boy. Sometimes he would stare back at me and our eyes would meet. His eyes were filled with this look of curiosity and wonder that bring tears to my eyes as I reminisce about it. I also liked seeing how nursing changed as he developed. He went from staring at me, to grabbing my boob, lifting it up, and holding it like a bottle. I loved how he sometimes lifted his hand in the direction of my face as if to say, “Mom, don’t talk to me right now, I’m eating.” There were other times when he would clasp his hands together as if to say, “Thanks, mommy.” It made me feel like I was doing okay at this motherhood thing. And I guess I was.