It was 2:30 in the morning, I was sitting on the bed with tears streaming down my face, my 7-week-old son crying in my arms. Everything hurt—my engorged breasts, my cracked and bleeding nipples, my back where I had taken two epidurals. It hurt to sit, not only from birth but from the stitches, and I was tired.
“It’s okay,” my husband said, rubbing my back in small conciliatory circles, but it wasn’t okay.
When they placed my son in my arms for the first time I cried tears of joy, made promises for the future, bolstered by the love I felt for this little human. By the time it came time to feed him; however, my confidence was waning.
“I don’t think it’s working,” I said to the nurse who was trying to adjust his latch, but she only encouraged me to keep trying. I asked to see a lactation consultant but was told they were all busy in the new bilirubin clinic.
“Any of the nurses can help you,” she said. But they didn’t.
Thirty hours later, we got a conditional release from the hospital. Our baby had borderline jaundice and would need to visit a clinic the following day to make sure his bilirubin levels were coming down. After a long night, we did just that, waited hours at a clinic just for a nurse to whisk him away, pin him to a table, and take blood from his foot.
“It’s okay,” she said as he screamed. It wasn’t okay.
We went home and endured another terrible night. He would not latch and any attempt with a bottle was arguably worse than the breast. Guilt, fear, and hopelessness had begun to color our lives.
The next day we got a call from our doctor’s office—the baby’s bilirubin levels were going up not down. We were told to go to the hospital as soon as possible. He needed phototherapy. Worried, we got into the car and drove to our local emergency department where we waited for six hours to see a doctor. They took more blood from his little foot only to conclude that his levels were high, but not high enough for treatment.
“We can’t do anything else, but he needs to be tested again tomorrow,” the doctor smiled. The following day we went back to the clinic, waited, watched our son cry as they took more blood. Another call from our doctor, “His levels are still too high, take him to the emergency again.” Around and around we went for nearly 10 days.
Our support system didn’t know how to help us and my in-laws, who had flown across the country to meet their grandson, hardly saw us as we were too busy with doctor’s appointments to spend time with them. My husband, who had jaundice so severe at birth he needed a blood transfusion, was so concerned for me and the baby that it made him sick. We were not okay.
By day 10, he decided enough was enough. In an extended phone call with the hospital, he somehow managed to bully our way into the bilirubin clinic, and as we walked into the nearly empty ward just off of the maternity floor, a nurse met us to take more blood.
“Do you want to nurse him while I do it?” My eyes welled with tears.
“Really? No one else would let me hold him while they took blood.”
She looked at me with surprise, “That’s protocol. That’s not okay.”
While we waited for the results, she watched me nurse, instructing with more patience and compassion than I had yet experienced and when the bloodwork came back high she explained that my son was breastfed jaundice; he hadn’t been getting enough milk so the bilirubin was being reabsorbed in his intestines. I couldn’t even feed my baby. I was a failure.
“What do we do?”
We looked at her in disbelief, “No more bloodwork?”
“No. Just go home.” As she made an appointment for a lactation consultant to see us the following day, she continued, “Things may not seem okay right now, but they will be.”
She was right. It took weeks for the jaundice to abate and despite the advice from subsequent consultations (and there were many) nursing my son remained unenjoyable. Bottles never did work. Still, we made it through. Four children later, through the postpartum depression and the multitude of other challenges motherhood brings, those words have stuck with me, “It may not be okay right now, but it will be.”
It is so easy to lose yourself to the fear, sadness, and even the pain, but you are not alone. Keep going, keep asking for help, and know that it may not be okay right now, but it will be.