Hospitals, Breastfeeding & A Lesson Learned

I think a lot of people have fears. I have a few; dying alone, needles in my back, spiders descending from the sky and eating me alive. You know, those sorts of fears. This week I had to live and then re-live one of my biggest fears. I had to get a needle in my back. The queen of “I’m never getting an epidural/spinal tap” had to get one, and it sucked. It sucked so bad. Painful doesn’t begin to describe what I went through the week of April 30th.

Monday started like any other day, I hung out with my friend Layne and we ran around finding Risa a Cuckoo Clock, getting an egg white wrap at Starbucks and going to the grocery store. Since Layne was driving us around, I was lugging my 20+ pound baby around in his infant seat from shopping cart to car and back again. When I got home to cook dinner I figured I would need a hot bath later and hurried to make spaghetti for my hubby. Upon sitting down to eat dinner, something wasn’t right. My entire back was enflamed in pain, it radiated from my tailbone to the back of my head just below my ears. I felt nauseous and felt I had a fever. I took a long bath trying to relieve some of the pressure and pain, but it didn’t work. I headed to bed and let Kevin know that something really wasn’t right and I think I needed to go the hospital.

From 5:30-7:30pm I went from being in a lot of pain, to shaking uncontrollably with a 103 fever and in intense pain that I had never felt before. I kind of felt I was having a repeat of the UTI I had back in December, but this time it was worse.  Plus my entire back down to my knee caps was burning to the touch. My nurse friends suspected a Kidney infection or Meningitis, so we decided to go in.

The hospital ran all the standard tests. When the blood and urine tests came back negative, but white cell count was elevated they said I would have to have a spinal tap. I asked if there was any other way, and they said no. I looked online and one of the web-MD sites said I could have a CT Scan, but the Dr again said that wasn’t an option. If I didn’t consent I would have to stay about 3 days in the hospital and it would probably wind up in a spinal tap anyways. I signed the consent forms, panicked for dear life, hugged my baby, hugged my husband and prepared to be paralyzed.

Getting the spinal tap was rough, I was already shaking from the chills and having one of my worst fears coming true was a bit too much for me to handle. The nurse and doctors reassured me it would be OK, but I still was very uneasy. The doctor did the spinal tap and in the process poked me a bunch of times, I didn’t know how many until later though.

An hour after the spinal tap the doctor came in and said I was free to go home and I probably just had a viral infection. So we did. I was still in a ton of pain, but went home. Upon getting home, it got bad. The famous spinal headache kicked in. I couldn’t sit, stand, hold my baby, nothing. I was in agony. The next day we went to a different hospital where they admitted me and determined I had leaking spinal fluid in 5 places and I would need a blood patch (or 5).

After being in the ER for the better portion of the day they transferred me upstairs and stayed overnight. At a 10 on the pain scale nothing was working, they finally gave me morphine and I was able to sleep for part of the night, but by 5:30am I was up and begging for more meds. I typically don’t even take Tylenol, but at this point I was desperate. From 7am-11am, I was screaming in pain, it was pure agony. My back was torture and my head debilitating. I wasn’t even receiving relief by laying down. I was given upwards of 5mg of Morphine and was seeing no improvement.  I felt like I was being tortured, there was no relief in my future and I would never be able to hold my baby again.

Finally at 11am the anesthesiologist arrived to do my blood patch. I had made it pretty clear that I would not be getting another needle stuck in my back without something to help me relax. They gave me Adivan and I was essentially knocked out. I only remember bits and pieces from 11-3pm, but when I did “wake up” I could actually breathe and wasn’t screaming in pain. Finally some relief. I still was experiencing all the original symptoms, but at least I could lay down without screaming in pain.

While in the hospital I pumped every 1.5 hours to maintain my supply, but because I was on Morphine, Adivan and Norco, I didn’t want to risk giving my milk to Atticus. Some same it’s safe to do so, but the high levels of narcotics I was on had me loopy and I didn’t want my baby to experience that too.

While all of this was taking place Atticus was at home with Kevin and friends receiving milk from our freezer stash. I knew I had 2-3 days of milk stashed, but when Kevin informed me we only had a few bags left I panicked. I knew I immediately needed to get in touch with my milk making mama’s and ask for some milk for my baby. I knew I would be out of the hospital soon, but even then I would be on high doses of pain killers and my baby would need to eat.

When I informed Kevin we had received nearly 40 incredibly generous offers for milk, he said that wasn’t happening. My heart sunk. What did he mean it wasn’t happening? My baby needs to eat, and I can’t provide milk for him for at least another day and even then, I will be on meds. Where was my awesome, supportive, pseudo-hippie husband? Why was he saying “no” to donated milk. In a heavily drug induced state I started to cry again. I was in pain, my baby was going to starve and my own husband was turning on me.

He explained that he didn’t want Atticus getting sick, because the milk he would be receiving was coming from “a stranger.” I let him know that these were moms I knew and even was pregnant with. I have donated my milk to a mom in need so why was this a big deal. He said the doctors and even my midwife agreed with him and I needed to come to terms that my baby wouldn’t not be receiving donated milk.

He called milk banks with no avail. They either said, the milk was meant for preemie’s or would cost upwards of $36 an ounce and take a day to get there. I was heartbroken. I breastfed for 5 months and now my son was going to have to be on formula. I didn’t want that for him.

We left the hospital at 7pm on Thursday night. We headed home with a plethora of pharmaceuticals to keep my pain in check and only 3 small bags of milk in the freezer. My head was racing and I knew what had to be done on my part to get us through this and that would be to forgo the drugs and suffer through the pain to feed my son. I know my recovery may be tougher without my buddies Norco and Morphine, but providing my son breastmilk is more important to me.

I thought forgoing the meds would be our last challenge, but I soon learned that wasn’t the case. My milk supply dropped rapidly. I went from an overproduction of nearly 5oz pumped per breast after a feed to barely producing ½ oz per breast without feeding. We are three days into this new lower supply way of feeding and it is rough. I see my son tug and suck hard on my breast and wonder why nothing is coming out. I have had to supplement with 5 oz of freezer stash over the last couple days just to get by and I know he is still hungry. I am taking fenugreek, oatmeal, pre-natals, mother’s milk tea and letting him nurse non-stop in addition to pumping between feeds. I go in tomorrow for a follow-up and to hopefully figure out if there is something other than a virus going through my system. I will also start taking Domperdone to hopefully boost my supply.

I wish I had discussed donated milk with Kevin BEFORE I got sick. I think the stress of that fight hindered my supply even more so than all the other crap I am dealing with. If you are as passionate about breastfeeding as I am, please take the time to talk about it with your loved ones. I can understand the concern my husband has for donated milk, but I personally am I going to ball my eyes out if we have to supplement with formula.

About the author

Xza Louise Higgins is the founder of MommyCon, creator of The Mommy Dialogues, and punk rock mom to two year old Atticus in the great city of Chicago, IL. She is incredibly passionate about birth options, human rights, and promoting gentle parenting practices.

No Comments

  1. Kristel -  May 7, 2012 - 11:34 am

    I understand your passion for breastfeeding. My son has never been given formula and I don’t intend to ever give him any, he never even takes bottles. But there are worse things than supplementing with formula for a couple days to get you through this rough patch. Just a few days and then you can go right back to full time breastfeeding. I hope you won’t have to, but if your son is hungry and your supply really is so low then don’t worry about supplementing for a few days. It’s more important that your baby is fed and happy.

  2. Amanda M S -  May 7, 2012 - 11:43 am

    Omg this breaks my heart. Your commitment to breast feeding is something to be admired. Wow. Atticus is VERY lucky to have such a selfless mom.

    Also, I went though something similar with being stabbed in the back several times with a needle and having horrible spinal headaches as a result. I totally can relate to that excruciating pain. I opted for no blood patch. How long until you had relief from the blood patch?

  3. Chasity Boatman -  May 7, 2012 - 12:30 pm

    I think what you did was amazing and responsible. I would have done the same thing for my baby. No way my baby is getting formula. I’ll stick out the pain. I’m sure when you tell Atticus the story one day that he will he very impressed with you.

  4. Kami Fasan -  May 9, 2012 - 11:08 am

    Oh momma what a stressful situation for you, I am so sorry to eat this and I hope you get some relief soon! Domperidome worked wonders for me! But I had to take 3 pills three times a day

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