Triticum Turgidum

Lying Dormant and Waiting to Bloom Since 2005

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Location: The Prairie, Illinois, United States

I am a beauty-loving ambidextrous higher-order primate who learned transcendental meditation at 7, statistical analysis at 23, tap dancing at 30, and piano at 35. I tolerate gluten, lactose, and differences of opinion, but not abuse. Or beets.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Finally, an Answer

Those of you who read my former blog had to cringe through several posts lamenting my breastfeeding struggles, in particular the fact that it seemed I wasn't able to make enough for little Fi.

This past weekend, I finally learned why.

Okay, background: I have Graves' Disease, an autoimmune metabolic disorder. To treat it, I had radiation therapy to destroy my thyroid gland, so I no longer make my own thyroid hormone. To keep my metabolism at the right level I have to take synthetic thyroid hormone every day, just as a diabetic has to take insulin. When I was pregnant, my physicians had to increase the amount I was taking because my body's metabolic needs increased dramatically.

The week after Fi was born, I had myself tested and it seemed everything was fine. But within days of that test I started feeling really anxious and shaky. I would wake up at night -- when I could sleep, that is -- drenched in sweat. All of my pregnancy weight was gone within 12 days of the birth. I should have recognized the symptoms as hyperthyroidism because I've experienced them before, but all of my books said that sweating, weight loss, and anxiety are normal for the postpartum period.

So, I lived with it and had my thyroid tested 6 weeks later, as recommended. The test confirmed that I was hyperthyroid, and pretty severely so. My endocrinologist dropped my thyroxine dose a level and told me to get tested again 6 weeks later. Fast forward: the repeat test revealed that I was still hyperthyroid, even MORE so than before (!), so my doc dropped me all the way back down to my prepregnancy level. Within a few weeks the sweating had subsided and I could actually sleep again. I was "normal" once more. Throughout the whole thing, I was pumping like a madwoman and berating myself for not being able to provide enough milk for Fi. I felt crushed when, at the age of 11 weeks, she said TO HELL WITH IT and went on a permanent nursing strike, opting for the bottle instead.

Only now, 6 months after Fi was born, have I learned that excessive thyroid hormone impedes the release of oxytocin, which is essential for milk letdown. I was making enough milk, it's just that Fi couldn't get it OUT. I'd do these before-after weighings at the breastfeeding clinic and want to cry upon learning that, after 40 minutes of feeding, she got a grand total of 1.5 ounces. I read all the books that said THERE'S NO REASON YOU CAN'T MAKE ENOUGH MILK and actually believed them. I was so, SO hard on myself and felt like a loser for supplementing with formula.

The irony is that the only mention those books make of thyroid issues and breastfeeding is that being hypothyroid can prevent you from making enough milk. Not one mentions that being HYPERthyroid can prevent the milk you make from effectively transferring into your child's body. So I was obsessed with avoiding hypothyroidism and begged my endocrinologist to lower my supplemental thyroid dose only one notch at a time. When he lowered me multiple dosage levels after the second 6-week test, I was terrified that I would lose the capacity to make any milk at all. Instead, my supply went up enough that I was able to pump more than twice as much as before. By that time, though, Fi was firmly attached to the bottle, and who could blame her? Mom's taps were sources of frustration, not comfort.

Here I am, 6 months out and still pumping, and I can't express how much of a relief it was to learn the real reason for my difficulties. It's not just because I found out that IT WASN'T MY FAULT (which is always a relief regardless of the trauma, let's be honest), but because now I feel empowered to deal with it in the future if I have another child. I can ask my endo to lower my supplemental thyroxine dose soon after delivery rather than making me wait 6 weeks, then another 6 weeks, et cetera. And if I have another episode of hyperthyroidism in spite of my endo's and my best efforts, I'll supplement with formula without a second thought because, after all, my job is to FEED MY CHILD. Now that I look back on those months, I'm so glad I made that choice, in spite of all the warnings that formula would be the beginning of the end of my nursing relationship with my daughter. What did those people know of MY body and its needs? And when they claimed that knowledge, why on earth did I believe them??

Oh well, that's water under the bridge now. At her 6 month well-baby appointment, Fi was 16 lbs 10 oz and 28" long. That's up from 8-15 and 22" at birth.

I fed my child. *beams*

9 Comments:

Blogger Bela said...

I was thinking of you earlier today, while watching a documentary about 'attachment parenting' and 'evacuation communication'. Mad mad people! The spectacle of a mother suckling - on demand - a two-year-old and a four-year-old at the same time was cringe making. According to the 'true believers', if you don't feed your child until he/she says 'enough' (at what age does that happen, I wonder), you are a terrible mother and your child will be a terrible human being. What about women like you, who have a problem?

As for EC, would you like to watch Fi like a hawk every minute of the day so you can detect any subtle change in her expression indicating she's about to 'do it', and then pick her up quickly so she can 'do it' over a potty or a loo? Aren't there other things you'd rather do with your time? LOL!

Glad you finally realized it wasn't your fault. We told you so. :-)

7:43 PM, August 28, 2006  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

So THAT'S what they call it, evacuation communication?? ROFLMAO! *wipes a tear*

Yes, the proponents of nursing until the child can drive a car often think there's no such thing as being unable to nurse. They can be incredibly hostile toward people like me who are fumbling their way through. I think they've gone too far in changing verbs (I breastfeed my child) to adjectives (I'm a Breastfeeding Mother). This is risky because any change in the child's behavior necessitates a change in the mother's identity, and Mom may be very attached to that identity, so she is forced to find subtle and crafty ways to resist change, whether the child likes it or not.

As for the women who publicly chastise formula-feeding moms, they infuriate me. How do they know the woman they're attacking isn't HIV+? How do they know she isn't undergoing radiation treatment or chemotherapy? People can be so nasty and insensitive in advancing their own agendas.

9:09 PM, August 28, 2006  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

K,

I had a similiar problem with my children. Breastfeeding is not automatic, as some think. More often than not, women do find themselves being unable to give their breast milk to their child, for various reasons.

I am happy that you have found an answer, and mostly, that you have come to a peaceful resolution for yourself.

More pictures of Fi, please.

8:11 PM, August 29, 2006  
Blogger daniela said...

that's a brilliant post.
well done, on the writing, and the mission to get to the actual point of your problem, rather than the point that everyone else was pointing to.

congrats!

8:32 AM, August 31, 2006  
Blogger jane said...

Very interesting! I could write a paper on you. You are so lucky that this did not really go haywire while pregnant. There is something called a thyroid storm which can be extremely dangerous anytime,let alone during pregnancy.BTW, I wa in your town in July and thought of you. I couldn't wait to leave though-it was sooo boring! LOL!

5:00 PM, September 02, 2006  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Jane -- since you don't have a blog I have to reply here. You're right about our town: snoooooore. As one of my former colleagues said, "So quiet you can hear the corn grow." I love my job but we definitely don't want to retire here. I saw your message but didn't know for sure if it was THAT Jane (the one I met in the mitten); sounds like it was so I'm very sorry I missed you.

About the thyroid stuff, it's interesting, isn't it? I went around for TWO YEARS misdiagnosed with an anxiety disorder because no one thought to give me a thyroid test until a new PCP did it on the first visit. It was a very stressful time and I thank my lucky stars I didn't get hit by thyroid storm before finally getting treated. *cringe*

7:43 PM, September 02, 2006  
Blogger cinnamon gurl said...

I just found your blog and I haven't read any of your earlier posts but six months and still pumping?!? You deserve a medal!

Motherhood seems to bring a whole new level of anxiety and guilt to one's life... if it's not about what you feed your baby, it's about something else.

8:52 AM, September 04, 2006  
Blogger Atreau said...

(((K)))

Graves is so frustrating and at times so overwhelming. I think as the number of Graves patients increases there will be more information available.

There are times where I'm all out frustrated with my body then come to find out it's just that my levels are off. Sucks!

1:27 PM, September 05, 2006  
Blogger doulicia said...

So much pressure is put on mothers (and mothers put so much pressure on themselves) around breastfeeding. I am very glad that you now have an explanation for what was happening and can feel absolved of responsibility for it (though, really, assigning blame for breastfeeding issues is pointless anyway and is more a symptom of our need to DEFEND ourselves in light of breastfeeding problems because we feel that pressure to breastfeed no matter what. But i digress).

I have deep, deep respect for any woman who gives her newborn baby pumped breastmilk. That is a regimin I know I could not follow. All the pumping and pumping and feeding and washing bottles. I've seen it consume every last minute of a new mother's time.

It sounds to me like you have gone to heroic lengths to take care of your daughter.

If you have another child, I hope what you learned this time around makes the path easier to travel!

8:37 AM, September 08, 2006  

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