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Debunking D-MER, What You Need To Know

Just in case you thought nine months of puking, 37 hours of pushing, and 6 weeks of recovering was the end of your body enduring crazy weirdness, I’m here to inform you that you were sadly mistaken. Remember all those pesky hormones that changed like mad during pregnancy? I’m sorry to say that there is a reversal process. As the saying goes, what goes up must come down… and this most definitely includes hormone levels. If you’re choosing to bottle feed, your reversal will start sooner rather than later. Say goodbye to those beautiful long nails, that gorgeous glowing skin, and that thick, luscious hair and say hello to your old friend, The Period. And look! Your period has brought a few friends! Please meet Hot Flashes and Drenching Sweats.      

If you’re like me, you remembered getting a touch “toasty” during those later pregnancy months. Oh, it’s all the extra weight I’m carrying, I told myself. And those pit-stained shirts are simply a result of my pregnancy glow. Well, I was wildly incorrect! Those were hormones, my friend! And if they were ugly and uncomfortable the first time around, let me tell you that the reversal is even worse, more than likely because you’ve got another human being glued to your torso for 90% of your waking moments (and 50% of your non-waking). How’s skin supposed to breathe under these circumstances? I have sweated through my shirt AND my baby’s shirt on more than one occasion. Now, I can pass his off as drool, but sadly there is little to be done about a mother’s sweaty shirt. Unless you’re more comfortable telling the world that you’re lactating and forgot your breast pads that day. Do what you want, I won’t judge.

For mamas choosing to breastfeed, you get the benefit of holding those hormone changes and that period friend at bay for months, maybe even a year. But I must warn you, as no one did for me, that there is a chance you may experience an additional hormone changes while breastfeeding that you otherwise wouldn’t. This change is an anomaly of the milk release mechanism in lactating women known as D-MER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex). Not every woman experiences D-MER (count your lucky stars), but those who do often assume they have a kind of schizophrenic form of post-partum depression due to the frequent and incredibly quick bouts of depression, anxiety, rage, homesickness, or even nausea felt while they nurse their new little bundle.      

As we already know, breastfeeding is hard. It’s awkward, painful, and emotional for a good 4-6 weeks before mama and baby get into a good rhythm and have worked out all the kinks. An already freaked out first-time nursing mother may assume she’s doing something wrong when she gets such strong negative feelings rising in her as she nurses. But have no fear, Freaked Out Mama, there's an explanation and it's D-MER. So, before you rush to your psychiatrist and demand that he lock you up because you are now fearful that you will start having urges to neglect your life or murder your loved ones with a pick axe, please read on. (Now, don’t get me wrong, if you do have these feelings, please DO see your doctor! Post-partum depression is nothing to power through in hopes of becoming a hero. Getting help sooner rather than later will save you a world of pain and let you see that others are in your same boat. And please don’t purchase any pick axes, just for good measure.)      

So, how do you know if you have D-MER or not? Well, the main difference between D-MER and post-partum depression is the timing. One happens from 30 seconds to roughly 2 minutes while baby is latched on to Mama and both are waiting for let-down to occur. While the little one is getting some practice sucking, Mama starts going through a broad range of emotions. If you have D-MER, this may be your 30 second thought process:    

“Oh my gosh, I’m gonna throw up. Nope, just stomach pain. Nope again, don’t think about food! Definitely going to throw up unless I get to... Wait a second, did I just hear an ambulance in the distance? Holy crap, my grandmother’s dying, I just know it! I better check my phone in case my parents are trying to call me with the news. Oh. My. Gosh. I can’t believe Mary texted me a picture of herself in a new swim suit with her flat tummy and small thighs. How dare she look happy when she knows how I feel about my tummy and thighs?! I’m going to punch her in the face! Right after I finish thinking about my childhood puppy that got hit by a car (cue tear) and I all of a sudden have the strong urge to call my brother to see how he’s dealing with Fido’s death. But maybe I should wait until I puke first. Wait, what’s wrong with me that I feel like puking while I’m giving life-sustaining milk to my baby? Do I hate my baby?”

But then let-down occurs and milk begins to flow and you're thinking, “I love my baby, my friends, my family, Mary’s thighs, and breastfeeding rocks! I’m starving. I wonder what I should make for dinner?”      

This, ladies, is D-MER. Sometimes it occurs just during the first few times you nurse, and for other women, this goes on for the length of your nursing career. However, the good thing is that you are not crazy, you are not depressed, and that it will go away once let-down happens. I actually find the process quite humorous at this point. No longer do I allow myself to feel the pangs of guilt for my surge of hormonal emotionalism. Instead, I choose to find the comic relief in it all and plan to remind my baby that he owes me the softest Depends when I’m old.

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A Farewell to Nursing

          After 13-and-a-half months, I’ve finished nursing my little guy. I have to say, even writing the title of this article, I’m sure there will be some that will roll their eyes and say to themselves, Good grief, is she hurting for material THAT badly that she’s writing a good-bye piece to breastfeeding?? And to those people I have this to say….

            Before having children, I had ideas of what motherhood would look like. I would do the right things, say the right things, and I would always know what the best thing for my children would be. And then life didn’t go as planned. When I wasn’t able to conceive and we chose to foster Cameron and Taylor, I missed the baby stage entirely. We got our two beautiful children, but we lacked that crucial bonding time in the beginning of their lives. I didn’t get to rock them to sleep, cuddle them in my arms, give them their first baths, or watch their first steps. No, when we adopted our older two, they were already little people. There was the occasional butt wiping and helping them undo the buttons on the tough shirts, but overall, they came pre-grown.

            And then, when my husband and I found out that the kids’ bio mom was pregnant with Isaac, we were hesitant to bring him into our home. After all, we had gone from no kids to two kids overnight, and the thought of adding a baby to the mix just a few months later, a baby that we knew was going to be born addicted to drugs, well…. That just sounded like lunacy.

            But we are just the right type of crazy and lunacy sounded like a fantastic way to round out our family. We brought Isaac home from the hospital and he was with us through all of his baby stages. We did get to give him his first bath, and we cuddled him in our arms, rocked him to sleep, and saw his first steps. But even though I was there for it all, Isaac was Pat’s baby. He was the mother and the father for that first year. He stayed home with Isaac because his job allowed him to. He did most of the feedings, most of the baths, most of the cuddles. By the time I got home, helped little ones with homework, cooked dinner, and cleaned up the house, I got to spend a couple of hours with Isaac, half of which he slept through. I felt like a well-liked babysitter, not like a full-fledged Mama.

            Perhaps losing Isaac made conceiving Wyatt all the more precious. This was the first time I would know what it was like to have a baby grow inside of me. To watch my belly change shape with each roll and kick. To feel my body physically respond to the life inside of me. This was my chance to truly bond with a child in a way that I hadn’t been able to before.

            But even though I was given such an amazing blessing, a difficult pregnancy often hampered those “good feelings” I was hoping for. I held on to the day of delivery, knowing that his arrival was going to be the best moment of my life – the moment I would be able to push him into this world and hold him close to my chest for those first few precious minutes of his life. I could hardly wait.

            But due to complications during his birth, I wasn’t able to have those precious moments either. In fact, I was so ill that I barely recall the first several hours of his life. I couldn’t lift my arms to hold him. I couldn’t take in his sweetness.  However, I was completely aware that these special moments to bond were quickly slipping through my fingers.

            I felt cheated. This was finally my chance to bond with a child, and all I had to show for it was a whole lot of sickness and very few “good feelings”. But nursing… nursing was going to be my way to connect with my new son. This would be the way I would finally get to connect with him!

            Except guess what? Breastfeeding completely sucks! For 6 weeks, all I did was cry. All HE did was cry. We cried and I was in pain and I was constantly worried about my milk supply and my pump and my nipples and my engorgement. I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t feel happy. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. No one had prepared me for it to suck so badly.

            Then, after a good 2 months of our nursing schedule and all of its horribleness, something amazing happened. Nursing stopped being wretched. I stopped feeling constant pain. My nipples stopped feeling like they were being ripped from my body by a tiny beaver. I stopped shooting milk across the room because of engorgement. All of a sudden, what had been so hard for so long began to feel easy. Natural. Connected.

            Pretty soon I found myself enjoying that alone time with my baby and not dreading it. Those moments were ours and no one else’s. So many people were all about public nursing and fighting tooth and nail for that “right”. But to be honest, I wanted our moments to be private. I loved to stare into his eyes and rub his tiny fingers as he fed. To caress his cheek and hear him giggle, producing little milk bubbles in the corners of his mouth as he did. I loved to watch him fall asleep against my chest and to able to be the one who could comfort him better than anyone else. I liked being his one and only, if even just for a time.

            It was my plan to get him to 1-year-old. When he turned one, I knew that he could drink whole milk and that he would have several teeth… he was going to be turning into a toddler and it was my choice to pull the boob-plug on him at that time.

            And then his first birthday came and went. Little man hated cow’s milk with a passion, even with breast milk, almond milk, or chocolate milk mixed in. The doctor said to give it time, but that I could always keep nursing in the meantime. I jumped at the opportunity in a way that I never thought I would. When I was younger, before having these little people in my life, remember those preconceived notions I said that I had? Yeah, I thought people that nursed past one year were kind of…. Icky.

            Now, after knowing how sweet those times of being near my little one is… knowing that in a few short months he would no longer be a baby… knowing that he won’t need me in the same way anymore… friends, I struggled. It was not icky. It was not inappropriate. What it was, I quickly found, was grief.

            Pat and I have decided that we aren’t going to try for more children. We have two older kids, a toddler on the weekends, and a full-time baby. Quite frankly, we don’t have the car space! Whereas a lot of mamas can stop nursing at a year and feel like they’re regaining their booby freedom, I feel that I’m saying goodbye to the one pleasant bonding experience I’ve been able to have with just the one child I was able to have it with. Other mothers will start planning for their next child, and I’m saying goodbye to babies forever. I’m saying goodbye to an entire stage in my life. The stage that I wanted for so long is over in an instant.

            Point your fingers, tell me I’m being crazy, look at me with judgment if you must. But I’m guessing that I’m not the only mama out there that has grieved the ending of their baby era. I’m aware that I could keep nursing if I wanted to, but I do feel that it’s time. It’s time for him and it’s time for me. “You’ll know when it’s right,” is the phrase I’ve heard over and over. And it’s true. It’s our time. I can actually hear my milk drying up like wind blowing through a hollow tree stump as I type this!

          I know that I’ll always be his Mama. And I know that my kids will always need me and love me. So, with a fond farewell and tears in my eyes, I say a sorrowful goodbye to breastfeeding. Four sets of little hands will grasp mine as we walk together into our next stage of life. So much thanks for this time. So much love for them all. So much still left to come.

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