Confessions of a Breastfeeding Mother about Her Breasts: Pain, Dismissal, and a Rare Syndrome
They say when you birth a child, they become the center of your universe. I might argue that my breasts, instead, became the center of my universe. Everywhere I went, all day, they were on my mind. I thought about them while breastfeeding. I thought about them during consults with physicians. I thought about them when I dressed. I thought about them when they hurt. And when they didn’t hurt.
My breastfeeding journey was fraught with stress and pain. Certainly, there were some positive moments, but I’m here to share the truth of my experience - that I temporarily lost the feeling of ownership over my body because of 3 major breast problems: pain, dismissal of self, and a rare syndrome called dysmorphic ejection reflex.
Part 1: Pain
The pain started in the hospital. I gave birth after a long, slow induced labor. It was worth it, of course, to have my baby happy and healthy in the end. But it was nowhere near what I envisioned.
After the pain of the delivery was over, the pain of postpartum recovery began. Breastfeeding was way more painful than I expected. And yet, no one seemed to believe me. The nurses helped me get the coveted deep latch. A lactation consultant signed off on my happy, healthy, excellently latching baby.
Still, I struggled with intense pain every time she latched. The pain was followed by an eerie and vivid sense of failure and doom. When I wasn’t breastfeeding, I was worried about the next breastfeeding session and how I would feel, and what I would think about. The reality was, that I often thought about death when I was breastfeeding. I didn’t want to die, but I felt like death was right around the corner.
I badly wanted answers and when I didn’t get them, I began to dissociate.
Part 2: Dismissal of Problems
Because I lacked answers, I began to dismiss my feelings. Perhaps there wasn’t anything wrong at all and my pain wasn’t so bad. Perhaps I was being overdramatic. Of course, I wasn’t going to die from breastfeeding.
I dismissed myself, so others dismissed me too. Looking back, I can’t fault them. Providers would ask how I was doing, and I would say “good”. Because it was safer and took less effort than telling them how I felt.
Despite my feelings that the world would stop turning at every latch, the world kept on. And so did my breastfeeding journey.
I’m not sure why I kept breastfeeding. I think I felt a lot of responsibility toward my daughter. So, I gritted my teeth and carried on.
Part 3: A Rare Syndrome: Answers and Solutions
I finally asked for help. After two months of persistent pain and anxiety, I reached out to a private lactation consultant. I was certain I would hear the same response from her – “I’m sorry you’re having so much pain, but the latch looks great. You’re doing well.”
Still, I showed up to the appointment, at the urging of my husband, in the back of a small office. I sat in an oversized chair where we propped up my tiny baby on very large pillows. She watched me feed her and talked to me as I went about my normal routine. She was very quiet and that made me nervous. So, I started talking. A lot. At first, I kept my feelings close, not quite ready to open up. But then my baby latched and gulped, and all the feelings came rushing in. I felt positively dreadful and this time I told her about it. After the feeding, she said, “I’m very concerned”.
I think my first feeling was defensiveness. Was she implying that I wasn’t doing a good job? Because I knew that I was. My baby was happy and healthy and gaining weight. Everyone said so.
“Have you ever heard of DMER?” she asked. I shook my head, no.
“It stands for Dysmorphic Ejection Reflex. It’s a serious condition and I think you might be experiencing it. Can we talk more about how you’re feeling, and more specifically when you’re feeling it?”
And so, we did. For an hour and a half. In the end, we both agreed that I was not going to die in the next couple of days, but that psychologically, my body believed I was when I was breastfeeding.
She gave me a lot of verbal information about the condition. And then pointed me in the direction of some resources on the internet and a recommendation for a follow-up appointment with her in two weeks. For the first time, I felt hope. I felt grateful, supported, and understood.
I poured over the resources she gave me and joined support groups online. The identification of DMER allowed me to accept my experience as a chemical reaction and not a personal failure. I found solutions that worked. I worked on my latch and worked on correcting my DMER as best I could. And soon I had regained ownership of my body, and my breasts.
If you are interested in reading more about Dysmorphic Ejection Reflex (DMER) and its role in breastfeeding, check out some of these resources: