On Thursday morning of week 7 postpartum, I woke up feeling a little “off.” My body was achy all over and I felt chills deep inside my bones. I immediately recognized the feeling because the only other time I had similar symptoms was 9 years ago when I went to the ER after coming down with mastitis after the birth of my second daughter. But I didn’t want to jinx myself. I REALLY REALLY didn’t because mastitis is the devil and I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy.
So I shoved my fear aside and wished for a flu instead.
My husband left for work and as the morning progressed the body chills and aches continued to worsen. Sh*t, I’m coming down with a flu, I thought. This is what I get for leaving the baby with a nanny to get my hair done, drinking a beer and watching Bad Moms with a mommy friend. Yes I did all that the day before for the sake of “taking care of my needs” and now I was coming down with the flu when my baby is only seven weeks old.
By 2 pm, I had a 102 degree fever and my body was shaking so badly I couldn’t walk. Then the intense heat and throbbing pains began in my left breast and I knew exactly what I was in for: mastitis a.k.a. the boobie monster.
Mastitis Day 1
Please dear God, noooooooooooooo. I’m sorry I got my hair done, I’m sorry I drank a beer, I’m sorry I watched Bad Moms. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please don’t let this happen now.
I somehow managed to drive myself to the hospital through the aches, chills and pains. I want to forget about that drive as soon as I can so I won’t write about it. But in hindsight, that drive goes down in my personal history as THE worst and lonely drive of my lifetime.
After shivering like a recovering drug addict in the waiting area for about 20 minutes, then waiting in that cold exam room with nothing but a stiff hospital gown and yoga pants while leaking breast milk, the doctor told me what I already knew hours ago. I had mastitis.
Because I’m a mom and moms don’t have time to just sit there, mope and cry, I got straight down to business. I asked the doctor for stronger pain meds because the 600 mg of ibuprofen I took twice that day wasn’t working and this is the worst pain I’ve experienced in a long, long time (well, since active labor 7 weeks ago). He acted like he understood, but refused to prescribe anything that actually works and told me I can get a stronger Aleve. Aleve? Are you kidding me? Motrin, ibuprofen, Aleve– they are all the same. They don’t work for pain like this! (Do some male doctors just not understand the extent of our pain?)
So anyway, I was lying on the examination table with my huge boobs exposed like a set of defeated inflated balls, and the doctor decided to grab a pen, draw a line across my left breast and say, “if the redness goes past this line, be sure to come back so I can prescribe you stronger antibiotics, okay?”
He was a nice doctor and all, but I still wanted to yell for the second time— are you fucking kidding me? Do you think I have unlimited hours of childcare? Do you not realize I have a 7-week old baby to take care of? You want me to drive back here when the redness gets worse than now?
But of course I didn’t say any of this and thanked him, shook his hand and watched him leave. I had absolutely no strength to argue or even talk. Five minutes later I thanked the nurse who gave me a shot of pain meds on my butt and walked out of the doctor’s office. That shot was much more painful than I thought that I actually yelped owwwww– like a six year old.
Thus my second nightmare with mastitis officially began. I somehow managed to cook a chicken meal for my two daughters, although I burned the top of the chicken by drifting off to asleep and missing the oven timer. I then managed to climb onto my bed while shaking and sweating profusely and give my daughters instructions on how to fix their own dinners. I also managed to text my husband things like “I need you,” “Omg I’m in so much pain, when are you done?” “I’m dying here.” “When are you coming home?” with more dramatic crying face emojis than ever— all while my 7-week old baby is crying to be breastfed. Sure enough, the shot of pain meds on my butt didn’t even work.
The universe has a funny way of screwing me over every time I come down with a sudden illness like this because every time I get deathly sick is when my husband has an unusually long work day and meetings he can’t get out of. Does this happen to anyone else too?
So my husband ended up coming home around 8:30 pm and the hours that led up to his arrival were the longest hours of my life. I cried, shook, sweated, cursed, cried, shook, then sweated some more as my body temperature seemed incapable of regulating itself.
The nausea and the constant headache were nothing compared to the intense heat and pain that just made me want to rip out my own breast from my body.
Anyone who has experienced mastitis will understand how horrible and monstrous this infection can be. The worst part is that you have to breastfeed and/or pump frequently through the pain. Seriously, WTF.
Mastitis Day 2 & 3
The next day and a half were spent mostly in bed as my consciousness traveled back and forth from reality to feverish delirium and I was so sick I don’t actually recall how I felt, what I ate or how I managed to breastfeed Baby D.
What I do know is how thankful I was for our new nanny who allowed me to rest while baby is sleeping and my husband who slept with the baby and fed him my pumped milk so I can endure the body chills and aches without disruption. And don’t even get me started with all the nightmares I got that night. I had so many weird dreams in between my pumping sessions that I can’t count them all.
I survived the intense two days of the infection and by day 3, I began to feel human again. I even managed to co-host and set up for my bestie’s baby shower although I wasn’t entirely there. I suffered, conquered and survived.
So what did mastitis teach me about motherhood?
Mastitis marked the official beginning of REAL MOTHERHOOD after Baby D was born.
In other words, shit just got real.
Until now, I still had my head in the clouds just thinking and talking about how GLORIOUS and JOYOUS third time motherhood is. This mastitis reminded me that motherhood never comes for free, that it requires constant learning, growing, strengthening and enduring. And that this process is never-ending. Not this time, not ever.
This mastitis reminded me that motherhood never comes for free, that it requires constant learning, growing, strengthening and enduring. And that this process is never-ending. Not this time, not ever.
It taught me, once again because I’m that forgetful, that I must always stay grounded, humble, and grateful for the little things, not the big things….like the disappearing redness in my left boob. At this moment, I’m just so so thankful that the redness is going away, that I won’t need to return to the doctor’s office, that someone invented antibiotics so I can be treated, that my baby is sleeping so I can write this blog post.
Most importantly it taught me the magnitude of a mother’s strength, because once I began talking about my experience, it became quite clear that almost every breastfeeding mother came down with mastitis at least once, some even four, five times. Now THAT is insane and I have nothing but utmost respect for mothers who managed to endure the pain without complaining about it on the internet like I do.
Perhaps this is why I’m a mom blogger; I feel the need to share these truths and tell these stories so others can say oh yeah, that happened to me too. First, so we can connect with each other through our stories and struggles and second, so we can educate others about the realities of motherhood. By doing this, we are empowering the identity of motherhood and teaching our children its value for them as well as society at large.
First, so we can connect with each other though our stories and struggles and second, so we can educate others about the realities of motherhood. By doing this, we are empowering the identity of motherhood and teaching our children its value for them as well as society at large.
So thank you to all the mothers who are readings this, especially to all the moms who endured the painful feedings while suffering from mastitis so you can continue to nourish your babies. And to moms who bottle fed, thank you for doing what is best for you and your child. Thank you for being so brave, strong and heroic.
In a world tainted by patriarchy and sexism, we mothers are protectors, caretakers and nurturers of a generation that desperately needs our love and strength. From one mother to another, thank you for all that you do from the bottom of my heart.