For the first time in my life I experienced major nipple envy. I pine for nipples that stick right out to the world and seem to say “I am here. I am happy (although a bit cold). I boldly face the world!” I found out after two adventures in breastfeeding that I have very flat nipples and that this, it turns out, is a very undesirable trait. I thought I had a pretty nice rack, I mean my husband seemed to really like them, I got lots of complements on how nice they looked and others just simply stared at them or directed their conversations to them. Aren’t these all signs of a more than adequate chest region?
Over the last few months I have developed a burning and passionate hatred for my nipples. I never ever felt I wanted to change a part of my body. Now I know if someone were to ask me “what would you change about your body if you could?” I will not hesitate to inform them that I would like new nipples.
I guess I should explain why a seemingly harmless body part has solicited such hatred in me. I’ll start at the beginning. A few months ago I had my second child. A girl (and she is perfect!), but sadly it seems my children never seem to fit my body. My hips are too narrow for their slightly-larger-than-normal bodies. My nipples are too flat for their higher-than-normal-pallet and slightly tongue-tied mouths. I had to use a nipple shield for a long time with my first born, so I vowed I would NEVER use one with my second. Just as Q-tips are evil and should never be used on your ears, nipples shields have somewhat of the same reputation.
In the hospital I struggled to get my daughter to latch onto my flat nipple. Try picking up a watermelon with your mouth without using your teeth. I imagine this is what it was like for my daughter to try to latch on to my nipple. She did what any self-respecting human would do and waged a battle with each latching session. So as a result my nipples were very badly injured in the war. I had cuts and grooves on both sides and blood everywhere. The hospital sent me home with a goody bag of lanolin cream, gel packs for ulcers and a 24 hr hotline number for breastfeeding help, and oh almost forgot a nipple shield, but I refused to acknowledge its existence.
A week and a half went by and I was still very sore, still bleeding, and not at all looking forward to feeding the baby. I knew I was in trouble when I started eyeing the nipple shield, so I began dragging myself to lactation consultants. I vowed I would see one every day until I got this right. I would not let this defeat me. I wanted to be a super-breast-feeder. After all: I had breastfed my son for a year and a half; I should be a pro. It hurt too much to breastfeed and my baby was gnawing away what little nipple I had left. I had nubbins where my nipples should have been.
Finally a lactation consultant identified an infection, but was unsure of what kind. Lack of identification was not a concern, because she had prescribed this cure-all nipple ointment that apparently could cure my infection, heal my nipple and end world hunger. So I dutifully smeared this cream on my nipple after each feeding, even though it burned and irritated my skin, I didn’t care, because it was ‘healing’ me and I wanted the infection to go away. After four days the infection didn’t get better. It got much worse. I now had pain radiating back into my chest cavity. It felt like someone had replaced my milk supply with shards of glass. I knew that this was not normal and so I trotted back to the consultant’s office. She ordered me over to my doctor and suggested another well-known lactation consultant that could solve all my problems with breastfeeding, help figure out how to end this infection and maybe solve the economic crisis if the government would only let her. At the end of my musical chairs with doctors and consultants it was concluded I had a staph and yeast infection super-combo that had traveled up into my mild ducts. I was prescribed an oral antifungal, oral antibiotics and still had to use the nipple cream so it could continue to topically heal the nipple and continue its fight against world hunger. I argued that my nipples didn’t react well to the cream and that it burned, but this concern was brushed aside and explained away that it was a rare side effect and not harmful at all. I didn’t want to jeopardize my wayward nipple healing process, so I continued to dutifully smear on the cream.
Soon it was the fourth of July and my nipples were celebrating the holiday too. Throughout the day my nipples would change colors from white to purple and back to pink/brown. It felt like someone was biting down on them randomly thought the day, even when I was not breastfeeding. I had been living with nipple pain for a month and by now I was sick of it and wondering if it would ever go away. Now I was desperate and since there was not as much skin left on the nipple I had to use a shield, so much for my determination to live without one.
After another month of complaining I started receiving advice from lots of well meaning friends and family. I started getting flash backs of the advice people would give me regarding my very itchy ear problem a few years ago. Cabbage, vinegar, garlic, salt water, you name it – as long as I could Google it and it worked for someone else I was willing to give it a try. Sadly nothing seemed to really get rid of the pain.
At three months of experiencing pain, I finally broke down and started calling lactation consultants again. My daughter’s latch seemed to be good. The last couple times I went to the lactation consultant she praised me on her great latch and I beamed with pride. (My daughter was showing signs of being a genius early in life. Obviously gifted.) After my conversation with her she instantly knew what the problem was, “Reynaud’s Syndrome” she piped confidently. I instantly had an image of a dirty old naked French man in a trench coat exposing himself on a street corner. Great, I thought, I have a “syndrome” named after that guy. After I ended my conversation with her I promptly started searching for all the information I could get on this new diagnosis. It seemed this accounted for the strange color changes my nipples would express throughout the day. It also explained why I was always so sensitive to cold, especially now.
I was reading all sorts of interesting tidbits about this new “syndrome” of mine, and one point caught my attention. Stress and high emotional response can trigger the reaction. I hide my emotion well, so this amused me to think that I could not seem angry, but my nipples could give me away. Good thing I keep them covered up. Other wise I would have to explain awkwardly to others that “No, I’m not angry right now. But my nipples are furious.” They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul; nipples are the windows to mine.
I made a doctors appointment for the next day to confirm the diagnosis. I was not about to try one more medication and have it not work again. Thankfully I had stopped taking the topical cream and switched to a more “natural” cream, but nothing dramatic happened. I did the whole song and dance of getting my blood pressure and weight at the doctor’s office.
The nurse’s assistant exclaimed excitedly “Oh my gosh! You lost like 15 pounds since last time you were here!” She glanced at my chart. “Which was, like, 6 months ago. Have you been doing anything special?”
I glanced at my three-month-old baby and wondered if she was trying to make some sort of joke so I interjected my own.
“Well… I went on the labor and delivery diet.”
She gave me a strange look. My sarcasm was lost on her.
“Oh. Okay. What are you coming in for today?”
I started to tell her all about he infections, the pain, etc.
She continued unfazed. “I see. How do your nipples feel, right now?”
I said they feel painful during feedings and I get attacks of pain in-between feedings. She shook her head as if to clear it of my ramblings.
“No, how do they feel? Right Now??”
I tried again “Uh, like someone is gnawing on them.”
She gave me another blank look and I knew at this point we were having a communication problem. She confirmed this by asking again as drawn out as she can.
“Hooow dooo they feeel?”
I decided I could either get really mad at her insulting tone or fight back with more humor so I answered:
“They feel angry. I think they are mad and wreaking havoc on my home life.”
She finally left the room. Was it something I said? I instantly regretted my smart-mouth comment.
The doctor came in and I quickly glanced over at my chart to see that the only description she has written in my chart after my story about being infected, not healing, and pain episodes was “Patient says her nipples are ‘angry.'” Ok, I have to admit she got me back good. Now I looked like a crazy.
I told the doctor what was going on and explained my conversation with the lactation consultant about Reynaud’s and she said “I am not exactly familiar with the syndrome, not to say it doesn’t exist, just that I am not familiar with it and how it relates to breast feeding.”
Ok great, this lack of information coupled with the description: “Patient says her nipples are ‘angry'” might only lead me to a referral of anger management for my nipples. I quickly had to dash away thoughts of my nipples battling it out with nerf bats. She prescribed the medication for Reynaud’s and gave me a look that made me feel slightly like a hypochondriac. She also said she really wanted to take a swab of my nipple to be sure that they were not any other major bacteria or yeast growing on them. This warmed my germaphobic heart to have her think to rid me of any lingering bugs on my nipples.
As I sit here now, I have the prescription that will “cure” Reynaud’s, if that is in fact my problem, in front of me. I don’t know if it will work, but I really hope it does. I do not enjoy painful, angry nipples and so far the only benefit I have gotten out of them is a good laugh while writing this and telling all my friends and family about my ailing nipples.