I'm writing this post for any other mom who, like me, received a similar diagnosis and spent hours searching the Internet for "galactocele", only to find very little on this rare breastfeeding complication ...
"Galactocele" I repeated the words to myself as I hung up the phone. I had just spoken with the nurse practitioner at the surgical oncology clinic. Just the day before I had been seen for an ultrasound and needle aspiration of my right breast. It had all started a week before when one of the lactation consultants noticed an alarmingly large lump in my breast. She told me it was likely just a plugged duct and to treat it as such. If it persisted for more than 10 days they'd have me seen at the breast clinic (the less scary name for the surgical oncology clinic). However, the lump grew so rapidly after that and became increasingly painful, I called everyday after that till they finally scheduled me for an appointment at the oncology clinic just a few days later.
I was hopeful that day. After 2 ultrasounds, which were so painful due to the large mass, I was sent for a needle aspiration. I held hopes that after the aspiration the problem would be taken care of. Little did I know what the next few days would hold...
It was that Friday morning, the morning after the ultrasounds and aspiration that the NP called and used that word that would soon become painfully familiar, "galactocele". I immediately began searching the Internet. All I found were descriptions like "small", "harmless", "resolves on its own", only none of these descriptions fit what I was experiencing. Things quickly went down hill. By Saturday all I did was sleep and wake to nurse because I was in so much pain and felt sick. But because there was no redness they didn't think I had an infection. Come Monday morning I was desperate. I couldn't get through to the breast cancer clinic. I paged the midwife on call- Kathy, the same wonderful midwife who helped deliver Caroline. She finally convinced the breast cancer clinic that I could not wait 10 days "the earliest they could see me" they said. As soon as the NP in clinic that day took one look at me she said, "you're not going to like what I have to say, but you're going to need surgery", for a severe galactocele and a staph infection. And before I knew it I was ringing in the new year on the operating table.
The surgery relieved the pain, but only for the night. The next couple days in the hospital were tumultuous and stressful. It was finally determined that a drain would be placed to manage the swelling while I stopped my milk supply. I wasn't upset by this at first, just relieved to find a break from the constant, terrible pain - the pain that kept me from loving on and enjoying my baby like I should.
However, after I finally came home from the hospital the realty that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed hit me hard. I kept calling the surgeon's office and the hospital's lactation consultants trying to convince them I needed to figure out a way to breastfeed despite everything else. But it came down to this being the only way I could get truly healthy again and stay out of the hospital. I still felt incredibly guilty, even though I realize now I had done everything I could and the severity of this situation was beyond my control. At the end of the day I can't control that I had to stop breastfeeding in order to heal and stay out of the hospital. However, I can focus on many other things like the quality time I spend with Caroline- reading her books, cuddling up for naps with her, making myself look like a complete idiot just to bring out one of those gummy baby smiles.
It makes me angry when I read comments by other breastfeeding women that they don't believe there are medical reasons for a woman to stop breastfeeding. Or how many moms and breastfeeding advocates judge moms who, like myself, are walking around Babies R Us with cans of infant formula in our shopping cart or pull out a bottle instead of a nursing cover when our baby cries. I'd like to ask these women if they would judge formula feeding moms like myself in the same way if they saw me unconscious on the operating table on New Year's Eve because of breastfeeding. Would they give me the same looks as the cashier rings up my formula if they knew about the 9 cm tumor that kept me from using my right arm for weeks? What a different experience motherhood could be if we spent more time supporting one another and less time judging another mother's decisions without even knowing her story.
A few days after coming home from the hospital. Finally feeling well enough to give this freshly bathed Caroline her bottle.