Disclaimer :: I am not a medical professional, and the information and opinions presented in this article are based on my experience and personal research and not of FWMB or CMBN.
My family and I had just arrived in Germany, where we would live the next three years, and settled into our hotel when I noticed something was not right — and I’m not talking about the soft porn on public access TV, although that did throw me off at first too. My left breast was looking a little more fantastic than usual and was starting to feel pretty sore . . . more than usual.
I wasn’t too worried, though; Google said it was nothing a hot shower and a cold beer couldn’t fix — so cheers, or probst, right?!? Wrong!
By nightfall, I was really uncomfortable and my milk supply from the left side was low. The next morning, I knew I needed a doctor. I was in a lot of pain and not so much as a drop was letting out when I pumped my left breast. I left my husband with the kiddos, baby, and what little milk I had left. He looked worried when I handed him a half empty milk bag, so I apologized (“I know. It’s not right, but Lefty’s gone.”) and headed out the door.
After a short and terrifying drive, I arrived at the German hospital. I walked through the main doors, shoulders high and hunched forward hoping to conceal the freak show growing inside of my shirt. Let me explain. If it were just one big boob and one normal sized boob, I’d be okay, but by this time it looked as if three different breasts were fighting to fit into my left bra cup. Then the panic set in. I wasn’t in the United States anymore. Where do I go? What do these signs even say? How will I say “clogged breast duct” in German?
Luckily, most Europeans speak English. The receptionist directed me to the maternity wing. It was right past the pediatric wing, which meant crying babies! The situation just kept getting worse.
Luckily, I made it to the maternity wing without incident. Again, I spoke to a brilliant German nurse who claimed her English was “nicht so gut,” but of course it was perfect. I explained my situation, and without checking my vitals or (thank goodness) my weight the nurse said, “Okay, take these pills, go to room five, and rub this cream on your breast — and I’ll be in there shortly with a breast pump.”
YES! Finally, I felt a huge sense of relief wash over me. We’re doing this the American way! I’m gonna get a little pill for the pain, a little pill for infection, and ooh, a mystery bonus cream.
I was practically giddy . . . until she handed me the pills. They looked like cupcake sprinkles! She must have noticed the look of concern on my face and said in a reassuring voice, “Oh don’t worry, they’re homeopathic tablets! Safe for you and for your baby’s milk.”
Oh yeeeeah — that’s right. What was I thinking? (Insert a very pained eye-roll.) RELIEF! That’s what I was thinking. I threw my head back and shot the cupcake sprinkles down my throat like it was tequila. I rubbed the cream on Lefty — who by this time was large and in charge — and I waited in room five. I called my husband to check on things back at the hotel and to tell him to ignore the iPad sitting on the bed open to pictures of horrific breast infections. “I’m okay, I’ll be home in no time.” We hung up when the nurse walked in the room. She asked me to pump the left side only for 15 minutes, she set a timer, and then she walked out.
I took off my bra and got right to work . . . but my spirits dropped with each passing minute — five minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes. Nothing was happening. I started to sob. The last three minutes I sat pumping and crying while my right breast shot milk out to the rhythm of the pump! The 15-minute alarm went off and nobody came to get me, so I walked back to the nurse’s station. Boobs flailing, my shirt soaked in tears, sweat, and breastmilk, and my giant bra in my hand because it didn’t fit in my clever little touristy cross-body purse. “Nothing happened,” I sobbed. “What do we do now?”
The nurse walked me back to the room and said, “Now you go home, relax, rub more lotion, and pump. It’s not going to come now. It will come later; maybe two more pumps, okay?” I thought, NO FREAKIN WAY am I going home like this. I mean, my nipple was on the verge of inverting! Any minute now, my breast was going to explode, and nipple shrapnel was going to fly everywhere! I cried some more, I grabbed my bra and my boob cream, and walked out with my chin held high — because by this point my boob was just under my chin.
I got back to the hotel, and just as the nurse said, two pumps later it was all over. The relief was instant, and luckily I didn’t have any sign of infection.
If you’re at all familiar with homeopathic potions and pills, you recognize the nurse gave me those tiny granules that contain either herbs or miniscule doses of actual medicine. You can even find them here at local health food stores. The lotion, turns out, was a sunflower oil-based cream with things like arnica, calendula, and white willow bark to bring down the swelling. And that’s it! I didn’t need prescription pills, and had I been aware these homeopathic remedies existed, I could have avoided the hospital all together.
This incident taught me I relied too heavily on conventional or western medicine. I started to pay attention to the things my German friends had in their first aid arsenal, and even tried to recall some of the natural remedies that my own family swore by like frozen savila or aloe plant for cuts and scars. I built up my own natural first line of defense. Arnica granules and cream are now staples in my first aid bag and come flu season, we all take elderberry supplements just to be safe. So the next time you come across a new, natural remedy for your non-emergency ailments, I hope you’ll approach it with caution yet enough curiosity to give it a whirl.