Towards the end of my pregnancy, I had the inevitable questions of ‘When are you due?’ ‘What are you having?’ ‘Have you thought of a name yet?’ daily. I became a bit robot-like with my answers trying to shrug off the attention from well-wishing total strangers as I went about my business in the luxury that is the start of maternity leave. The questions whizzing around my head were slightly different ‘Will an epidural make what’s coming bearable?’, ‘Is it normal to feel scared and excited in equal measures?’ and ‘What if I do things wrong?’. I know my main role in the upcoming venture was to love, protect, shelter and provide. I was hoping the first three would come fairly naturally but there is a lot of stigma over the last one. An unfair amount of stigma loaded with expectation.
When my little man was placed on me and a little while later, I was encouraged to breastfeed for the first time, I was lucky enough to experience that mind-blowing exchange between us for the first time. I was so tired that I just let him get on it with and for many minutes, he took a feed and rewarded himself after his birthing ordeal with a very long sleep.
I’d been warned by a very good friend that ‘breastfeeding is f***ing difficult’ and listened as my Mum spoke of time when she was trying and trying to breastfeed me but to no avail and turning to formula after four days of trying was rewarded with me sleeping more than an hour or two for the first time. I’d always had the mantra of ‘I’ll give it a go’ when people asked me if I was planning on breastfeeding.
I began my second day of my son’s life in the hospital bed and feeling confident from our success last night. I picked him up and assumed the same position that had worked for us the previous night. No latch. After arranging pillows, careful re-positioning, various approach angles attempted, I conceded and pressed the magic red button requesting assistance from one of the wonderful midwives at the hospital. Seconds later, one arrived and together we attempted to feed the little man. Successfully latched and after a few sucks, the satisfied midwife left. Immediately my son, detached himself and I began the whole ordeal again. With NCT wisdom rolling around in my head that only a few millilitres was needed at this point and his stomach was around the size of a marble, I stopped as he wasn’t crying and seemed to have got enough during the first attempt. Hours later – the same again. And then again a few hours after that. Don’t get me wrong – the midwives were wonderful and their advice did as much as it could to give me confidence and know-how required but it was becoming a battle.
Later that day, we left for home as he had fed briefly enough each time to satisfy his hunger. Then I really missed that little red button. Armed with literature about the benefits of breastfeeding and all the nutrients and everything else the milk from me provided, I dug my heels in and tried my best with every feed. I asked the midwife (who visited the next day) to watch me breastfeed and show me how to get my little man into the best position. She agreed that the position I was trying was likely to be the most successful and prescribed a duvet day. Me being relaxed in an environment I felt comfortable in was going to be the best medicine for successfully breastfeeding.
Day 4 (known in my world as the ‘worst day of my life’) arrived as did the tidal wave of hormones on broken sleep as my milk came in. I phoned my parents in tears and asked them to come over as I just wanted to be looked after. My other half was doing as best as he could but surviving on the same amount of sleep as me, I needed people who had slept! They arrived and made me feel better in a way that only very close friends and family can do. I asked my other half to go out and get a bottle of formula ‘just in case’.
That beacon of hope was placed in my cupboard.
I reached for that beacon about 12 hours later. It was a break from the battle. My little man wanted to feed. I desperately wanted to be able to provide for him but between us we couldn’t figure out how to feed him for more than 20 or so sucks.
Upon opening the bottle and looking at the back for how to serve / warm the formula, I did my best to ignore the obvious obligatory statements that breastfeeding is best and covered them up with my fingers as I decanted some formula into a bottle. That point was when I felt my first dose of ‘Mum-guilt’ which is a term I find disgusting especially for its use in daily conversations between some mums.
But my only jobs were to love, protect, shelter and provide. With this beacon, I could do all four until I could figure breastfeeding out. Which, on day 6, we did. And we fed together for four months (with me upping the ratio of formula to breast milk as needs and lifestyle changed).
On our first trip abroad together as a family last week, I made the private decision to breastfeed for the last time, The next morning when my son woke, I dutifully prepared a bottle but before offering it to him, I breastfed him for the last time for a few minutes listening to the sounds of Paris waking up. It was wonderful. It was empowering.
I have no idea why I am crying writing this. it’s not Mum-guilt, it’s not that I miss breast feeding. I think it is just because that chapter is closed and time is whizzing past with my little man. I want to slow things down but for now, me breastfeeding him isn’t enough. I can’t provide him with enough for an entire feed, I wasn’t enjoying starting the day with the battle. He is more satisfied with a formula feed and now we are enjoying the weaning process together.
I have a healthy, happy son and it takes more than breast milk to ensure that.