She looked down at me, breast and baby in hand. Both of us crying, both of us broken. We had only really known each other for a few hours yet I felt I had already managed to disappoint my much wanted child. My daughter was turning purple as she was screaming, I placed her down in the cot and suddenly it was silent; she just lay there so still and peaceful, yet at my breast she cried with her entire, tiny 6lbs body.
(“I told her she got her milk out of a bottle and I told her that with every bottle I gave her, I gave her a bit of my heart.”)
I had asked everyone who had any knowledge of breastfeeding, every professional I could find, if I would be able nurse my child with my faulty nipples. They were severely inverted.
“It will be fine, the baby doesn’t feed from the nipple, they latch the breast”
I heard that sentence so many times. Yet I didn’t trust it. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be enough. When I pinched my little line it just sunk in further. Nothing stood out, nothing offered a grip. Every day I spent vigorously training my nipples to stretch, to salute the world in all their might. I pulled and tortured myself with a altered syringe. The pain was intense, yet every day I forced my fold of skin in to the tube, hoping that I would somehow end up with these perfect breastfeeding nipples. Unfortunately, I didn’t.
“We need to feed your baby, I’m going to go and fetch her a bottle”
It was just a fog, a messy and awful fog. I just wanted to hold her, and feel her. I wanted to be with my baby without these voices confirming that I was broken, telling me that my baby needed something, and I was unable to give it.
As I looked up through my tears I begged her to help me, to make me “work”. The midwife abruptly offered her hands in trying to latch my beautiful little girl on whilst muttering about the time limits and how she couldn’t be standing by my side all night. She grabbed my fragile, brand new baby by the neck. My breast in her other hand and started repetitively jabbing my baby’s little head against my chest. My tiny child screamed and screamed. Her face purple with distress.
My heart defeated and all fight gone I opened my mouth and worded the words I never wanted to say – “Get her a bottle”, “just get her a bottle” I shakily repeated.
My girl was jaundice and everyone told me she had to have milk, and since mine wasn’t an option formula was our safety line. Her temperature was dropping as was her blood sugars.
So Instead of being handled the bottle I had agreed too, my baby was taken away from me. Put in an incubator. Thinking back there was no suggestions of kangaroo care and skin to skin wasn’t even encouraged after birth- they offered my baby to her father first! Luckily my husband swiftly handed me our precious bundle.
Her first feed was out of a cup, by a lady who’s name I didn’t know. Her first night spent in an incubator which I was informed to not open as the temperature needed to stay the same. She cried and I could only watch on helplessly. I wish I would have opened that box, taken her out and held her little body against my warm skin. She needed her mother. She needed me. Maybe if we would have been given the chance, breastfeeding could have worked out!
I remembered that you can pump your milk and figured that maybe I could still do this. I ran to the nurses station and asked for a pump which was brought to me surprisingly fast and during the next 8 hours I expressed from raw nipples until I finally got 2ml colostrum. The midwifes told me to give myself a break, to have a rest but with a baby by my side, crying in her little heatpod how could I relax? I held the pump with one hand and attempted to rock the incubator with the other. I found my rhythm and it did soothe my daughter somewhat, I started to finally feel as I was in some kind of control of my own body and my daughter’s health.
With liquid gold in hand I ran excitedly to the nurses station at 6am and asked them if I could please give my girl milk- It wasn’t from my breast but it was my milk that my body had made for my baby something that mattered so much for me.
I had milk a plenty and was able to almost sustain my little one on breastmilk. The odd bottle of formula snuck in but after months of stress and 2 hourly express sessions night and day, formula no longer felt evil. Sometimes it was the difference between a content baby and a hungry one and I was so glad for that tub of powder for when expressing simply wasn’t fast enough.
After 5 months my milk production dwindled regardless of what I tried I couldn’t get it back to its former glory. Just before my daughter was 6 months I could barely get 10 ml and then there was nothing…
My baby of course still wanted fed every 2-3h night and day.
I really did try everything I could find to help me breastfeed- sns systems, nipple shields- you name it, I probably tried it but nothing worked and the guilt was overwhelming. To this day, I look at my daughter’s beautiful face and wish I could have given her my milk yet I don’t want to wish our history away as it’s what made her the person she is, and I the person I am.
I went from hating formula and hiding it in my trolley to appreciating that without it my daughter wouldn’t have developed. I was denied donor milk, and milk sharing networks didn’t really exist. Formula saved us, and for that I’m eternally greatful.
You will probably read this and think “well done for trying” and think that I sound like a devoted mother who really did her best with what she had to breastfeed.
however regardless of how much I fought to breastfeed,regardless of how much it hurt and the pain we went through together! You can’t see this on me! This isn’t written on my forehead, the lack of support I had isn’t on a flag above my head. You don’t know why I pulled out that bottle and you don’t know what emotions I struggled with when I had no other choices.
I’ve had some harsh judgements that have left imprints on me, mainly because when you hit an exposed nerve it is going to be painful. And my nerve is as exposed today as it was 7 years ago.
During our first baby massage class my daughter started fussing with hunger the second I reached for the coconut oil, so I picked her up in my arms, and wrapped her in her towel. I held her gently as I offered her expressed milk out of a bottle. I was still so overwhelmed and still so raw. I was tired and I was hormonal, this was the first time I had left my house without my husband.
“That’s exactly why young girls shouldn’t have babies, they don’t even try to breastfeed. It’s really sad”
I looked up! Surely they weren’t talking about me?
A group of mothers turned their noses up at me, their eyes full of judgement and resentment. What they didn’t know was that I had spent 2 hours that morning trying to latch my baby on, that I had tried to hold her to my breast as she screamed in frustration and that I had cried in pain with her. They assumed that I simply gave up, or maybe that I didnt try at all and although they knew nothing of my emotional journey, and personal choices they choose to criticise me. They choose to say words which would upset and they decided that they had the right to do so because they simply didn’t agree with a bottle.
Those words spoken by mothers, who simply wanted to express welfare for a baby, my baby- they cut deep, so deep that it still bring tears to my eyes and makes my heart race. I don’t think it will ever stop hurting.
I have never spoken to my daughter about how she was fed, but as I was nursing her poorly brother to sleep last night (the breastfeeding success I had with my youngest will make for another day’s writing since I’ve kept you for too long already, but yes We are breastfeeding and will continue to do so until natural term:) ) she asked me if this is how she used to go to sleep and I had to face one of my worst fears, and tell her that I didn’t feed her from by breast. This in a world where we are ferociously attacking each other over feeding methods; where the insults are thrown left, right and centre and my daughter has already heard “breast is best”. She’s already aware that breastfeeding is optimal nourishment for a baby and now she would know that I didn’t give her that!
I looked at her precious face, a face that wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for formula, and I told her that she was held, rocked and cuddled to sleep.
I told her she got her milk out of a bottle and I told her that with every bottle I gave her, I gave her a bit of my heart.
I’ve decided to take a leaf out of my daughter’s book, and lead with kindness- if she can, so can I. Instead of questioning others feeding decisions I recongnise that my feeding choices are mine to own, as are yours to you! The only way we can stop these so called “mummy wars” is by not allowing anyone to pit us against each other- let’s educate, support and raise each other up!
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Ps. A huge thank you to all the wonderful mothers on “Breastfeeding older babies” for the never ending support and the love you share so readily! X Ds.