FFF Lililly recently had her second child, a ridiculously beautiful little girl. I was anxious to hear how her delivery and hospital stay went, as I was aware that she was giving birth at one of New Zealand’s “Baby Friendly” hospitals, a place where a mom who was choosing to formula feed would have to bring her own formula and supplies. Right around the time Lililly went into the hospital for her c-section, this type of policy had been hot news, provoked by several British hospitals initiating similar “baby friendly” initiatives. The internet was abuzz with debate (inspiring discussions on sites like this one and that one), but despite understanding why someone might feel that withholding formula could raise breastfeeding rates (in Norway, the “lactivist mecca”, for example, banning formula from hospitals has correlated with an incredible rise in breastfeeding initiation), my argument remains thus:
In their most extreme version (i.e., only allowing formula if it is deemed medically necessary), “baby friendly” initiatives are not mother friendly.
Rather than argue this point on an intellectual level, I asked Lililly if I could reprint the following entry (actually, a hybrid of this post and this post) from her own blog (which, incidentally, has the most gorgeous photography- I’d highly recommend checking it out) to illustrate the point in a more visceral way. When I read her story, I couldn’t sleep for two days – I was that angry about it. I’m interested to see if any mother can read this and not feel angry about how this woman was treated. This goes so far beyond “promoting” breastfeeding, in my opinion. This is taking us back to a time where women were at the mercy of medical professionals; a time where we were knocked out for the birth and not trusted to manage our own bodies or babies. I know that reminiscing about this anti-woman type of healthcare is a popular argument to support pro-breastfeeding policies, but this logic is flawed. As Lililly says, there has got to be a middle ground here, a way to support women in whatever manner they decide to feed their babies.
by “Lililly” (reprinted with her permission from her blog)
After her daughter was born via c-section, Lililly’s birth experience took a bad turn:
Both my midwife later and a couple of nurses on the ward I stayed in mentioned they could of just rung up to the ward for a bottle to be sent down. And anyway..they had all the stuff there as well.
Simon returned, but by this point I was utterly beside myself. I couldnt even sit up so I couldn’t feed Evie myself and I asked Simon to do it. I was dissapointed. Another baby I missed out on the first bottle with.
I don’t care what anyone says, but it’s a pretty strong bonding moment, especially those first few feeds, and I felt horrible about it.
It wasn’t until I was settled into the wards that I got to really spend some time with Evie but it was so worth the wait. She hardly cried, and was so alert just looking around at the world. I will never forget those first few moments if just staring into her eyes no matter how many years pass.
After the utter crap that was the recovery room, I didn’t hope for much getting to the wards. My midwife had told me a few weeks prior to the birth that Auckland National Woman’s was a ‘baby friendly’ place and therefore no longer supported formula feeding, so in preparation, we had brought everything of our own including sterilizing tablets and a container to put them in. But of course we still needed water and boiled water to make up the bottles so Simon went off as soon as we got wheeled into place to organize things and figure out where to get this boiled water from. We had NOT brought our own kettle from home because we assumed there would be a way of acquiring boiled water at a hospital. After a short time he was back with us saying ‘this place is weird!’. He explained that he wasn’t hopeful for help either after what had just happened, but the first nurse he came across and had explained what he wanted to had actually pointed him not only in the direction of the ‘Formula Feeding Room’ (a locked room where the ONLY kettle in the ward is and bottle feeding supplies are) but also said ‘oh and you will need sterilization tablets etc..’ and made a move to get them for him. When Simon explained we had everything and what we had been told the nurse apparently had looked a bit shocked and said ‘jeez we are not that bad now are we!?’.
Yeah guys, you are.
The first night I was there was kind of horrid. After a c-section you are not really able to move for a few hours but of course being a ‘baby friendly’ hospital, baby is also roomed in with you. Which is fabulous except if your baby starts crying you cannot do anything except ring for the nurses and midwives and hope someone turns up shortly to help. The first midwife I called gave me this long stare as i told her baby was hungry and I needed a bottle made up. Eventually she sorted out the supplies but instead of using our formula went and got some of the pre-mixed stuff and used that. It requires no boiling water of course (which is down the other end of the ward behind that locked door) and just needs heating up. But she wasn’t friendly about it at all and immediately I started feeling bad.
I sat and berated myself for being so selfish. And then I sat berating myself for berating myself over it.
The midwife who was actually meant to be looking after me came in with her helper not long after to sort me out and make sure I was recovering all okay. Round two of the ‘I’m bottle feeding conversations’ ensued when I asked if they could fill my flask up with boiled water so I could make bottles myself. The midwife went off somewhere and the helper asked me if i wanted to use the pre-mixed stuff as it was easier and I was shocked. ‘But you don’t support formula feeding here’ to which the helper said, ‘well some of us don’t, but we don’t say anything about it.’ before walking out. The midwife returned shortly after and actually asked me what my reasons for bottlefeeding were so that she could ‘tell the others to shut them up’.
What? They are talking about me? Are they sitting their referring to me as the ‘Bottlefeeder in Room 1’?
I explained to her, all the while thinking ‘I shouldn’t HAVE to do this!’. I was angry, and I was ashamed.
All those feelings from earlier came rushing back and I began to cry – which, I think, made the midwife feel guilty and so off she went to ‘shut the others up’, I presume.
I had wanted to ask for milk suppressants that night, because I figured they wouldn’t offer them to me (and I was right) but I actually was too scared. I was too scared to ask for medication to make myself more comfortable. Isn’t that stupid? When I did finally get the courage up to ask for them by the way, I was told it was too late and I should of asked the day baby was born. I would have to deal with the consequences.
The next day was abysmal also. I was feeling pretty low already though and I got sick of explaining myself every two seconds which made those low feelings even worse. I got comments and I got the looks.
I really started feeling like a second rate citizen. Like I didn’t deserve being cared for.
I realize now that I’m obviously still hung up with guilt about formula because from that moment on I really started punishing myself. I stopped using the pain meds as much sub consciously and I didn’t ring the bell for the nurses/midwives unless I was totally desperate for help. I would do more than I should of moving wise because I didn’t want to explain again and again or have them sigh as they went off to find boiled water. I didn’t want the bell to be rung and then look up at the screen and think ‘oh its that bottlefeeder in room 1 again’.
Idiotic. I know.
By the time I had some nice supportive carers I had given up completely on the feel good about myself feelings and I was really worried about what all the hospital staff were thinking of me. I was totally paranoid.
One night a lovely tiny Indian looking midwife started working my end of the ward. She came in and saw me being a bit distressed (pain, Evie not sleeping etc) and asked if she could take Evie from me down to the nurses station for a few hours so I ‘could get some rest’ and since I was ‘bottlefeeding and it was a quiet night it was no problem to do at all’. I was so paranoid that I actually refused. My immediate reaction was ‘then they could prove I’m a lazy bottle feeder by handing my child off!’. No way, all the breastfeeders no doubt have their babies with them, I will do so to.
Eventually I ended up breaking down in front of this midwife and she was the nicest person I have ever come across in a hospital. She was angry and demanded to know who had asked me my reasons, as it really was irrelevant to anyone and non of their business. She wanted to know who had said bad stuff to me but I shut down and didn’t answer. I had to deal with these people again, I wasnt naming names. I told her in between heavy sobs how I felt I was a bad mother because I was so selfish. She listed reason after reason explaining how I wasn’t.
Each night she would come in and ask to take Evie and on the third or forth offering I took her up on it. She made sure I was medicated enough and after a while she was the only one I really trusted on the ward.
I really wish I had said goodbye to her and wish I told her how much she did for me before I left. She made all the difference to surviving my stay mentally (event though she must think I’m a crackpot for the amount of times I broke down in front of her!).
The other thing that got me about hospital was the lack of knowledge on formula feeding by the nurses and midwives. Some thought it was okay to use the Zip water for making up feeds (which I didn’t). One asked if I wanted to make up a whole lot of bottles in advance and keep it in the little coffee kitchenette at the end of the hall so it was accessible (which I didn’t think was a good thing to do). Most thought it was fine to keep a small supply of boiled water in a flask in my room with the bottles but another one, when asked to let me in the locked room so I could fill my flask up, kind of told me off for doing it that way and told me that I should always always boil the kettle and let it cool for 10 minutes before making any bottle up.
I think that’s what makes me angry the most about my stay – the lack of knowledge. If I wanted help breastfeeding I would of had 10 trained professionals bear down on me within seconds. If I needed help and advice for safe preparation of bottles – no one knew. That is ridiculous… and unsafe!
I kind of want to write a letter but I think it will fall on deaf ears. The whole problem with this ‘baby friendly’ pro breastfeeding stuff is that I think its a good thing deep down. I want it to be the social norm to breastfeed your child but I also want to have proper advice and measures in place for people that can’t or don’t.
Why is so difficult to have a happy and safe medium?
I don’t know if we are done having kids yet. I don’t know if can keep having children as I have a buttload of scar tissue apparently and I’m not sure what that means for future c-sections. But one of the biggest reason I may not have any more is the fact that hospital scares me now. I let it all get to me and I let them make me feel bad about myself. I let myself believe I’m a bad mother and it’s not a good way to start off with a new child.