There’s something so quietly profound about the quote I pulled out of Sarah’s story. “I wasn’t going to stop myself from being able to look after him in every other way in order to give him (breastmilk),” she says. That’s really the crux of our argument, isn’t it? That sometimes, you have to choose something that seems less than ideal in order to have what is truly ideal: a bond with your child, a healthy body, a functioning mind.
When you make those kinds of choices, you thank whatever deity you believe – God, Jehovha, Allah, Buddha, Science- for the invention of viable substitutes, that can fill in when the ideal is not ideal. And you know what? I thank him/her/it every time I look at my children’s ideal faces, marvel at their ideal minds, and treasure our ideal bond.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
When I fell pregnant for the second time (first pregnancy was a miscarriage), I was asked by every health professional whether I planned to breastfeed. I was all for it, it was everything I wanted to do. I thought it would just happen naturally so I didn’t go to any classes and didn’t do much research on it at all.
My son measured big throughout my whole pregnancy and at 38 weeks he was estimated to be about 4.5kg. The doctor decided It was best to be induced which I really didn’t want but I agreed anyway. We had a date within the week and I went into hospital at 39 weeks and 1 day to be induced. Things did not progress overnight with a catheter inserted so I was put on the drip the following morning. I did not cope very well with the pain and I had an epidural which I was adamant I wasn’t getting before labour started! Baby was sitting funny so the pain of the contractions was gone, but I had back pain which lasted the entire time I was in labour. I was so exhausted I spent he whole day drifting in and out of consciousness. By 10pm the midwife told me I had fully dilated but baby’s head wasn’t descending as he was very big. I was terrified of the idea of a cesarian but I agreed. I was taken to theatre at around 12am I believe, I don’t have much memory of the day at all. I was hysterical with fear and exhaustion.
Finally at 1:30am my son was born. He was weighed at 4.9kg and wrapped in a towel and my partner held him on my chest for a few minutes. Suddenly I was passing out again, my baby was taken to nursery and my fiance kicked out of the OR. I don’t remember much except the anesthetist telling me I may need to be put to sleep. I came in and out of consciousness and at one point I was in recovery with nurses all around doing things. I was taken to the adult special care unit and I could barely move my limbs. I had oxygen tubes in my nose, three different canulas with lines going into my arms and i was so tired. My baby was no where to be seen but my fiance assured me he was okay, but hypoglycemic. He had already given him his first bottle in the nursery and while i was disappointed it wasn’t me, I understood why and I wasn’t upset. I was glad it was him that fed him.
The next day I found out I had lost 4 litres of blood when my tired uterus didn’t contract after my son was born. I was very anaemic and that was why I was so tired. It had also tore bigger than the incision site and I wasn’t allowed to try for more babies for well over a year. I was encouraged to attempt breastfeeding with the help of the nurses. I felt so overwhelmed with random people touching my breasts, telling me what to do and it was so painful. We didn’t have much success feeding and it was always painful despite being told it would get better it never did. We gave him formula bottles in the hospital after attempting to feed and he took to them very well. They told me because of the large blood loss my body was focusing on producing blood rather than milk. I was sent home on the 5th day after my son was born, still barely able to walk from cesarian pain. It took a week for my milk to come in and it was a very small amount, I tried pumping and I got less than 40ml from both breasts. I discovered I have flat nipples and it was very hard for my son to latch on and the whole experience was very frustrating leaving us both in tears. I began to resent my baby for the way I felt when feeding him. I then got an infection in my wound site and had to take pain medication which was unsafe for breastfeeding. I pumped the whole time I was taking them with the intention of trying again after I was off them.
Afterwards I sought out the help of a lactation consultant at the hospital where I gave birth. I went in for weekly appointments and we discovered he was getting less than 30ml from each breast. He also had a terrible latch but we had most of this corrected. I tried nipple shields, I even borrowed a hospital grade pump from them and I was about to start taking drugs to increase my supply. I tried a SNS which was too fiddly for me and I couldn’t see myself using it in public. We were giving him bottles this whole time after every feed and I wish i had just stuck with them earlier.
The final stroke happened when my son was just under five weeks old. I was taken to hospital in an ambulance with severe abdominal pain. It was diagnosed as pancreatitis caused by gallstones blocking a duct. It was the worst pain I have ever experienced and I spent a whole night hooked up to morphine just to make it through. I was away from my baby for a week in hospital waiting for surgery to have my gallbladder removed. I missed him so much. By the time I got home my milk was completely gone and I was barely able to pick him up without pain, let alone feed him. I made the call to switch him to full formula feeds.
I struggled for many weeks with the guilt. I cried and cried about my traumatic labour experience, my inability to breastfeed, everything. I still don’t know what it took to realize that I had done nothing wrong. That I’d done my best for him and done the best thing for both of our health and sanity. My partners mother told me that she had formula fed all four of her children from birth, by choice. I don’t feel now that I was unable to breastfeed and was forced into formula feeding. I made a choice and it was the right choice. A stressful breastfeeding relationship was damaging my ability to bond with my baby, and health concerns meant I’d have to put my own health second, keep myself in pain just to give him breastmilk. I wasn’t going to stop myself from being able to look after him in every other way because I was sick, to give him that when it wasn’t benefiting either of us.
I wish there was more information and support out there for mothers who choose to formula feed. Bottle safety, how to prepare a bottle, etc. I have been lucky to not receive judgement from anyone except myself. Even the LC was very supportive with bottle feeding. Mothers, please start supporting each other and your choices. It doesn’t matter whether your baby is formula fed, breast fed or fed with expressed milk, as long as it’s done with love and care. My son is now a happy and healthy 4.5 month old who benefits from having a mum who isn’t stressed to the max while trying to feed him, and we have a beautiful relationship.