Another thing I wrote a year ago, struggling with coming terms with my new life as a mother. I think I can confidently say that while parts of me are gone forever, I found my ‘me’ again.
I wrote this when Elijah was still so very small, at a time when I was seriously struggling with motherhood and my new life. Elijah was nearly two months old. It’s got a lot of really dark themes, words, and imagery and while I’m not in that place anymore, it could be very triggering for somebody who is. I’ve also never shared it so, here you go.
24 April, 2017
Today, when I logged on to upload and edit some images (which have been waiting nearly a month for me to do…. My bad! #busymumproblems), Google invited me to “revisit” some photos from a year ago. And so I noticed that (just over) a year ago (March 23, to be exact), Elijah and I shared our first independent breastfeed. I decided to share our journey.
My waters broke at about 3.30pm on Sunday, February 26. I was assessed at the hospital, and told to return if I began having regular contractions or by 7am the following morning for induction. Following a sleepless night, we decided to head up to the hospital at 5am as I was on the verge of panicking and finding it difficult to cope at home.
After 5 attempts at getting the drip in, my induction officially began at around 10am. I’d like to say “contractions came hard and fast” but a) they didn’t and b) I had an epidural and didn’t feel a thing (until later).
At around 11pm I started pushing and Elijah was born (with the aid of forceps) at 12.42am on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. After I quick five-minute hold, I passed him off to his father to continue to swear at the doctors doing my stitches who insisted that “you’ve got an epidural and two shots of local anaesthetic, this shouldn’t hurt”.
What followed were some of the darkest moments of my life. I was hungry, tired, and left to my own devices. Around 3am (I think) I asked the midwife present if I should try to feed him — she handed him to my and he did nothing. Credit to my lovely midwife, she went and got an older midwife who also had training with lactation who got Elijah to latch until he dozed back to sleep. At 5am we were transferred to the ward and I tried to get some sleep.
Elijah was restless and unsettled, but it did occur to me to ‘whip it out’. I had no idea what I was doing, I was hungry, I was in pain and felt so alone. I’d been told by my health fund that I should be put in a private room, but was put in a twin (sounds petty, but it felt like a big deal at the time). Drenched in sweat, I felt like I was burning up and either the aircon vent near my bed was broken or it just wasn’t strong enough — even my visitors later that day remarked about how very hot it was.
Some nurses said I should feed Elijah 4-hourly, some six. At around 10am, with the aid of a nurse, Elijah latched and fed from one side for 45 minutes. He was quite contentedly nursing and nodding off when another nurse told me I had to pop him off and put him on the other side, which he refused. Yet another nurse informed me that I had an inverted nipple on that side, and fetched me an electric pump to ‘draw it out’.
Some unsuccessful feeds — and 5ml of formula — later, I asked an older nurse if there was a reason I could not just pump and syringe feed him. Happy with my suggestion, she showed me how to use the pump and syringe to feed him. And so I entered a second night in the hospital.
The nurse that night alternated between being rude and belittling, and lovely and helpful. When I first requested help settling Elijah so that I could pump — my first time pumping alone — she told me to “hurry up, I’m doing you a favour here” and berated me for not having washed my flange and bottle after my previous pump (where I’d been told I would be given new ones). The second time I needed help, though — about 5am — she was sweet and cuddled Elijah and told me I’d done so well to pump the amount I had while juggling him.
Chris came early that day — thanks to me not having brought enough thyroxine to the hospital on Monday, stupidly assuming that I wouldn’t be left to manage my own medications there — and we excitedly prepared to go home. Imagine my surprise — and fury — when a nurse told me “If you can’t show us that you can feed Elijah yourself, you won’t be allowed to go home”.
While we anxiously awaited the paediatrician and discharge paperwork, I prepared my speech to give them. “If you won’t let us go home unless I can show you I can breastfeed by myself, we’ll put him on formula.” I was refusing to spend another night in the hospital. No way, no how, barring any serious health concerns. I hoped that being at home and relaxed would help us both breastfeed.
It didn’t, and so Chris’ mum made an emergency run to the shops to bring us home a tin of formula. And that night my new best friend brought me her breast pump so that I could express. Only I couldn’t get it to work, and I was terrified that I would never get a supply if I waited.
When the midwife came later that morning, she was perfectly happy for me to exclusively express and helped me figure out the pump (in my shell-shocked, exhausted state I thought I’d understood my friend’s explanations but hadn’t retained any of the information). And things took off.
Within a week we threw out the tin of formula as when my milk came in, it was clear that I’d have no supply issues. But the routine of feeding, expressing, washing parts and bottles was exhausting and with Chris’ return to work date looming I felt more anxious than ever.
At his two-week checkup (which was one week late), the nurse initially encouraged me to attempt to get him “back on the breast”, while warning me that it would be a long and difficult journey because I’d introduced him to bottles too early. Chris argued that if it was going to further impact my mental health, then we shouldn’t do it. We eventually, although with some reluctance, decided to maintain our expressing routine as long as we could, then move to formula. There’s nothing wrong with formula, after all, both Chris and I were formula fed as babies.
Then, just three days after this decision, I was rocking Elijah in my lap when he dropped his dummy and it hit the floor. His little mouth opened, searching for something to suck on, and a little cry emerged. Barely thinking, I popped my nipple (the supposedly inverted one, by the way) into his tiny mouth… And he latched. Looking somewhat bemused, he latched and began sucking, and within ten minutes was contentedly asleep, his little lips slipping from my skin.
I found an amazing resource, without which I wouldn’t have been able to express as long as I did, in the Exclusive Expressers Australia Facebook group.
Getting the hang of things
Of course, it wasn’t all that simple: for several days I still gave him expressed milk before boob to help calm him and keep myself satisfied that he was getting enough, and expressed after. I suffered a serious migraine when he was only six weeks old, which caused me to pass out while preparing him a bottle (thank the gods I didn’t feel well enough to boob him that morning!). And when he was just five months old I returned to study and stressed about how I would fit in pumping at work.
I bought a new breast pump when I returned to work in ordering to double pump and halve my pumping time. I cannot recommend the Spectra S9+ enough, as well as the Freemies collection cups which enabled me to pump sitting in the break room with my colleagues instead of locked away in an office.
After a few months of pumping at work, we reintroduced formula as I was struggling to find time (I cannot always stop work at a convenient time for me to pump) and to keep up with Elijah’s appetite. He still fed from me on the days I was not at work, as well as occasional visits to me at work, and overnights. As we introduced more solid food, we also moved more to bottled over breast during the day, and eventually at bedtime as well.
And just this last week, Elijah has begun to occassionally sleep through the night. While I look forward to uninterrupted rest, I can’t help but feel sad on the nights that he sleeps all by himself without boob to soothe him back into sleep.
My breastfeeding journey has turned me from believing that “fed is best”, to believing in the need to advocate for breastfeeding. While there are times when formula may be genuinely needed, I definitely feel that it is becoming way too overused in our society, and that alternatives — including wet nursing and donor milk — need to be more widely available. There needs to be more education and enforcement about the right to feed or pump at work, with workers able to take breaks specifically to pump at shorter intervals than lunch breaks. With my next child, I plan to take 18 months off work to enable me to breastfeed for longer.
So, thanks for reading my little ramble. More to come.
UPDATE: I FINALLY GOT THE PHOTOS UP
This weekend I have had the pleasure of baking, decorating, and photographing a group cake smash with THIRTEEN (yes, 13!) babies all turning one between February and April this year. I met these women through a Facebook group for Adelaide mums due in March 2017 and they are some of the loveliest women who have helped me so much through my journey into motherhood so far.
So, yesterday I spent about six hours baking the gluten free, dairy free, soy free 3.5 – 4 inch cakes for the babies, plus a dozen cupcakes for older children who would be present. I managed to burn two batches of cupcakes, so ended up baking 36 cupcakes, of which 24 went in the bin. Fun times. I iced the cakes last night, but had to get up at 5am to ice the cupcakes this morning before work *yawn*.
We ended up doing multiple photo shoots as — predictably — some people had to leave early, while others arrived late, and the weather was threatening rain. But the photos went smoothly enough — herding babies is worse than herding cats! — with myself, another (better) photographer, and everyone else taking photos too. I don’t have permission to upload pictures of everybody’s babies for the general public to see, but here’s the photos that I can upload (which, if anybody is reading this, is all you’re interested in I’m sure):
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton