I wrote the title for this post “Breastfeeding” and sat here for literally 16 minutes wondering where to start. Then I gave up and scrolled through baby clothes on Instagram instead. That was a month ago (maybe two… shhhhh I’m an online shopaholic, and a terrible procrastinator)
When I started Fe Fi Fo Mum, I knew I wanted to share my stories and experiences with a hope that even just one Mum or Mum-to-be would read it and say ohhhhh….so that’s normal, or yep – me too, and then feel a little better about being a Mum and all its challenges. I knew breastfeeding would top that list, but it has been so emotional I’ve actually found it really hard to put down in words.
Breastfeeding is the single greatest challenge I have ever faced. It is the most amazing, confronting, rewarding, excruciating, fulfilling, polarizing, uniting, *insert all the other adjectives and hyperbole here* thing I have ever experienced.
There is an unwritten and unspoken stigma hoo-doo around breastfeeding (or not – especially not) that I just don’t quite understand.
There is also a MASSIVE amount of opinions, ideals and morals that are widely distributed. Blogs, articles, medical journals, magazines, social media, shouted from the rooftops – any outlet really – that are forced upon you from all levels of the community.
Doctors, Nurses, Plunket, birth care, midwives, family members, in-laws, friends, other mothers (Yeeeeeep other mothers are a force to be reckoned with) complete random strangers including your friendly bloody checkout lady at the supermarket……. ALL have an opinion they feel compelled to share with you, about Breastfeeding.
This is not a breast is best, or fed is best story, it’s a DO YOUR BEST story. Cause I’ll give you the hot tip… that’s all you can do. If I’d figured that out sooner my Breastfeeding journey might not have been filled with quite so much angst.
I’m not into boob bashing, or bottle bashing as things change, quickly. I spent the first 6 months obsessing over breastfeeding and wanting it to be perfect. I have just spent the last 3 months wishing he would just take the dang bottle so I can have more than a 1-3 hour break… so yanno – it’s not always a one size fits all solution!
We didn’t get pregnant easily. It took a very long time and a lot of fertility help. I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to produce breastmilk for medical reasons – so I started out doubting myself, which probably didn’t help. My Antenatal class championed the benefits of breastfeeding, as did my midwife, and instinctively I just knew I wanted to try. I wasn’t actually ever offered an alternative. No one suggested bottle feeding, no one discussed formula as an option – I was totally clueless about the other options and didn’t really feel like I had a choice, which for Mums that CANT or don’t want to feed for so so so many reasons, must just be heartbreaking.
I had a severely jaundiced baby who was constantly falling asleep on the breast while feeding. I had no idea if he was ever getting enough milk, that’s the thing with a boob – it’s not see-through so it’s pretty hard to judge. We had to wake him regularly for feeds, and I had to try and express to top him up. I honestly didn’t even know I’d need a breast pump if I was breastfeeding. I thought, why would I? I didn’t know regular pumping helps to increase your supply. I didn’t know I could pump to give Bubs top up feeds. I didn’t put two and two together and realise that I would be the ONLY one that could feed my baby if exclusively Breastfeeding. Duh. Dad can’t do it… unless you pump or express, or supplement with formula, and unless Bubs takes a bottle.
We battled with a “good latch”
I battled with a “good hold”
We battled with a tongue tie
I saw a lactation consultant
I took fenugreek, drank nursing tea, ate boobie biscuits, oats, fennel, brewers yeast, I drank Gatorade
I battled with cracked nipples, blood blisters and a MASSIVE pumping aversion (sitting hooked up to a double hospital strength pump for near 48 hours straight measuring and recording every mil will do that to ya)
I had the constant inner battle with self-doubt circling in my head… was he getting enough?
I say battle because that’s how it felt. I didn’t feel like an “Earth Warrior Goddess Mother” I didn’t feel righteous, and superior, and like I was giving the magical elixir of life to my firstborn. I felt like a fucking dairy cow.
Not once was I offered an alternative. Not once was formula mentioned by a professional. I was encouraged to “push through” and “hang in there” I was told it would get easier, and less painful, and well done to me for giving my baby the best possible start. I didn’t want a bloody medal, I wanted it to be easier. I wanted to be like those Mums that made it look easy, and loved breastfeeding and I wanted to be able to go on and on about how bonded I was to my baby because I breastfed.
Why though?? Why did I want to portray that image? What was that invisible pressure, that weird mental instinct that told me I HAD to? I don’t know. I still don’t know. I was afraid of judgement. I felt like I would be a failure if I couldn’t do it. I felt like I would be cheating my baby boy if I couldn’t do for him what I was biologically supposed to do. I was lucky enough for no one in my close circle to directly tell me I would be a failure if I couldn’t. A few came close, but not directly. I’d love to say I don’t care a single hoot what people think, but I’d be flat out lying. It must have been the social expectation and subtle signals from our society that made me form this opinion for myself.
Then…when I dd finally crack it, feel like I had some idea of what I was doing, and “push through” like I was told too – I felt pressure and disappointment in the opposite way. Feeling like I couldn’t breastfeed in public because I was worried people wouldn’t be accepting of it. I didn’t know I would have to give up the holy grail three C’s (coffee, cheese and chocolate) as these gave Bubs colic. NO CHEESE GUYS – CHEESE. I felt HUGE guilt I couldn’t see friends, or go out easily. I was missing special occasions for people who were so special to me, or leaving early as my world revolved around a 1-3 hour window of feeding that no one else could do. Then cluster feeding… holy shit I didn’t know a baby could stay attached to you for nearly two hours at a time, and that was so mind-blowingly hard. Even though I was doing what I “should” be, it simply wasn’t easy. It was hard.
9 months down the track, it is easier. I do feel a bit more Earth Goddess. I cherish the snuggles and feed times together. Despite lots of night feeds, and still not taking a bottle, we are getting through. Bubs is growing, happy, and healthy which is all I can ask for. I know he is getting the goods, and I’m glad I persevered – but I don’t know how I did. Or why I felt I had to if I could have just made it easier on myself and everyone else? I feel like I won “the battle” I didn’t have to “fight” one which I know many couldn’t, and I don’t take that for granted.
I wish someone had prepared me for how hard it could be, and not made me feel like it should be easy and natural and effortless. I wish I knew I was doing my best, I wish someone had told me that’s all I could do. Everything else was out of my control, and my unrealistic expectations totally bulldozed my intuition and the measure of my own ability. I wish I knew it was just a challenge I had to navigate with my own conviction, not everyone else’s. To any Mum that is struggling, just know that in the darkest hours of despair, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and all you can do is your best… and ONLY YOU get to decide what that is.
Aaaaand after that, the next challenge to navigate is already just around the corner…
It makes me absolutely and utterly dumbfounded that after all that pressure, all that hard work, and all those battles that now, the question isn’t “are you breastfeeding?” It’s:
“Are you STILL Breastfeeding, when are you weaning?”
Lord help us Mums. Lord help us.