Wednesday, 26 June 2013
The other day some NCT buddies (and babies) met up in a local beer garden. It was the usual scene, partners getting in a few precious minutes of baby time after work, mums chatting about the parent room in John Lewis and others wrangling babies and over-sized muslins to breastfeed while sipping at a much deserved microbrew and daring any of the other patrons to judge.
I was one of the latter and while balancing my son on the boob and sipping my precious half-pint I overheard this snippet between two of the dads, "I never realized how hard breastfeeding would be."
I've heard this before from new moms but I never really understood how difficult it could be to accomplish this seemingly completely natural task. Much like childbirth itself. Just because it's 'natural' doesn't mean it's easy.
In our group of eight couples three babies are exclusively breastfed, the others benefit from both breast and formula. In our group there were two tongue-tied babies, two mums suffering from nipple thrush, at least two struggling to produce enough milk and three mums with mastitis.
Pruin enjoyed a nice long feed on the boob a few minutes after he was born. He wouldn't experience that again for another six days.
The first day and night, I'm ashamed to report, I was so drugged I forgot to feed my son.
I forgot to feed my newborn baby.
In fact, it didn't even occur to me to feed him. I remember trying to hold his little hand while I slept but was too weak and exhausted to keep my arm lifted to his hospital-grade bassinet.
I don't recall him crying much (or at all) but I also don't recall much of those first hours. When I could finally move again and had my head about me, I realized he might be hungry and we tried to eat. It wasn't to happen. Pruin had a rough entry into this world and had a sore head as a result. Every time he tried to suckle he screamed in pain. I cried in frustration and the midwives unsuccessfully attempted to manhandle us both into some position that might work.
With every shift change another midwife would come and scold me for not feeding my baby and then, after manhandling him and me, realize it wasn't the fault of either of us, necessarily, but just not happening.
I spent hours hand expressing minuscule amounts of colostrum into a syringe. One night in the early hours of the morning I was given an ancient pump and spent hours pumping slightly bigger amounts into what appeared to be plastic shot glasses for Pruin to then be syringe fed.
Every time we tried to get help another midwife would tell me I couldn't leave the hospital until he was properly feeding or we switched to formula.
There I was, feeling isolated and trapped, in my blue-curtained cubicle, still in a lot of pain from my ordeal, desperately trying to feed my son still in pain from his ordeal. Each day felt like an eternity. Every time we attempted to feed it was all screams from him and tears from me. Yet another midwife telling me to calm down. On night three a young student doctor told me (at 3am when I finally convinced someone to do something for my son) I cuddled my 3 day old son too much and this was why he wasn't eating.
On day four I had a full meltdown and was moved into a private room so my husband could stay with me beyond visiting hours as I still was having mobility issues and could barely hold my son, let alone feed him. At this point we were cup feeding. I would attempt breastfeeding for 20 frustrating minutes, then we would spend 20 stressful minutes trying to get Pruin to drink a few mils of expressed milk from a cup (and losing most of it) and then I would start expressing and we would do it all again 30 minutes later.
The night Pruin finally took the breast I had run out of expressed milk, popped two episiotomy stitches and had a midwife tell me I wouldn't be let out of hospital if he was still cup-feeding. This was at 2am. Pruin and I spent the rest of the night crying together while I held his head to my breast and begged him to eat something. He screamed in my face. I continued to cry. But eventually he did it. It was such an ordeal that I couldn't even feel relief about our success. There was just fear it was a fluke and wouldn't happen again.
Five weeks out from that night we still sometimes struggle with getting the right latch and I still worry about whether he is getting enough. Every time we have a difficult time in the middle of the night (or the middle of the day) I have a momentary panic and remember those horrible days in the hospital. But we're doing it and he's fine. If we never managed it he would be on formula and he would still be fine.
But if we never breastfed we would have missed the once in a lifetime experience of flashing a minor celebrity at a London landmark. So there's that.
Why share this story? Especially as I am not a fan of hearing women's sob stories about labour and beyond or advocating any particular point of child-rearing.
Maybe it's because it's breastfeeding awareness week, maybe because I'm an over-sharer and hypocrite. Or maybe because that scene in the beer garden belied all the problems and trials many of those women experienced. Because we new moms feel like we have to hide the trials and the tears and only appear blissfully happy even though it is a well discussed fact that we are not, necessarily. If you look closer between the sips and tips, those moms are staring vacantly into the middle distance just trying to get through the present moment and dreading the next.
Because breastfeeding is hard.
Because being a new mom is hard.
Because you do what you have to do to get yourself and your family through the day (and night).
And if anyone ever tells you differently, you tell them Pruin said they can go suck it!