I’ve thought about this post for a long time, every time I hear or read another piece about breastfeeding and the stigma surrounding it. I have to say I guffaw when I hear that. The real stigma these days is the Mummy shaming around bottle feeding. When Jamie Oliver proclaimed that’s it’s ‘easier for Mums to breastfeed’ it was obvious he hadn’t been to my house! I applaud Adele coming out in the defense of mother’s like me who do not need more shaming when you are already feeling very vulnerable. We want to do the best for our babies. End of.
Before Little A was even a tinkle in his Daddy’s eye, I always presumed I would breast feed my baby. Sure why wouldn’t I, it’s the most natural thing in the world. My mother did it, so many of her friends did it, it’s just how you feed a baby isn’t it? In the run up to Little A’s arrival I prepared myself fully, read everything I could get my hands on, spoke to midwives, attended classes, asked my friends for real life advice. I was as prepared as I thought I could be, in fact I had prepared for this more than I did my leaving cert, the second time! I didn’t think it would be easy, but I certainly didn’t expect what happened next.
I was nearly two weeks overdue by the time my contractions started. They started slowly, but ferocity that was unimaginable. Nearly a full day had passed labouring at home when I thought it was time to head to the hospital, this is it surely, baby is on its’ way. But no up to Unit 3 I went, and proceeded to make it through the next few hours without actually starting active labour. It was the early hours of the morning before I was admitted to the delivery ward but even then I was barely progressing. There was talk of oxytocin to speed things up, at this stage, while my birth plan had originally wanted to be drug free, I was too wrecked, I needed the help of the epidural if I was going to have enough energy left to make it through labour. But the epidural was administered and baby started showing signs of distress. This labour had gone on long enough for this little baba, it was time to get the baby out. Off to theatre we went.
Due to the exhaustion of the nearly two days of labour, the entire operation felt like an out of body experience. I couldn’t believe it when I heard the powerful little lungs of Little A, he was finally here, safe and sound.
I couldn’t fault the care I received. Both of us were doing well, the little man with his Daddy as I spent a few hours in recovery, drugged up to the eyeballs!
Feeding that day went OK. Due to the section I couldn’t get out of bed so I needed the help of a midwife to help me feed him. The following days, feeding wise were a struggle. He was, and still is, a very hungry baby and I was exhausted. A busy ward meant I got zero shut up for the entire time I was there. Zero shut eye for five days is testing enough, zero sleep for five days after a two day labour followed by a section made me understand why they use sleep deprivation as torture. I was elated to be a mum, but as feeding came around again there were sobs from both of us. The pain was excruciating, despite nipple shields bleeding ensued. And a lot of it. I spoke to various lactation consultants, his latch was perfect, but my supply was low. I tried pumping to help my nipples heal. But I was still bleeding. My baby was screaming, screaming because he was hungry. I was told to keep trying, but when he looked like a tiny vampire, because it seemed I was feeding him blood rather than breast milk I decided enough was enough. I needed to look after my darling boy and he needed to be fed, so for that feed he had a bottle. We both slept for an hour.
We leave the hospital and entered the safe cocoon of our home, but the shame of feeding my baby a bottle still hung over me. It was a battle I was having with myself, that was fueled by the comments of healthcare workers, strangers and even relatives that should know better. When finally, after trying for as long as I could, I decided to put my families health and well being first, in order to have a happy, well cared for baby, he needed a happy, well cared for Mummy not one who cried with pain as feeding time rolled around again. One who wasn’t physically able to feed her son. A Mummy who’s mental health was deteriorating as a result of busy body midwives force fed her their opinions on her, while making her feel like a failure. Like labour, I had given it my best shot, but it wasn’t working out for either of us so I needed to make the decision for us, to move to full time bottle feeding.
Little A thrived, he was and still is so content. I did not miss the bond that breast feeding supposedly brings, if anything my breast feeding experience was preventing my bonding. I found I bonded better with him that we no longer had that barrier, and I got to share that bond with his dad, something he may have missed out on, had I been able to feed him myself.
In the days and months that passed, the question would always be raised, by both men and women ‘How are you feeding your baby?’. To which I always responded with the same answer, ‘What? Well it’s not filet steak if that’s what you’re asking!’ And I moved on. Sarky, perhaps, but it is none of their business what happens with my boobs. All they need to know is my baby is happy and healthy and so is his Mum.
Do I have any regrets? Only that I wish I hadn’t carried the guilt regarding my decision with me for so long, as I know I was doing ‘what’s best for baby’. I’m not anti breastfeeding, I will certainly give it my best shot next time around. Maybe without the same birth experience, my body won’t be as wrecked and we’ll be able to continue breastfeeding for longer. But in the meantime I add my voice to Adele’s, we shouldn’t make mother’s feel bad for not breastfeeding, we need to support eachother, it’s not a competition, we don’t know the circumstances, these mothers are doing the best for their babies, surely that’s all that matters?