A little warning, but not an apology, before you read on, be aware there may be some course language in this post...this journey has been a difficult one, and its helpful to be raw with my reflections. It's also more for me to work through some of the feelings I have, but if someone stumbles across this and is struggling with breastfeeding or thinking about exclusively expressing I hope it encourages or helps in some way. Whoever coined the phase "Don't cry over spilt milk" obviously never spilled EBM
Breastfeeding is tough, and I was not prepared at just how difficult it may be. I also don't think I was told how difficult it may be. Maybe I was, but I didn't hear it. I was probably a bit naive. You know you are at the anti natal classes and the lady from the breastfeeding association is there talking about how breastfeeding is best and natural and free and blah, blah, blah. And then your baby actually arrives and you are recovering from surgery and you've been awake for so many hours your eyes feel like they are going to fall out of your head. Your baby starts crying and you can't get out of bed to get her to give feeding a go and the nurse takes an hour and half to come to your room...after the fact the baby has stopped crying and settled and now the mid wife wants to wake the baby and give breastfeeding a go...for the first or second time EVER at close to midnight?? WHAT?? and shes telling you to relax while pulling your boob to go into the babies mouth. Yeah right! Lets just say Eve didn't shimmy down my body onto my breast and start suckling like some people lead you (me?) to believe.
I was in hospital for 4 nights recovering from a c section and unfortunately being in a big city hospital there were lots of different staff that were on and I think in that whole time I saw one mid wife twice. I was getting lots of different advice on technique, my boobs were being pulled and manipulated by different people trying to get Eve to latch on...it was horrible. I think I got in my head early on that if I needed to express I would.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and we are home in our town and being visited by the community midwives, who were lovely but I seriously though, if someone told me one more time to let Eve "empty the breast" I was going to f@#king punch someone. She wasn't emptying the breast. She would be at the breast for an hour plus and then still polish off 90mls in the bottle! And then the nurse was saying, perhaps I needed to just put her on the breast and not give her a top up so she learned she needed to get the milk from my breast. In the end Eve wasn't putting one weight and we had to go to the pediatrician. I was stressed...which didn't help the cause either.
Last year on Mothers day we were caught out at friends for lunch and I didn't have extra milk for Eve, so I fed her at the breast and decided I would give a week of just breastfeeding a go, no bottle top ups. Well that started the longest 3 days of my life. A week in a newborns life seems like an eternity. Eve was unsettled and unhappy...basically she was hungry and when I looked back at the feeding notes I had made, I had only done maybe 2 "just breastfeeds" on each day. But because she was at the breast so long, the feeds were mentally and physically draining. My mental health was going down hill. Eve was about 5 weeks old, so I was deep in the newborn "I'm so dang tired" haze. The next day I said to Tim "I'm just going to express today and just bottle feed Eve, I'm not going to offer her the breast". She was so happy and settled...and FULL! It was like a weight had lifted off my chest and back. I kept being told, breast is best and I guess I didn't fully 100% know what I wanted. Did I want to breastfeed at all costs? In the end the answer to that question was no. But maybe I still wanted Eve to receive breast milk. I remember being on a Skpye call with Tim's entire family and being asked how everything was going and just bursting into tears because I felt so shit. I was so exhausted and worried.
A couple of times throughout this journey I have thought back to a few years ago when we still lived in Adelaide. We met up with some friends who were visiting from out of town and their little guy was maybe 4 months old. She pulled out a bottle to feed him and I asked whether she was breastfeeding him, to which she replied, Breastfeeding is really hard. Looking back I almost feel ashamed for asking that. One, it was probably none of my business to ask and second who gives a shit if she is or she isn't. Her baby is chubby, thriving and well AND HAPPY. I'm pleased for this friend who wanted to breastfeed and has since had her second child and was able to breastfeed "successfully".
I feel pissed off that it seems to be so easy for other woman...and that it was so hard for me. My first child died. My milk came in about a week after Isaac was born (even after having medication to stop it) and it was agony. Just another reminder that my son had died and we were left alone. Why did this next start to our Rainbow chapter have to be so difficult. I guess I was also pissed off that people didn't talk more about how hard it was. That just because it's natural, it won't necessarily come naturally to you and your baby. Your baby may have a tongue tie, jaundiced, may be sick to begin with and just need a bit more encouragement. I guess as I type this and as I think about it, it was never going to be easy. The anxiety around bringing Eve home, being anxious every moment that she would die too, like Isaac, even though she was perfectly healthy. Being sleep deprived, which all new parents are, I couldn't think straight. My expectations of what I thought would happen didn't fit with what actually happened. I couldn't relax and I didn't know how much she was getting. Which played on my mind a lot.
Soon after Mothers Day, when Eve was 5 weeks old I decided I would exclusively express. My supply was fantastic and it felt like the right thing to do. I don't think I realised what a task I was undertaking. Looking back I'm not sure how I did it. It meant we were bound to the house a bit and outings revolved around feeding Eve and then expressing (or expressing in the car) and then going out. I was ALWAYS paranoid there wasn't going to be enough milk for Eve. Which I didn't need to be. I ended up donating 9 litres to a woman in Adelaide through a "Human milk for Human babies" site. I think Tim and I would talk about 6 months being a goal, if I could physically and mentally handle it. 6 months came and it slowly, slowly got easier. I could skip a session here and there and slowly skip some all together. If I'm completely honest I probably expressed for so long because I was over compensating for loosing Isaac. I couldn't feed him, ever...or maybe it's just what Mum's do? I don't know?
I am F%$KING proud of myself that I expressed for just over 13 months. This Tuesday just gone I expressed for the last time (For Eve anyway). The days leading up to it I was feeling a sense of guilt and regret, but mostly relief. I thought I may have expressed one more time after that. But I wasn't uncomfortable and so I just let it go. I have to catch myself and not think about next time round. Because the thought of having to exclusively express again makes me feel a little ill. But we will cross that bridge if and when we get to it.
It's bizarre and nice to have my body back. To not be spending so much time expressing...AND washing the bloody pumps!!! haha Here's to all the ladies who have struggled with breastfeeding and then exclusively expressed. You are bloody legends, don't you ever forget it!!