Four months of 'breastfeeding madness'
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It begins in the hospital. The minute you are in recovery after giving birth, they try to latch baby on.
If this doesn't work right away, they start prodding you, squeezing you and syringing colostrum out of you.
Every three hours a midwife comes and repeats the process, but you are so tired and exhausted, you don't care about how weird or humiliating or degrading it is to have someone do this to you.
If this doesn't work and your milk doesn't come in soon enough, they hook you up to giant pumps which make such a racket you really will imagine you are in a milking shed.
When that fails to have the desired impact, you start to ask about formula.
Every six or seven hours the midwives change shifts, and you get a new one, sometimes they are friendly, sometimes they look stressed. You must explain your story to them every single time. I haven't got my milk yet. Baby won't latch. I have inverted nipples. There is nothing to latch on to. They've tried that, and that, and that, and now we are using a shield. Please could I give her some formula, because she won't stop crying.
At first they ignore you, pretend they haven't heard you, but if you persist long enough, or raise your voice loud enough, because you think it's only fair that your baby should be fed somehow, then they will lecture you about how great breast milk is and that you must keep trying.
If you are still kicking up a fuss after all this, despite how tired, how sore and how emotional you are (because just hours ago you gave birth to a baby after 25 hours of labour, and you haven't slept in close to 40 hours and you have no idea who this infant is in your arms), but you still can't feed the baby, then they will bring you pamphlets on the ill effects of formula, and then a form for you to sign off your consent for every single formula feed.
Then they will bring you a tiny cup, and put a little bit of formula into it. You will ask, as a new midwife you haven't yet been introduced to attacks your breasts with cold hands and a syringe, "why can't I feed her with a bottle?". They will respond without smiles, "we don't want her to get used to feeding from a bottle".
Eventually you are allowed to go home. You still haven't figured this breastfeeding thing out, and you know in your heart that baby will never latch without the shield. But you keep trying.
For two months you live a daily ritual of pumping, bottle feeding, and attempted breast feeding.
For two months, every single formula top up you give her will make you feel incredibly guilty.
Every midwife visit, every Plunket visit, and every doctor visit you must explain why you are bottle feeding, explain why you use a shield, explain why you are using formula, explain why you are in this situation.
Every single time you will feel like a failure as they look at you and ask the exact same questions you have now been asked a hundred times over. "Have you seen a lactation consultant?" "Can I have a look?" "Are you pumping to feed her expressed milk?""Have you tried x, y, z?"
Miraculously, at three months, you succeed! For a full three weeks you manage to feed her a diet of nothing but breastmilk. You are beside yourself with excitement and feel like a good mother for the first time since she was born.
Then at four months, everything changes. Baby starts refusing the breast, you have a graze on your breast where the shield rubs every time she feeds and you are in pain. You start turning to pumping, and bottles, and formula again, and everyone asks why, why, why? As if somehow it's their business.
A Plunket nurse comes to visit, and you try to explain what's been going on, but all they say is, 'when she's hungry enough she'll feed, don't give in and give her a bottle, or that's all she'll want". So you feel rubbish again, and cry again, and wonder where you went so wrong.
Finally, out of nowhere, a nurse asks if she has a tongue tie. You respond that someone mentioned she did in the hospital, but that it was unlikely to be a problem. But this nurse insists that you get a second opinion.
At your wits end, you do. You find out that she does have a tongue tie, that it is definitely a problem, and then you get it cut and everything changes.
But by now, your milk is all but gone. You are feeding her formula for almost every feed.
You really have given all you can give.
But you go to a breastfeeding support group, and get one last burst of motivation. You find a recipe for lactation cookies to try and relactate. You start pumping every two hours again to boost your supply. You take fenugreek tablets to help the milk come back. But this is has to be the last attempt.
If this doesn't work, this really has to be the end.
For a week you flip-flop hourly between definitely stopping, and then trying to relactate again. You can't figure out why you feel so miserable and guilty and sad about it all, when you actually desperately want to stop and feel good about it.
You imagine that everyone is thinking badly of you, and you tell yourself you have to keep trying.
All this, because of the start in the hospital. Because the midwives and media breastfeeding propaganda has well and truly worked on you. Because even though you are in an impossible situation, you still won't give yourself a break.
So you give it one, last, go. If it doesn't work by this Friday, you are going to go and buy a new non-maternity bra.
And you are going to leave the breast feeding journey behind you.
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