I don’t often get in here and write a personal blog. Well, at least they are few and far between. But I like the occasional one purely because I get to speak from the heart on a topic that has touched me. This week is World Breastfeeding Week. Breastfeeding is something that should be celebrated but to some women, like myself, it can hold a sense of guilt, remorse or sadness.
See I struggled to breast feed.
And by struggle I mean not just in the physical but in the mental sense…….badly.
Being a health care professional I promoted breast as best. Daily.
Pre-kids I used to look at those mums who frequented the pharmacy to see the health nurse in despair. Asking for the text book on latching, how they can produce more breast milk, explanations as to why their bubs hasn't gained the required 250 grams or worse lost weight. Stressed, anxious and tired. Many have melted down only to be cradled by a very gentle health nurse who has seen it all before.
I used to think gosh….it’s so natural what’s the big deal. And swore I would never bottle feed my children. I didn’t even have a bottle when I went in to have Mr O. Adamant I was going to be this natural mother whose boobs would just lactate till the cows came home…..literally. I totally was going to grasp that S#!T.
But sadly that was not the case.
Mr O was born and from that moment it was a struggle.
Those beautiful nights talking to my unborn child telling him I was going to do 'everything right' for him, keep him safe, give him the best nutrition, all faded when he didn’t want to latch. In fact, Mr O never wanted to wake for a feed. He was a wee 2.5 kg. And I was told to breast feed every 3 hours to make sure he gained weight. So starts the viscous cycle.
Wake bubs, attempt a latch, a few goods sucks, then he'd fall asleep, stimulate bubs under the chin to wake him, continue this process for 20 minutes, change to the other side, go through the same process, top up with bottle feed, put bubs back to sleep, sit on the expressing machine for 20 minutes each boob, wash apparatus, sleep for 20 minutes, wake…..wake bubs, attempt a latch, a few good sucks……
I struggled. Sleep deprived, anxious and concerned for Mr O. It was made worse that on the day we discharge we were called back because he had an underlying infection. This wee poppet was then popped into Neonatal care hooked onto antibiotics for the next 48 hours til his neutrophils showed a rise. Antibiotics in my childs first week! I felt like I had failed even more.
Yet the viscous cycle continued. Wake, wake bubs, attempt a latch……..and I fell further into anxiety.
This cycle continued for 3 months. With many hallucinations from lack of sleep. And all I wanted to hear was that it was ok to put my baby on a bottle. But my stubborn and insistent self thought my milk would miraculously appear.
Lactation nurse, health nurse, lactation nurse….one after the other. I’d be down there every week weighing Mr O. Has he gained the required amount, was he underweight and would we need to feed him more.
I was expressing that much, at one stage I even thought my expressing machine was talking to me. Saying ‘Bazoooka’ every time it pumped. Mind you that rhythm kept me sane….slightly. It was the only thing familiar to me at one time.
The times I produced more milk, was when I let me hair down. I’d have a glass of wine only to pump like a crazy Mother afterwards to remove the contaminated milk before I fed Mr O. I then would stare at is as I poured the liquid gold down the drain. Funny how you produce more milk when you have relaxed a little.
At 3 months, I mentally couldn’t go on. I did what I had always thought I’d never do. I continued with formula, put my very sore, tired and unproductive boobs back in their beige coloured feeding bra and said goodbye to breast feeding in the physical…..but I hadn’t fully in the mind.
I’d stare at my mummy group friends as they all fed easily. Their bubs coming off their boobs and the shower spray of milk that would continue to squirt was so disheartening. The good thing was is they all knew my battle, and were always supportive of me. There was one mum who instantly put her bubs on formula. I admired her. I could make that choice too without this guilt sitting in the back of my mind, but I couldn't just 'own it' like bosses say nowadays.
The guilt carried on till well and truly past having my second child Mr G. Although this time I was wiser. I knew I couldn’t repeat the same course. This time I didn’t have the time, I had a 2 year older toddler. And he didn’t particularly like mummy sitting with the ‘Bazooka’ machine.
So Mr G was only given 6 weeks of my tiny 5ml expressed milk.
I bet you’re wondering how I got over it?
Well breastfeeding definitely set me on a path of self discovery. A path that I obviously needed to take to grow into a fuller version of myself.
See prior to having kids, I found things quite easy. I studied, I did well. I got a job, I exceeded. I worked out, I looked ok. So I had never been challenged with anything really, well besides the bullying in primary school and studying Pharmacy. But nothing that I couldn’t conquer with a little hard work.
Kids threw me a curve ball, and breast feeding compounded that.
Years later I had my breasts examined. Because the strange thing is, they have never looked the same as anyone elses. They say one is always bigger than the other but were were talking not only a huge size difference but they both looked different. I mean one pointed south.
When asked by the specialist ‘How did you go breastfeeding?’. I stared at him. What’s he on about.
‘I bet you struggled right’
I didn’t answer but instead felt a little light headed.
‘You have what is known a tuberous deformed breasts’ and proceeded ‘the likelihood of you breastfeeding with breasts like this is rare’.
The world stopped. Hubby knew by the look on my face I needed a sec to digest the information. I sat down.
‘You mean to tell me, the amount of people who have touched, pulled yanked these breasts in my attempt to breastfeed and none of them could tell me that breastfeeding would be difficult for me’.
See when my breast were engorged with the little amount of milk they produced they looked normal, so no one was to know any different.
So have you ever heard of tuberous breasts before?
To keep it simple it’s a congenital abnormality of the breasts. During puberty breast development is prevented and the breasts fail to develop normally and fully.
Now I bet your thinking poor hubby. I thought so to when I found out how gypped he was.
The likelihood of breastfeeding is severely reduced. Because the breasts are underdeveloped they have insufficient breast tissue ‘milk producing’ cells resulting in minimal or no milk supply.
As sad as it sounds almost 3 years of guilt lifted from my shoulders and I felt a sense of relief that I had no other choice. If only I had known this, it would have been so much easier. I would have saved so much energy and time not stressing about how I had failed my kids. Why didn't the lactation nurses know this?
But this is my story. And there are many women out there who suffer the same or who don’t have tuberous breasts yet still can't feed. Slowly punishing themselves inside with guilt.
As mums we all do it, not just for breast feeding. For not spending enough time with the kids, for working, for loosing our cool.
It took me years of self development and reflection to now happily say I parent my way.
And that my response to the lack of control I had in the situation despite it really being out of my control taught me I just had to learn how to let go.
Would I have been able to do it without finding out my congenital abnormality. I’m not sure. But anxiety was evident for other reasons also and I believe I still would have taken a similar path even if I could breast feed.
As part of National Breaksfeeding Week, I not only want to stress that breast is best……..if you can, but if you can’t…that’s just as fine too. I can’t remember the last time the question of whether or not my birth was natural or if I breast fed was asked.
See it all comes out in the wash at the end of the day. Guilt only strips us of seeing the joy in our daily lives.
I now thank my difficult breastfeeding journey because it has helped me form into the person I am today. Resilient, proud and a huge supporter of any mum who cannot or chooses not to breastfeed just as much as those who can.
Love you lots mums!