OK, so this one is from the heart.
Before you brace yourself to defend or challenge what I've shared here, please take a breathe. Then, read on. Read about my experience of breastfeeding and understand that that's all this is; my experience. Please be kind with me.
I have no motive in sharing this. None at all. I'm not advocating for or against bottle or breast . I just need to share. I need to share because my breastfeeding journey was rough. Really rough. I'm trying to process what happened and what that meant for Dope and me and our relationship with each other. Problem is, I'm stuck. I'm going over and over the same thoughts and it's gnawing away at me. So I'm writing it out. I'm sharing it with you.
I exclusively breastfed Dopey until she was 13 months old. But I don't think I should have done.
For me, I didn't decide to breastfeed. It was a given. Everyone knows that 'breast is best' and I don't mean that flippantly. The nutritional benefits are huge, it boosts the immune system and is sterile, it's free and requires no faffing around with bottles. Win, win, win.
Then there are the purported emotional benefits of breastfeeding. That it helps mums and babies to bond and I so looked forward to this. I couldn't wait to nurse Dope, knowing I was the only one who ever would or could. Turns out it was this fact that undid me. Almost undid us.
I found breastfeeding incredibly difficult. It was painful, stressful and relentless. Our feeding schedule was 40 minutes on, 40 minutes off. Horrendous. I had support worker after support worker come in to help me. They watched her feed and all said we were doing 'really well'. The most advice I was given was to try to stretch her top lip up and over the nipple more. I couldn't do that.
I cried in agony through every feed for the first 4 months. Every. Single. Feed. Without exception. As soon as the feed stopped, so did the pain. I now realise that what I experienced wasn't the 'let down' pain experienced by most. Cold cabbage leaves would do nothing. Dope wasn't happy when feeding either. She would bob on and off, arch her back, gag, splutter and choke. She never seemed sated and was continuously rooting.
The GP, health visitor and community nurse shared my concerns when they saw how distressed Dope would get. They each sent me to A&E to get her checked over after seeing her. She was admitted to hospital and eventually referred to a consultant. He felt it was silent reflux and she was medicated. He told me to cut out dairy in case it was a dairy intolerance causing all of this. Neither the medication nor dairy free diet made any difference, but we persevered.
(I'd like to point out that this meant me battling through all of this without chocolate. I know, right??? On top of all of the pain I was denied the staple food group of a new mum).
I desperately wanted to give her one bottle of formula a night. Actually, I wanted her dad to give her the formula so that I could sleep and give my nipples a break. I was sore and exhausted and so was she.
But I knew that formula was 'bad'. It had been drummed into me that only a nipple and breast milk should go in Dope's mouth. In my sleep deprived, brain addled state this really stuck.
I felt that I was doing everything wrong. Dope wasn't sleeping, growing or enjoying life very much. Buda and I were ratty with each other and on the brink of collapse. The only thing I was doing 'right' for this kid was the breastmilk. I couldn't decide to withhold that. It would mean I had totally bummed on this motherhood gig.
So I needed someone else to tell me it was OK, it wouldn't be too bad to introduce one bottle feed a day. But nobody did. The breastfeeding support service kept insisting that Dope was getting all that she needed from me and that there was no reason to expose her to the risks associated with bottle feeding. Even when I sat in tears with a worker telling her that I was so exhausted that I kept falling asleep on Dope while feeding her. I told her I needed one feed 'off'. That I was scared that if I kept on with this schedule that I would fall asleep on Dope and smother her, kill her. The worker didn't budge. She told me to keep on breastfeeding. That things would get easier.
They didn't. Each time Dopey stirred I would panic. Really, seriously panic. My heart would race, my palms would sweat and I would start to cry. I would then battle to get her latched on and cry some more. My legs would twitch with the pain of feeding. I would clutch Buda's hand to get through it. Then she would bob off to scream, root again and we would go through it all over again. And again, and again and again.
I was broken. So very, very broken. I needed a rest. I needed someone else to do just one feed. To let me sleep for more than one hour.
But I didn't get this and mine and Dope's relationship suffered immeasurably. I was scared of her. I didn't hold her because whenever I went anywhere near her she would root and I couldn't bear the thought of an extra feed. When I fed her I couldn't wait for it to end and as soon as it did I would thrust her upon whoever was nearest to me.
My fear of smothering her during a feed has morphed into a fear of her dying from anything and everything. I'm so convinced that she will die very soon that my life with her feels bitter sweet. I love her so much that I ache. I spend hours just watching her, soaking her all in. When I'm watching her I hear a voice telling me to make the most of this because it will end. I hate buying her clothes and gifts and get angry when other people do. Not because I don't want her clothed or treated, but because all I can think of is how much it will hurt to clear them out after she has gone. It's horrendous.
When Dope was around 11 months old we noticed she had a thick piece of skin joining her top gum to her lip. She had a lip tie. This would have been why she couldn't get her top lip up and over to latch on properly. She would have been unable to create a seal around the nipple resulting in air being gulped in. The reflux and wind were caused or exacerbated by this. She would have been unable to draw down more than foremilk. This explained her slow weight gain despite having an insatiable appetite.
When I read all of this I cried. I cried because my difficulties were real. What's more, had the lip tie been identified sooner we could have dealt with it. I cried for the lost months in our relationship. I could have expressed and bottle fed and she would have grown and I would have rested and we would have bonded. I could have cuddled her. I cried in frustration that nobody, not a single health professional or breastfeeding support worker ever once considered this or checked in Dope's mouth. I cried in anger at myself for not finding out about it sooner. I cried for the discomfort and pain I'd put Dope through. For the medicine I had put in her unnecessarily. I cried because I'd known it was real and been left feeling like it was just in my mind. I just cried and cried and cried for 2 days.
And now she is fully weaned. I have a more than a little sadness that Dope and I didn't get what I'd hoped from breastfeeding. I'm sad that she weaned so much earlier than I'd expected her too. I'm sad that I can't give you any happy ending to this post. The only thing I'm glad about is that I can now keep my nipples tucked safely away in my bra.
Till next time,
PS - Another gripe I have with breastfeeding is that it did not shed my babyweight quickly or at all. This breastfeeding fact was brandished around all over the place yet somehow passed me by. 17 months on from Dope's birth I'm regularly asked if baby number two is on the way. No, it's not. I just never lost the baby bump shape from the first one. That said, this bump may be more of a biscuit bump. I eat a lot of them.