For as long as I have wanted a baby I have wanted to breastfeed. To me it felt the natural thing to do. My boobs are just there so so is the milk. No sterilizing, warming or bottle washing to be done. Food on tap – the perfect cheap and lazy option!
Before I say any more, I am not one of the breastfeeding brigade. Nor do I have anything at all against formula. I just wanted to breastfeed. It was my personal preference and something I wanted to do for my baby.
When I was pregnant I asked my midwife to book me into the breastfeeding workshop that they run but there were no spaces left for me to attend. No big deal I thought. Breastfeeding is totally natural right? There can’t be much to it. Offer boob to baby, baby takes boob. Bingo.
Boo was born and within 20 minutes was having her first feed, Exhausted but buzzing from her birth and being ordered into the bath by the midwife as well as fielding calls of congratulations (note for anyone having a home birth – unplug the phone!) I have to admit to being too spaced out to pay much attention. I do remember exactly how it felt though.
We were left to our own devices and for two long, gruelling weeks I continued to breastfeed.
Boo was never happy. She was either feeding, sleeping or screaming. During those weeks I was writing down every single feed, nappy change and sleep. Looking at it now it crushes me. Why didn’t I speak up at the time? Why did the husband not stand up for me when I tried to explain to the midwife? We were both first time parents, I suppose neither of us knew what was ‘normal’.
Boo would feed for over four hours at a time most feeds. Then she would usually sleep for an hour before waking to feed all over again. I literally didn’t sleep for 8 days until the husband took her out for three hours so I could rest.
I thought it was normal. I tried to explain to the midwife and the health visitor but as hard as I tried I couldn’t find the words because I was so exhausted and didn’t understand myself.
Boo was always hungry. I still can’t look at photos of her from those first weeks, she looks so tiny and hungry and upset. At the time I didn’t understand. I didn’t know her to know what she wanted. I didn’t know anything about breastfeeding. The midwife confirmed that our latch was fine, that if I could squeeze a drop of milk out by hand Boo was getting fed. But in my gut I knew she was hungry. She was losing weight but steadily. Not enough in one go for the midwife to step in, in spite of how worried I was. I think I was seen as a neurotic first time mum.
After two weeks of living hell; No sleep, a screaming, upset, angry and hungry baby, painful breasts and at the end of my tether I told the husband I thought we should offer her a bottle. Something wasn’t working and I couldn’t bare the emotional torture of seeing Boo so distressed for any longer.
Feeling like a complete failure, I cradled and fed Boo for the last time while the husband went to buy all the bottle feeding equipment and formula that we needed. She fed for nearly two hours (no, I don’t know what he was doing out for so long either!) while I wept and wept.
The husband got home, bottles were made up and I had to leave the room and wait upstairs while Boo fed. I couldn’t bare to watch her. I hated the thought that she didn’t need me for anything any more. Anyone could feed her now. What could I offer her that no one else could?
Four days later the health visitor came round to check up on Boos weight. At that point I had only given her 3 bottles. I made the husband do the rest. I hated it. But Boo was thriving. She was taking the milk really well and I could see she was gaining weight. She was like a different baby – more settled, sleeping better and generally happier.
The health visitor confirmed that her weight gain was really good and we no longer needed to worry. Then she asked how my breasts felt having ‘gone cold turkey’ and not weaned her onto the bottle to let my supply decrease. They felt fine. Suddenly I realised that surely I should be painfully engorged by now? She told me to go and see the Dr.
The Dr confirmed that there was a problem. Whether it was with Boos suckle or my production he couldn’t say. Because in his words ‘there was no point trying to solve things as Boo was taking her bottles’ it went no further.
Boo is now 24 weeks old. For the last 22 weeks she has been a happy, thriving formula fed baby.
I still pine for the days when I could feed Boo. I miss the way she would cling to me, staring up into my eyes and tickling me under the arm. It was our special time together and because no one listened to me it had to end.
After all this time I still feel guilty. I still hurt when I see the endless ‘breast is best’ slogans everywhere. I still don’t enjoy bottle feeding her. More than anything, I hate watching anyone who isn’t me or her daddy feeding her.
As sad and as guilty as my failure to breastfeed makes me feel, I am happy that we found a way that works for Boo. She is happy and healthy and I know that is what matters.
I’m sure those problems contributed in a big way to my PND. I’m sure I’m always going to feel some degree of guilt. I have no idea whether I am going to be able to breastfeed in the future, or whether I will want to.
I just wish I had been confident enough to stand up for myself when I needed to.