Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Unnaturally natural

My daughter is playing her favourite game again today - fusspot feeding. An apathetic snack here, a lazy sip there, a few half-hearted gulps sandwiched in between touching her fingertips together, tugging the zipper on my jacket and staring in awe at the shadows on the wall. 

Trying to get the baby to attach on days like this is akin to trying to wrestle a pterodactyl into a ball gown. Wriggle, stretch, scratch, chat, raspberry, kick, arch, stretch, stiffen, hit, giggle, thwack. 

During these intensely loveable but frustrating feeding 'experiences' I close my eyes, hold my breath and remember just how far my daughter and I have actually progressed with this up-and-down milk caper.

Five and a half months ago I found myself in hospital with a brand new squishy faced baby, two sore mama breasts and an expectation that somehow the baby and the breasts would have a chat with one another and get things sorted. 

Things started with a false positive. As per the pregnancy books and the educational video with appalling music that we had suffered through during our childbirth education classes, the baby latched on immediately after birth and contentedly drank away until she fell asleep. Aww, lovely.

Very. False. Positive. Jump forward eighteen hours or so to the maternity ward. Middle of the night, wilting mummy, flummoxed midwives, hysterical little baby obstinately refusing to open her mouth and latch. 

The midwives came armed with suggestions and I diligently tried them all. There was walking and shhhing and swaying, combined with nipple shields and finger sucking and syringes. We tried feeding standing up and we tried feeding lying down, using the cradle hold and the football hold and even pleading with the baby: please, baby, please have a drink before mummy has a meltdown. 

Zip, zilch, nada. The baby did not want to breastfeed - but the mummy certainly did. My well entrenched stubborn streak combined with my new found mama streak to press on and keep trying to make it work.

And so it was that for the first three hazy postpartum days, I spent hour after excruciating hour propped up in my hospital bed, hand-expressing colostrum and early milk to give to the baby with a syringe. By the time I managed to fill a syringe and give it to her, she would be red-faced and thirsty again and wailing for more. The supply and demand system was entirely out of whack, and I was starting to feel much the same way. 

My milk arrived in earnest. We tried different sized nipple shields. We got bigger syringes. We bought an electric breast pump. We were discharged from hospital and took the baby home. We put in a hundred and twenty seven percent effort. But the baby still wouldn't eat, and was getting smaller and sleepier: we were starting to have a real problem on our hands. 

The health nurses were becoming concerned, and the threat of formula was looming ever larger. (For the record, I don't have any issue with bottle-feeding, every Mum has the right to choose what works for them, I just really wanted to make breastfeeding work for me.) After a two-day battle of the wills, where we discovered my daughter had inherited my stubborn streak, we finally got her to accept a bottle and started giving her expressed milk 'comp' feeds to supplement the breastfeeding efforts.

As her weight and energy levels finally started to climb, I started to go downhill. The toxic combination of utter exhaustion, frustration, hormones, visitors and perceived helplessness was starting to radically undermine my resolve. 

I was daydreaming about frolicking in tins of formula, or hiding under my bed with a hot chocolate and a blanket, or holidaying in Fiji while my husband stayed home and just 'somehow made it work.' I needed help, or I was going to graffiti the writing on the damn wall myself. 

Our salvation came just before breaking point, in the form of two gobsmackingly amazing midwives. These two brilliantly patient, and patiently brilliant, women sat with me while I wrestled the baby, cried in to cups of tea and even threw a couple of giant wobbly tantrums.

They gently pointed out what wasn't working and firmly pointed out what I needed to change. They stepped back and observed and they stepped in and positioned my arms and my baby as needed. They threw out my nipple shields and found me a proper breastfeeding pillow. Most importantly, they gave me heart when I had none left.

Over the course of a teary, soul-crunching week my resolve started to firm back up and my baby started to latch: and just like that, one random Thursday morning in the middle of a discussion about chamomile tea, the baby and I were breastfeeding. Just. Like. That.

Five and a half months later we are still breastfeeding. We feed sitting on the couch, lying down, standing up, at the cafe and in the park. We have fed with a flu, and survived a course of antibiotics, and discovered that drinking orange juice and breastfeeding the baby are not compatible activities in our household.

I have learned that the baby will tug my hair while she eats, pull my shirt open in public just because she can, nuzzle in when she is tired and bite down when she is teething.
I can honestly say that breastfeeding is the most unnatural natural thing I have ever done, but that I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

And I have come to accept that even when the baby is being fusspot like she is right now, and she would rather watch the sunlight hit the floorboards or chew her own foot than drink, it doesn't matter: it's just part of breastfeeding, and I'm okay with that.

Are you a breastfeeding mum? Have you faced feeding challenges? I would love to hear your stories.

M x 

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  1. Most people won't tell you ahead of time, but yes, breastfeeding is hard. And it is a commitment. It is hard to feel like a cow and a chew toy and all the weight of responsibility for feeding your child and the frustration that your body is still not your own. It's hard to accommodate the ever-changing feeding schedule or drag your pump to work to find a few minutes to relieve the pressure. But, when I think back to those moments in the middle of the night when I breastfed my son and rocked him in the dark and knew that he needed me in a very special way - that is what I am grateful for. And I am so glad I stuck with it for the first year of his life. Keep up the good work!

  2. I agree, breastfeeding at times is a big battle. Now that my guys are not babies anymore, there are moments that I miss those wonderfully bonding times.

    1. Breastfeeding can be so frustrating at times, but I know I'll miss it one day - they grow impossibly quickly, don't they?!