This was the 2nd set of ramblings I wrote when Lily was about 5 or 6 weeks old. Since then it’s been another topic that’s haunted me but I’ll save that for another post!
2 – Breast is Best
Hi, my name is Karen, and I bottle feed my baby. For this, I get judged, like I’m a bad parent or something. And it hurts. All I want is best for my little one, but I’m constantly reminded that maybe I’m denying my baby the best future, just because I feed her using a 130ml plastic container. Even worse, is the fact I feel I have to defend myself.
I don’t tell them about those long lonely hours sitting in the breast pump room in the hospital. My nipples red raw, being repeatedly sucked in and out of a plastic tube, with not even the merest drop of liquid coming to the surface. The posters around me showing happy, smiley women, with perfect healthy babies latched to the end of their nipples. Their expressed bottles glowing with golden syrup, or creamery a dairy farmer would be proud of, besides long lists of why ‘breast is best’. The repeated plucking and hissing sound of those electric pumps is still with me right now, as is the sight of my dried red nipple being pulled in and out. Sitting in that hospital room in the early hours, alone, just a day after a hemmorage and Caesarian, it really wasn’t good for those ‘baby blues’ kicking in.
I already felt like a failure from not being able to keep her in to term. Not being able to feed her either just made things worse.
Saying that, I still have a strong positive memory, that sometimes makes me feel better and sometimes worse, depending on my level of emotion! That first moment they managed to get Lily to latch on. Having her sucking away on my nipple just hours after she was born, I can still see her little face now. It made me feel complete, like That’s who I was meant to be. But she wouldn’t latch properly and soon grew tired. She was too early they said. It’ll come, they said. The more time went past, the more tired she grew, so they got me to attempt expressing. Friendly ‘special’ nurses and midwives came and went. It’ll come, they said. Just keep trying, they said. Every 3 hours was just another attempt leading to more failure. They said she was getting something from it. I knew she wasn’t. Being so small, they needed to get something into her, so a day later, she was cup fed just a few mils of formula by the nurse. She reminded me of my kitten, lapping from the plastic rim. She was hungry. I couldn’t help. It would come, they said. Persevere, they said.
So every 3 hours began the same routine of trying to breast feed and failing, then trying to express but failing. Then pressing the hospital call bell to get the nurse to come. Lily was small and tired, so nothing would wake her: we’d spend another half hour trying to get her to wake up to feed. Every midwife had their own suggestions – strip her, skin to skin, tickle her feet, change position. They’d all fail, so the nurse would have to cup feed her a slowly increasing amount of formula. Before we knew it, the whole process would start again. I kept trying.
Then came the mastitis. Oh the pain, the heat, the pain. Throw that in to the already pit of failure in my head. 5 days old and I’ve already failed as a mum. But it’ll come, they said.
Even when I got home, my expressing bottles would be swapped for syringes, as the nurses realised the 150ml was never going to be reached. The syringes allowed me to hold 1ml. I’d usually make it to around 0.1ml before the drops stopped coming. I felt like a bad parent, like I wasn’t good enough as a mother, doing what I should be doing. Each health visitor and midwife would give their 2 pence, and again I had to explain I’d tried every trick under the sun, from nurses and midwives with hundreds of years experience between them. Have you tried this, they’d say. Yes, I’d say. With the 3 hourly feed being necessary for my tiny baby, and the feeding-burping-settling process taking over an hour each time, adding expressing 0.1ml to the timing, my days just became disappointing and stressful of a 24hour repeated feeding process. The midwives suggested spacing out the expressing attempts to stop me getting so raw, sore and down about it. I burst into tears on many occasions, feeling worthless as a new mother.
I couldn’t even feed my baby. Breast is best, remember.
So when people ask me if I’m breast feeding, giving me that split second of awkward silence when I’ve a bottle in hand, or unable to give them the answers they want to hear, it’s hard. I shouldn’t have to justify myself. And I can’t go through all of the above, every time. So I just take the judging as it comes. Reading online forums, I find there’s many women in similar positions. It gets me down when people judge you for not being the best mum you can be. My baby is steadily putting on weight, climbing the preterm growth chart. Her skin is healthy and she eats well. The health visitors can’t believe how strong she is, how well she looks. And really that’s what should be all that matters.