I want to give a shout out to all those ladies out there who breastfed their children, including myself since I’m currently in the midst of it. I also want to give a shout out to all those who tried, only to find, that for whatever reason, it did not work out. And while I’m here, I also want to give a shout out to anyone who decided to bottle feed their babe, because after all, fed is best, and in many ways it feels like that would be the smart route.
I thought breastfeeding was an all or nothing thing. I knew it wasn’t easy, and did not work for everyone, and I held myself to no expectations. If it works, I said, I’ll do it, and if not, whatever. I thought there would be a black and white reason why it would work, or not, but what I’ve dug up is a whole lot of shades of grey.
Because even when, as in my case, there is nothing physically preventing breastfeeding from happening, it is still hard. And the word hard doesn’t even touch the sides of how it actually is. Neither does challenging, demanding or gruelling. Because the way it feels… it feels like it’s almost impossible. I knew that the first weeks would be the hardest. I feared this time more than I feared pregnancy or the birth itself – the time when I’m struggling to recover from the physical impacts of birth, and expected to care for a child at the same time. It makes the heartburn and discomfort of third trimester seem like child’s play!
You must feed your baby 10-12 times in a 24 hour period, they said. Uh… except that feeding in the early days can take over an hour… and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like… eating… and sleeping. But if you don’t do this, they said, your milk won’t come in. Which of course leads to anxiety that babe isn’t getting enough, because it does take a few days to come in, and as a first time mum I had no idea whether it had, or not. And yes, they said, you must wake your sleeping baby for feeds, which usually involves making it cry, and then desperately trying to shove in the boob for a force feeding before it nods off back to sleep!
Doesn’t feel so natural now, does it?
During this entire learning process I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, and alongside that, the feeling of isolation is intense. Because this was on me and me alone. I wasn’t feeding a baby, I was merely surviving.
In the early days hubby tried to support me just by being there with me and chatting. And I kicked him out. Because it took all the mental capacity I had to deal with trying to feed, I couldn’t even handle a simple conversation. Fast forward a week or two and I’m tearfully saying I’m lonely and asking why he keeps leaving me alone. Talk about mixed messages!
I got lucky. There seems to be nothing physically stopping me from feeding my boy. Once I really gritted my teeth and really did feed 10 times a day, the dirty nappies started coming and they haven’t stopped. But I also got the right support at the right time. The right nurse was on duty at the hospital when I needed help. And my midwife visited me at exactly the right time and said exactly the right things to reassure me that all my difficulties and doubts were normal, and that I was definitely on track.
But did I talk of quitting a hundred times? Absolutely. I cried every night that I could not possibly do this any longer. That bottle must be best. That being stuck in this prison of two hour feedings and sore boobs and the way this little baby must always be clinging to me would spell the end. How could it be worth it?
Will I threaten to quit a hundred times more? Probably. A friend told me that just when you start to get the hang of it, things change and you’re back to square one. And at the moment I’m in a good phase. I can feed while chatting on the phone or watching Netflix. It doesn’t take as long. Mentally it’s not so draining. But I can well understand why so many women quit. Aside from those who discovered there was something physical impeding their ability, I feel like there are many more out there who stop because they just can’t anymore – they didn’t get the support they needed when they needed it. They, like me, had no idea just how difficult it was.
So at least for now I will persevere. Why, you ask? When it’s so difficult? I guess I should say because that’s what is naturally best for my baby. And if I can then I should. But it’s probably my stubbornness and the fact that I don’t have to buy formula or bother with bottles that’s driving it too.
I’m not committing to 6 months or a year or a lifetime, I’m just taking it each day as it comes. I’m doing my best. Like we all are, regardless of how we’re feeding our kids.