I kind of took it for granted that I’d be able to breastfeed. It was natural and after seeing friends of mine breastfeeding their babies, whilst holding the baby in one hand and knocking up a lemon drizzle cake in the other, I thought it must be just a matter of shoving the nipple in and off you go.
I won’t lie. I went a bit mental after my little girl arrived. I can remember waking up (implying I had actually slept) on day four. It was around 8am. My newborn baby girl was just starting to stir for her three-hourly boob feed. My tits had exploded overnight into bowling balls wedged uncomfortably under my armpits. My stitched up lady garden was throbbing like a horrendous throbbing thing. My nipples looked like they’d been attacked by squirrels. I just lay there. Numb. Weeping. I can’t do this, I thought.
Leaving my daughter with my husband, I went and got into a bath. I laid tummy down with milk hosing out of my solid bosoms like cigarette smoke into the water. Floating in silence, I sobbed. I was a massive failure and the whole world and everything in it was crap. After about twenty minutes of wallowing in self pity, I decided I was going to express and bottle feed. I just couldn’t take the pain from my nipples any more and unbeknownst to me at the time, I actually had mastitis. I believed that as soon as I gave her that bottle it was game over. Babies don’t go back to boob once they’ve had bottle.
In my highly agoraphobic state, with a resting heart rate of 120 bpm, I spent the next four days expressing enough milk for a nuclear holocaust. How I’ll never know because I can’t imagine I was producing much relaxing oxytocin whilst hyperventilating from yet another anxiety attack. Again, unbeknownst to me, it was helping to deal with the mastitis by draining the infected boob. I was managing to get 9ozs per boob, with a manual pump, and would only relax if I had a stash of 35ozs at any one time in the fridge. I mean, what if I died? I couldn’t possibly see how I was going to survive the week so I needed to make provisions and in the meantime, I was building up hand muscles that could crush carbon into diamonds.
I kept this up for four days and then I noticed one of my nipples had healed. What if I was to just try latching her on again? Would she take it? What if she didn’t? Would I cope with the rejection? I was just about to lower my nipple into her open mouth when my husband came down the stairs….the world went into slow mo. “Noooooooooo! What are you doing? You’ll never get over it if she doesn’t want it!” Of course, he was just trying to protect me from myself. He’d witnessed his wife’s mind unravelling before his very eyes in just 96 hours, but I couldn’t live with the ‘what if’. So I clenched my teeth, and offered her my nip. She latched on and there was no pain. Either my nips had turned to leather or her latch had improved, probably a bit of both. It was the most amazing feeling in the world.
I continued to feed on just one side and express on the other whilst the other nip healed, but it was only another 48 hours and I was exclusively boobing again. Due to my excessive expressing and my daughter’s ability to drain my boobs in five minutes flat, it did mean that my daughter would vomit what appeared to be all of my milk back up like a scene from the exorcist. Her latch was so effective that she could inhale my nipple from the next room and probably stay latched in a 9.5 scale earthquake.
Apart from a couple of bouts of mastitis, boobing went pretty well until around ten months when my milk slowly started to decrease. I have no idea why but it may have been related to my periods returning. My daughter was taking in extra fluids via a straw (don’t ask!) during the day when I was at work but those last few months were stressful. I could see in her nappies that her wee was concentrated from not taking in enough fluid and she’d started to bite me out of frustration. One evening, I tried a mug of warm cow’s milk with a straw and that was it. Dropped like a sack of shit. One week before her first birthday. She never even attempted to go back, even when I was in the bath with her. My nipples had almost fallen off trying to feed her and she couldn’t even be bothered to pay them a bit of attention occasionally. Bloody ungrateful.
There isn’t much I regret; perhaps had I known about galactogogues to increase my milk or gone back to my boob group for advice, I may have carried on for a bit longer but it did feel a relief. I loved boobing her, however, it felt good to reclaim my bosoms and put them back in my brassiere once and for all. And the decision hadn’t been mine, it had been hers.