Damned if you do and damned if you don’t

To be quite honest, I never really thought I would breastfeed. Ever. I don’t really know why. Maybe it was because I had always had hyper-sensitive nipples and the thought of a baby sucking on them was akin to a horror vision. Or maybe it was because everyone I knew with a baby was bottle feeding. I didn’t even know I had been breastfed for a while, because mum always talked about the different flavours in formula you used to get back than. So my mind was, in a way, pre-programmed to bottle feed.

And then I weed in a plastic cup, put a stick in it and watched two blue lines appear. My whole world changed. Hubby and I were ecstatic.

The further along in the pregnancy I got, the more I felt I didn’t have a clue about how to feed a baby. As explained before, bottle feeding seemed to be the natural thing to do. I should also add that I’m not originally from the UK. My husband and his family (English) had strong view points about bottle feeding and I found myself under quite some pressure to breastfeed. All the leaflets and information handed out in the antenatal classes and at midwives’ appointments were about breastfeeding – bottle feeding was only mentioned as an after thought. Not one word about the fact that some women cannot breastfeed, for whatever medical reason (neither of my sister-in-laws could with their first borns), or do not want to breastfeed, for perfectly valid reasons. Not one word about there sometimes NOT being a choice, and all these implications of you being judged as a mum already, before the little one is even finished baking. I felt that this was an extremely intimate business everyone else should keep their nose out of. That included family members, as well as health professionals.

I felt pressure was added, because I felt my husband expected me to be the same mum that his had been to him. Expectations of others, but I guess mostly of my own making were weighing down on my shoulders before the little one even was born. And as I was sitting in pregnancy yoga, listening to the birth stories of the “goddesses” who had come to class to show off their babies, popping on their newborns in front of everybody as if it was the easiest thing in the world, in crept the ultimate fear that I was not carved out to be a good mother after all.

What really, really irritated me and does to this day is how patronising the information provided was. “If you don’t breastfeed, you’re a bad mother. If it hurts, you’re not doing it right.” (Poopage squared.)

I decided that I would give breastfeeding a go. I was convinced I would end up giving the little one formula though.

Then I was in hospital, all alone with my little shrivelly newborn after hubby had to go home. No midwife, no nurse there to advise on breastfeeding, they were short staffed. All I knew was “tummy to tummy, nose to nipple”. And it worked, despite it being toe-curling. In comes the night shift midwife and tells me off. “You’re not doing it right.” Heard that so often after that from health visitors, nurses, doctors, midwives, breast support group volunteers.

Because what happened after that first “you’re not doing it right” was that I panicked. I had just given birth, something I never thought I would survive because I am a wuss, and I was so happy and proud looking at that little bundle. Feeling like I had done something really right. And that comment burst that bubble, made me feel like a loser, a bad mother, and we hadn’t even left the hospital yet. So I tensed up, got nervous. And my girlie felt that and reacted to it.

So I  tried out their advice. Even got my husband to look at my boob sideways to tell me if the latch looked anything like in the brochure they had handed out in the hospital. I tried out all the positions, all the tips and tricks, whilst desperately thinking: “I hope my baby won’t starve because I can’t do this right”. Oh, how I wanted to give the little one the bottle! I remember lots of tears, breakdowns, sore, cracked, bloody nipples, dread of the next feed, engorged breasts, sitting on the couch with the breast pump to give my nipples a break, more tears, awful arguments with the hubby, because he dared to suggest to take the baby off the boob and latch her on again, because that had been the professional advice.

And quite honestly, I would not have persevered without my husband. I can tell you he had to endure many, many tantrums. Tears streaming down my face because my nipples were so, so sore and the little one had decided now was a good time to bite down on them with her gums or to pinch them – and he supported me. He consoled me. He was sweet, understanding, driving-me-up-the-wall-understanding actually. He offered to go make a bottle, but I wanted to NOT give up.  And I cannot tell you why.

Breastfeeding hurt, for me. For a long time. We’re talking months. No tongue tie (much to the dismay of the volunteer at the breast feeding support group), just me being absolutely shaken in my confidence. Almost four weeks into the boob drama I went back to what I had done in the first hours, when my girly and I had been alone. And it worked! I think it hurt, for one because there are only a gazillion nerve ends in your nipples, and for another, I had always had extremely sensitive nipples.

I did give my milk-monster the odd bottle (either expressed or formula), simply because sometimes my nipples were so sore (hello growth spurt) and I had had another meltdown that I just needed a break. And she still latched on fine. Things eventually became easier. And after a few months my nipples became “iron nipples”.

The maximum I initially thought I could bring myself to endure was 3 months. I stopped breastfeeding when the little bear was 10 months old. I actually was a bit sad when I looked down at my baby, breastfeeding her for the last time, but I knew the time was right, she was ready to move forward.

Throughout these ten months I was criticised for breastfeeding my child at all. I was criticised for daring to give her formula and not just exclusively breastfeeding. I was criticised and ridiculed for breastfeeding for “that long”. And not by strangers. Oh no. By family members and friends. All of them mothers themselves. People who should have the most insight and understanding were the harshest critics, had the strongest opinions, trying to impress them onto a new mum. Well thanks a bunch for the support, dudettes.

I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed. And it was the way of feeding my girlie that worked best for the both of us – and that really is the only thing that counts.


One thought on “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t

  1. I totally agree with you.. I called quits to exclusive breastfeeding after six months, expressed for two more but realized just could not do it anymore (I had started working). And was subjected to wrath from all quarters, friends, family, everyone. But I did as much as I could endure, indulging any longer would have made me more irritable, and I would have never enjoyed motherhood as much. And by the grace of God I have a healthy baby :). So it should be totally left on the woman to decide till when and how much, no mother would ever think of ill of her own child.

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