Facing my ‘what ifs’ – Part Two

If you missed Part One, you can read it here first.

Finding out I was expecting Ed was a shock.  We were not planning another child and after my last birth experience, I was in no rush to ever do it again!

Ed was to be born by planned C-Section and I asked to be sterilised at the same time.  I spent almost the whole pregnancy focussing (fearing) the C-Section and thought very little about anything else.  I had no set plans on how I wanted to feed Ed – breastfeeding hadn’t worked for us before so I assumed it wouldn’t again.  I would at least give it a go.  I packed nursing nighties, bras and breast pads in my hospital bag but also had a sterilised bottles and formula ready to use at home.

Ed was born by C-Section, and I was sterilised as planned, at 39 weeks.  It was not plain sailing due to a large amount of scar tissue from the last C-Section and I was very sore, swollen and bruised afterwards, but nothing compared to last time!

Around 2 hours after his birth, I was finally able to give Ed a proper cuddle and attempt our first breastfeed.  He latched on perfectly straight away and stayed there for quite some time. It was lovely! “Ahhh, this is easy!” I thought. Of course, once the spinal block wore off, it was a completely different story.

Holding Ed was painful which in turn made latching on difficult and painful.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and the advice of “hold him like a rugby call, head in one hand, wait for him to scream and shove it in” just wasn’t working for us.

After about 24 hours of what felt like constant failed attempts, tiredness got the better of me and I asked if I could have one formula feed.  The midwife was very enthusiastic and came back minutes later with hands filled with little milk bottles telling me to ring when I needed more.  She would be more then happy to fetch them.  Being over tired and feeling vulnerable, I convinced myself that it must be in my notes that I’m rubbish at breastfeeding and this was her way of telling me so just like that, we made the switch to formula.

When I saw the midwife at home for the first time 3 days later, she asked how I was feeding Ed.  After explaining what had happened and how disappointed I was with myself, she said it wasn’t too late to try again if I wanted to.  But I felt like I would be messing Ed around too much so carried on with formula.

At 9 days, I had exactly the same conversation with my health visitor but again, I said no because of the same reason.

As the days went on, I was feeling more disappointed with myself for not trying harder and missing that last chance to really experience breastfeeding.

I have followed EBT&T from the beginning and something in one of the earlier blogs stood out for me and played on my mind. “…so what makes 90% of women give up before their time. Was it lack of support, lack of knowledge or lack of confidence?…” Well, I think it was all of those things for me.  Whilst ultimately I blamed my own willpower, I did feel the hospital were very busy and couldn’t spend the time supporting my needs and attempts to breastfeed.  I was incredibly clueless with all things breastfeeding related and I have stupidly low self confidence.  I couldn’t help but wonder why I had let myself become one of those 90% so easily and what if I had tried a bit harder?  Maybe held out a couple more hours? Or days? Sleep might have helped? Or if I’d made it through the first week? Would it have gotten easier? What if we were still going now? At 3 weeks old, would Ed and I both have gotten the hang of it?

I think that sparked something in me.  I spent a couple more days wondering the ‘what ifs’ and eventually told my husband about how I was feeling (I had kept quiet until now for fear of sounding completely bonkers).  He asked me in his usual, casual way, “well is it too late?”

Oh! Is it? Isn’t it? I didn’t know!

I spent a few hours on Google, reading articles, blogs, Q&A pages about relactating and discovered that yes, it was possible to relactate after 3.5 weeks but this was all based on mothers who stopped after months of breastfeeding, not 24 hours!  Nothing I read explained how to relactate, just it was possible.  I didn’t know if I should use a pump, and build up a supply before trying, or plonk him on a boob and hope for the best! Whether to carry on with formula feeds or to stop them or do both and which to offer first!

A quick shout out for help on Facebook lead me to the wonderful ladies at the local support group and within a few hours, on a Sunday afternoon, I was given advice, an action plan, a double electric pump and all the support I needed to have a second chance.

I waited until Ed had had a formula feed before attempting our ‘first’ breastfeed so that he wasn’t hungry or grumpy.  I propped myself up on the bed and laid with him on me as I was shown, and let him find his way.  Initially, he poked himself in the eye with my nipple and looked at me as if to say, “is this right, Mum?” I was slightly horrified and for a split second thought that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea but then Ed latched on, and stayed on.  HOOORAY! He probably only got a couple of drops of milk but he was so calm and peaceful.  It felt wonderful!

After that I started the very tiring routine of pumping 3 hourly, day and night.  Offering boob, offering bottle, offering boob again, pumping, pumping and more pumping!  I started taking Domperidone to help increase my milk supply and also used a supplementary nursing system for a while so Ed could have positive feedback from latching on and feeling full at the breast.  We did lots of skin to skin during formula feeds, holding Ed close so he could bob between bottle and boob.  It was very hard.  Extremely hard and exhausting and I think I must have said I was giving up 100 times in those first few weeks. But I didn’t. Not this time.  I carried on pumping, even though I barely got a dribble out,  I carried on offering Ed a breastfeed even though sometimes he screamed at the sight of a boob!  I carried on through cracked nipples and burning pain.  Carried on through upset tummies and a household of chicken pox.  All the things that would have stopped me any other time.  Eventually, I started noticing Ed was taking less and less formula.  The hard work was paying off!  Formula feeds become top ups, top ups became less frequent and for one glorious week, he stopped bottles altogether.

I had been weighing Ed weekly to keep a close eye on him (with the previous midwife’s voice, “enough is enough, you’re starving your baby” still ringing in my ears 2 babies later).  Unfortunately, he was very static, but lost weight on his formula free week.  He needed top ups to gain weight but even then would gain one week and lose the next.  Seeing little or no weight gain put me very much on the edge and I probably would have made the switch back to formula had Ed let me (by this point, he was rather fond of his booby milk!).  I noticed the more I worried and stressed about top ups (I began to see them as my failing), the more Ed fussed during feeds. When we decided that it wouldn’t matter if the main source of food was formula and my boobs were the top ups – “Ed-led feeding” – I learnt to relax and when I made my peace with the top ups, he started to settle on just two small bottles a day.  I also kept in close contact with the local health team who reassured me that, yes, Ed’s weight fluctuated, but he looked healthy and happy.

6 months became my magic number.  If we could get to 6 months, formula could be replaced with solids, Ed would gain more weight and things would be easier.

Ed is almost 8 months now.  I still take Domperidone.  He still breastfeeds every 2-3 hours through the day, and sometimes during the night!  He has 3 solid meals a day, plus snacks, and around 5oz of formula – sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes none at all – Ed-led feeding!  His weight gains are still very small but he is happy and healthy and I’m happy to continue being Ed-led, giving him whichever type of feed, whenever he wants it.

I have no new ‘magic number’ and instead plan to follow Ed’s lead all the way, stopping when he’s ready.  We still struggle at times, especially with a sleepless night, but I know the local breastfeeding support group are always on hand to offer help, support, even a shoulder to cry on! If it wasn’t for them, we definitely wouldn’t be where we are today and I’m so grateful to have been given a second chance.

I don’t know why I felt so differently this time or what kept me going through the difficult times.  It wasn’t the health benefits or convenience of ‘having milk on tap’.  I have no problem with formula feeding having had four formula fed, healthy babies.  Our bonds are no different.  I used to think breastfeeding was the easier option, but know differently now!  Both are equally difficult in very different ways.  Whatever the reasons, I love it now, especially when halfway through a feed, his little hand reaches out looking for mine.  It takes me back to that first time when it was so calm and peaceful and makes me fall in love with him all over again.

 

*Wipes snot and tears away* 

This woman’s strength, courage, tenacity and just utter brilliance has truly inspired me.  Thanks to her bravery in facing her ‘what ifs’, she has also become an inspiration for other local mums struggling in those early stages, because when they’re feeling like they’re failing due to having to introduce formula or top up because of weight, we say with confidence, “don’t worry about a thing, do whatever you have to do to get the baby’s birth weight back up, it’s not all or nothing because we know a lady….”