To my darling girl,
Perhaps one day you’ll read this and you’ll understand why I stopped breastfeeding you so early. Maybe you’ll wipe the tears from my eyes and tell me I’m a silly old sod, that it didn’t matter, that you’re so bloody perfect regardless of your lack of ‘mother’s milk’.
Perhaps one day you’ll have a beautiful bear of your own cradled in your arms and you’ll read this and you’ll be able to tell me about how the journey is everything I thought it would be but how you and I experienced the same thing even in those early days, right? Surely the early days are the most important anyway?
Maybe you’ll be in the same situation that I was or another sort of situation where it just isn’t working or isn’t for the best and you’ll read this, you’ll look back at your own childhood, at our relationship and you’ll realise that it doesn’t actually matter and guilt is a wasted emotion. Did I make this mistake (of feeling so consumed by guilt) so you wouldn’t?
You see I love you in this really massive way. Really, really massive. I can’t put it in to words it’s so huge and great and wonderful. In those moments I catch every day it surrounds me and you and us and I see nothing else but you.
Our bond is so strong and I’m so conscious that your Dad and I only get one shot at this parenting malarkey so we need to get it right as best we can.
Being faced with the prospect of exclusive formula-feeding was probably the biggest hiccup I’ve faced along the path of motherhood and the resulting guilt has spiralled so much that there’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t feel racked with remorse for something or another. What started out as guilt for giving in on the NHS’s ‘breast is best’ mantra soon became an all-consuming ball of heart-wrenching thoughts of how I’m failing you on a daily basis.
Every parent feels guilt. That I know. That is normal, I’m sure of it. I’m not saying that my guilt levels aren’t normal but perhaps I could’ve dealt with them better? Pushed them to the back of my mind? I feel like I’ve missed some of you, could’ve enjoyed you more instead of worrying so much but then I look back at these past two years and my mind replays memory after memory of the most precious of times. Oh my goodness, you’re growing up fast my little sweetpea, and I know that — really — I haven’t missed a moment at all.
I wouldn’t say I was judgmental but I was innocent about parenthood (to a degree) those many moons ago when you were swishing around in my tummy. What could be so hard about breastfeeding? Why did most of the mothers I knew not manage it or choose not to try? The professional advice was clear — breast is best, so why were so many mamas feeding their kiddos formula instead? Could they really not be arsed? Hello, allergies people? And what about the additional expense? Nope, I was certain. I was going to give it my all but, to be on the safe side, I took two little bottles of ready-made formula to the Hospital anyway just incase anything went wrong during or post-birth. Back in those days I was still organised and prepared for anything, believe it or not!
Your birth was super long but an absolute dream (a painful but incredibly joyful dream, you’ll know what I’m on about one day, I’m sure that makes no sense right now does it?) and you seemed to take to breastfeeding like a pro during those first few hours.
It wasn’t enough though. Those pesky ovarian cysts + a chocolate addiction = gestational diabetes and your blood sugar levels dropped shortly after birth. That was guilt monster #1. It was my fault and the midwife on the maternity ward made sure I knew it telling me (quite unprofessionally and without any real evidence to back her statement up to such dramatic effect) that you’d end up in the NICU that day. I wanted to be sick. We weren’t out of the woods yet. I felt silly for allowing myself to be so happy.
Luckily, your paediatrician came down shortly afterwards and dispelled the theory. No, you didn’t need NICU, thank goodness, but you did need a formula top-up. I was given a tiny bottle to feed you from with formula milk prepared and measured out by the midwives. A teeny 50ml was all you needed. That, coupled with my clumsy attempts at breastfeeding throughout our first night, was enough to set things back on the right track.
My post-natal care on the maternity ward wasn’t amazing. I was in a bay, alone, at the very end of a long corridor. Michael couldn’t stay overnight and somebody came down every hour or two to check we were OK. I requested help with breastfeeding to no avail. I was desperate to make sure we nailed it and I could sustain you, especially in light of recent events. I did have a quick visit from one of the midwives after some mithering but her advice just seemed to be ‘lift the baby to your boob and encourage her to latch on’. Oh, I hadn’t thought of that at all. I hadn’t been trying that for the past couple of hours whilst worrying that your small spates of feeding weren’t enough. Praying I was doing it right, that your sugar levels would be righted in the morning, feeling a huge sense of responsibility for your welfare and health. No, encouraging you to feed hadn’t crossed my mind. Seriously, lady? #sarcasm
I’d also been catheterised following my failed (yes, failed!) epidural and, despite my pleads, it was removed just before I went home after it had disconnected god knows how many times since your birth. At one stage I wetted through my clothes AND the bed linen. The chief midwife came in to find everything balled up on top of the plastic sheeting of the hospital gurney and an embarassed new mum stood at the side of the bed with a tiny baby in her arms wondering what on earth to do next. I didn’t care though. I had you and these indignities and lack of support felt like minor inconveniences at the time because nothing could knock the grin off my face and the stars from my eyes.
The next day your sugar levels were more than acceptable (yay!) but there was another minor panic about you looking mottled before we were allowed to go home. Again, your paediatrician quickly put our minds at ease and we went on our way…
Pop back shortly to read the next section of ‘The Breastfeeding Journey That Wasn’t’ (The First Four Weeks)
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