That first week, the start of the rest of my life, was what I thought to be the hardest week I’d ever experienced. It had topped all other milestones in my life – the embarrassing awkwardness of your first boyfriend, starting a new school without any friends, getting your first job. Even immigrating to a new country didn’t hold a candle to the life changing moment when I realised that this is it for the next 18 years.
It hit home on the first day it was just me and our baby. Our friends and family had gone back to their own lives and my partner had to get back to work and suddenly I was on my own with this precious little fragile baby. I knew it was coming, I thought I’d be fine as I had just spent the week before acing this new Mom thing! I kissed my man goodbye at the door and me and the boy went to the window and waved until Daddy was out of sight. Then suddenly this dark cloud descended and I could feel the panic rising. I tried to keep a level head – after all I had my milk now, I could change a nappy and I had somehow managed to keep this baby alive for the last week, so why would today be any different?
I’m a great believer in your baby sensing your stress and had spent my pregnancy with a ‘I don’t care’ mentality as I didn’t want anything to stress me, and subsequently my baby, out. So far he had been as cool as a cucumber, but today he must’ve sensed my panic and panicked himself. Shortly after Daddy had left he had developed hiccups. Nothing serious, but an hour later he was getting upset and therefore I was getting upset and then he was getting upset (you can see where this is going!)
I spent the day in almost tears (you know when you can feel them bubbling there under the surface and the smallest thing tips you over) until I rang the midwife (then the tears actually did spill out) and I explained that I didn’t know what to do and he had had hiccups for the last five hours and I was just a mess. They told me hiccups is actually a good thing and probably isn’t bothering him too much and to keep giving him Infacol with every feed to get the wind out. Eventually I pulled myself together and thought to myself ‘There’s no going back. If you have a hard day then you know what, tough, you have to get through it! You have to keep going. This is something that is non negotiable. YOU HAVE TO DO IT!’
Of course the minute my man walked through the door that evening I burst into tears. He found it hard to believe I was so upset over hiccups, but really it was more than that. It was the realisation that this was my life now. I was a Mom. And at that moment I wasn’t a high flying career woman, I was ‘just a mom’…and I wasn’t so sure how I felt about that…
So being small breasted, I was surprised when on day 4 I woke up looking like Dolly Parton! My milk had come in! I was so excited and couldn’t wait to feed my baby! I felt immense relief that everything was ok and I could continue our breastfeeding journey.
Now that my milk had come in, I was very fortunate in that it had come in in abundance. I had what one of my friends later referred to as ready, aim, fire boobies. Every morning I could literally feed my baby with one boob and, whilst he was feeding, I could express almost another whole bottle from the other (this was great as it meant I could freeze the extra milk ready for when I was due to have surgery a couple of months later). The minute I got ready to feed my boy it was like a switch had been flicked and the milk literally shot out. On more than one occasion he got a spurt of milk to the eye!
On one hand it was amazing to have so much milk with which to feed my child, but it also meant I leaked all the time. I went through 3-4 sets of breast pads a day and constantly had wet patches on my tops – I soon learnt to layer my clothes and stick to dark stuff! I suffered as most woman do with the pain of breast feeding, and anyone who says it doesn’t hurt has been very, very lucky. I combatted the pain issue by watching Netflix while I fed (due to the sheer volume of milk he only fed for maybe 15 minutes at a time) and that took my mind off it. It was this weird, painful, drawing out feeling and after about a month it started to be less painful and more just an odd sensation. I was fortunate in that my little trooper latched beautifully, and so I didn’t suffer with blisters or bleeding. I personally think that’s the trick to successful breast feeding– if your baby can latch on right then it’s unlikely that you will get blisters, and no blisters = less pain. I also used tons of nipple cream. I tried different brands to find the one that worked best for me and found there were two – Lanolin, which was great for a good soak before bed, and Bennetts, which has the same consistency as Savlon and so was really soothing when I was feeling a bit raw.
I won’t lie to you, it was hard. Some days (or more specifically nights) I would sit there feeding my baby and feel the weight of the responsibility crushing me. Every time he cried for milk it was on me, but I knew this was the decision I had made and I had to stick to it. I had tremendous support from my other half and that made it possible for me to continue for as long as I did. He would do all the burping at night, allowing me to wake up, feed and then go back to sleep while he settled the boy.
I was only able to breast feed for the first 3 months due to needing surgery and possibly radiotherapy, but working as a team we were able to stick to plan A and give our son the start we had wanted and it was the most amazing experience for me.
So because he slept soundly his first night on the outside, in his Perspex box in the hospital and had to be woken up for a feed at 2:30am, I assumed I had a good sleeper! I was confident I’d get him home and he would snuggle down happily in his Moses basket and I’d not hear a peep until he wanted feeding.
Oh how wrong could I be!
Now for me co-sleeping was a big no-no! The fact that I then spent the next three nights sleeping on my back with my arms wrapped around my precious child, just so he would settle, was neither here nor there. I told myself he needed to feel safe and this was the way to do it.
I had tried putting my pyjama top in the Moses basket with him – that made no difference. I had tried a dummy – uh uh…not for him. I had tried rocking him to sleep and placing him gently in the basket – well yeah that worked for all of five minutes. He didn’t want to be swaddled but he didn’t want to be free either.
Coupled with the uncertainty of breastfeeding and I suddenly felt very much out of my depth. I still didn’t like the idea of co-sleeping, as I think it is important to have time with your significant other away from the kids, but needs must and for now it was the only way I could get him to sleep.
And there came compromise number two.
Over the course of the next week we went from him sleeping clasped tightly in my arms, to laid on the bed next to me, to eventually snuggled happily in his Moses basket. I had worked out the issue – and that was that he didn’t like being deep down inside the Moses basket. I stuffed a pillow inside to raise him up and he was as happy as a lamb.
Finally I could start to relax…
Now there is a lot of discussion surrounding the concept that ‘Breast Is Best’ and maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
Something that stuck with me from long before I even fell pregnant was my friend telling me how she felt like she had failed because she had struggled with breastfeeding. No woman should feel like that. Being a mother is hard enough without all the pressure that society puts on us. One thing I knew from the start was I wasn’t going to beat myself up over it – as far as I was concerned as long as my baby was fed then whose business is it if I breast feed or bottle feed? Fed Is Best!
I was very lucky and within the first fifteen minutes after giving birth my little champ had latched on like a dream! I was so proud of the little guy and couldn’t help feeling slightly chuffed with myself too! Go us! After a while I gave my precious boy over to his dad and thought about having that awful first shower. I didn’t realise how much it would hurt to stand up. Everything felt like it had been turned inside out. I got washed as best I could, feeling slightly bemused by the sight of my still swollen belly. I honestly thought it would be like a balloon had been popped and I’d be rocking my jeans within a couple of days…clearly not!
So because I’d given birth in the evening, by the time we had got sorted and moved into the Maternity ward it was time for my man to head home. He was allowed to stay until we were settled, and then to be honest I was glad that I could finally close my eyes and go to sleep! Ha ha ha…had I forgotten I had a new born baby beside me, a life that was now my responsibility for the next 18 years!? The minute his dad left he decided it was time to stretch his lungs. He started crying and I started panicking! What the heck was I supposed to do? I went for the most obvious choice and stuck him on the boob.
I will say that if you are healthy and baby is healthy and you are able to try breastfeeding, then go for it! It is the most amazing feeling in the world (and a bit strange) but honestly, the fact that your body is feeding your child is just something magical. I had the doubt that everyone who has tried breastfeeding has – and that is ‘is my baby actually getting any milk?!’ So I did what any normal person would do and I asked the question.
In hindsight I wish I’d just trusted my body and kept my mouth shut! The woman on shift told me we should use a breast pump and see what we could get…so not knowing any better I agreed. And then came a mix of emotions. Naturally there was hardly anything there as all that is produced to start with is tiny amounts of colostrum. She seemed surprised that no milk was pumped out and suggested we cup feed him the colostrum mixed with formula. I had failed. The high from earlier disappeared in a flash. She took my baby away and fed him. I never got to see that. Exhausted I fell back asleep and woke to hear her putting my baby back in the cot. As I said, in hindsight maybe I should not have asked that question in the first place, or maybe I should’ve got a better response.
Looking back it’s obvious that all that’s going to come out is that liquid gold, Colostrum, as your milk doesn’t come in for 3-5 days. It was then noted the following morning that I had had trouble feeding and I had to agree to formula feed my baby (and actually give him a bottle) before they would let me leave. I was determined that once home we would get back on the bike so to speak, and continue trying to breastfeed. And we did.
Life is hard…Then you have a baby and it gets harder.
Now don’t get me wrong…I wouldn’t swap it for the world…but no one actually tells you how hard it’s going to be. All you hear about is what a wonderful miracle it is and the amazing bond you will share with your baby.
You think about the decisions you will need to make…like will you go for bottle or breast? Or maybe both? Will you co-sleep or will they sleep in a Moses basket? Are you hoping to get by on just gas and air, or maybe you want a water birth? What you don’t realise is none of it is your decision. None. Of. It.
I had it all planned – I wanted a water birth. I love swimming and feel at home in the water, so I wanted my baby to enter the world feeling at one with the water and I couldn’t think of a better way to give birth than that! But no – my little bundle of joy had other ideas.
We were back to back, which basically meant the back of his head and his back was against my spine. After 29 hours since my first contraction I was ready to cut him out with a spoon, given half a chance. Every contraction ripped through my back like a hundred knives and I was writhing in the birthing pool like a seal caught in a net. Tears streaming down my face I told my partner ‘I can’t do this.’
Unsurprisingly I had no choice – the baby had to come out! I opted for diamorphine to ease the pain and that meant no water birth. That was the first of many compromises to come.
Fast-forward 3 hours and it’s time to push. I grabbed my partner’s arm, dug my nails in and puuuushed. The best thing I did was listen to the midwife. Breathe when she said breathe and push like my life depended on it when she said push. I remember hearing the midwife say ‘Ohh we can see his eyebrows’ and I thought to myself ‘Well we’re at the worst bit just keep pushing!’ So I did and within minutes he was there, in my arms, a blue tinged bloody mess. He didn’t cry…he just opened his eyes, lifted his little head and looked at me.
That was the moment I fell head over heels in love – and my whole world shifted.