On the rare occasion this poor second baby gets so much as a mention, the conversation tends to go something like this:
Me: Christ! I’m 37 weeks and we haven’t bought a single thing for this baby. Let’s make a list.
Ben: OK. Number 1: Steriliser.
Me: Oh thanks. Thanks SO much. Thanks for having so much faith in my ability to feed our child this time around…
And so it goes on… Until I admit that actually it’s probably a sensible idea and could he add 8 teeny bottles and a carton of formula onto that Amazon order, please.
Mother Earth I am not. My dreams of breastfeeding in a meadow were dashed rather swiftly the last time. (Not only did my boobs not work, meadows are hard to come by in North London.) Eve arrived a full 17 days late, after a four-day-long failed induction, failed forceps and an emergency caesarean. She didn’t breathe on her own for 8 minutes after she was born. Eight minutes feels like a lifetime. Never mind skin on skin, I barely got to look at her before they took her away to give her antibiotics for her temperature. Ben went with her and I was left alone and exhausted on an operating table while they sewed me back together.
Nobody reads your Birth Plan at 17 days overdue. Which is probably a good thing as we hadn’t bothered to write one. But suffice to say, there is no pool, no plinky plonky music, and none of it is how you hoped it would be. There are just worried-looking doctors discussing how best to get this baby out safely. And that is all that matters. Nobody was to blame. She just wasn’t ready to come. But I can’t help feeling that all of what had gone before contributed to the problems I had feeding my baby. Why wouldn’t it? Other bits of my body failed to work afterwards (my bowels, my brain); it’s not surprising that my boobs failed too.
The hospital wanted me to stay an extra night in order to “fully establish breastfeeding”. We had been there for almost a week by that point, and I needed to go home. I understood the techniques, I had grasped the principles. I needed to practice, and I could do that home.
I was desperate to feed her myself. It was a primitive thing, an animal need that I hadn’t anticipated. Beforehand I had been all for having a go, but told myself I wouldn’t beat myself up if it didn’t happen. And the truth is that it wasn’t so much for her that I wanted to breastfeed as for myself; to live up to my own arrogant ideals of the sort of mother I wanted to be. And in that long and sorry quest I did neither of us any favours. By day 3 or 4 Eve hadn’t wet her nappy for 2 days. That is a dehydrated baby. I was “feeding” her constantly, but she was taking nothing. When we asked the midwife’s “permission” to give her a bottle, (not to give up breastfeeding, but merely give her something to actually eat) we were told very clearly that if we wanted to make that choice as parents then she couldn’t stop us, but it certainly wouldn’t be what she would advise. I was mortified and guilty and from what I remember I almost never stopped crying. Never have I felt more of a failure, more hopeless, or more desperate.
And so followed a troop of breastfeeding counsellors, lactation consultants, and, one awful night, a tongue tie specialist who came to cut the tiny (negligible) piece of skin under our baby’s tongue. (£180 later, she screamed, I wept, and nothing much changed.) I diligently attended the breastfeeding group recommended by the midwife. There was me and 3 breastfeeding counsellors; that is not a group, it’s an ambush. Our hospital-grade industrial double breast pump was delivered, I got a prescription for Domperidone (an anti-sickness drug whose side effects include increased production of breast milk) and I spent literally hundreds of pounds on Fenugreek – 12 a day, every day, for six months. I really, really tried.
I was pumping 8 times a day, and producing about 15ml from each side if I was lucky. That’s 3 teaspoons. It is not a good use of time. What would have been better would have been holding my baby, getting to know her, looking at her in wonder instead of dreading the next time she needed feeding. Enjoying her, and learning to be her mum. Hell, sleeping.
Eventually, we did achieve what I think we could legitimately call Combination Feeding. She got a bit of both. She took the breast as well as the bottle and vice versa. And she grew – big and strong and gorgeous. And with the clarity that can come only with hindsight, that is really all that matters. Through my sleep-deprived newborn fog, I had an awareness that only my mum could have told me to stop breastfeeding and give her a bottle. Only to her would I have listened.
So this is my vow: this time will be different. Yes, I will try to breastfeed my baby. (A good friend pointed out recently that I don’t have to: it is not the law. True, but the desire is still too strong in me not to at least try.) What I will not do is let it SEND ME MAD. I will not pump or pop pills or call help lines or let women with scissors near my baby. I will not spend my time at breastfeeding groups when I could be in the park with my babies. I will trust myself, I will know what I have learned, and I will remember what my mum would tell me if she could.