I had a wonderfully happy pregnancy and was determined to have my baby naturally at home. I hired a pair of private midwives early in my pregnancy and attended Calm Birth classes with my husband.
I had my birth plan ready which included instructions for hospital staff in case I had to transfer for any reason (but in my mind, that was not an option).
I knew before I even fell pregnant that I would breastfeed, but I wouldn’t say I knew much about it. I bought a book called ‘The Womanly art of Breastfeeding’ and planned on reading it during my first few weeks of maternity leave before the baby came.
On the 4th day of my maternity leave I felt very lethargic and had a pain on the right side of my groin. I thought I’d stretched a ligament in my hips or something, so I rested for most of the day. By dinner time it had gotten worse and by 11pm I was in hospital with appendicitis.
The doctors there were reluctant to diagnose it as appendicitis, despite the fact that my midwife’s and my mum (who is an emergency nurse with over 30 years experience) said I was showing all the signs except for a fever. I think they were nervous about making a call because I was so heavily pregnant. I spent 3 hours waiting in hospital when my appendix finally burst. I was in agony and finally accepted the morphine they’d been offering me. Still, no decision was made.
At 8am the next morning the OB arrived, took one look at me and said “prep for a cesarean”. It was a mad rush after that. At 8:30 I was put under a general anaesthetic and my daughter was delivered by c-section. She was immediately transferred to NICU and put on an antibiotic drip.
The first time I saw her I wasn’t allowed to hold her and I could barely focus because my vision was so blurry from the anaesthetic. I spent that first day in my room napping on and off and no one mentioned breastfeeding to me. When I went down to see my daughter that afternoon I found out that they’d already given her 2 formula feeds without my permission. She was in a crib under a lamp because she had jaundice and they said she “needed the fluids”.
That night or the next morning I began trying to express colostrum. My midwives helped me and over the next day I managed to get 1ml in a syringe (after accidentally spilling another 1ml on the bed!) I took it down to NICU and also attempted to get my daughter to breastfeed.
It was hard with the NICU nurses hovering over me, telling me I was only allowed to hold her for 15 mins at a time. I had nurses come up and grab my boobs, forcing the nipples into my baby’s mouth and telling me “she’s not latching correctly”. I couldn’t wait to get her into the room with me and out of special care.
4 days after my daughter was born they released her from NICU and I finally had a bit more privacy. I had an electric pump in my room and had managed to pump up to 30ml that night. At some ridiculously early hour the next morning a bunch of nurses came into my room at changeover. I had fallen asleep with my daughter on the chair whilst trying to feed her. She just wanted to sleep so I let her. The main nurse asked me if I’d fed her, I explained that she didn’t stay on for long and I was going to try with a bottle later. She looked at the 30ml next to me and asked “is that all you’ve got? She needs more than that. You don’t want her going back downstairs (to NICU), do you?” I cried my eyes out when they left and fed her the 30ml of EBM plus a top-up of formula. I’ll never forget the stench of the Milton on the bottle, it felt like I was feeding her chemicals.
When we left the hospital I was determined to never give her formula again. 2 years later we are still breastfeeding up to 6 times a day and have no intentions of stopping before my daughter is ready. I’ve battled with pumping after every feed to give her top-ups (due to slow weight gain), blocked ducts, cracked nipples, biting (LOTS of biting) but luckily no ties, thrush or anything like that, so we’ve been pretty lucky. Breastfeeding is such an important part of my relationship with my daughter. I’ve fed her to sleep every night of her life since we left the hospital and it’s about so much more than food to us.
I am much more educated and confident now than I was 2 years ago and sometimes I feel angry at the nurses who pressured me to feed my daughter formula. I feel disappointed in myself for not standing up for her. But even more so, I feel bad for the countless other women who feel that on a daily basis and experience discrimination from strangers, pressure from their own family members and friends and misinformation from health ‘professionals’.
I wonder whether I would have had the same determination if my birth had gone according to plan. Breastfeeding was the only thing I felt I had any control over, so I was determined to make it work. My sister gave me some great advice which really helped me to set up realistic expectations of breastfeeding – she said “it will be hard for at least 12 weeks, then it starts to get easier. Just take it one feed at a time”. That helped me get through the first few months of sleepless nights and cluster-feeding.
I am a proud breastfeeding mummy and so glad to have found the Australian Breastfeeding Project. I think we owe it to the next generation of mothers and babies to debunk the many breastfeeding myths floating around and support them through the tough times.