I had no idea what was coming my way.
Whilst every bone in my body has felt ready for motherhood for as long as I can remember, nothing was going to prepare me for the breastfeeding hell.
No book or instructions handout, no NCT class, no hospital workshop, no breastfeeding expert, no video, no hypnobirthing app, nothing and no one was going to prevent the two years of trauma that were to follow my child’s birth.
For two full years, whenever anyone would ask me when we’re planning to make another adorable little human, I would literally cease up in discomfort and go into panic mode, my stomach burning with pain and my throat drying up.
For two full years, I thought it was the trauma of birth that did this to me.
[Without going into too much detail- every contraction made me re-live the car accident from 16 years earlier. It was as if my spinal fusion was being smashed from the inside and I felt my back breaking over and over for eight longest hours of my life.]
It wasn’t until Lake turned two and I felt that she needed a sibling, that I was ready to address the wound and deal with the pain. I knew I wouldn’t want to bring another child into the world with so much fear occupying my cells. So I had my mum put together a cell memory clearing meditation for me to follow and I enrolled in The Journey course to help me through this.
What I uncovered through this intense healing process was that it wasn’t the birth at all which I was most afraid of, it was the first three months that followed birth.
And so in order to deal with the trauma and to completely let go, I went on to re-live the nightmare. My breastfeeding hell.
I remembered the piercing screams of a hungry baby that simply wasn’t getting enough milk.
I remembered the dozen or so midwives that came through our doors to ‘assist with the issue’ over time.
I remembered each one of them attempting to get the crying child to latch by forcing her over my breasts while I bit my fist in agony and cried with her.
I remembered telling Elliot not to allow any visitors because it was too painful to put a top over the raw and bleeding scabs of my nipples.
I remembered the heartache of not being able to comfort and to hold my baby too close for that very same reason.
I remembered Lake sucking only to peel the scabs off till blood ran down her cheeks.
I remembered the midwives panic because my baby wasn’t only not regaining her birth weight at 10 days old, she continued to lose weight. She slept for 5 hours at a time because she had no energy and cried when she was awake because she was so hungry.
Still they insisted that I persevere with breastfeeding and not give in to formula no matter what.
I remembered sobbing in the shower from physical pain of my exploding breasts, the scabs, the blood, the blocked milk ducts; and the emotional pain of feeling like a complete failure in my first task as a mother that provides for her newborn in the most basic way.
I remembered how surreal and dehumanising it felt to literally be milked not only by strangers that came through our doors but even my own husband.
I remembered never being able to sleep, not because I was over-exhausted, but because I needed every minute to mentally prepare myself for the immense agony of feeding a child as soon as she was ready to wake up.
I remembered taking this innocent child into my arms and seeing only a mouse trap that was about to jam itself over my raw skin and send me into more silent screams.
I remembered wanting to slice off my breasts because I thought anything will be less painful than them blowing up till I saw skin tearing with my own eyes.
I remembered Elliot sprinting to Superdrug in freezing January to buy out shelves of any product relating to breastfeeding or soothing a baby.
I remembered how much I wept from the depth of my core when I tried using a hand pump to relieve me of the milk build up, only to feel the scabs of my nipples crack open and see nothing but blood drip into the bottle.
I remembered how exhausted I was to care when someone finally picked up on the fact that Lake was tongue tied to latch properly and had a severe case of asymmetry. (Her neck was jammed in one position and her head was always turned to the right, which meant that feeding equally on both breasts was not only difficult and painful for her, it was pretty much impossible, till we called in a cranial osteopath to release the muscles. This apparently happened as she was developing inside me- she was growing into a long baby inside a short mother so there wasn’t much room to move and she kinda found a comfy position to keep growing with her head turned to one side).
Meanwhile a fellow NCT mum offered to lend me her electric pump and I refused because of what happened with the hand pump. She insisted that I give it a try and had it brought to my house. I stared at it with deep fear for at least a week.
By the time we had Lake’s tongue tie fixed, by the time the osteopath’s magic work began to take effect and by the time I discovered how a miracle electric pump was going to give my nipples a break for a chance to heal.... my milk pretty much dried up.
The next round of painful experience began.
My baby was literally screaming from starvation and I felt like I failed her yet again by not having enough milk and by giving in to formula.
For the first time in weeks, I could see the child was satisfied. Thank you Lord for baby goats!
The midwives still went on about how important it is that I don’t give up and continue to breastfeed.
So I persisted and committed to trying any tip going that might help to increase breast milk production.
Again, there was no chance for me to sleep. I was a mum on a mission...
It felt like I had warm compresses on my breasts around the clock. If I wasn’t nursing Lake, I was expressing. If I wasn’t expressing, I was in a hot shower massaging my breasts to stimulate the milk production.
I upped my calorie intake and started loading on complex carbs like brown rice, beans and whole grain pasta. I was steeping fenugreek, raspberry leaf, stinging nettle and fennel seeds all the time to take as a tea. I started drinking dairy for the first time in years, because I heard that a glass of warm milk before nursing will increase my own milk. It did work for a short time and when it didn’t, I started to drink formula myself. (That was one of the low points of the whole mission).
The next round of painful experience began. My baby got the taste for formula milk and was no longer interested in mine.
It was also a big effort for her to breastfeed, while the bottled milk just flowed.
It was difficult enough witnessing just how much she no longer wanted my milk, but when a stranger dining at my cafe made a remark like ‘I do hope that’s breastmilk in that bottle’, it left me in tears for weeks.
I knew how it looked to an outsider: A raw food expert with her own organic cafe, promoting natural living, that's free from animal foods - wasn’t even breastfeeding her own newborn. Instead she was feeding her dairy milk formula!
I hated feeling like I had to explain myself to friends before I pulled out bottle feed, but the last thing I thought I’d be doing is avoiding my own beloved haven of a restaurant at the risk of the judging eyes.
It’s Breastfeeding Awareness Week and every year starting August 1st, I see hundreds of posts on the importance of breastmilk, as well promotion to stop the shaming of mothers nursing in public.
Although I am 100 percent in full support of this incredibly important initiative, I felt like I needed to write this post for a number of reasons-
- I needed to do this for my own healing to be complete. I have a brand new life growing inside of me now and I am determined to bring this child into the world without fear. (Surprise!)
- I now know what to look for (ie. tongue tie, asymmetry, electric pump) the second time around. Hopefully someone else reading this will benefit from knowing these signs and won't need to suffer for as long as I did.
- If you’re also struggling with so much pressure to breastfeed, while crying from unbearable agony, just know that all this pain and fear is being passed on to your child via the hormones in your milk. Yes, the goodness in your milk may outweigh the fear hormones and Yes, we don’t know what the animal that was being milked went through and what fear hormones it might be passing on via formula, but I do know this... As soon as I relaxed and the pressure (mainly in my own head) to breastfeed went away, the love and the bond between me and my child blossomed. Love is the ultimate fuel. Babies need our love just as much as they need food to survive (if not more).
- Please whatever you do, DO NOT judge a mother feeding her child in any which way she possibly can. You have no idea how many tears she cried till the point that she could comfortably breastfeed in public. You have zero clue as to how often she was losing the will to live until she could soothe her baby with a bottle. Believe me when I say ‘she is doing her very very best’.
So much love going out to all the new mamas, the newborns and the judging eyes. We are, after all, the ones that need it the most.