It all started with a baby who just couldn't latch due to “laziness” (according to the advice of others). I still remember hearing those words being used, even though it was ten years ago.
When I became pregnant with my first baby, Tui, I felt a mixture of emotions. Having children was something I had always wanted, but I was also terrified because I was relatively young (23) and none of my friends were having babies, so I had no idea what to expect. But there was one thing I did know for sure: I was going to breastfeed! I was breastfed as a baby myself and I remember seeing my younger siblings being breastfed – there was also a very strong “breast is best” culture in Australia at the time – so I just didn’t consider any other alternative. I knew I could do it because I had been told that everyone can breastfeed because it’s just natural! When I attended my check-ups, feeding was mentioned just a couple of times. Infant feeding was rarely discussed and when it was, it was to tick a box. I was asked, “Are you going to breastfeed?” I answered, “Yes, of course”, and that was it. There was no talk about challenges, no talk about connecting with an IBCLC before the birth just in case I needed support, no information (except a scary pamphlet about the risks of co-sleeping). But I knew I was definitely going to breastfeed and nothing could stop me.
The time came and Tui was born. The birth was uncomplicated and unmedicated. I stayed at home for most of the labour, and only went to the hospital at a late stage – actually almost too late because I felt the urge to push in the hospital elevator! You might say the only intervention I had was, in fact, going to hospital.
After the birth, Tui was whisked away immediately for “mandatory checks”. After all the checks had been done, Tui was then placed on my chest skin-to-skin. It might be a small thing, but I believe this delay in skin-to-skin contact might have been the start of our challenges.
At the first feed, my baby latched on and suckled for a very short time and then delatched. This then happened every time Tui tried to feed. During the next couple of days, my milk came in; then I was very engorged and leaking a lot of milk. Tui would latch for about three or four sucks, then delatch. Tui was not getting much milk from me, and the hospital staff believed my baby was at risk of jaundice, so they advised to give Tui formula because “baby needs something!” I didn’t question this and assumed it was probably all normal.
I had seen a lactation consultant at the hospital for some support (I don’t know if they were an IBCLC or not) who had advised top-up feeds of formula after Tui came off the breast. To keep my milk supply up, I was advised to hand express, pump, drink lots of herbal teas, and use a nipple shield. We spent five days in hospital, having been kept there “under observation”, and I wasn't sure why because, although feedings were challenging, we seemed to be recovering well from the birth.
We didn’t get any follow-up from the lactation consultant or the hospital. I didn’t know about follow-up options so I just assumed everything was normal. I spent two months attempting to nurse Tui, doing a million things to increase my supply, with no support, almost no sleep, lots of frustration and financial strain, with the added stress of “sleep training” (remember the scary pamphlet about co-sleeping?). In despair, I decided to stop nursing and use formula instead. I felt incredibly sad about this and I believed I had failed as a parent.
At the time, my partner and I had very few family members living near us, and I didn’t know of any support groups that I could turn to. I felt isolated and struggled to leave the house. The idea of going for a walk with Tui seemed overwhelming to me, and when we eventually did it was an ordeal for me to get out the door.
I felt alone. None of my friends or siblings had babies; I had never seen anyone parent a baby around me. Communication between my partner and I had deteriorated and we were growing apart. I just had no strength to bring up my concerns. I felt extreme guilt and also resentment towards Tui. I told myself I needed to “deal with it”, “get over it” and toughen up.
Over the first four years, these feelings manifested, but I thought this was all normal. I thought I was meant to feel this way. Looking back, I know I should have sought help, but back then I had no idea who to turn to. No one told me about post-natal depression. No one told me that nursing can be a challenge. I felt so very angry for a long time towards breastfeeding advocates because I believed they lied to me and were lying to everyone else.
When Tui was four years old, my partner and I were finally in a good place and we acknowledged that communication was something we needed to work on. We did work on this and we agreed to have a second baby. Despite my anger, grief and loss about “giving up breastfeeding” with my first, the drive to nurse my second baby rose inside me again. Yes, I wanted to do this. Yes, I knew I could ... but this time I would ASK questions, SEEK support, GET the right information, and CONNECT with like-minded parents.
Our baby, Aroha, arrived and the birth was as smooth as our firstborn’s. Prior to the birth, I asked my partner to speak up for me, if needed, and request that our baby be placed on my chest skin-to-skin immediately after birth. This was done! Aroha lay there for ages, and medical checks were done while she was on my chest. When Aroha was ready for the first feed, I lay back and encouraged biological nurturing. I helped my baby crawl to my breast, then Aroha latched on and nuzzled, and ... stayed latched on! This continued feed after feed. I knew could ask for help at the hospital, but I never needed help because Aroha never had any trouble staying latched on.
We were discharged after one night, and set up our room at home for bedsharing. I connected with a small parent group in my local area in Sydney, Australia (this was in 2013 and I don’t think there was any LLL presence in Australia then). When Aroha was 12 months old, we moved to New Zealand, where I found out about La Leche League and connected with LLL groups. I also started hearing about attachment parenting, which resonated with me a lot. Aroha was nearly three when our nursing relationship ended. We still bedshare at 5.5 years old now.
During the time Aroha was nursing, I recovered from that dark hole of post-natal depression. The art of nursing helped me recover. I realised I needed to be compassionate towards myself. I also understood that the challenges with Tui were actually never my fault. The system failed me, and I realised it must have failed many other families.
I then became very passionate about human milk feeding and supporting families. I was no longer angry at breastfeeding advocates ... I had become one of them! I love Tui so much, even though the early part of our journey was intensely challenging. To this day, we continue to work very hard on our attachment because it is something that did not feel natural to me when Tui was a baby.
I am ever so thankful for both my children for teaching me to be a parent. I have learnt so much from both of them.
Close to the Heart Vol. 19, No. 3 (Late-Year 2018)
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