Without friends or family, we had to navigate a complicated healthcare system. Language barriers certainly did not help our situation. Our first language is Bahasa Indonesian and the first language of most Hong Kong people is Cantonese, so we communicated with healthcare providers in English, a second language for all of us. This meant we didn’t always receive full explanations of what would happen next.
Moreover, my husband and I knew nothing about babies – neither of us had ever handled a child before, let alone an infant – and we knew even less about breastfeeding. We both grew up in formula-feeding families and had never seen anyone breastfeeding before. It’s perhaps surprising that I decided to breastfeed, but I was encouraged by a friend who was breastfeeding, plus a Bahasa Indonesian nursery rhyme stuck in my head: “I am a healthy kid because I am breastfed.”
Fortunately, my husband was fully supportive of my choice, although he also wanted to follow the advice of doctors who did not always encourage breastfeeding. My baby and I used a lot of trial and error to figure out how to make it work. It has been a tough journey and I feel very lucky that we made it.
Things seemed to start well. When Kate was born, she latched like magic. It was the most beautiful experience. I sobbed and told her I was sorry that she was not born as planned (I had undergone a prolonged induction, attached to IV drips for fluids and Syntocinon, and in the final stages forceps were used, which was all quite traumatic). But Kate was not bothered at all by my apologies. She suckled peacefully while her eyes looking deeply into mine. The nurse woke me up three hours later to feed her. Again, both of us were lost in each other’s dreamy eyes.
We continued to have our blissful moments until the second day, when she was weighed and her diaper logs were studied. Then all hell broke loose. She hadn’t passed urine for 12 hours and she had lost 3% of her birth weight. The hospital nurses and were concerned about dehydration paediatrician and told me that I was not producing enough milk. They recommended that Kate be given supplemental formula milk, to which I consented for the duration of our stay in hospital. Once we reached home, my milk “came in” on day 4 and I began to exclusively breastfeed her. She started to pick up her weight gain on day 5.
Unfortunately, that very night, she accidentally pulled her umbilical cord, causing puss to ooze from it. We took her back to hospital, where the doctor was concerned that she might catch an infection, so she was admitted to the NICU for one night and I was not permitted to stay. I only had one chance to breastfeed her while she was in the NICU. I wanted to express milk for her but they did not have any pumping facilities, and I had not brought a pump along because I had not expected her to be admitted, so she was fed formula during that night.
Looking back, I hardly knew anything about breastfeeding. All my knowledge came from a one-hour crash course in the hospital, which in retrospect did not present the most up-to-date, evidence-based information. For instance, we were told that breastfeeding while side-lying was dangerous, that feeds should be strictly scheduled, that babies should feed for 30 minutes on each breast at every feed. Nurses in the hospital repeated such advice after Kate was born, and I had no other information so I tried to follow their advice. I even used a stopwatch to time her feeding sessions – I now cringe at the memory of that. If only I had joined La Leche League earlier and read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding before my baby was born!
So we had a shaky start with a few hurdles to overcome – lack of up-to-date information, introduction of formula at the hospital – but by the end of the fourth week, breastfeeding was going well and I had a good milk supply. I believe what helped me the most was my availability to Kate 24/7 without being disturbed by anyone. We had no visitors; we asked our families to hold off their visits until after the traditional 40-day “confinement period”. This created such a big brouhaha; our request was considered disrespectful to the grandmothers, who in our culture usually get involved (and often take over) at an early stage. After the 40th day, my parents came to visit from Indonesia for a week, but my in-laws remained upset with us.
We did have a domestic helper at home, which helped us to manage without family around. However, I began to feel jealous that our helper was able to soothe Kate better than me. Kate loved to be held and rocked, but I had a very painful episiotomy wound and pelvic pain which hurt me so much, even just from standing up, let alone when holding a 3.5 kg baby. Also, my breasts seemed prone to blocked ducts whenever there was a slight pressure on them, such as carrying her. Since I had been advised not to breastfeed Kate to sleep, I began to feel useless. I felt like a wet nurse to my baby because I was only able to breastfeed or pump milk and was unable to comfort her.
I only had one friend who was breastfeeding, so I felt the need for more support. I decided to join a breastfeeding support group on Facebook. While I was encouraged to learn there were so many mothers out there in the same boat, I was quickly disappointed with their inclination towards pumping. I share their fascination with the natural wonders of breast milk: I know it is fantastic nutrition with amazing anti-infective properties, which can’t be adequately replicated by formula milk. But breastfeeding to me is more than just good nutrition. It is a great tool for me and my baby to easily feel close to each other. Bottle-feeding expressed milk could not replace the feeling that I have when she looks at me during our quiet nursing time.
Dissatisfaction with the “breastmilk-feeding group” caused me to learn more about La Leche League. I read their information more carefully and understood that LLL acknowledges the difference between breastmilk-feeding and breastfeeding. I was encouraged to discover that I’m not the only one who makes that distinction. At my first meeting, it felt wonderful to be surrounded by women who treated breastfeeding as normal.
Now my baby is nine months old and my greatest wish is to have the freedom to breastfeed my girl openly, wherever and whenever she wants. Both of us totally hate being under cover! I wish one day breastfeeding in public will be accepted as normal.
I also have a dream that Kate continues breastfeeding until she is old enough that she can remember doing it. I think breastfeeding is one of the most powerful ways to express how much I love her. I don't think any words will be able to fully express how special it has been for both of us, so I want her to be able to remember and understand.
Close to the Heart Vol. 16, No. 2 (Mid-Year 2015)
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