It can’t just be me, surely? Other women feel this too, right?
When I was pregnant, I never really made a conscious decision to breastfeed. I did some research but I didn’t go excessively down the rabbit hole of breastfeeding forums and infographics and all the other stuff you can find if you start looking. I didn’t want to be too prepared. In actuality, I was like that with most areas of my pregnancy. I would read the minimum, the bare edges, the headlines. I think I was scared to delve too deeply. My brain was already on overdrive with what if’s and I didn’t need the internet giving me more fuel for the fire.
When the day came and my son was born, the nurse placed him on my chest as they sewed me up beyond the curtain. He managed to wriggle his way up my chest until he was practically on my neck. They took him away for all the checks they do. His dad went with him, I couldn’t bare for him to be without one of us when he was mere minutes old. And then there he was, back on my chest, cuddling into me. A nurse? Midwife? I’m really not sure. Someone guided him towards my breast and he started to nurse and I remember thinking ‘Wow, that was easy.’ Oh how wrong I was!
Because I had a caesarean I had to spend 5 days — 5 long days — in hospital. Every evening someone would pop into the room and check in to see if you had enough milk for the baby. If you’re not breastfeeding, they give you small bottles of pre-made formula with twist off tops and plastic wrapped sanitised teets that twist onto the bottle. I was given advice from family and friends who recently had babies to say I wanted the bottles, even if I was planning to feed him myself. So I ended up with a stash of them in my bedside locker. But we tried to nurse. And failed. And tried. And failed.
That first night, the midwife took him away — both fearful and thankful I let him go — and she fed him a bottle. And he was happy. For a time. I resorted to giving him the bottles, but some dogged determination in me wanted to keep trying to Do It Myself! He’s my son, surely I should be able to provide for him in this basic way?
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew it could take time. So after a very long night the midwife on duty the following day offered to help; to give me a lesson in how to use my own boobs. She grasped his head in one hand, my boob in the other and shoved us together, wiggling my nipple in his mouth. And yeah, it was about as comfortable and dignified as it sounds. While this was going on, the grandparents arrived which gave the midwife the excuse she needed to leave. ‘I don’t perform in front of an audience’ she said. She promised to come back later.
I got lucky and he nursed for a good 15 minutes, so when she reappeared — as charming as ever – I informed her we were getting there and she left us to it. But what followed was another long night where I resorted to giving him bottles. No one wants their child to go hungry, and while I wanted to provide for him, giving him the bottle was doing just that. If we didn’t connect on the breastfeeding then so be it.
The following day, we met a woman who changed our lives. The midwife on duty – if memory serves her name was Grace, and she was appropriately named — asked how we were getting on with the feeding and I was honest with her. We’d had more failure than success. She told me she was the lactation specialist on the ward so the next time he was due a feed to call her and she’d come sit with us.
The fifteen minutes she sat with me were life-changing. For both of us.
She explained clearly and calmly, she talked me through it. Talking about it later I said that before Grace’s attention, my son and I were on the same topic but not reading the same book. Afterwards, we were reading the same book and were even on the same chapter. Though maybe not quite the same page.
Getting to the same chapter was only the beginning of the battle. And my god what a battle.
He latched well, but the pain, sweet Jesus! Going back to the hospital when he was seven days old to have my stitches checked and dressing changed, I asked the midwife about the pain in my boobs. Sore nipples? Check. Cracking? Check. Bleeding? Check. Pain when he latches? Searing shooting pains through your boob? Check, double check, left and right check!
Stick with it. Use the lanolin cream. Pump if you can. She told me to rub them with a rough towel. The thought of it still sends shivers down my spine, a mere 15 months later. I know, she said, last thing you want to do. But it will help.
I didn’t believe her. If I barely tapped a soft towel against them the pain was excruciating. And all the wonderful breastfeeding clothes I had eagerly purchased now felt restrictive. I was walking around the house in a button up pyjama top that was open most of the time, the cool air a blessing to the boob.
I started suffering what I lovingly referred to as Breastfeeding Tourettes. I would leave the room to feed him if we had visitors, not to spare them the sight of me feeding, to me that is perfectly natural, but to spare them the torrent of verbal abuse that spewed from me when he started to feed. I started writing down the random things that flowed freely from my mouth. Such as –
*Crap *Fuck *Jesus Christ *Holy Moly
Normal enough? I got more inventive.
*Fuck nuggets *Shizers *Buggeration *Crud Buckets
I also remember telling him ‘Good boy, reduce the pain in Mommy’s boob.’ Feeding was about the only thing that actually helped, even though it was painful to start. It always lessened after he fed for a couple of minutes. And gradually, over time, feeding got easier. We started reading from the same page of the same book. We enjoyed our time together. Breastfeeding got comfortable and easy. Well, easier. The pain comes back from time to time, we have our battles and moments still. But that’s a story for another day.