This is a piece written for us by a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter.
When I had my eldest in 2009, I hadn’t really made a decision on whether to breastfeed. I certainly hadn’t prepared or read up about it and, to all intents and purposes, I had prepared beforehand by buying everything I needed to formula feed: the steriliser, the bottles, even a tub of Cow & Gate.
This time though, I was older. I knew breastfeeding wasn’t easy, and I spent the weeks before A arrived endlessly perusing the La Leche League’s ‘Womanly Art of Breastfeeding’. I’d waited a long time for this second child and I was going to do things the ‘right’ way if it killed me. I shrugged off the tone of the guide which immediately put me on the defensive and took it for what it was. When A was born, she latched on like a dream. Perhaps this was going to be easy, I thought smugly.
The next day my husband returned to work. He’s on a temporary contract and wasn’t entitled to any leave and hadn’t accrued enough holiday to take much time. I understood his reasons and got on with things. What I hadn’t contemplated was the sheer amount of time BFing took up. It quickly became clear I would have to sit for hours with A to settle her—and almost immediately I began to get sore. I consulted my manual and tried some of the different BF positions suggested. A screamed and got upset whenever I tried her in any position but me lying down, which meant I had to go upstairs a lot and leave my eldest to fend for herself.
Two days after I gave birth, I had to do the school run with my eldest…I barely got myself out of the house in time to get her to school. And then I was accompanied by a screaming, red-faced, furious infant who’d had her feed cut short. I wasn’t able to prepare meals, as A was almost permanently attached to me. One day I ate a grand total of six biscuits. This was followed by night after night of no sleep with a baby who just couldn’t seem to disentangle herself from my boobs. I remember crying when my eldest shouted at me from downstairs, as she wanted me to play with her, and I couldn’t move in case I lost my latch (which I’d spent 20 minutes trying to get right, with aforementioned red-faced, screaming, furious infant).
So I did what they tell you to do—ask for help! I called my local breastfeeding support group. By this point I was dreading every feed—A was struggling to latch properly, which was causing pain, and every feed took hours. The lady I spoke to told me she was sorry, there was no outpatient appointment for 2 days, but she could give me help over the phone. She was very lovely but her advice was that it sounded as if my latch wasn’t right (but she couldn’t show me what I was doing wrong over the phone and I was damned if I could work it out)—and that I needed lots of skin to skin. Great advice if I only had A to look after—almost impossible with two. I went along to a parent and baby club the next day and surprised myself by feeding her in public for the first time—admittedly, among other BFing mums. But it was a start. Another mum commented that my latch didn’t look quite right and that was why I was probably in pain. Apparently it shouldn’t hurt if it was being done right. When my midwife visited me, she told me my latch was perfect. I ended up hugely confused and doubtful.
When A was a week old, I had an appointment with a local midwife to check her weight and general health. The concerned look on the midwife’s face when I was told that A hadn’t gained her birth weight made me feel like utter shit. I’d been trying so hard, the baby blues had kicked in, and now I was starving my child too? She quizzed me about how many wet nappies she’d produced. I couldn’t remember an exact amount—I didn’t even know what day it was. But the fact she hadn’t poo’ed for 5 days, well, that was a massive problem too. She offered to check my latch again but I was so upset I just wanted to go home. My formula-fed eldest thrived straight away; this couldn’t have been more different.
The next day, I woke up to red, angry patches over my left breast. A health visitor came to see me at home and almost the moment she walked through the door, I burst into tears and told her what had happened. She visibly flinched when I showed my breast to her and called my doctors. I got an appointment the same day and was prescribed antibiotics. With a serious expression, my doctor told me I would no longer be able to feed A myself on the drugs he was going to give me. The relief I felt, I cannot even begin to describe. The fact it had been taken out of my hands meant the world to me; I had an excuse that was valid when someone asked me why I hadn’t breastfed. (In my mind, I imagine people asking this question; no one has yet.)
I went home and told the BFing group I’d joined on Facebook that I’d be leaving them, and was immediately told my doctor was wrong, that the drugs he’d prescribed me were perfectly safe for breastfeeding. ‘Nooooooooooo!’ my inner self was screaming, ‘Please don’t let this be a decision that I have to MAKE!’ I decided to use my breastpump instead. My boobs were so sore by this point, particularly after mastitis, that I could not entertain the idea of her trying to latch on. It was then that a bit of advice from a good friend (who is also a breastfeeding support worker) said to me, ‘You have waited so long for this baby. Isn’t it about time that you got to enjoy her?’
It didn’t take long for my milk to dry up completely, even with the breast pump. (I found I had even less time to pump with preparing bottles and I couldn’t manage to get much out of my boobs at all.)
A is now thriving. My eldest has got her mum back and I don’t dread every time A cries for a feed.
That’s not to say I’m comfortable with formula feeding. I compare myself unfavourably with every woman that has managed to do it successfully. What has she got that I haven’t? How was she able to work through mastitis, personal circumstances, pain, whilst I couldn’t? Why didn’t I prepare myself more? Maybe I just didn’t want it enough. I feel very defensive when breastfeeding is mentioned and I even find myself waiting for comments or dirty looks when I’m bottle feeding in public. (As others have pointed out, it’s unlikely anyone in real life really cares—but hey, my mind is doing weird things to me at the moment.) The weirdest thing for me is trying to reconcile myself to doing ‘what’s best’. Undoubtedly, the ‘best’ thing for our family was formula—but that doesn’t stop the incessant voice inside my head telling me I haven’t done what’s ‘best’ for A’s health.