I have seen and read so many articles lately that have popped on social media regarding the “Breast is Best” slogan versus the “Fed is Best” slogan. I’ve had a long time to think about how I wanted to approach the subject. For the first little while I was extremely heated. Then because I was so heated, I figured it was best not to say anything at all. Now that I’ve had time to think it over, I’ve decided the best way to tackle this is head on. This first part is going to be about my birthing experience and delivery and why I couldn’t breastfeed. I feel if you know the back story first, you’ll know why I feel so passionately about this topic. I would like to thank Shawn from her blog “Acquiring the Words” for motivating me to say something, and for taking this approach. You should definitely go check out her blog because she did a great job at tackling this subject and sharing her story. I’ve posted the link to her blog at the bottom of this page.
I would like to adamantly express that there is ZERO shaming in my message, and I would like the same rule to be applied on the comment section of my blog. If you have anything negative to say about either side of this extremely sensitive topic, I would suggest you mull it over in your head, have your own debate with your conscience, and then walk away from the computer.
Now, my birthing story is quite a long one, so I’m going to try to be concise but also include the necessary parts so you can understand it to the fullest extent.
My delivery started late Monday night, early Tuesday morning. To be exact, my water broke at 12:45 am Tuesday, June 28th. I didn’t have any contractions and walked pretty much the entire day trying to get my labour going. By 6:00pm nothing had happened and I timed out so I had to go to the hospital to be induced, where I was put in the high risk ward of the hospital. I finally started feeling intense contractions Wednesday morning and asked for the epidural. I waited, and waited, and waited. People came and went, the clock ticked by, and nothing was happening. I had an IV drip but was told I couldn’t eat. I literally had a skittle smacked out of my hand. A freaking skittle. Anyways, by Thursday morning I finally felt like I needed to push. So I did. For over 5 hours. Nothing was happening. I was worn out, tired, hungry, beat up, high on the drugs, and yet still miserably in pain. Then, we went from days of nothing happening, and hours of me pushing with no results, to all of a sudden something dramatic happening. I don’t know what got everyone in such a tizzy but within 5 seconds it seemed like every staff member on that ward was in my room saying things to me that I don’t remember. Things were being connected and disconnected and before I could even ask what was going on I felt myself being rushed down the hallway. I knew something was going on but couldn’t talk and couldn’t open my eyes. I was in my zone. If I opened my eyes I would know something scary was going on and I knew I had to remain calm. Suddenly we were in the operating room, I felt the bright lights on my face and heard so many voices saying things to me and directing me what to do. I just grabbed my husbands hand and followed his voice. He was always my rock and I needed him now more than ever. I was told my daughter was going to be vacuumed out and I would have to push three times as hard as I could and if it didn’t work they were going to do an emergency C-section. As tired as I was I knew this was almost it, she was almost here. It took everything in my body to push as hard as I could and within three tries, she was here. It was over, I finally did it. They plunked her on my chest and everything that I had gone through the past 3 days was forgotten. I forgot the pain, I forgot how tired I was. I forgot the 9 months of anticipation and misery. I forgot there were 2 people down there stitching me up. I forgot there were 6 other people still in the room. In that moment, the three of us were finally together. We were complete.
We went back to our room in the high risk ward where our families joined us and got to meet our Kaiya. We then packed up and were taken upstairs to the regular recovery ward with all the other moms. We were still in our euphoric state of love and infatuation as people came and went. I was still enjoying the remnants of the epidural and had no concern of the type of recovery I would have to endure. Everything was perfect.
As soon as you begin enjoying the immense love and joy you feel for your baby it seems within an instant it’s all ripped away from you. The effects of the epidural wear off, the pain starts to kick in and the lack of sleep & nourishment hit you like a truck. I had a midwife, (which was one of the best decisions I had ever made!) but she was not on call the week I delivered so it was another lady on her team. She came in and congratulated us and showed me how to breastfeed. Kaiya seemed to be making drinking noises and I felt like things were going well. She didn’t drink for long, so after we finished we put the baby in the bassinet so her and I could get some rest.
This is the moment where I felt everything began to fall apart. After the baby was down the midwife sat my husband down on the bed with me and began her lecture. My iron was extremely low and they were considering doing a blood transfusion, unless I agreed to take heavy doses of iron pills. I agreed and thought that was the end of it, but then she laid down the rules. “Your wife can not stand up with the baby. Your wife can not hold the baby without you beside her. When you go home you must watch her at all times to see if she faints. She is not allowed out of your sight. Even in a few weeks she can not go grocery shopping by herself. Her iron is too low and she is at extreme risk of fainting.” She gave this lecture to not only me and my husband but our families as well. Everyone was to understand that my body was too weak to be left alone with my baby, and that if I ever held her I would have to be under everyone’s careful watch. I thought it was over kill but hey I’ll take the added help.
Every few hours I would take more pills. Every time I stood up to use the bathroom I had to have 3 people hold me up, someone to move my legs for me, and 2 to help me stand up. I had to give myself a solid 5 minutes of just standing before I could try and move to make sure I didn’t faint. All I wanted to do was sleep for the next week. Then in come the nurses telling me it’s time to breastfeed. Kaiya seemed to latch ok but nothing was coming out. She started crying and I didn’t know what to do. We tried different positions and nothing seemed to work. One of the nurses massaged my breasts trying to get things to flow but nothing was coming out. I remember she held up one of those plastic spoons next to my nipple and after probably about 5-10 minutes 1 little gold droplet would come out. She did that for the next hour until we had the tip of the spoon covered. Kaiya gulped it down in one small sip and cried for more. An hours worth of work for all that and within one sip its gone. So we go to work on the next breast. Same thing. After an hour of massaging we only covered the tip of the plastic spoon. It’s enough to get the baby calm at least and able to sleep. I was so sore.
Every hour to two hours the nurses would come in and massage my breasts and squeeze whatever they could out of them. They taught me how to do it but I couldn’t get nearly enough as they did. That’s when they decided to get me to talk to the lactation consultant. She decided to get me to try the breast pump every 2-3 hours and see how much milk I could produce. I remember being so excited because I got just over 4 millilitres in 25 minutes. It was like triple what I was getting before. So I kept at it, every 2-3 hours. The baby had been losing weight and they wanted to keep me an extra day, but since I had a midwife they decided to let me go home once we came up with a “feeding plan”. We would keep up with the pumping and could supplement with formula only if the baby seemed to be extremely hungry.
Once we got home, I had a family member pick me up a breast pump like the one I had in the hospital and we would supplement with formula while I tried to pump. One thing that really took me surprise was the immense pain I was in. I couldn’t sit on my couch or my bed, the only place I could sit semi-comfortably was the rocking chair in the baby’s room. So I would go in there every 2-3 hours and be milked like a dairy cow. I would force myself to sit there for half an hour, and out of each breast I would maybe get a few ml’s. But this is what I’m supposed to do. This is what my body is meant to do. This is what my baby needs. I have to sit here and do this because it’s my job and she needs me to.
I did this for a total of 8 days. I was tired, I was miserable and I was an emotional wreck. We kept a diary of how much she ate and when, whether it was formula or breast milk, how many wet diapers she had, and when she slept. My husband would feed her as much as he could so that I could pump and get rest in between. I was taking my iron pills which made me lose my appetite so I was barely eating. My milk supply was not increasing, if anything it seemed like it was going down. I had to shower almost every morning to warm up my boobs so that they could produce. I massaged them all the time, and drank mothers milk tea which made my tummy even more upset than it already was from the iron pills. I put creams on my nipples to numb the pain and connect better with the pump.
I was horribly mad at myself, and extremely disappointed. I resented Kaiya for not taking my breast and I hated myself for not being able to provide for my baby. I cried every day, and most days multiple times throughout the day. I felt myself wanting to be around her less and less. I was not happy and euphoric anymore, I was miserable; I was depressed. I could feel the depression taking over me and my body. I was pumping less and less because of how upset it made me to do so. I stayed in my bed for hours on end and my husband would try to bring the baby to me but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to be around her because I was reminded of how badly I had failed her.
One day my midwife came over and I just cried. I cried till there were no more tears coming out. I cried from deep within my soul. I felt so incredibly guilty for giving her formula more and more, and pumping less and less. I told her how I thought I had post-partum depression, and how I resented my baby. I told her how weak my body felt, and how often I stayed in my room. I told her how I hated myself for not being able to give my baby the sustenance she needed. Then she said the magic words “You can exclusively formula feed you know…”. I have no idea how I never thought that. It never occurred to me that that was a possibility, or that it would be accepted and okay to exclusively formula feed. I knew I had been formula fed as a baby, (and I like to think I turned out okay!) but all I heard throughout my pregnancy, and all throughout the hospital was “breast is best”. All your baby wants is to be breast fed. The only thing your baby will ever need is your breast milk.
Later that night I told my husband what the midwife had said and it was like another “a-ha” moment. I said to him, “Elizabeth told me today we could exclusively formula feed, if that’s okay with you.” (I’m going to come back to this in part 2 of this blog post). And my husband says “Okay”. Like it was nothing. So I asked him two more times, “Are you sure that’s what we want to do? Are you sure you’re okay with this?”. And again, just so calm and reassuring he goes, “Of course baby. You’re not happy, and that’s all that matters to me.” (even writing that teared me up again, and its been 8 fricken months!)
That was that, and from that glorious moment we formula fed, and continue to do so to this day. I still have my moments where I think I could’ve tried harder and should’ve kept going, but I was so miserable, I was so unhappy. I could feel the depression taking over me. I knew I was heading down a very dark path. I could feel myself resenting my baby, and I could feel myself not enjoying this wonderful time of our lives. Looking back, I know my body was not well enough to take care of itself, let alone create enough milk to sustain my baby.
Kaiya is one of the most calm and happiest babies I have ever met. She’s been sleeping through the night, on average for 12 hours, since she was 7 weeks old. She has yet to be sick and can be fed from anyone. She is smart, strong and inquisitive. Watching my baby grow and thrive, it’s hard to say I regret my decision. I still have the guilt but I shouldn’t.
In part 2 of this blog post I will tackle the guilt and shaming of this sensitive debate.
Don’t forget to check out Shawn’s blog!!