Today is KB’s first day back at work after long service leave and we are missing him terribly! It’s grey outside and so far I’ve only managed to get one child dressed. (I’ll give you one guess as to which girl is dressed and which replied No, I tan’t when I asked her politely to put her clothes on.)
It’s been a really busy couple of weeks since we got back from our holiday. Most notably, my sister had her first baby and I became an Aunty! The girls love having a little cousin, another girl! I’m aching for my next cuddle.
A while back I mentioned things were a little rocky in the breastfeeding arena. Last week Peach had her posterior tongue tie and upper lip tie fixed and it’s safe to say I had the toughest week in my motherly life. It was such a difficult decision to make and we deliberated for a couple of months consulting one specialist after another. Views are so mixed that we had to gather all the information and make the best decision we could for little P. In the end we decided to go along with the procedure (where the tongue tie and upper lip tie are lasered, giving the baby more movement and ability to feed, swallow, develop speech, etc). It’s still too early to say whether we made the right decision and it certainly isn’t a procedure I would be wanting to repeat any time soon. I found myself wallowing in such a black cloud of mother guilt in the days following that I couldn’t see straight. I’ve found my way out now, but gee, the toughest job in the world alright.
In other news we set up a raised garden bed in our yard and I spray painted the legs of one of my coffee tables gold, just because we needed some sparkle.
We also went to the zoo and I pretended it was the apocalypse:
I had a visit from a lactation consultant today. Cue audible sigh. I booked it earlier in the week when I had the funny feeling that things were becoming a little pear shaped when Peach was trying to feed. A clicking noise here, a bit of breast refusal there… it all started to accumulate until one day I had trouble feeding her at all. It’s funny how these things creep up when you’re in the thick of it. Sometimes it takes a slap in the face to be able to notice things that are happening right in front of you.
While little P is nothing like the Pixie in the breastfeeding stakes, I was getting a few warning bells over the past few weeks. Apparently things can go a little awry at the six week mark, which is precisely when I started to wonder if she was feeding as well as I thought she was.
Today confirmed it: a posterior tongue tie, a high palette, a shallow latch and a severe case of Overzealous Let Down and Spraying Boob (self-diagnosis those last two). But also: a darling baby who is trying very hard to make it all work.
It’s not panic stations by any means. At least now I know why I had that little persistent voice in the back of my head and I wasn’t making it all up due to past experience (because I have to admit that I do tend to hit the panic button when she so much as looks at my breast the wrong way). I admitted to the LC today that I thought perhaps she would think I was silly for booking her, given I’m sure she sees situations that are a lot more dire. She assured me that one of the mottos she lives by is “always listen to the mother”, because the mother usually knows best when it comes to these intricate matters.
And just how ridiculously intricate is breastfeeding?!
I never would have known it.
Or guessed it.
I often wonder what would have happened in the cave days… would another woman have breastfed our child if we had trouble ourselves? Are there more problems now than previously? Do all our rules and regulations about nipple angles and latch and positioning pay off or cause us more trouble?
Cue second audible sigh. Sigh.
I don’t know the answer.
But my girl is thriving is every other possible way, so we will continue to iron out these things together.
With KB back at work I’m now almost two weeks in to what will be my regular life as mother of three, staying at home while he is at work. I must admit, I am a little on the sleepy side.
While I had an extra pair of hands it was easy to go about our days in holiday mode. We spent some time during that first month down at the beach. We had coffees and went for walks. I slept in. Every. Day.
Now I’m up between 6.30am and 7am regardless of what has occurred overnight. KB leaves the house at about 7.30am and gets home between 6.30pm and on some nights, 8pm. Yesterday was one of those 8pm days. At 9am I was sitting on the couch breastfeeding Peach while the bigger two danced around with snotty noses and porridge on their chins. I looked up at the clock and my first thought was a grim: I’ve got 11 hours to go. Insert panicked emoji here. ‘
It’s funny how you forget the ways of newborns. I remember the first time around when I finally (quite late in the piece) discovered the concept of Eat Play Sleep. I remember a particular exasperating day where little Birdie was awake ALL DAY. Because I had no idea that I should actually try to put her to sleep at some point. By the end of the day she was screaming and I was beside myself.
Nowadays I know what to look for in a tired baby. I see the familiar jerking of the limbs and Peach is bundled up and popped into her bassinet (which now, during the day, resides in our lounge room amongst the noise, the shouting and the crying and the mess. It seems she loves a bit of background noise… for the moment anyway). I’m not surprised when I see her face scrunch up only moments after smiling and cooing – I know just how quickly play can turn to sleep, with some encouragement. I recognise those small windows of opportunity where you have your hands free and I know exactly what to do with those moments (go to the toilet, put a wash on, make tea, and eat, in no particular order).
I had forgotten, though, just how quickly these rhythms flow throughout the day, and how time consuming it is to move through each. Feeding, changing, playing, wrapping, cuddling, and sleep for what seems like moments before it all begins again.
While it seems stilted at the moment, as I get used to this new flow to our days I can see a pattern emerging. I am (re)learning to quickly prepare some bite sized snacks for myself in the evenings, to meal plan as best I can, to start the bedtime rhythm earlier than normal (yesterday I ran the bath at 4pm… and three and a half hours later I finally managed to get the girls into bed… with a small amount of smugness that they were all (all) singlehandedlybathed and hair washed and fed and teeth cleaned and read to and kissed and goodnighted).
Now I am sitting here with the Pixie and Peach asleep, and Birdie is at kinder. It took me over an hour to get P and P to sleep… I haven’t done a food shop so I ate popcorn and a breakfast smoothie for lunch, and now I have to wake them both up in five minutes to go and collect their sister.
I am absolutely ravenous. I can’t stop eating. I am an eating machine. I hide food from my children and take bites when they aren’t looking. I eat the contents of lolly bags they are given at parties after they have gone to bed.
This is me: the breastfeeder. I am a lot more prone to “cravings” while I am breastfeeding than when pregnant. I like food at the best of times, but when a small human is sucking the life out of me at two hourly intervals, I’m a food obsessed monster.
I spent a foul twenty minutes on the coles online website last week searching variations of “m&m’s” to no avail… mandms/m&ms/m and m/m and m’s… etc (take note coles, you lost $5 because of this and made me very mad).
I met some girlfriends at a friend’s place today. While they were drinking cups of tea I was hovering around the kiddie table, stealing watermelon fingers from the childrens’ plate.
The thing I love about this is that it’s the one time in your life you can eat like a killer whale while simultaneously feeling like a supermodel because you’re still getting used to feeling 20kg lighter than you were a few weeks ago. Best!
So excuse me while I go and prepare my bedside snacks for night time feeding… a tasty selection of nuts and biscuits tonight I think, or perhaps a bag of corn chips, or maybe a handful of choc chip cookies…
Three months later not a feed goes by without me wishing I was nuzzling her into my breast, not the silicone teat of a bottle. As I watch powdered formula slowly dissolve in cooled boiled water, I feel cheated. When I see the ominous can sitting on my kitchen bench, I glare at it angrily.
There are times too that I am so thankful for it, so thankful things have worked out, so thankful to have a healthy and thriving baby despite earlier challenges, so thankful to have a backup. But nothing can heal or replace the upset I feel at our breastfeeding journey being cut short.
I watched this video yesterday, have you seen it? It’s fantastic, a poem by Hollie McNish about her experience of people judging her for breastfeeding in public. No mother should ever feel too embarrassed to feed her baby in public.
As I watched the video, I longed for her problems. I wished it was me deciding what to wear in the morning so that I could easily access my breast. I wished it was me swearing about ugly breastfeeding bras as I clip myself up in the morning. I wished it was me contemplating the weather and feeling the icy air on my stomach as I lift my shirt at the coffee shop for my baby. I wished it was me having people glare at me for flashing a small piece of flesh while they sipped lattes or walked their dogs.
Instead, I feel embarrassed about placing my bottle of cooled boiled water on the table. I feel eyes on me as I scoop powder and swirl it around in the water while I chat to a friend. I anticipate their thoughts, wondering if I am lazy, if I couldn’t be bothered, if breastfeeding wasn’t for me or if I didn’t think it mattered. If they think I didn’t put the effort in to breastfeed, if they think that I’m not educated, that I don’t know that breast is best, that I don’t care. I wonder if they wonder these things, I wonder if they judge me. I feel judged, maybe because once upon a time I was the person at the other table, breastfeeding my baby and making what I thought were innocent assumptions about the women who didn’t.
Last night I was rifling around in my bedside table drawer looking for a pen. I found a few bits of paper torn from a notebook, dated 10 September 2010 when Birdie was five months old. On the paper were scribbled words in blue texta. I thought I would share them with you today, for although things have been different with the Pixie, my thoughts about breastfeeding haven’t changed. I would do anything to be able to feed her again. I tried a few weeks ago, after I got out of the shower. I thrust a breast at her, knowing full well I have no milk, knowing it was weird. She just looked at me with the expression what the hell are you doing? And I asked myself the same question and went to get dressed.
Here are the notes I found last night:
A single tear drifts across the bridge of your nose as you suck.
A gentle dance along your smooth skin.
You’re lying sideways, longways. Horizontal. A perfect palm lays across my breast.
Skin to skin.
I can feel the outline of your tiny hand on my skin.
Slight, unconscious movements.
Your perfect face is barely moving but for shallow breaths.
Inside your mouth your tongue pulls at my nipple, bringing forth abundance.
Your eyes are closed but just moments ago they curled and rolled with the most basic of pleasures.
The very heart of humanity and beauty and life itself is caught in this single moment.
This one single moment of truth, of real, of substance.
Firstly I must say a very warm and heartfelt thank you to those who have commented on my last post, emailed me, texted me, called me, hugged me. Thank you dear friends, family and readers! I really do appreciate your kind words and thoughts, particularly in times of tough decision making and shitty/unplanned outcomes as I have been experiencing around here.
About a month ago I was lucky enough to be given a leave pass to use a massage voucher I was given for Christmas. I see my naturopath for massages every now and then which are absolutely amazing and a wonderful treat. We were talking as I lay on the table, about this and that. Usually we talk about True Blood and life. True Blood hasn’t been a discussion point of late as we are waiting for Season 6, so it was mainly just life that was being discussed. She advised me to wait four weeks. Just wait. To give myself four weeks without thinking too much about this dilemma and that dilemma. Without wondering who I am and where I’m going and if I’m breastfeeding or what type of mother I am or where we are going to live or whether the sky is blue for any particular reason or whether or not there is life in outer-space (I do wonder this, do you?). She assured me that things would fall into place.
This was a harder task than one would imagine, but I tried hard and kind of managed to succeed.
And fall into place, things did!
In the last week I have gone from the point where I could not make a decision about whether or not to take the rubbish out, to suddenly seeing so much clarity around me. Perhaps coming to the end of breastfeeding and making such an enormously difficult decision has cleared some space in my mind. Yes, probably. Perhaps getting a few hours of extra sleep has removed some fog. Who knows.
I have learnt a few things on this motherly path. I experienced this influx of “life questions” on-mass last time I was on maternity leave. Maternity leave is wonderful: it is fun and tiring and expansive. It’s also a time that I personally feel kind of withdrawn from the rest of society. For me, it is like stepping away from the “real” world (I hesitate to say that, as I think being a mother is pretty much as real as it gets), taking time out and not having the external hustle and bustle going on that distracts you from you. Maternity leave has given me the time and space to think (too much?) about my life and where I am headed, despite being physically and environmentally busier than I have ever been in my life.
Excuse all this, I have had two coffees today which we all know is against the rules for me, so I am not really sure where this is going or if it makes sense to any of you.
I had kind of a premonition the other day. I’m just about due to go back to uni (naturopathy degree) after a year off. We are balancing some figures and wondering how long we can last without me going back to work. Things have been vague and for a while now I have had a niggling feeling in my gut that has been questioning my path. Do I forget about uni for now and go back to community development and disability? Do I change plans again and do something completely different? Who the bloody hell am I? What do I like? What am I good at? I felt insanely jealous of people who have just fallen into something they feel passionate about and who totally love going to work every day. I had pretty much decided to forget everything and think about it again when my girls are in Primary School.
Then, the epiphany. What do I like most outside my family and kids? What am I drawn to? What am I interested in? What do I think about when I think about a future career in naturopathy and how I would treat patients? What do I like to do? What do I think about? What excites me? What do I want to learn about? What do I read books about? What do I like searching on google?
The answer came to me a couple of nights ago at around 2.30am as I sat up in bed cradling the Pixie in my arms in the dark:
I LOVE FOOD. I love thinking about it, cooking it, learning about it. I love how good food, real food, can influence our lives, our health, our happiness and our communities. I love the connection between good nutrition and community. My community development background urges me to learn how to teach other people about it, help pregnant women to navigate it, to show new mummies how to introduce it to their kidlets. It feels like a fit, a fantastic melding together of my current skills and future goals. My gut said YES! I said YES! This is it! I could hardly contain myself from waking the just-sleeping baby in my lap to tell her.
The very next day, I rang uni and began the process of transferring from naturopathy to nutritional medicine. I go back in four weeks (part time!).
Flying by the seat of my pants? Absolutely!
Excited? Finally feeling in my gut that I am doing the right thing? Many questions evaporated from my mind? YES!
I am a true believer, particularly since becoming a mum, of listening to your gut. It usually tells you what is right and wrong. From wondering if your baby is sick, to making big life decisions. Once the fog has cleared, you know most of the answers already.
Have you guys made any big decisions this week? Are you at a turning point? Do you wonder where life is going to take you?
I had to stare at that sentence for a moment. It’s only been the last few days that I can think that sentence, say it out loud, hear it, without the tears welling up in my eyes.
Six and a half months of struggle. Six and a half months of stress and fighting, every three to four hours around the clock. Brief windows of hope. Brief moments of thinking it was going to be ok. Countless appointments and consultations. Endless advice. Many, many, many tears of upset, anger and frustration. Questions as to whether my baby would love me, and how we would bond if we didn’t get this right, get it sorted. Wondering why. Putting on a brave face, smiling and nodding when people asked how I was, how we all were. Fine, great, good, thanks for asking. Telling the truth to some, lying to most simply because I couldn’t be bothered.
All culminating in me falling in a rather large and undignified heap a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t even make it through my four week plan. Such a lengthy time of stress surrounding breastfeeding and such a drastic crash in my ability to function made me ask the question:
What is more important? Breast milk and this continual stress? Or my sanity and a bottle?
After much agonising I have chosen the latter.
When I finally accepted what I truly knew in my heart to be the right decision, the black curtains slowly began to lift. I won’t lie, I am having a lot of help through this period from my family, my naturopath and the wonderful brown tinted bottles of herbs she keeps supplying me, and my yoga practice. I know in the grand scheme of the world we live in, this is hardly a disaster. Yet for me, it is my own little personal tragedy.
I have an ever-expanding sense of compassion and sorrow for all the women in the world who, for whatever reason, have been unable to breastfeed their babies at all, or for as long as they may have hoped. I am ashamed that before this experience I held some degree of judgement towards these women, without any understanding of their personal situation.
The first time I cradled the Pixie to feed her a warm bottle of goat’s milk formula without attempting to breastfeed or express first, she looked deep into my pooled eyes and reached up to stroke my cheek. She drank her bottle and fell asleep in my arms.
Now, I am consciously, physically and whole-heartedly moving onto our new path together. This will be a time of new beginnings, new rhythms, new routines. It is also a time for me to heal and cleanse myself and be kinder.
I have tried not to harp on too much about the breastfeeding saga at our house. Nevertheless our battles continue and take up such a large part of my energy, thoughts and emotional space it is hard not to mention it here. It would be untruthful to say that a minute goes by without me thinking about it. Mainly in a stressed out kind of way which, of course, is pretty counter-productive when you are struggling to keep up your milk supply.
Last post on this topic I think I had just begun a formula top up post breastfeed with the hope of this being temporary. Things improved for a while and overall the Pixie is much happier than she was when I was trying to feed her, express, then top her up with expressed milk.
She feeds overnight, usually three times (yep, I’m tired) with minimal fussing. Her day time feeds built *up* (yes, up) to three-four minutes in length with a lot of chiro sessions. To an outsider this sounds like nothing, but for us, three-four minutes of relatively fuss-free breastfeeding was like a miracle.
Six days ago, the Pixie decided she would not have a bar of either of my breasts during her waking hours, thank you very much. I offered her the breast at every feed for four days to have her scream, yell, arch her back and push me away with both hands. At one feed she made a half-hearted attempt at sucking for about 40 seconds. This is what Birdie did when she weaned herself – at 15 months of age… the Pixie is six months old now and my motherly instincts tell me that we are not ready for weaning just yet, thank you very much. You can see the battle of wills we have going here… I can only hope this does not continue into her teenage years, yikes.
I have been trying to separate my disappointment and sorrow at this breastfeeding relationship from what my baby needs now on a practical level. I have had to let go of my expectations and in particular I am trying ever so hard to stop reminiscing about breastfeeding Birdie – which was joyous and peaceful and lovely. Six months of breastfeeding dramas and I am still battling internally with this. I visited a friend and her newborn baby yesterday and felt tugs at my heart watching her feed him – wishing I could go back and try again, wondering if I did something wrong, questioning myself over and over again. I am ashamed to say I felt jealous and had to nip that in the bud.
A very sensible and lovely friend came over to check on me on Monday, when I was ready to throw in the towel with the whole thing, feeling like the stress of trying to breastfeed is causing nothing but heartache and distress to our entire family. She helped me formulate a plan, something that is so very hard to do when you are exhausted and fed up and can’t see beyond the next hour.
On Tuesday I headed out to the chemist and hired a hospital grade breast pump. I have let go of trying to feed her from the breast and yesterday began expressing at every feed and feeding her from a bottle. My supply has dropped so drastically I can’t get enough to cover all the feeds of the day so am still supplementing with formula.
I’m giving this one more go. I’ve set myself a time limit: four weeks. I’ll re-evaluate then.
Firstly a big thank you to all who commented and sent me messages after my post the other day. You have all given me a renewed sense of hope that it is possible to introduce formula to supplement breastfeeding and still go on to have a happy and healthy breastfeeding experience. I can’t say how much that means to me, thank you!
We move slowly through our summer days.
With our pixie on her new routine of being topped up in the evening with some formula, she is all of a sudden sleeping in the day time in her bassinet for up to TWO HOURS. This is unheard of for us, and just confirms for me that the poor little pet was needing some more in her tummy before she could drift off into a comfortable sleep. Lovely Sue, my lactation consultant, is hopeful that with a bit more sleep she will have some more energy to tackle mastering breastfeeding. One can only hope that this is the case. We will persevere!
Our summer days at home are mostly filled with the day to day stuff that comes from having a little person and a small baby in the house. Washing, drying and folding clothes. Changing sheets and replacing them with crisp ones, cool to crawl into on hot summer nights. Stacking and unstacking the dishwasher. Taking breaks to read books to a little person, always eager for company and attention. Sweeping the floor and rocking the baby. Watching her big eyes show interest in a waving leaf, a jumping big sister, a new toy. Continuously boiling the kettle and never getting around to that cup of tea. I think the other day I boiled it eight times before I got my cuppa. True story.
I write lists, many lists, and each night I sit down at our bench with a cold grapefruit and a cup of herbal tea (odd combination?) and review the day. I write a list for the following day and add things to my dairy and the calendar. Because, of course, 2013 is the year we Get Organised!
Prince Charming is heading back to work next week. After over five weeks with him at home I am both nervous and excited about what the next chapter holds.
The pixie is now three and a half months old. For three and a half months now we have battled together. Perhaps an apt name for this saga in our lives would be The Breastfeeding Wars: Starring Mama and The Pixie.
You probably remember a while back me talking about our breastfeeding dramas. Well, I haven’t talked about them of late, mainly due to plain exhaustion, but things have not improved. You can read more about the background to our story here and here. I have been given all manner of advice over the last few months and have slowly been filtering through it all in my mind.
The first time I realised in my heart that something was not right was when she was just a few days old. I remember thinking, she doesn’t seem to stay on for very long, I don’t think she is getting enough milk.
If only then I had trusted my instincts.
With that in mind I asked to breastfeed in front of our [hopeless] maternal child health nurse when she was one week old. The nurse looked at me and said, “Well yes, I can hear her swallowing.” Ok then, I guess all is well…
If only then I had trusted my instincts.
Since then I have had email counselling with a lactation consultant, I’ve sat with a lady from the ABA for three hours, I have seen the doctor, I have complained to my health nurse, I have googled and read all manner of mummy forums. I have read endless books and called the health nurse hotline. I have cried. I have thought many times about giving up.
The main suggestions from the crew above have been:
:: She has colic.
:: She has reflux.
:: She is fussy.
:: They are all different (love that one).
All the while my instincts have been telling me one thing, one niggling, nagging, titter-tattering thing: she is hungry, she is hungry, she is hungry.
When you are in a situation, it is so hard to see what is right in front of you. It’s also, in this culture, difficult to allow yourself to trust your instincts, particularly as a parent.
Over the past three weeks, with some advice from my mum and sis, I have been expressing after every feed and topping up our lady with a bottle. She guzzles it. My heart flitters and flutters seeing her drink. When she finishes, she wants more. She cries. She doesn’t sleep much. She is hungry. I am exhausted.
Today I took Miss Pixie for a weigh in. It wasn’t great. I am not one to take much notice of The Rules, but this time it just confirmed what I have been thinking, feeling, knowing: she is hungry.
This afternoon I saw a lactation consultant. She is convinced the pixie isn’t getting enough because she isn’t latching on properly. Why oh why this hasn’t already been picked up, I do not know. Why oh why I didn’t know this, as a second time mama, I do not know. I am trying not to blame myself.
Because she doesn’t feed for long, my supply has been drastically affected. The constant expressing helped in the beginning, but the pressure to produce the milk and feed her more and more is taking its toll. I am very stressed and under the pump, literally.
So you are asking, what now?
Now, I’ve decided, it’s time to give in. Note, like I said earlier: give in, not give up.
I am going to start supplementing one or two of her feeds with formula. I had to pause to type those words.
With the pressure off the hope is that I will be more relaxed and able to produce milk, and the pixie won’t be so hungry so will be happier and the whole situation will be easier for us all to work with. In the meantime the consultant, Sue, lovely Sue, has shown me how to try to re-teach her to latch on and get more of the breast in her mouth.
I really hope it works.
I have to also add in here a public apology to my Prince Charming. When my lovely fellow mentioned the word formula to me a few days ago, I responded with the vigour and outrage that one would expect had he said let’s feed our baby toxic waste. I’m sorry darling. It was not your suggestion that upset me, just my own high-achiever expectations that I, as mother, should be able to do that which is most basic: feed my hungry baby myself. Thank you for being patient with me and giving me the time and space to realise admit that you were right.