Tomorrow, my Joy turns 28 months and I have been breastfeeding for just as long.
My breastfeeding story is a little extreme, partly driven by circumstances. To write this post, I’ve had to communicate with the Hubs to understand just how much or how little we’re comfortable with me disclosing – this is difficult and sensitive to write about. Nevertheless, I hope that my breastfeeding story and other breastfeeding posts on the blog can help breast-feeding moms in some way.
HOW I PREPARED FOR BREASTFEEDING
The hubs and I didn’t go for any prenatal courses in preparation for Joy’s birth, but we paid for a 4-week breastfeeding workshop organised by the Breastfeeding Mother’s Support Group. That is indicative of how important breastfeeding was to me. We only made it to 1 lesson (because we got into an accident on the way to the 2nd), but it was one where at we obtained useful knowledge about breastfeeding. I was not very mobile after the accident but I received the rest of the workshop materials for self reading. I did some further reading and went online to read other mother’s experiences on forums on my own.
BREASTFEEDING IN THE HOSPITAL
Right after Joy’s birth, I was overwhelmed with pain and exhaustion. When she was carried to me, I struggled to kissed her and touched her cheeks but she was taken away after that, I didn’t get to put her on my chest or nurse her right away.
The first time I nursed Joy was about 7-8 hours later. She latched on perfectly and a nurse taught me to tickle the sides of her ear or the base of her feet to wake her up if she fell asleep. I don’t think she was getting any colostrum or milk from the suckling but I knew – and trust – that babies do not need to feed for the first 7 days of their lives.
Before birthing, I had made sure to let the nurses and doctors know about our decision to breastfeed Joy but after nursing Joy for the first time, I was asked again to confirm how she was to be fed. “Total Breastfeeding” I said and right away, the nurse asked if I had plans to go back to work. “Yes, I will be going back to work” and then she laughed out loud at me. “Do you know that total breastfeeding is for stay at home mothers?”. Something inside me started to boil but I was tired and I told her firmly and unmistakably that “I want to totally breastfeed my baby”. She got it.
I set my alarm to ring every 3 hour, around the clock and got the nurses to bring Joy around to me to nurse whenever it was time. One of the nurses got annoyed with my requests. Once she told me that “Baby won’t die if you give her formula milk you know? She’s been crying in the nursery but I don’t let them bring her to you because 3 hours are not up yet.” I was furious, I looked at her name tag and said “Please, bring my baby to me and leave her by my side for as long as I am in the hospital”. In response, she pushed the button by the side of my bed and caused it to jerk suddenly and I teared from pain at my caesarean wound. I reported the incident and requested that she not be tasked to take care of myself or Joy.
Other than the two incidents above, there were a few things that happened during Joy’s birthing and after birth process that were badly handled by the hospital. It so happened that the hospital’s CEO came around to visit the patients on my 1st day there after birth and I told him about it. Within a short time after, I was introduced to the Sister in charge of the ward I was in, she said she was also a lactation consultation and would be assisting me with breastfeeding for as long as I was in the hospital.
I experienced badly blocked ducts as well as bleeding and sore nipples. Blocked ducts feel like a dull ache in the breasts, when you press gently on them (to clear the ducts) the ache amplifies to something more like what you get from drinking ice cold water when you’re having a toothache, without the coldness but a lot more painful. Bleeding and sore nipples are essentially like open wounds, many tiny ones caused by friction due to either a bad latch or simply because your nipples are still not used to the latching on, yet. The pain is bearable when no baby is attached to your breasts but the pain is excruciating each time baby latches on and it lasts for while – imagine someone rubbing hard on your open, bleed wound.
I was also utterly exhausted, mentally and physically because I stuck to a 3-hourly nursing schedule without fail. When it’s time, I made myself wake up to nurse even if I had only just managed to fall asleep. If you ask me, I’d say that the birth recovery, pain from breastfeeding and extreme exhaustion (there must be a reason why sleep deprivation is/was a form of military torture) from everything collectively is greater than the contraction pain I experienced. That was when it sank in – giving birth is just the beginning, not the end.
My efforts paid off and by the third day, my milk had come in. Every drop you see here is extremely precious because they were harvested slowly over 2 hours from severely blocked ducts (read: a lot of pain for a long time).
After all the hard work to get milk, Joy was found to have breastmilk jaundice. A nurse asked if I would consider formula, I said no. Since Joy had to go for light therapy, I had to express and express I did, at even more frequent intervals, to make enough for her. I believed in the protection which breastmilk could give Joy and I refused to allow myself be swayed by people who utter the words “why don’t you give her formula” at every roadblock we encounter.
Joy and I both made it to be discharged by Day 5.
BREASTFEEDING AT HOME
Other than breastfeeding, I was having a hard time recovering from childbirth, so at the hospital, we declined visitors. Of course, it became unavoidable once we got home.
I had no confinement nanny for various reasons and started caring for Joy largely on my own from Day 6. Daddy’s company sent him away on back to back business trips very shortly after I returned home. My mother-in-law helped with our laundry, my bathing water and bathing for Joy. My confinement food was catered and I get some kind of breakfast sometimes.
In the first 3 weeks, I hobbled from the bedroom to the sofa in the living room to nurse not because it was comfortable there but because it was even more uncomfortable anywhere else. My arms ached, my back ached and my caesarean wound (held together by my binder which rubbed against the thin dressing that covered it up) hurt and sometimes bleed. Some days, I’d sit at the sofa from around midnight (when everyone was sleeping soundly), holding the position till day break, just because I didn’t have the energy to walk back to the room and put Joy down only to have her scream her lungs off. Too much work to walk out again. To keep myself awake so that I don’t drop the baby, I’d either blog from my phone, read a book (I only had 2 with me, one on breastfeeding and one on baby massage) or surf the net to understand whatever is bothering me about the baby.
When my caesarean wound got better, I stopped hanging out on the sofa at night and started dealing with the nursing in my bedroom. It allowed me to get a little more rest and to avoid aggravating my wound. Despite the hardship, other than nursing, how else was I to cope? Wake up to boil water? Wash bottles? Sterilise? Get into an argument? Nursing was tough, but it helped me cope with motherhood in many ways.
The most exhausting time of each day was in the mornings, but it was also a time where there would be nobody else at home. I would be giddy with exhaustion, faint with hunger, to the point of breakdown. And breakdown I did, on many occasions, scaring everyone around me. I was a fraction of my usual self. I cared only if Joy has had enough sleep / milk and put everything else aside. Not tending even to myself.
I cooped myself up in the room for a good part of everyday, coming out only to eat and drink, partly because Joy kept on getting woken up by loud household sounds and I kept having to find ways to help her sleep longer (good for her development and my sleep debt).
Very often, I had to choose between my own well being (exhausted to the point where I felt I could just collapse) and Joy’s needs (hungry / need a diaper change etc). I considered suicide very very frequently and told the hubs (when he was even around for me to talk to) and my close friends that I think that my life was officially over, it doesn’t make a difference whether I was physically alive or not.
To this day, I believed that my friend, Tammy saved my life. I was on the brink of doing something silly but I suddenly thought of texting her to ask about some random breastfeeding thing I had already known. She answered and went on to ask me how I was. I told her and she invited me to go out for lunch with a few other mummies. I remember thinking that I can always die after that, so I went. It was the turning point for me. Support makes a whole lot of difference.
Throughout this time I got the usual questions and comments, the ones that most annoyed me are:
How much milk is Joy drinking now?
Most people have an insatiable need to know how much my baby is taking in terms of millilitres – enough is a crazy answer to them
Are you sure you are producing enough milk?
Do you really think I will starve my daughter and breastfeed for the sake of it?
Breastmilk is not as nutritious as formula you you know?
Most ignorant thing I have heard about breastfeeding.
Relax la! I don’t see other people having as hard a time as you!
I would really like to see you try.
There were also a lot of other comments from elders and visitors about breastfeeding which I care not to list. I react to these comments, sometimes bluntly because I was barely surviving as a human being, not in a state, physically or mentally, to dress up my speech. When the hubs was around, I had support, he would fend off anyone, anyone at all, who made nasty comments / questioned our decision to breastfeed.
We only managed to shut out the unnecessary doubts and comments when Joy grew to become a really giant michelin baby. At 4 or 5 months she had hit the 90th percentile in terms of weight. We celebrated and (I’d be honest) gloated over it although, it’s not true that a baby needs to be fat to be healthy.
BREASTFEEDING AS A FULL TIME WORKING MOTHER
A few days before I was to return to work, Joy went on a nursing strike. I was lucky that things returned to normal the day before.
However, I had no clue as to what tools I needed to express milk at work, how I was to transport them home safely or where I could express milk at work. To settle in, I opted to work only 1/2 a day for 2 weeks and it gave me enough time to find out how best to handle the pumping at work (how I manage expressing at work here, not gotten down to writing the most updated yet).
Most of my colleagues understand my need to express breast milk at work although some were at best tolerant, felt bound by moral obligations or driven by the fear of being seen as mean. I communicated and had an agreement about it with people who matter. I try not to let people who didn’t quite understand affect me because, no matter how they felt about it, I did manage to express my milk daily at work for 18 months after all.
BREASTFEEDING A TODDLER
Believe it or not, there are many people, strangers and non-strangers, who come up to Joy to tell her it’s a shame that she still wants my milk. This is something I cannot tolerate. It is a shame, but not on Joy.
I also often hear people tell me things like “can stop already, milk is no longer nutritious after 1 year old” and I feel pained at how misinformed statements like this could cause others to cut short their nursing journey, just because of ignorance.
Nursing a toddler is very fulfilling to me, maybe because I believe in attachment parenting – to allow the child to take as much comfort from the parent as is necessary for them to feel secure internally, giving them space and time to develop into an independent person.
I feel like i’m practising some kind of yoga pose every day because of Joy is now a big girl, when she stands up she is taller than I am when I am sitting down. Sometimes, I worry for Joy because of the positions she contorts herself into for the sake of nursing. I asked my PD and she said that the lying down position should be least taxing on us both.
I once felt like nursing was in the way of Joy’s sleep and appetite but after this incident, I take time to enjoy what I feel are our last nursing moments together. I see light on the issues I had with her sleep and appetite – they are a phase which will get better naturally, as she grow older. To my surprise, there has already been much improvement, as compared to weeks ago, without me doing anything at all.
MY THOUGHTS ON BREASTFEEDING
It would be hypocritical for me to tell you that I think formula is fine for your child, but not mine, especially since I just wrote about how we tried so hard to breastfeed. But, you must have noticed what I put myself through in order to breastfeed – it is not necessarily healthy for mother or child.
If you want to plant your flag and die on this hill in order to breastfeed – good, I will write another post to share tips I learnt from my lactation consultant / from experience to share. However, if you feel that you cannot possibly sustain it any further, I won’t hesitate to encourage you to let it go so that you can perform the more important role of being a mother. It is far more important to be a mother, than to be a breastfeeding mother. This, I can say with certainty.
This post is part of a Blog Train hosted by Madeline at MadPsychMum. Head on over to read the other breastfeeding stories by Singapore Mom Bloggers!
Next on the blog train is Dominique of Dominique’s Desk.
Dominique Goh, elementary school teacher, professional blogger, blogging consultant and mom to three. I enjoy writing about parenting, cooking , baking and photography. You can find me at Dominique’s Desk , on Facebook or Twitter