A lot of things failed to go to plan in the weeks surrounding my son Jackson’s entry into the world.
I hoped to go into labour at 41 weeks. Yes, I actually hoped to go past term, purely because we needed that time for our nursery renovation.
I hoped for a birth story like all my friends’: the requisite number of hours of labour, an epidural at just the right moment, and a modest amount of pushing, with little to no tearing, thank you very much.
I hoped to shed a few tears. I hoped for immediate skin-to-skin contact, for a photo of our new family of 3 mere seconds after baby’s first breath of air.
I hoped to breastfeed.
What I got was far beyond what I ever could have predicted.
Pre-eclampsia at 38 weeks saw me hurriedly admitted and induced (I did get my epidural though).
After a night of barely-productive labour, my son’s heart rate began to drop and I was hurried into a cesarean section.
I didn’t get my skin-to-skin (though they did place him beside my face after cleaning him up, prompting him to start trying to latch onto my cheek and begin sucking, which was really freaking adorable).
I didn’t cry (I was way too out-of-it thanks to the drugs).
We didn’t get a photo because in the rush to get to the OR, we didn’t think to ask whether we could bring a camera in (turns out we could have).
And you know what? I am okay with all of it.
Would I choose to do it differently if I could go back and have that kind of control? Sure. But I had no romantic ideas of the “perfect birth experience” in my head, and the most important thing, for me, always was to have a healthy baby in my arms at the end of it all.
After my incision was stitched up I was wheeled into recovery and finally handed my tiny newborn.
“It’s time to breastfeed,” I was told by a nurse. Thanks, again, to the drugs I can’t even remember how it all went down, but I do remember that it was clumsy and frustrating and didn’t seem to be working how it should have. Perfectly common for a new mum and baby, I should point out.
Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t destined to get much better.
Somewhere between the plethora of medications I was on to keep my heart rate down, stave off an unfortunate infection in my healing incision, and manage the post-op pain, as well as my extreme lack of appetite in my first few days as a new mother, and just the plain fact that cesareans themselves can cause breastfeeding issues, my supply was pitiful. Each time a midwife or family member asked “Has your milk come in yet?”, it started to sting.
I tried. I tried so hard.
I inhaled lactation cookies (this delicious recipe, if you’re curious!). I added Motilium, a lactation stimulant, to the hundreds of pills I was taking each day. I took Fenugreek and an expensive liquid natural remedy that tasted like licorice. I hired a hospital-grade pump from a chemist 20 minutes from home so that I could pump for 20 minutes every 3 hours, every day, every night. I hobbled out of my house for regular visits to a local lactation consultant.
It wasn’t that I had any issues with feeding my son formula.
As the weeks flew past, I could see he was thriving on our (mostly formula-based) mixed feeds.
No, I actually just loved breastfeeding.
Sure, it was painful at first. And getting my son to latch in those very early days was a fiddly, desperate process that could take between 30 and 45 minutes each time. But the pain subsided. He began latching like a champ. We conquered those obstacles.
But in a 2 month period, I had spent more money on breastfeeding than I would spend on formula over 6 months. My supply had increased a little, but I realised it would never match my son’s ever-increasing needs.
I breastfed him for the last time, tears rolling down my face, and with that the journey was over.
Accepting it was difficult. I agonised for months as to whether it was the right decision.
Long after that final feed, I found I still could not let it go. My cheeks burned as I mixed formula in public, certain that someone would scold me. I was the only mother in my newly-formed mothers group who came along with a bottle, and not a nursing shirt.
Internally, I was always on the defensive, ready to hotly describe the details of my journey to anyone – friend or stranger alike – who dared question my feeding methods. I was uncomfortable, heartbroken and extremely guilt-ridden over the fact that I didn’t breastfeed.
Try as I might, I couldn’t be okay with the fact that breastfeeding hadn’t worked for me.
Until one day, I found I could.
It was a complex journey, one that required time (and if I’m being honest, shedding the famous “fourth trimester” hormones probably helped too!) There was no revelation, no moment when I said, “Klara, it’s time to be okay with this.” It wasn’t the endless “fed is best” articles on Scary Mommy, or the evidence -based discussions supporting women with similar stories in the big new-mommy Facebook group I frequented.
It just took time, and a lot of encouragement from friends and family along the way.
My son is happy, healthy and strong.
He’s smart, he’s playful, he’s curious and he’s mischievous. He lacks nothing that breastfeeding would have given him.
Now that he’s a toddler, long weaned from formula and fully nourished by food and water, I regret nothing about our breastfeeding journey. I’m glad I tried as hard as I did. I’m glad I committed to making it work. I’m glad I knew when to stop.
If your breastfeeding journey has left you broken-hearted, that’s okay.
It’s okay to grieve an expectation. It’s okay to wish that things were different.
It’s not okay to convince yourself that you’re a bad mum, or that you’re doing your child a disservice by pulling the plug on breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding feels bigger than it is, because feeding is such a pronounced part of a child’s life in those first few months. It’s easy for perspective to be skewed.
But babies grow into toddlers, who grow into kids, who grow into teenagers, who grow into adults. And the older a child gets, the less and less weight their infanthood feeding method carries.
So don’t give a failed breastfeeding journey more power than it is due.
Focus instead on all the other awesome ways to love and care for your child. You don’t deserve to hold onto guilt for things outside of your control.
Because the things that you can control are the things that really do make you the best mother you can be.
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Klara is the founder of She the Fierce. She lives in Perth, Western Australia and is married to a Californian IT-nerd/carpentry dabbler/handyman extreme, Chris. They have one gorgeous, long-lashed little boy, Jackson, and their fur-babies include two dogs and one fat black cat. Klara is a (mostly) stay-at-home Mum with a background in finance and admin. She’s a Christian who loves singing, cooking, cups of tea, grey rainy days, scrapbooking and suggesting spectacular renovation and handyman projects to Chris!