The Other Option
This post is probably the most painful, and the hardest one, I will have to write. I know at points through this I will cry. I’ve debated for many, many months about whether to write this up – I fear more than anything that I will be judged for what I write and had hoped things would be different after Pia's birth so I could wash some of this away. I will be judged for the decision I made, not once, but twice. And the fact those decisions were extremely hard and emotional for me, makes the judgements even more cruel. I think though, that this is such an integral part of who I am, and the person I have become, that it needs to be said. And if, like Pia’s Story, I can give one other woman some comfort in them having to make the same decision, it will have been worth it.
I had to give up breastfeeding with both Max and with Pia.
In a country which has become fanatical about breastfeeding to the point of extremism, there are only two possible choices a mother could make. You either choose to breastfeed, or you choose to bottle feed. There is no middle ground, no safe haven for those who actually really, really wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t for whatever reason. In the socio-economic circles I live in, I do not know one person who bottle feeds. I am an isolated person within my peer group, and that isolation hurts.
I stopped breastfeeding with Max after 8 days. We had great latch on, position, etc for the first few days. Then a feeding frenzy where we must have had a not so good latch on. And then a terrible few days on the ward with psychotic patients, nurses and midwives through the night who cut their toe nails at the nurses station and bitched about patients for all to hear. Throw in engorgement, and over zealous day time midwives who thought it might be psychologically better for me to be at home rather than on the wards with all the drama, and my confidence was crushed, my nipples cracked, and high levels of anxiety set in. Once home I couldn’t get a good latch on. The nipples deteriorated. My anxiety increased. Max’s anxiety increased. Hysteria set in along with the trauma of the past week. Pain, bloodied feeds, lack of any sleep for 9 days straight and a distressed mother and baby. I withdrew from Max. I actually couldn’t bare to touch him or have him near me. I now know it is possible for someone to cry hysterically for an entire day. Days even. My husband made the call to stop. For our family. For me. For him. For Max.
There has not been one single day since that I haven’t regretted that decision, haven’t felt intense guilt and grief at what I did and what Max has missed out on. I have walked through the years of Max’s life with this burden of my own creation, and have gone out of my way to be a more than perfect mother to make up for it. The pressure and guilt I placed on myself was one of the major contributing factors in PND. I never, ever thought I would not breastfeed. It was never an option in my thinking. So to have to make that call, devastated me. I learnt very quickly, that motherhood is about compromises. Some of them are small concessions, some of them are huge. I got to make all the huge ones within the first two weeks. I had to come to terms with a birth which went totally against my beliefs, and feeding which was against my beliefs. Max though, was happier, less stressed, settled quickly, and is one of the healthiest, most alert, imaginative, intelligent children I know.
I honestly thought the feeding issue with Max was due to circumstance, and the situation I was in. I really did believe that Pia’s feeding would be different. I had a better frame of mind, I knew what was in store. I could do it this time.
The first feed my nipples shredded. Both sides. I had lactation consultants coming out of my ears in hospital. Not one of them/us could get a good latch on. We were constantly making do with nearly good latching. We stopped breastfeeding, and expressed to give the nipples a break. Every feed a midwife would come in and maul my breasts to get colostrum out while we chatted jovially about things. Every visitor I had copped an eyeful of fairly brutal breast manipulation, and a harsh lesson in motherhood difficulties. I shut them out. I decided to feed again with the help of a further lactation consultant. Again, we suffered with nearly good latchings. The nipples got even more shredded through the night. In the quiet isolation of the early hours of the morning, the anxiety settles in, building in intensity with each minute ticking closer to the next feed. The next stage was to express once the milk came in. Add engorgement again – I have no problem producing good milk – and we were on a path to destruction. With the electric pump on the lowest, mildest settings, my nipples still got further damaged. I could have persevered and used a nipple shield – but if the electric pump was causing damage, I really couldn’t see the shields doing much good. I cried long and silently with each feed, trying hard not to focus on the blood mixing with the milk. That is such a horrible, distressing thing to see. I talked to a number of people at the hospital, and decided to stop. Too many tears, too much anxiety. It just isn’t worth it.
I started panicking – a panic attack within 3 days of being a new mother is not a good sign really for someone on PND/depression watch. I really didn’t want to do this again. To open up old raw wounds and repeat past mistakes is just too much – I wanted to enjoy my first weeks with my new baby, not feel anxious and pressured, and panicked about each feed. I didn’t want Pia to know her mother in those weeks as someone who cries whenever they see her. I am so conscious of maternal depression and it’s affects on children – none of which can be accounted for till much later, but how much sorrow has Max seen that could have been avoided? I made my decisions for my family – my bond with Max and Pia is worth far more. My mental sanity is worth more.
Yet still I dread every feed in public where I am judged by other mothers who have no understanding of my situation. I dread answering the questions about feeding. I dread the smugness of mothers who find it easy, who assume everyone can do it. I dread the judgements. I now have twice the guilt – even though I made this decision much better informed, and with the total support of everyone at the hospital and I am ok about that decision. I understand now why it isn’t working: I have very small nipples, and they’re very sensitive. Pia and Max were never able to get them up far enough into the mouth to suck properly, hence their ability to shred instantly. Past damage hasn’t helped their cause. I know I tried everything I could to make it work this time.
But still, the pain will be mine forever.