Hey there, fellow life givers.

Before I even wade in, let me throw in a caveat. I do not support one form of infant feeding above the other.
Got a cracking pair of baps with a plentiful supply? Go you. Whip the nip out and feed that baby.
Got an equally cracking pair of baps that just don’t quite keep your bubba full? No worries, it’s 2018; you supplement all your baby needs. Mix it up and feed that baby.
Baps giving you nada? That’s cool; formula is amazing. Feed that baby.
Don’t want to breastfeed for reasons totally personal to you? Again, that’s cool, Mama; sterilize yourself some teats and feed that baby!

See what I did there?

Feed that baby.

And therein lies the issue. ‘Feeding the baby’ seems to play second fiddle to ‘breastfeeding the baby’. And this does my nut. I’ve decided to share my story. Not because I want recognition for doing what millions of mamas do. But because I had an experience like so many others, difference is, I’m a gobby cow and I fight back. Too many women are shamed into silence and I am DONE WITH THAT.

So. Here we go.

December 18 2016. After two years of trying; a miscarriage; 13 days late; 27 hours of labour and 2 hours of pushing, I finally squeezed my boy out. Actually, correction. I did not squeeze him out. All 10lb 8oz of him was sucked out Ventouse style by a doctor, whilst two midwives manipulated his very stuck shoulders from their residence in my pelvis. I tore. I no longer had any distinction between my vagina and anus. The words wizard and sleeve spring to mind.
My boy didn’t breathe for a minute or two. We waited in silence as they tried to help him get there. Then he sneezed. Then he went to NICU as his arm was floppy after his rather hasty yanking from my desimated vagina. I scribbled something approximating my name on a sheet of yellow paper and was whisked to surgery where, for the next two hours, I listened to fucking Magic FM while the doctor who had delivered my son, built me a lovely new vagina with about 100 internal stitches.

Still with me? Cool.

So. Feeling like my entire world had shifted on its axis and having no idea where my son and husband were, I am wheeled to a recovery room. I have not yet held my boy.
He is brought in.
The midwives have dressed him.
I didn’t get to do that.
My legendary husband gave them the right outfit so at least T looks fly.
But I didn’t get to do that.
I didn’t get to have him on me; skin to skin. He didn’t get to have his mama for the first few hours of his life.
My husband didn’t get to cut the cord. The one thing he really wanted to do.

Next hurdle for my battered body was the breastfeeding.
I tried. And I tried and I tried. He latched. He was brilliant. There. Was. Nothing.
There had been no changes in my boobs. What little colostrum produced, was squeezed out by two Health Care Assistants into a syringe. My son hoofed it; he was hungry. It had been several hours.
Four hours after his birth, my son and I were alone on the ward, husband sent home, both of us hungry. I kept trying to feed him. Me and my catheter bag took several trips round the ward, once my legs had regained feeling. I asked for a cup of tea. I tried to change my son’s clothes around his cannula and arm splint. I tried and tried to breastfeed him. In between changing the absorbent pads on my bed and trying to clean myself as blood flowed out of my battered vagina, I tried to feed him.

We had asked for a bottle on the ward. I was told to keep breastfeeding; everything would be ok. I asked for a bottle again; my son was hungry, he needed to eat. He was a huge baby and he was hungry. I was told to keep trying breastfeeding.

I reached my limit. I kept my hand on that buzzer until someone came and I made them get me a bottle.

I was hastily shown how to sterilise the bottles and the stuff to prevent my child getting an infection was left in a pile by my bed.

I fed him the formula. It was gone in seconds. He was so hungry.

We went home two days later. I was still trying to feed him. But we were sent home with the instruction to keep trying to breastfeed. Thing is, I had a feeling. I had spotted some pamphlets on bottle feeding safely, in a cupboard on the ward, so I swiped them. I had no more information because I was told midwives and HVs are ‘not allowed’ to give information on bottle feeding… Not allowed !

Once home, settled, showered…we tried breastfeeding. Nothing. I tried to express. Nothing. Hand pumping. Nothing.

“It’ll come.” The midwife said at day 4 on my home visit.

“But if it doesn’t?”, I asked.

“Look, you’re a teacher,” she said as she packed up her things, “I wouldn’t tell you how to teach so don’t tell me how to be a midwife; your milk will come.”

I was shocked. Upset. Under circumstances where I was less vulnerable and more confident, I would have kicked her ass out of my house in a second. But I fumbled and faltered and tried to say the right things.

“We’ll have to come back tomorrow. He is still not back near his birthweight.”

Sorry. I’m sorry I can’t feed my child. I am trying I am really trying, please don’t shout at me, I am so sorry this is all so new.

They came back. He had lost even more weight. My boobs were prodded. I was told my ‘mistake’ was not going to the birthing centre after the hospital; that I would have been feeding by now. We were told to go in and see the midwives.

I told the midwife what was happening. She weighed him. She left the room. She returned with a bottle and watched my hungry baby destroy it in seconds. She told me to supplement. Don’t get me wrong, she listened and she supported and she explained that my body had been through a lot. She was the first to spot it and she gave me a bottle but she still pushed supplementing. Like my milk would magically arrive.

We didn’t know what to do. We’d just been told to ‘supplement’. But what did that mean? How did we know when he’d had enough? What happens if he is still hungry? I wasn’t sure I felt better.

6 days old. Christmas Eve.

I call my mum. Through my squeaks and sobs she understands I need her. She arrives. I explain it all. She goes downstairs. My husband leaves. She comes back. She sends me to the shower.
I emerge to my mother with a notepad and pen and my husband making a bottle.

 

‘Right, this is what you’re going to do,’ she says, ‘you are going to feed the baby at 10, 2 and 6. Do his nappy every time. At the 6pm one, bath him and put him into his pjs and then down to bed after.’

‘Ok.’ I whisper.

‘Beckie, you were bottle fed from 11 weeks. When I started I had enough milk to feed the bloody ward, but then your Auntie nearly died having your cousin and the trauma dried my milk. You were bottle fed more than you were breastfed. It isn’t going to kill him. But not feeding him will.’

I stared at her. This was the best fucking advice I could possibly have been given. We started the routine. It was a revelation.

I still tried the boob before every bottle. We kept that going for a few months. I did clearly have some milk. I NEVER had the ‘milk coming in’ thing. I never leaked. I never experienced ‘let down’. I never had full boobs. If I squeezed them in the shower, little bits came out. But THERE WAS CERTAINLY NOT ENOUGH TO FEED A BABY WITH. But he fed for a minute or two on each boob before wanting his bottle.

I do not know how much clearer I can be.

I. Did. Not. Have. Enough. Milk !

He is 18 months next week. He is a continuous delight. Bright as a button, healthy, hitting milestones, smashing them actually. We have three word sentences already. He loves reading and cars. Boy, does he love cars. He is kind and has amost learned to not throw the aforementioned cars at the cat.

I was 35 when I had my child. A masters level educated teacher. Confident. Capable of disarming even the most challenging 16 year old at three paces. But this turned me into a vulnerable, desperate wreck.

I am sure if y’all like this rambling diatribe you might want to hear the story of how the UNQUALIFIED HEALTH VISITOR told me my child had a growth hormone deficiency and would need injections. Even the doctor she forced me to see as a matter of urgency, laughed. ‘He’s a big baby, he’ll be fine.’ But that’s one for another day.

My child is still huge. All the colloquialisms of ‘he’ll lose it when he starts moving’ have not rung true. He is wearing aged 3 clothes; a total unit. Ace.

I don’t want to think how different the story could have been. I had and still do have a fabulous support network; friends I met through ‘preggo yoga’ and who I regard as some of the best women in existence. My husband is incredible; encouraging and supportive. My family is filled with awesome, tough women. I had the network. I had the literature about formula. I made an informed and sensible decision to FEED MY CHILD.

If I could have breastfed I would have breastfed.
This is an important qualifier.

I do not want everyone to formula feed. I do not want to tell women what to do. I want a balance of information to be available.
I want the dangerous campaign of scaremongering and misinformation to end !

And I just want some simple things to be recognised.

Not all women can.
Not all women choose to.
Not all babies can.
Formula/combi feeding is not bad for your child.
Your child (current research claims) will not be detrimentally affected by formula feeding.
Information and support for BOTH methods of feeding should be readily available.
Believe. Women.
Women’s history is largely unreported. Don’t think that low or no supply is a modern invention, it’s just that 200 years ago, the baby would be dead.

Support each other; people with vaginas have enough to deal with. Stop thinking your way is the only way and show some bloody respect.

Beckie Nathan
English Teacher and Book Worm
Twitter @piginthebath