Experiences From The UK
The Best Mum I Could Possibly Be
I always wanted to be a mother, but I never felt like a natural mum. By that I mean I wasn’t a gooey mess around babies, and children never gravitated to me. I knew that to be the best mum I could possibly be, I’d have to work at it.
From the moment I saw that little blue line on the pregnancy test I vowed to do everything by the book; literally and figuratively. Google was my best friend for nine months, and my bookshelves groaned with books and magazines and everything I could find about being a good mother. I attended hypnobirthing classes, I did baby yoga and meditation, I learned how to breathe and what to eat and what to do. I knew all the rules of pregnancy and I stuck to them religiously. I was going to be a good mum.
When my waters broke I recognised meconium in my fluid (I was so read up on the do’s and don’ts of pregnancy the hospital actually asked me if I had medical training). I was denied my much-wanted water birth but I continued my breathing and hypnosis and had a totally natural birth in hospital. I soldiered through with nothing but deep breaths, happy thoughts and plenty of chocolate. The doctors had my birthing plan, they kept my baby attached to the umbilical cord until it stopped pulsating and my daughter latched on straight away.
Except she didn’t.
‘Just Keep Trying’
It was fine, I knew all about breastfeeding and the goodness in colostrum and at first I wasn’t worried. I was still following the rules and I’d squeeze out the initial thick yellowy goodness and made sure my baby was getting it. I was going to be the perfect mum. That first night in hospital (while the doctors checked the baby hadn’t inhaled any meconium) was exhausting, exhilarating, and petrifying in equal measures. In a ward of four mothers my little one did nothing but scream and neither of us slept a wink. The nurses showed me how to get her to latch on and she’d suckle – but within minutes she would pull away and scream and scream. In the end they agreed I was allowed to let her sleep with me. I had been awake forty eight hours, I needed to rest. We both did. The other mothers in the ward agreed.
The next day I took her home and did exactly what I was told. The health visitors came and went and she was perfect, I knew what I was doing, they were happy. Yet my poor little girl still cried and cried, never staying at the breast long enough to get a proper feed. She would lick around my nipple, get angry, get bored, spit it out. The nurses said I was doing it right, yet my daughter wasn’t drinking.
After a week, my baby was weighed and she had lost a pound. When your baby weighs just under seven pounds at birth, losing one is a big deal. “This can’t be right,” the health visitor said, “perhaps her weight was written down wrong at the hospital. She looks the same as she was a week ago.”
For two weeks I hardly left my house. I did everything I could to get my baby to drink.
At one point two health visitors came to my house and they milked me.
My baby had already rejected me, my vagina was red raw with stitches, I hadn’t slept for a fortnight because no one else could feed my baby, my husband had gone back to work, my expressing machine was getting an ounce out an hour, and the health visitors milked me. I sat on my sofa, my dressing gown around my waist, and two women I hardly knew squeezed my breasts trying to prove that there was more than enough milk in there. It wasn`t my body that was at fault, it wasn’t my baby, it was me. I wasn’t trying hard enough. They pushed my nipple into my daughter’s mouth, they ignored her protestations and my tears, and they told me that all I needed to do was keep trying.
‘Why Didn’t You Just Give Her A Bottle ?’
“Just give her a bottle,” my mother cried, I was bottle fed as a child and she was horrified when I told her what I had been subjected to. She couldn’t stand another day of me crying, of me sitting in my dressing gown with a baby held to my chest day in and day out. A baby that wouldn’t feed and was losing weight every day. But I ignored her because I was doing what the experts were telling me to do, what the books said I had to do, what was right and made me a good mum. I was doing this for my daughter.
“Just do what you want,” my mother in law said. “There are no rules. Listen to your instincts.” But I had no instincts. I had been told by all the experts that it wasn’t about what I wanted – it wasn’t about me, it was about the rules. What was best. What the books and Google and the health visitors told me I had to do.
Then one day the experts agreed it was best that I took my daughter to the hospital because she wasn’t gaining weight.
“Why didn’t you just give her a bottle?” the doctor said. He looked at me horrified and confused, my tiny daughter in his arms. Her eyes remained trained on mine. ‘Yeah, why?’ she seemed to be asking me.
I didn’t know. Why hadn’t I just fed her a different way?
“I didn’t think I was allowed,” I replied. “I was told to just keep trying.”
That night I gave my daughter a bottle and she drank it all. She gasped and sucked and guzzled so fast I thought she was going to be sick. And for the first time in her short life – my little girl slept.
I continued to breastfeed in the mornings, or the evenings (expressing produced next to nothing), but to keep up her intake I gave her formula.
She was just as happy with her bottle and dummy as she was with my breast. In fact, she was happier. But was I? I felt like I had failed. To this day I still feel like I failed her, although stopping exclusive breastfeeding probably saved her life.
This happened nine years ago. My daughter is now a bright, smart, happy, healthy nine year old girl. She speaks three languages, she’s never had a serious illness in her life and we have a great bond. She’s never been a great sleeper or eater though – and I will always blame myself for that. What if during her first two weeks of life, instead of knowing hunger and nights filled with screaming frustration, she’d known what being full had felt like?
And even sadder still, I will always wonder what my first two weeks of motherhood (something I will never get back again) would have been like had I just listened to my instincts and fed my child. If I’d tried everything. Filled her tummy one way or another.
Perhaps I would have enjoyed being a mum and going out and about showing off my little girl. Perhaps I would have been able to ask my husband to take over a few nights a week, or let my mother help out, and I could have slept once in a while. Perhaps I wouldn’t have spent those two weeks crying myself to sleep, wracked with guilt that I had let my first baby down. Believing that my milk, breasts, body, mothering, baby, bond were all wrong and simply not good enough. They were not by the book. I had failed before I had even begun.
Two years later I had my second daughter and once again I had a natural, hypnobirth. But this time I did what was best for me and my circumstances – and I combination fed. My second baby sucked on both teat and breast, she drank formula and breast milk, she slept and she gained weight and I thought ‘wow, so this is how easy the first few weeks could have been.’ Needless to say my seven year old is also smart, happy, healthy and we all have a great life together.
When I was asked to write down my own account I jumped at the chance because I wish I had known about Fed Is Best back in 2009. I wish, during those long nights of Googling and days browsing the baby care shelves of Waterstones, that I had stumbled upon an organisation that had said ‘It’s OK, you can do what you want as long as your baby is fed, happy and healthy. Don’t beat yourself up about it.’
Nobody had given me that permission, and in my quest for perfection I hadn’t allowed myself to find the confidence to go against the grain. My doctor at the time said I came close to slipping into depression and that my baby could have got seriously ill from malnutrition. And for what? That thought petrifies me.
Now I tell everyone my story. No one can argue that we should always endeavour to give our kids the very best start in life…but not if it’s detrimental to their health or our own. I now give my friends permission to stop when they want. I tell them it’s fine, it saved me and it saved my baby. Never again should any woman find themselves being milked by two strangers, watching their own milk shoot across the room through eyes filled with tears, being told that they are clearly just not trying hard enough.
I discovered the hard way what a good mother is, and that’s one that does everything she can to ensure her baby and herself are happy. I now live by that one and only rule and it has served me well. Those newborn days are precious days…why should you and your baby spend them in tears? Just feed them. Any way you can. #fedisbest
By N J Simmonds, Author.
From UK Fed Is Best – We would love to have more stories to share with other readers to help us, and health professionals, learn from each other so if you feel able to share your feeding experiences, both good and bad, please get in touch either in the comments below, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. W will keep your story anonymous if you prefer x
W have added some links to articles that might help you with some of the issues raised by this story, and The Fed Is Best Foundation runs an amazing Facebook support group where you can get unrivalled help and support for breastfeeding, formula feeding, combination feeding and tube feeding with no shaming or bias. The group is moderated by the very best healthcare professionals from around the world so you will be in the safest of hands, and the support from other parents is strong and warm, creating a sense of community that is second to none. If you are interested in joining please get in touch, either in the comments below, or by email ukfedisbest.com, and we will direct you to the screening page. x