I’ve titled this post, ‘the start of the journey’ because there is so much more to come. But all journeys start somewhere and this one started about half an hour after Ziggy was born. I use the word ‘journey’, as to me it evokes thoughts of twists and turns, ups and downs, potholes, roadworks and a smiling guy in fluro brandishing a Stop/Go sign. We are nearly 5 months in as I write this, and it has not been an easy journey on the smooth straight asphalt of a runway, no, this has been a bumpy ride on a Northland dirt road.
When we fell pregnant, I knew I would breastfeed. To me it just made sense. After all this is why we have breasts, and I’m a cheapskate – there was no way I was paying for formula if I didn’t need to. Also, I knew how beneficial it would be to my baby both nutritionally and emotionally.
I hadn’t given much thought to the logistic of it all. What logistics? Don’t you just shove a nipple in their mouths? I mean how hard can it be?
Well, as it turns out, breastfeeding is not easy. Not for everyone. And especially not in the beginning. You need a lot of guidance, a lot of support. There are highs and there are lows, there is love and there is pain. I don’t think I would still be where I am today with our breastfeeding journey if not for the support of my midwives, my partner, friends, family, lactation consultants, books, facebook support pages . . . they say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, as I found out it also takes a village to breastfeed one!
Ziggy was born at 4:35am and had squiggled is way up my chest to have his first feed by 5am. That first latch was instinctive, he just knew what to do. It was also a sensation unlike anything I had felt before. It hurt. But I was so high from all the emotions coursing through my body, having just given birth, that I barely noticed and just sat there, gazing at him in awe.
He had his second feed 20 minutes after that. Being born is hard work and he was hungry! He hadn’t been taken for his checks yet, this was our time; me, AJ and our boy. Soaking it up and marvelling at the miracle that had happened over the past 5 hours.
That afternoon, at the Birth Centre, the endorphins wore off and reality sunk in. I was tired, I was sore, I just wanted to curl into a ball and go to sleep. But I had a brand new baby that needed me and there was one thing he wanted: the comfort of his mama, and to feed.
You know what they don’t tell you about birth? The contractions don’t finish after your baby is born.
Say what? – you may be wondering if you just read that right. You may be wishing you didn’t read that at all. I mean who wants to hear that – how bloody depressing is it to think that after all that hard work you put into labouring, and birthing your baby . . . it’s not over. Well I’m sorry to say – it’s not over. Your poor body still has work to do and in this case it’s contracting your uterus back to semi normal size. You see, it’s done its job. It just spent nine months stretching and growing to accommodate a baby. . and now its job is over, and it attempts to squeeze nine months of stretching and growing into a few short days of shrinking. And it hurts, I am not going to lie to you. It hurts and it’s compounded when you breastfeed. The action of baby suckling away encourages your uterus to contract. Your nipples also hurt, they are not used to this sort of attention, they don’t know what’s hit them and they take it out on you in pain. I was in tears, my emotions were all over the place, I ached, I was in love, and the act of breastfeeding, that I was so staunchly sure I would do before birth, was hurting me. I sat there on the bed, baby on my breast, uterus contracting painfully, crying.
I was lucky. Lucky to have a partner who held my hand. Lucky to have an after care facility that gave me painkillers and a soothing balm to rub on my aching nipples. Lucky to have the support of wonderful midwives who came to check on me and help me latch him on over a dozen times. Midwives who sat next to me while I cried, and assured me that this was temporary and that the painkillers would soon kick in and the contractions would only be for a day or two and I would get past this. I was superwoman. I had just given birth. I was going to be okay.
And you know what? – they were right. The painkillers did kick in, the intensity of the contractions had lessened by the following morning, and I even got some decent sleep during those two nights at Waterford. My tears dried and I was okay. But without that support, I don’t know how I would have kept going, I was not at all prepared for that.
Approximately less than 5% of women can’t breastfeed. That 5% can’t produce sufficient milk, whether that be because of a medical condition, or insufficient breast tissue. It’s a very small number. But the remaining 95% of mums don’t all breastfeed. I used to think this was a clear cut issue before I had a baby . . . I thought . . you have breasts . . . why not breastfeed. But, nearly 5 months into a breastfeeding journey that has had as many lows as it has had highs, I can see why so many mothers don’t continue. It is not easy. Especially not to begin with, not if you don’t have a support system around you. Not if you don’t understand what is happening to your body and what is happening to your baby.
There have been times (I’ll post about these eventually) where I have been awake at night, feeding my son and crying, crying from the pain, from the exhaustion, from the emotional toll this whole motherhood journey was having on me. There have been times I’ve wanted to throw it in, times I wondered why the hell I was still going. But then, I look at him in wonderment and I think – I made you. I grew you, I birthed you, I fed you. I made you. And there are moments like this. For me, this makes everything worth it.
My breastfeeding journey with Ziggy has not been easy. There has been mastitis, there has been a undiagnosed tongue and lip tie. I have had two surgeries, one when he was 5 weeks, another at 10 weeks where we had to figure out how to feed an exclusively breastfed baby. There have been days I feel like a dairy cow, days my nipples were on fire. I misplaced my nipple cream one night and almost had a panic attack. But I look at my boy, nearly 5 months old and still going strong, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Facebook support pages that gave me a lot of good advice and helped me understand what my body was doing during the early months of our breastfeeding journey were The Milk Meg, Breastfeeding NZ and Breastfeeding Mama Talk, you may wish to check them out. I also made use of the local La Leche League support group in the area I live and I have an amazing group of friends, some who are also first time mums going through the same experiences I am. We helped each other immensely. We still do.