A few months ago, I listened to a podcast about changing the birth narrative. The main message of the podcast was about giving women their power back. Labour and birth should not be experiences when we feel weak and vulnerable. They should be moments when we feel empowered as women to listen to our body and know what to do. One thing though: I felt punched in the stomach as I listened to it, was when I realised that the speaker had the birth I wanted. We planned for a home birth, with a birthing pool and hypnotherapy. I was repeatedly told that I would not get it as birth can be so unpredictable. I brushed it off.
At 31 weeks +2, on April 18th 2018, I attended a routine midwife appointment, all was well. We booked the home birth check. Twenty minutes into the appointment, the midwife realised that the baby’s heart rate had (dangerously) dropped and asked me to go to the delivery suite for further checks. Forty minutes later, Loës was born.
The shock made me feel disconnected. This is not what I expected. I didn’t know if there was anything wrong with my baby. I didn’t know what to do. Eighteen years I waited for this pregnancy, for this baby. I didn’t know what to do. All I could do was cry and go through the panic attacks. I first saw her in the flesh when she was about 8 hours old. We first cuddled when she was about 32 hours old. The relief when I felt her on my skin. I cried. I could finally breathe.
Being born under 34 weeks of gestation meant that she could not breastfeed. So I expressed. Ten to twelve times in 24 hours. It was difficult and stressful. I cried a lot. I felt isolated. I felt like I was failing. I was disappointed, angry. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Did I feel empowered at that time? No.
After 10 days, I shamefully admitted to my husband I felt cheated out of my pregnancy. He understood. Every single person I mentioned this to understood and said: “but you have an amazing, healthy baby girl. It’s all that matters now.” My heart would sink. I opened up to an Outreach nurse whose job is to be there for NICU parents. She said she understood and many women felt the same. For a moment I thought I would be able to talk it through but she quickly moved on to another topic. My heart sank and the pain grew. I fell in love with my baby the second I wanted her, eighteen years ago. When we met, my love expanded a thousandfold. The shame and guilt grew as well as I could not brush off this feeling of missing out on my pregnancy and birth. I was relieved that she was alive and well but still…
We went home after 32 days. Loës was tube free and breastfeeding. I held her all the time. Within two weeks we started bedsharing. I became a mama bear. If you didn’t ask, I would not give you the baby to hold.
I originally did not want to breastfeed. I educated myself and decided to try. When she was born and the nurses ask how I wanted to feed baby, I replied “breastfeeding” with such strength that I surprised myself. Expressing was a challenge but once she started feeding for herself, things fell into place a bit more.
Within a few weeks of being home, whilst bedsharing, I experienced the most magical moment. I woke up to a weird sensation. Looked down and Loës had moved herself closer to my breast, found the nipple and was trying to feed… through my t-shirt! I chuckled and realised how natural, wild and beautiful breastfeeding is. I didn’t know it then but I felt empowered for the first time in weeks. I was being a mum; the mum I wanted to be.
I tried to carry on expressing so that my husband could give her a bottle but using a full on pump stressed me out. The freezer stash wasn’t growing. I scoured the internet to up my supply and how to express better. Nothing seemed to work. I went to a breastfeeding clinic to ask for advice on expressing and the IBCLC looked at me and asked: “ why do you even want to express?” So I took one bit of advice that Google provided me with and never looked back. I took a feeding vacation. I apologised to my husband that he would have to find an alternative way to bond with Loës and for 3 days I exclusively breastfed directly from the breast. It was bliss. It was powerful.
At every visit from the health visitor, I would mention my struggles with breastfeeding and how I didn’t think I produced enough. At our six month check, the HV pointed at Loës and said to me : “ Look at her, she’s healthy and developing really well. This is all because of you and your milk. You are doing well.” It clicked and I felt powerful.
I eventually started to express again but using a passive suction pump. A life saver even if like me you produce just what baby needs and don’t leak.
In August 2019, we went through a painful biting phase which lasted two whole weeks. Bedtime was the worst bit: every night, for two weeks, we would walk her to sleep for 45 minutes. If I complained about it, I would be told to wean her off the breast. I wasn’t ready and we fed through the pain. My determination to try and see it through made me feel empowered. Breastfeeding made me into the mother that I am today
In October 2019, I celebrated 18 months of breastfeeding (FYI platinum boobs!) and we are still going strong. I listened to the podcast several times. And I realised that our journey has been a good one even if at times my struggles seemed unbearable. The podcast made me reflect on my journey and helped me write this article. It helped me realise that I took to breastfeeding
with such passion because it was the last thing that I could “control”, the last natural thing that I could do for my daughter. Over the last 19 months, breastfeeding along with the cuddles, the knowing looks and amazing bonding, has healed me and empowered me as a woman and a mother.
Trust me Mama, YOU are doing great!