Breastfeeding lesson: I’m a total hypocrite

Infant feeding is a hugely emotive topic, much like birth. Our experiences are deeply personal, yet seemingly open to judgement by all around us. Both can be unpredictable, and both can be prepared for, but the unfolding of each cannot be orchestrated. Knowledge IS power, knowing our options means that we HAVE them, but it doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing.

I firmly assert to my hypnobirthing mamas and their partners- preparation is key as it stacks the odds in our favour for a positive, healthy birth, BUT… Each of us will face a different level of challenge in our pregnancy and birthing. We may feel well throughout, or be sick and exhausted. We may sail through each check, or face concerns over our baby’s or our own wellbeing. We may bring with us all sorts of baggage, and could be bouyed by the positivity of those around us, or struggle not to be drowned in their doom and gloom. We may have entirely straightforward labours, with perfectly positioned babies and wonderful midwives, or we may have a less optimal scenario with complications, leaving us dealing with a less appropriate environment for birth.

Through all of this, hypnobirthing supports a mama and her partner to calmly navigate a path that makes sense for them. To make tough choices that bring them peace of mind, and leave them emerging like queens and kings- autonomous, absolutely owning it, clear that they got the right outcome in their circumstances.

I don’t just say this stuff- I hold it strong in my head and my heart- this flexibility, and being very well informed, are just as important in what I teach as all of the techniques we share. The breathing, relaxation, visualisation, massage, can all be profound despite their simplicity, but I am a realist, and I would never suggest that this stacks up to an easy birth. Easier, for sure, but not easy.

And yet, I found myself forgetting all of these principles in the weeks since the arrival of my second son. We had a fantastic birth experience– great preparation and a sprinkling of good luck came together perfectly. But what followed was more difficult.

In the 5 weeks that followed, I was hospitalised twice, dealing with the effects of pre existing anaemia, 2 bouts of mastitis, and most recently, possibly, probably deep breast thrush. I’ve had 3 blood transfusions and 3 courses of antibiotics in that time.

All of this has meant we never really got the time with the 4 of us all together at home to settle my 3yo Louis into this new arrangement. Instead, mummy kept disappearing with the baby- to hospital, or to bed. He’s struggling, and I am paying the price in the threenager behaviours.

It’s not been easy going for baby Rory either. Born with an obvious tongue tie, the hospital view was that we would need to wait and see if it caused us any problems. My nipples were bruised within 4 hours of him being born, just saying… So we paid a private specialist to revise his tongue tie at home on day 4. Up until then I was mostly expressing colostrum and syringing it into his mouth, day and night for 3 days. Trying him at the breast in between when I could bare the pain, but he wouldn’t always be up for it. Exhausting.

The division was fairly traumatic for me, still in the highly emotional postnatal state, holding my precious boy down to have it snipped, obviously more of a troubling time for him. I thought it would be worth it for him, on balance, to be able to get the benefits of breastfeeding in exchange for a few moments of pain. I would still make the same choice again, I think, but it was difficult nonetheless.

So it now turns out, as our difficulties have continued, that the revision was either incomplete, or that scar tissue has caused a new restriction. I was warned about both of these possibilities, but obviously hoped for a complete success. Me and hubs had agreed we didn’t want to put him through any further procedures, so this road is now closed.

It also seems he *might* have a cows milk protein sensitivity, that could explain his windiness, discomfort, vomiting and skin condition. So I’ve been cutting out dairy to see if he improves. I’m already a vegetarian- it is not easy to find vegan food on the go, and I am ALWAYS starving. Another hurdle for us. Of course, all of these symptoms could also be down to all the antibiotics, it’s all guess work it seems.

So why a hypocrite? Do you see what I’ve done here? I’ve thrown myself into a conviction that the dreamy breastfeeding experience I was hoping for would happen if I was determined enough. That if I made enough sacrifices, and tried harder, I would get the outcome I wanted. It does feel like it’s taken over our lives- breastfeeding at all costs.

This isn’t me saying it isn’t worth the effort. It probably is, I’m not sure. I know that others face more challenges and overcome them. I know that breastfeeding is normal and optimal, and therefore when considered in isolation, the fact is that it is best for babies. In lots of circumstances, best for mothers too I’m sure. On the very rare “good” moments we’ve had, I’ve felt those  physiological bonding hormones surging through me, lifting my spirits.

I hear a lot about “pressure to breastfeed” but that hasn’t been my experience. If anything, on balance, there has been more pressure to stop. Covertly. Comments made with kindness, offering me a way out, when I really wanted a way to carry on. I’ve been lucky to have a few great friends who I can moan to about how hard it is, and just be heard, without being told to go on an SMA run. And my husband has been fantastic. He knows how I regretted stopping feeding Louis within a couple of weeks, and has been on board throughout.

Today, Rory is 6 weeks old, and has had only mama’s milk. I don’t see that continuing much longer. I am in pain a lot of the time, and emotionally exhausted by the rollercoaster. I dread feeding my beautiful baby. I resent that I can’t enjoy cheese or chocolate to pick me up. (I know, this is pathetic). It doesn’t leave me in a great place to nurture and support my eldest. Pumping is so time consuming, and I can’t keep up, even if I put Louis under house arrest in this gorgeous weather.

I am edging myself towards that mindset that I teach my mamas about birth. You have to look at the big picture. Consider everything in your unique circumstances. Be realistic. Use your BRAIN. Make informed choices. Don’t chase a perfect home water birth if your head is telling you some extra monitoring, or a section is the right choice.

I wish we could’ve had a smoother, much longer experience of exclusive breastfeeding. I’ve cried a lot of tears at the thought of carrying on, and the thought of giving up. But I’m ready to take responsibility for my choice to move forward in another way. More pumping, less feeding, some supplementing, which I know in time will mean weaning from breastfeeding completely. I’m sad, but I’m clear that I don’t want to carry on as I am.

I’m giving myself some of that autonomy and compassion I offer to my mamas. My body, my baby, my informed choice. The best choice for us, in our particular circumstances. The ability to navigate the journey with calmness, and make decisions I can live with.

I’ve learnt a lesson, and I know it will help me to support my mamas better too.

Back to teaching hypnobirthing in July, with a few spaces available then, and in August. Pop along here  to join a wiser me, inviting you to polish your crown, and birth like the queen you are. Hope the oversharing lets you know I’ll keep it super real for you (who else is telling you about the condition of their nips before you’ve event met…?!) X

www.hypnobirthdays.com or find me on Facebook, Instagram (keri_hypnobirthdays) or Twitter (@hypnobirthdays)

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