The Great Breastfeeding Conspiracy

Let me start by saying that this post may be controversial. And, as a disclaimer: breast is best.

Well, sort of. Breast is best if:

  • You have a high pain threshold and nipples of steel (literally no one tells you how completely agonising it is in the beginning)
  • You don’t value sleep all that much (and are prepared to go without for months)
  • Your baby nails latching
  • Most importantly: your baby does not have a severe tongue tie.

And it’s this final point that put the nail in the coffin for our ‘breastfeeding journey’ (I can’t stand this term. It’s so flowery and fluffy. There is nothing fluffy about breastfeeding in the beginning).

After Baby SM was born, he was placed on me skin to skin, as I’d dutifully requested on my birth plan on the advice of our NCT instructor, and I tried to feed him. It wasn’t happening; he tried and tried to latch on, but couldn’t seem to form a sucking action, and eventually I gave up, passing it off as tiredness after birth and grateful of an opportunity to have that amazing post labour bath. Back on the ward, we tried again over several hours under the supervision of the midwifery care assistant, who patiently tried him in every different position: cradle, rugby ball, lying down…nothing was working. My quiet little baby was becoming increasingly agitated; scratching, kicking and biting me, and I was beginning to get more and more upset. Eventually, sensing how seriously hungry Baby SM was, she brought out a breastpump. She was reluctant to let me use it, as she explained that the longer he went without latching, the less likely he was to get it, but he’d now been in the world nearly 24 hours and hadn’t eaten anything. The pump worked; we got a good supply of colostrum, and syringed it straight into Baby SM’s mouth, which he gulped down hungrily.

We repeated the process, with no success on the latching front, until I managed to persuade the midwifery team to let me go home. The ward was no longer quiet; the father of the baby opposite appeared to be embroiled in a bitter dispute with a member of the mother’s family, and was threatening them over the phone as well as being aggressive towards members of the midwifery team (including the duty midwife, who we’d not actually managed to speak to for the entire duration of our stay on the ward). The OH wasn’t allowed to use the shower facilities or eat the food on the ward, and was exhausted from trying to sleep in the chair next to my bed. I didn’t want to stay on the ward by myself with the baby and no apparent means of feeding him by myself. We eventually met the duty midwife, and after reassuring her that we had the same breastpump at home, we overcame her reluctance to let us leave.

Back home, I tried and tried to get Baby SM to latch. We attempted to feed under supervision of the visiting midwives and midwifery care assistants, took him in to see a breastfeeding specialist, and bought a My Brest Friend pillow, which turned out to be the most useful breastfeeding support we’d had to date (getting intermittent latches for up to ten minutes at a time – a miracle at this point. If you plan on breastfeeding, you NEED one of these pillows. Your back, core and stitches will thank you for it). Eventually, one of the midwives confirmed our suspicions: Baby SM had a tongue tie which was preventing him from latching properly, and she made a referral to get it snipped the following week. In the interim, Baby SM became jaundiced and started to look quite hollow, but the advice remained the same: keep going. I knew something wasn’t right, and continued to express what I could after attempting to feed him so I could get something in him. The colostrum gave way to milk, but still, he continued to fade. He was, quite literally, starving. The tongue tie was snipped, but by this point, it was too late; he had lost 11% of his body weight and we were on the verge of being readmitted back to hospital. We were allowed to go home to try again now the tongue tie was sorted, but if the situation didn’t improve we would be back in the RUH after our ten day midwife appointment in two days time. I was devastated. At home, I tried and tried with latching again – the tongue tie was fixed, so why wasn’t he feeding? The punching, clawing, kicking and screaming continued, but no latching. My nipples felt like someone was sticking a needle in them and I burst into tears every time I put him anywhere near, fearing the agonising pain which was about to ensue. I felt like a complete failure. Our NCT classes taught us that almost everyone was physically capable of breastfeeding their baby, so why couldn’t I?

At this point, my husband did the unthinkable: he produced a bottle of formula. Exhausted, broken, I agreed that he could give it to Baby SM. In hindsight, I’d viewed that bottle in the same way I would if he were giving poison to our baby. Ultimately, I believe it saved him from starvation. Between my expressed milk and additional formula, he wolfed down nearly a litre in a day. When we returned for our ten day midwife appointment, Baby SM had gained 200g in two days. We were discharged to the care of a Health visitor and allowed to go home. Finally, we were getting somewhere.

Three months later, I have just stopped expressing milk after my supply dwindled to virtually nothing. Between expressed bottles and formula, we’ve managed to raise a healthy baby, who sleeps incredibly well and is consistently recognised as the happiest and calmest from our group. I don’t credit this all to formula – I’d like to think I’m having a positive impact on his wellbeing through my parenting choices – but I do believe being satisfied has something to do with it. After eight weeks he began sleeping through the night, and in general he is extremely relaxed without having that weird, vacant air about him which a lot of babies seem to have. He is bright, bubbly, incredibly smiley and developing as fast as, if not faster, than his peers. He has not spontaneously combusted, nor has his head fallen off, because he’s not been breastfed. We’ve bonded in a way I never thought possible when in the early days, I’m ashamed to say I confessed to my OH that I hated him for the pain he was causing me whilst trying to feed. It’s not for everyone, but, then again, nor is breastfeeding. I’d rather have a fed baby than a dead baby, and I truly believe it was only my husband’s intervention that prevented him from starving.

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So it’s been a while…

As you may have gathered, Baby Scaredy Mum has arrived. Our lives have been turned upside down; I can’t go to the loo by myself anymore without yelling ‘IT’S OK, MUMMY WON’T BE LONG! FIVE MORE MINUTES!!’ (then quietly, to myself, ‘Oh, FFS’) let alone make time for a blog post. But he’s gone back down to sleep for a bit, so I gathered it’s time I post an update. Several, in fact. So over the next few days, I plan to publish blogs on:

  • Cowbag J the Midwife, and how Baby SM narrowly avoided turning up on an A road in the middle of the night
  • The Great Breastfeeding Conspiracy – why does no-one tell you how difficult it is?
  • Mum friends – the girls I never wanted but could never do without
  • Not exactly love at first sight – how loving Baby SM has been a process, and far from instantaneous
  • Hacks to make life with a newborn that bit more bearable

The good news is that I’ve really taken to being a Mum; my fears were (mainly) without foundation and even a baby-phobe like me has managed to keep a little one alive (and happy, it would seem) for over ten weeks now. If I can do it, anyone can. I hope these blogs provide a little comfort for anyone else in the same situation as me. You will get some semblance of your life back; it just might look a little different to life pre-baby.

The Elusive Oxytocin

It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted an update, because we’ve had a lot of stuff going on. In no particular order:

  • We finished doing up our house, after six months of weekends spent covered in paint and little bits of ripped off wallpaper, and moved in.
  • We found out that despite reassurances and encouragement from the MOD that buying in the South West was a good idea, we can never trust anything they say, and that the proposal now is to send the OH to Norfolk after a year spent completing a Masters close to home. Somehow, I’ve inadvertently committed to being a single mum during the week, or to moving six hours from friends and family when he’s posted next year.
  • The OH’s mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer, having originally been diagnosed in 2013, and is now confined to a wheelchair.

The baby has been the last thing on my mind, and to be honest has posed more of an inconvenience than something to look forward to when everything else is falling to pieces. After an initial period of optimism in the second trimester, at 32 weeks I’m still struggling to come to terms with what’s to come, and if people ask me how I’m feeling, the only response I can come up with is ‘scared’. I’m not excited, I’m not wishing the last few weeks of pregnancy away. I’ve had a relatively easy ride, with very few side effects – no swollen ankles, no heartburn, no sickness – and am actually feeling more awake than I did in my first and second trimesters, even if physically I’m starting to slow down. I’d quite happily just stay as I am for the indefinite future, because I’m not entirely sure I’m ok with what’s coming next.

Before all of the above came to light, we had our 20 week scan, which was an ordeal in itself – four hours at the hospital, being called in to see the sonographer and repeatedly sent away because the baby, as usual, was in the wrong position. The sonographer was brusque, rude and devoid of any empathy or emotion, and I left in tears. Having eventually managed to get the images she needed, she confirmed we were having a boy, and that really knocked me for six. Boys were not on the radar; I’m from a family of girls, and Mum was even told she couldn’t carry boys to term. I’m not sure how I feel about boys. On the phone to my mum afterwards, I confirmed I was disappointed, which she was appalled by. The baby is healthy – surely that’s all I should want? But I’ve really struggled to bond with him ever since. We’ve got no names lined up, and until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even want to buy him any clothes. I feel absolutely terrible for having a preference, and for being disappointed, but I can only be honest – I’d always wanted a girl.

Perhaps this is why I am why I am at the moment. We started NCT last week, and have already met some really lovely people, who all seem super organised, well read on the upcoming processes, and really excited. I’m just…not. Last night’s session was all about a ‘normal’ birth, and whilst everyone exclaimed how magical and clever it all was, I could feel myself feeling more panicked, and actually a little repulsed at the pictures laid out on the floor showing the process from early labour to the moment baby is placed in your arms, complete with the cord still attached. On the way home, the OH tried to bring up birth preferences and the all important birth plan, which I’ve consciously avoided for weeks, and I clammed up. When we got home, I cried again. I told him things were perfectly fine as they were and that I wasn’t sure why we’d decided to change things by bringing someone else into it. What kind of response is that?

The OH has known something isn’t right for a while, sending me articles on pre-natal depression whilst safely confined in another room, and even valiantly trying to mention it in yet another rushed midwife appointment before being hustled out the door so she could go home. The midwife handed me a box of tissues and scribbled the word ‘PANDAS’ on my notes, but I can’t bring myself to look into that either. I know that I should. I know this isn’t normal. But owning up to the reality of the situation is more daunting than carrying on in this sort of self imposed, clammed up limbo.

So the question is: how do I make things better? I can’t magically turn on a ‘isn’t having a baby so exciting’ switch. When does this magical Oxytocin start doing its job? Because at the moment, I don’t feel like I have any.

The Breezy (not) Second Trimester

I’m now 18 weeks in, and have been promised that this is by far the most blissful and wonderful stage of pregnancy.

It’s not.

At 16 weeks, despite smugly proclaiming to all and sundry that I’d avoided the dreaded morning sickness, my Saturday morning was rudely interrupted by a severe bout of vomming. Annoying if you’ve got nowhere to be; downright inconvenient when your car is due in for a service first thing and you’re bent over the toilet throwing up your emergency ginger biscuit. What was worse was the reaction from the man at BMW when I eventually rocked up, ‘half an hour late’ (I was not. I specifically booked my car for 9am and arrived at 4 minutes past). Pale, watery eyed and smelling vaguely sicky, I had no time for his tutting and promptly snapped at him. I’ve now sworn off buying a mum-mobile from BMW (I know it won’t be from him. I’ll have moved by then and the dealership we previously used in the South West were always lovely. But it’s the principle!)

I still just feel a bit fat. Having lost a lot of weight in my late teens, I’ve never had the pleasure of a flat stomach, more a saggy sack, and my tummy has a very distinct upper and lower section which creates a little roll in the middle. I thought this might even out in pregnancy. Oh no. If anything, it’s more distinct, and sticking out more and more by the day. Beautiful slim fitting dresses a-la Cheryl whatever-her-name-is-these-days are not an option, and I’m finding increasing comfort in moomoos. And I’m obviously looking a bit rounder too. Whilst complaining to my dad about the continued gag enforced by work on sharing my news (see below), he responded with ‘well anyone can tell you look different. Your tummy, your face, they all look a bit…’. A bit what, Dad? Tubby? Moonfaced? Did I mention I’m also a bit sensitive at the moment too?

Work’s ridiculous gagging order rumbles on. For a while I was so cross about it that I just started telling clients. They were all predictably happy for me, understanding and kind, though there was a hint of apprehension about what would happen next in terms of cover whilst I’m off. I casually told my boss I’d started sharing. His response? Stop it. ‘They’ll need to know what the plan is for whilst you’re off! There isn’t a plan!’ Not my problem sir. The company have had months to get their heads round this after telling them at 6 weeks. When client relationships are so integral to how we do business, deliberately keeping something from them is against my integrity. It would appear I’m becoming very principled in my preggo state (see above).

But there are some positives. I’ve found The Pair of maternity jeans, which I never, ever want to take off (thanks JoJoMamaBebe). My skin is a lot clearer than it would be normally. And I’m now sufficiently far gone (apparently) to start PLANNING. Planning is what the OH and I do best. The baby was even mapped out on a spreadsheet, and true to my husband’s impeccable scheduling (not mine), conception fell at the exact moment we pencilled it in for, something which, to this day, remains a minor miracle to me.

Planning has always been a pleasure – a chance to get excited about something which feels miles off in the future. When we go on holiday (probably something of the past now we have a mortgage and an impending small one on the way), we buy the appropriate version of our favourite DK travel guide, and sit for hours working out the logistics of our far-flung trips. Once the dreaded 12 weeks were out of the way, we bought a load of baby books (including the usual ‘How to Expect When You’re Expecting’, which made me vom in my mouth a bit with sickly sentimentality) and, my favourite, ‘The Hipster Baby Name Book’, which has genuinely given us some ideas. We have carefully folded over pages to return to later and diligently made lists on our phones. We have also spent a lot of money. Our nursery furniture and bassinet thing (still don’t get why I need this) are all turning up on 3rd July, just in time for the start of my maternity leave, and we now have a house full of smaller items of baby paraphernalia, all in beautifully matching shades of grey (which won’t show up shit stains at all, of course not). When we find out the sex in a couple of weeks, I might even add in some colour. You never know.

So, despite the sickiness, the fatness, the frustration with work, I’m starting to feel – dare I say it – excited? Maybe because we are starting to do things in our own way. I bloody love a reference book. I like shopping. If that’s what it takes to get me through the next few months, then so be it.

Oh, and I told another customer today. #sorrynotsorry, boss.

Bloody Knackered

I am currently sat at our bedroom window watching our local 10k race speed past, and feeling increasingly agitated at the general perkiness of the general, non pregnant population. Look at them, all smug, bouncing along the road in their teeny tiny shorts in the rain. I am no longer a #runningwanker. And that makes me sad.

When people warned me I’d get tired during the early stages of pregnancy, I was pretty dismissive. Tiredness is for other people. As long as I’m in bed at a decent time at night, I’m always good to go by 6am. If I’m not travelling a ridiculous distance for work that day, I might even squeeze in a casual run or gym visit before my first client visit of the day. But my god, has that changed. 

I’m no longer a morning person or afternoon person, and I’m definitely not an evening person. Last night I was asleep halfway through an episode of Sherlock before 8pm. This morning, the only thing that got me out of bed was my rumbling tummy. I have no get up and go. It’s enough just to get up at all. 

All this tiredness is making me a bit unstable too. At work, I tend to get on with things without complaint, and take each day in my stride. But this week, someone really hit a nerve. A senior manager came down to one of my client meetings after said client became upset at the speed at which the company is dealing with some financial matters, one of the few things I’m unable to manage end to end without the involvement of Head Office. At the meeting, the client mentioned another concern, which his accountant had broached over the weekend, and which was news to me, as it was to him. We put a plan in place to help him through it, and once the client left, the senior manager, who I’ve always felt particularly dislikes me, turned to me and told me that the business plan I’d had in place with the client until now was obviously inadequate, since I hadn’t addressed this new issue, because I’m clearly a bloody mind reader. Maybe it was because she’s never made me feel welcome, or competent, or wanted, or maybe it’s because my hormones are all over the place and my sleep pattern is completely screwed, but I snapped at her. Not in a shouty, aggressive way, but in a ‘I’m sorry, I don’t agree with you’ way, which apparently she found less than acceptable. Logically, I knew I was in the right, but it is not the done thing to question authority. I had a rather chastising phone call from my boss that evening, which culminated in me crying at him, thus cementing my status as a unhinged, preggo loon. And despite feeling in my heart of hearts that I’d done nothing wrong, I still found myself texting to apologise for being tired and hormonal the next day. 

The upshot of my little meltdown is that it actually gave me the confidence to tell my boss, in a throughly non-negotiable way, that I will be taking weekly admin days for the foreseeable future. This is something I should have had for myself years ago, because half the reason I’ve been struggling with the tiredness situation is that I normally end up working until late each night just to keep up to speed with the basic requirements of my job. Now I’m pregnant and falling asleep so early, the admin is slipping day by day.

But why should the pregnancy thing be the catalyst for this? Surely I shouldn’t have been expected to work until stupid-o-clock every night just because physically, I could just about manage? Simply put, until I started growing a tiny human in my tummy, I hadn’t even noticed the impact it was having on me, despite knowing deep down that something wasn’t right. Now, I have other things to think about. My health, and the health of the baby-to-be, is far more important than syncing a daily report before going to bed every night.

So I might be tired, cranky, and, now, also quite fat. But thank god for the instinct of self-preservation, which has kicked in when I need it most. I like these new priorities. They might not pay me at the end of each month, but I have a feeling I’ll be far more grateful for the rewards than I ever am for a pat on the back at work. 

Keeping Mum

So I’m now just under 11 weeks pregnant, and finally getting round to telling my nearest and dearest.

In some respects, I completely understand why you would want to keep your pregnancy a secret in the beginning. A lot can go wrong, and having watched a close friend go through the loss of her baby following a diagnosis of a serious chromosomal disorder, we have every right to be concerned about how the little creature in our tummies is developing. However, speaking to my closest friends and family about my current situation has lifted a massive weight off my mind, and no matter what happens over the next few weeks and months, I know I have the full support of those I have around me.

When I found out I was pregnant, it was something of a shock. It’s not like we hadn’t planned it. The OH even had a spreadsheet (!), detailing the optimum times to try both financially and situationally, something which can’t hurt in the uncertain world of the military wife. But it literally took one go. One go. I did feel a little sorry for my OH, who was probably expecting months of guaranteed sex on tap, now replaced with a somewhat bloated and grumpy wife who can no longer even be placated by wine. In any case, the positive reading was unexpected. We had a bottle of Moët in the fridge ready to celebrate the completion on our first house which could no longer be shared. And I’m not entirely sure I initially took the news well. Sat in the pub, enjoying the first of many lime and sodas, we discussed our next steps, and how to broach the subject with our families over Christmas, which inevitably had to happen considering I am normally a wine guzzling Brie addict. My thoughts went as follows:

  • What if it’s not ok?
  • Will it stay put? (I come from a family with a long history of reproductive misery)
  • What if I’m a bad mum? I don’t even like children – why have I decided to make my own?
  • How can I possibly tell my parents?

This last one might sound a bit odd. I’m sure lots of women are super close to their mum and dad and share everything with them. I chat to my parents every day, but discussing our parenting plans was never on the agenda. From a young age I’d expressed a desire to be a ‘career girl’ and had never shown more than a passing interest in children, even my niece, who I love but am actually terrified of. Mum and Dad fully expected to write off their grandparenting with the one child my sister created. What was my overwhelming feeling when planning how to tell my mum and dad? That they’d be disappointed. That’s right. That their 27 year old, married daughter, with a wonderful, dependable OH and financially stable home life, had done something shameful and irreversibly stupid. How could I possibly tell them?

My OH, as always, was extremely patient and understanding about my little wibble (I had to leave the pub because I started crying. Really.) And in the past few weeks, he’s shared in some of the anxiety and embarrassment I’ve felt about being ever so slightly pregnant. The chatty woman who put our pregnancy test through the till at Waitrose, where we also bought avocados and free range eggs, who immediately stopped talking to us. The feeling of fradulently visiting Mamas and Papas, casually sizing up the cost of prams and wondering whether mortgages extend to first babies, when I’m not really showing yet. Booking a blood test over the phone with the hospital, and explaining that your midwife asked you to contact them, because uttering the words ‘I’m pregnant’ seems like too big an admission, and it’s early days, so I’m not really pregnant, just a little bit.

It wasn’t until I started telling people that these feelings alleviated a little. I started with a couple of work colleagues. Some of them knew about ‘the plan’, and I needed them on side for the big cover up at my upcoming work Christmas party. Then I accidentally told a couple more. And then I told my boss. I gathered if he was buying the drinks, I couldn’t legitimately spend the night pouring every glass of prosecco away or surreptitiously passing it to one of the ‘chosen few’. I would also need his support in the next few weeks and coming months in case the going got tough. And he was really understanding, if a little taken aback (I think he thought I had his back for life. Sorry boss). At the Christmas party, I was so worried about my remaining team members noticing my soberness that I told the whole lot, at the socially unacceptable stage of six and a half weeks. And I instantly felt SO MUCH BETTER. The anxiety of committing the big cover up instantly lifted, and I felt able to relax. God forbid that anything terrible should happen in the coming weeks or months, but if it does, I now know that I have their full support, and, as importantly, their complete understanding.

That just left the parents. Having had a few practice goes at telling people at work, it came a lot easier than I was expecting. The response was gobsmacked silence, followed by ‘we thought you were going to tell us you were getting another cat!’. But they were not, for one moment, disappointed. After a day or two to digest the news, they were super excited. The fear was all in my head. I will always be their little girl, but they’ve come to accept I’m a grown up, with a family of my own. And so now I find myself sending them photos of the ‘Hipster Baby Names’ book which arrived from Amazon yesterday, and joking together about the possibility of calling my first child ‘Agrippina’ (Mum’s suggestion. Apparently a long lost German aunt and a suitably obscure baby name). I’m starting to relax a little. The more people that know, the less I feel like a fraud, and the more pregnant I feel. The more pregnant I feel, the more accepting I am of my upcoming change in circumstances. Which can only be a good thing, right?

So the moral of the story is this, folks. Do whatever the hell makes you feel comfortable. And if keeping schtum is the answer for you, good on you. Personally, if I’d waited the usual 12 weeks to tell anyone, I’d have spent the last six weeks having an internal meltdown. There is no shame in sharing early. Because if your friend was suffering in relative silence, as mine is following her devastating diagnosis this week, you’d want them to know that you care, you’re there for them, and that this pregnancy happened. There was a baby, and it lived. Whatever happens over the next few months, I know that my nearest and dearest will know this happened to me.