I’m Stella, a new mum of two. Sometimes it takes a moment to let that thought sink in. A mother of TWO children? After all the trials of my first spawn… that I signed on for more seems to me to be nothing short of insanity or mental incapacitation (aka baby brain) sometimes! But three months in and I’m glad I did. The unbridled joy the second time around totally validates the fear and vulnerability of the first, like a rite of passage.
So here’s the story of my breastfeeding journey: My daughter is two years and my son is three months. My experience breastfeeding them has been like chalk and cheese. Before giving birth to my daughter, my sister (herself a mum of three girls) told me that breastfeeding is all in the mind. She gave birth to her first daughter in New Zealand where the midwives are very adamant about breastfeeding. And she breastfed all her three daughters well into their first year. Hearing about her experiences, I’d always hope I could hold a candle to her. But it turned out to be a bumpier ride than I’d expected…
Nursing my daughter, along with first-time mum fears and insecurities
With my firstborn, the main issue was that she was not putting on weight as fast as the pediatrician would have liked. We sought the opinions of a few different pediatricians and in the course of that, put her through some tests which included two blood tests, which were absolutely awful for the frayed nerves of scared, tired parents. When all the tests came out negative, we were advised to bottle feed expressed breast milk to quantify what my daughter was getting. I took this quite personally, like I was being accused of not producing enough milk, not feeding my child!
I had asked this particular pediatrician if I should perhaps see a lactation consultant to ensure I was breastfeeding and latching correctly. What she said to me was that the lactation consultants would naturally be pro-breastfeeding and could not know what was best medically for my daughter. Scared further by such a comment, we took her advice and started bottle feeding my daughter expressed breast milk.
What we found out was that she wasn’t drinking enough, not that I wasn’t producing enough. Even with the bottle, it would take forever for her to finish, though more often than not, she wouldn’t be able to finish. We were feeding on a schedule as advised by the pediatrician, as well as waking her up to feed – for sometimes as long as an hour! Even when she wasn’t sleepy she would sometimes take forever to finish her bottle. Looking back now, it’s just totally ridiculous and untenable. But we were just so petrified and trustful of others, while simultaneously being filled with self-doubt. We just went along with every little morsel of hope anyone threw our way.
Well, the bottle feeding didn’t seem to be working so the pediatrician suggested supplementing with formula because they thought she had ‘failure to thrive’. How bloody awful does that sound? At this point I was as defeated as I was scared. I felt unfit to be a mother. I’d look at my daughter and cry for her because she had such a useless mother who couldn’t do the most basic thing for her. But I swore to do the right thing for her and refused to let my aversion to formula get in the way of what’s best for her. So as much as it killed me, I gave in and started supplementing with formula.
And still nothing. She still took as long to feed. She didn’t have a preference for either breast milk or formula and worse, the weight gain was still painfully slow. Later we also introduced solids earlier than the recommended six months on the advice of the pediatrician, and still the weight gain was unimpressive. So I felt like I compromised everything I believed to be right for what? Absolutely nothing in return.
Till now my daughter is still below the third percentile weight-wise. But I’ve gotten over it. Because she’s healthy and happy and so am I. I love her bluer than the sky and wouldn’t have her any other way… even though she still takes an hour for meals and drives her parents crazy and will probably grow up small in stature, I know she will be big in other ways – now that is maternal instinct talking!
Nursing my son, with the learnings from my experience with my firstborn
With my son, it’s so different. He’s totally breastfed by direct latching. Putting on weight nicely so far and I’m keeping my fingers crossed it will continue. He won’t be a hulk – but then neither are his parents!
I worry less these days and enjoy and savour more. Because I know now that the moments – good, the bad, the ugly – will all pass. I’m now better able to see the forest for the trees. With my son, at least I have some idea of what’s coming around the corner so I don’t sweat the small stuff as much, and I also know how to enjoy the small stuff more. I have learned to give myself a break sometimes and just look on the brighter side – for the sake of analogy, it just makes sense that the best milk comes from happy free range cows, not stressed out factory cows!
He’s still feeding every two hours and yes, it does get tiring but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes after one of his night feeds I’ll turn out the lights, see the silhouette of his egg-shaped head against the night light and just listen to him snore for a while or wait for him to smile in his sleep like he knows his mama is watching over him. And, while so much is made of birth order and how the second child is never fussed over the same as the first, from my experience through this journey of motherhood so far, I actually think it is only with the second child that true maternal instinct kicks in. Now I really know what maternal instinct and trust is.
These two kids have taught me so much on this breastfeeding journey – but we all know it takes a village. I’ve some amazing role models, like my sister who told me not to over think things and just go with the flow. My mummy friends who share my craziness, we are indeed a tribe. No one else understands! From my village, I’ve received so much sage advice that I’ve come to realise is so true… I think back to what I stressed about during my pregnancy – like childbirth itself – the birth is only one day, so don’t worry too much about it because there an unending number of things to worry about after that!