THE TROUBLE WITH PARENTING.
This is my personal experience with breastfeeding and the incredible journey I’ve been on over the last 6 months.
This isn’t one of those ‘fed is best’ posts, nor will I be shitting on any mums at all-whether they formula feed, use donor milk, or breastfeed. It’s not about extended breastfeeding until 4+ years, it’s not about how babes need that first colostrum. It’s not the physical difficulties like a pain and cracked nipples and soaking through your shirt through the night, or engorged breasts feeling like you’ve a couple of boulders strapped to your chest. Which sure, that all fucking sucks but what this is about- is the emotional rollercoaster that you could never be prepared for.
I failed at breastfeeding my first and didn’t really think too much about it, sure I felt I’d let my baby down, but that’s what formula is made for right? It was unbearably painful and he wanted to be fed constantly. When he would cry I would try everything else possible (changing, burping, giving him a bath, just playing with him-everything) before I offered him the breast, I would cry throughout the whole feed, and after 30 or so minutes or as soon as he let go, I’d convince myself he was done- when really it was me that was done. I know now, he was just cluster feeding and I suspect he had a tongue tie, which was why it was so painful, but every mid-wife I saw in hospital had told me he had an excellent latch, and no one had ever mentioned cluster feeding to me. So, I thought the problem was me, that I was doing it wrong and that I wasn’t making enough milk, that my nipples shouldn’t be bleeding. We bought a can of formula and gave him a bottle, he stopped crying and fell asleep peacefully for the first time (in the week and a half) since he’d been born. It didn’t work out so it didn’t, he had formula and he was happy and healthy and that’s all that mattered. And I felt sure in my decision to formula feed. I never breastfed him again.
My last pregnancy I was asked numerous times at mid-wife appointments “do you plan to breast feed”. I always answered with “I want to try, but I couldn’t with my first” and honestly, I expected the same situation – to have babe 2 on formula within weeks. But it was different this time. The first couple of feeds were still painful, but bearable. I had an extended stay in hospital this time (due to unrelated complications) and during my time in hospital I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to a lactation consultant (I highly highly recommend anyone with difficulties breastfeeding to see one) She came and examined my breasts and saw one of my nipples was cracked and slightly bleeding. This wonderful lady hand expressed my breast for me (you can only hand express with colostrum) into a syringe to feed my daughter. So, my nipple could have time to heal before the next feed, without it effecting my milk coming in. She taught me new positions to feed baby in. And by the end of that one day I was good. It only hurt for the first couple of minutes of the feed, and then- NO MORE PAIN! I never believed anyone when I was told breastfeeding can and should be pain free, by 8 weeks there was no pain at all (except when she tried to pull my nipple off :P). I have successfully exclusively breastfed for 6 months.
So, what is the problem with breastfeeding? What I never expected to feel during my breastfeeding journey was guilt. Guilt that I’d failed my older son, that I’d given up too soon. That already my new baby was given an advantage over him. Guilt that I didn’t get to bond with my son the way I was with my daughter through breastfeeding. Guilt over how I essentially had to let my older son fend for himself and play by himself while his sister was cluster feeding. Guilt that my husband couldn’t be as involved with feedings as he was with my first. Guilt whenever I had a coffee or ate something that gave her a tummy ache.
I also never expected to feel the unimaginable feeling of truly being there for your baby and being everything she needs. To feel that if she’s ever upset or tired or in pain, I could make it all better by just lifting my shirt. I never thought I could enjoy breastfeeding this much. Being able to breastfeed my daughter has given me pure joy and just inconceivable bliss.
All these conflicting feelings are enough to give anyone a head spin. But just when I thought I finally had come to terms with the fact – I gave my son the best I could and I’m doing the same with my daughter. I suddenly need to go back to work. I looked everywhere I could for a night job, so I could express a bottle or two during the day and my husband could feed my baby girl at night, she sleeps well so I wouldn’t need much expressed. After being unsuccessful at finding a night role I started looking for part-time, hoping I could stay on top of pumping enough to continue my breastfeeding journey. It was during this job hunt that I was given an opportunity to interview for a really really good position that I never would have considered for myself. The only issue it’s full-time 40+ hours a week. So do I take this opportunity? And risk my breastfeeding journey? Try to keep up with pumping enough to feed my girl? I’ve never responded well to a pump, so it’s unlikely that I would be successful at expressing enough for me to be away from her that much.
As a parent, you always hear – you must look after your interests too. And although I originally wanted part-time, I NEEDED a job. So, I decided I might as well go for the interview and see how it goes. I had my interview today and they called me 3 hours later to ask me if I could go for a trial on Wednesday- I think I got the job!! And I am SO excited and bloody proud of myself for putting myself out there and having a go and FINALLY moving my career FORWARD! But at what cost? I’m going to have to substitute with formula while I’m at work. I’m HOPING I can continue to breastfeed at night-hopefully my supply can handle this.
But now there’s more guilt. That I’m giving up too soon. That breastfeeding is what’s best for my daughter and I’m depriving her of that. And then there’s more guilt and sadness and confusion because formula was “good enough” for my son- why does my daughter deserve “better”? Shouldn’t I give my babies all the same dedication? Am I a horrible mother for taking the job and making a JOB more important than the nutrition of my daughter? Even though the JOB is what’s going to be able to provide nappies and birthday presents and everything else.
So, breastfeeding is always definitely the best for your baby (unless you have conflicting medical issues), best for you as a mother, the easiest way (if you don’t have complications) to feed and truly the most rewarding way to feed – I don’t think you can ever feel you did it “good enough”. Unless you manage to exclusively breastfeed until 6 months, and then continue to breastfeed until baby self-weans (normally age 2-4) – (which I know some people do manage to do-and I applaud you for that) You will always be wondering, whenever you decide to wean whether you could have done more. I am so glad and proud I’ve breastfed my daughter for as long as I have and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
In retrospect to all that’s been said, you could say the same for the whole journey of parenting. You will always be second guessing your decisions and wondering if you could have done anything better for your child. You will never feel like, you’re the parent your awe-inspiring child deserves. But you should know- to all the parents out there- whether your child has just been born or even if they’re about to retire- if you are doing the absolute BEST you can-
YOU ARE PARENTING PERFECTLY.