Why We Need To Be More Supportive In How Mom’s Choose To Feed Their Babies

The way a mother chooses to feed her baby seems to be a subject of wild controversy and yet no matter how many times we seem to have this conversation, there’s always someone who has a strong opinion on the subject that leads other moms to feel deflated and sometimes confused.

While I was pregnant, the question of how I planned to feed my baby came up a lot. My goal was always to breastfeed but little did I know that voicing my preference and goals would open a floodgate of stories and opinions from other mothers, some of them which were quite frustrating at times. I didn’t understand why so many women chose to inflict their assumptions on what I should do, would prefer, wouldn’t prefer or shouldn’t do onto me.

During my pregnancy, I did everything I could to prepare to start breastfeeding. I read articles and tips from other women, received literature and support from my public health nurse, saved lactation recipes on Pintrest, bought all of the nipple and breast-care supplies I could and I even took a free one day class on breastfeeding that was offered through my local Health Authority. Although I was more than prepared, nothing could truly prepare me for how my “goal” actually played out.

After my accidental at-home delivery, I started hemorrhaging because my placenta didn’t completely detach from my uterus which resulted in me losing a ton of blood. A litre and a half of it, to be exact, and so I was rushed to the hospital with my newborn baby girl where I had to be put under to have a DNC. When I woke, I had two IV lines in each of my arms and a catheter inserted inside me plus stitches which made laying down uncomfortable. To make matters worse, one of my IV lines wasn’t placed in my wrist properly and it caused a hematoma which made positioning my daughter in a comfortable feeding position very painful. Not only was I recovering from childbirth but I also had all of these obstructions which made the start to my breastfeeding journey all the more challenging.

During my first night in the hospital, the nursing staff were initially very helpful in helping me with my baby’s latch. My daughter was born super tiny at only 5 lbs, 9 ounces and so I was handling her like a porcelain doll which wasn’t helpful when trying to get her to properly feed. My midwives told me to use my call button as much as I needed to during my hospital stay as the nurses were there to help me in every and any way that they could, and so I did. I used that call button so much during my stay for help with breastfeeding and I learned quite quickly that every nurse had a different approach and different advice’s about proper feeding which made things very confusing.

One night in particular, after a long day of blood transfusions, the night nurse told me bluntly that if I felt a pinch at all, I was doing it all wrong. This was so frustrating because I did feel a pinch every single time my daughter latched on and so I felt like every bit of progress I thought I was making was completely false- I was failing. This coupled with the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn lead me to break down, cry and snap at the nurse. And this was only the beginning of my frustrations with breastfeeding.

Later that week when I finally got home and had those annoying tubes out of me, I persevered with my goal of breastfeeding. I was determined to get to the point that it would no longer hurt. I had heard from so many of my fellow Mommy friends that the pain doesn’t last and that I would be healed up and used to it before I knew it. Some of my girlfriends healed up in two weeks while the most common timeline was about 6 weeks. Six weeks. That timeline seemed like nothing at the time.

As it turns out, six weeks is a really-long-fucking-time when it comes to putting your breasts through the trauma of breastfeeding. Looking back, I would have rather given birth again than have to establish breastfeeding- that’s how painful it was for me. Also, it took longer than the magic 6 week mark for me to feel even slight relief from the pain. There were nights that I cried at my daughters night wakings because I dreaded the pain so much. There was even one instance in which she spit-up blood and I freaked out but was assured by the nurses call line that it was just maternal blood which babies can not digest and so they spit it up instead. Seeing a newborn spit up blood is terrifying!

I cried in the shower, purchased special ice packs for my breasts, used a heating pad at night between feeds, switched nipple creams twice and even took approved painkillers just to get through it. I was determined to be able to breastfeed my baby and thankfully for me, just over two months into motherhood, the pain finally went away we are still successfully still exclusively breastfeeding to this day going on almost six months.

Sadly, this isn’t the case for all mothers.

Breastfeeding is both extremely difficult for many women to establish and a very personal journey, one that is not bound to a set checklist of fool-proof methods. There are so many factors that can alter a woman’s attempt at breastfeeding their baby. Pain tolerance, inverted nipples, necessary medications, sensitivity, lack of resources, mindfulness to mental health and patience are just some of the contributing factors that can alter a woman’s experience. I understand completely through my own experience why so many women can not and choose not to continue. The madness is sometimes not worth it when it means sacrificing a mothers sanity and well-being.

What I learned from my experience is that it’s very important to be extra mindful in what you say to a woman who is either in the midst of her journey or about to begin her journey in breastfeeding. It’s okay for a mother to voice her goal of breastfeeding without judgement. It’s also completely okay for a mother-to-be to decide that she doesn’t even want to try without judgement. As women, we know ourselves well enough to know what works best for us and our families.

Isn’t it about time we stop shaming and criticizing women in every which way we can about how she feeds her babies? Stop shaming the Mom in the check-out line at the grocery store buying formula for her baby. Stop telling a mother-to-be that she won’t like it, won’t be able to do it or give her false hope that it’ll be easy-as-pie. Most importantly, do NOT project your own personal story onto her as if your experience is law. Like I said, breastfeeding is a very delicate and personal journey. It’s not one-size-fits-all. While you’re at it, stop judging the Mom breastfeeding in public or bottle feeding when her baby is hungry- you have no idea what she went through to feed that precious little human. Supporting one another by way of accepting ones choices instead of assuming we have the be-all-end-all of advice’s is the first step in changing the way we approach this subject. Even if breastfeeding is considered the “best way” to feed a baby, it’s important to remember it’s not the only way. Fed is best. Period.

The Day My Life Changed

October 29, 2018 is a day permanently etched into my heart- it’s the day my daughter was born. Like most new mothers, the whole labor experience was terrifying and I felt totally unprepared, despite preparing for 9 months.

I know there’s a reason health practitioners advise you to create a birth plan but as stubborn as I am, I tried to avoid making one for the longest time. I’ve learned over the course of my life that nothing ever really goes according to plans. After all, my entire pregnancy in itself was one massive shit storm from the get-go. Nevertheless, through some coaxing, I humored my midwives and created my elusive “birth plan.” An epidural was the front and centre star of my imagined birthing show.

I’ll never forget the night my first pregnancy complication surfaced. I was about 26 weeks along when I woke up just after 2 AM for one of my several middle-of-the-night trips to the loo to find that I was bleeding. I was alone and terrified. That night resulted in a 14 hour stay in the hospital and learning that I had a low lying placenta. And this was just the beginning of the roller-coaster that was my pregnancy. From extra ultrasounds, developing SPD (Symphysis Pubic Dysfunction) which caused me to have to walk with a cane coupled with many visits to massage, physiotherapy and acupuncture to then developing PUPPS rash in the middle of my third trimester (which is essentially an innocent itch that starts on your lower belly and then violently spreads into a hive like rash down your legs and arms and itches like the fleas of a thousand camels), my pregnancy was one wild ride. Though chaotic, looking back, I feel like I handled every single hardship and challenge like a boss. I truly had no idea how deep the resilience of the female body was. I also had no choice. It was just my baby and I and I had to keep her safe inside me until it was time for her to join me earth-side.

And join me she did- fast and furious.

The night I went into labor, my parents had come over to drop off some groceries. I was nesting OBSESSED during my pregnancy. I had lists of things to do, things to buy and yes, I even had a menu plan of Pintrest-y frozen meals for when she arrived and I would have no time to properly cook in those first few weeks of caring for a newborn. I knew that in becoming a single mother, I would have to be extra prepared because although my village is grand and gracious, I was determined to do things as much on my own as possible. I needed to for my baby-girl.

As soon as I packed that last bag of frozen chicken breasts away into my deep freeze and closed the lid, I made a comment to my parents; “that’s it, everything on my list is done and I can finally relax and enjoy these last couple weeks of my pregnancy!” I was so relieved.

Although I was due November 9th, my daughter had other plans. At around 1:30 AM that same night on October 29th, I woke up to what felt like intense pressure. Assuming it was just an urgent bladder, I made another one of my several trips to the loo and noticed that I was starting to lose my mucous plug.

Now here’s the thing; in every prenatal class and every conversation I had with my doctor and midwives about what to expect from labor, the one thing I was consistently told was that once labor started, I had time. In fact, I was supposed to have so much time that I would be able to take a Tylenol and some Gravol, go back to sleep and prepare for my day of birth-giving. Sounds amazing and simple, right? Not so much for me. As I mentioned, like everything else in my life, nothing went according to plan.

I texted my girlfriend at around 3 or 4 AM to tell her I was losing my mucous plug. She had her baby-girl just a few weeks prior so her first hand expertise was exactly what I needed. She told me to make myself a big meal and to relax because I had lots of time. Time. That’s what everyone kept telling me- I had plenty of it.

At around 5 AM I called my parents to put them on alert. I told them that I appeared to be in early labor but to chill, go to work, not to worry and to be on stand-by because it seemed like things were starting to get going. I told them I had TIME.

At 7 AM as I was standing over the stove cooking myself a box of Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese, I was starting to feel even more pain during my contractions. So much so that I was actually slumped over while stirring the pot. After I ate, I called my midwife to tell her I was in a lot of pain and had been timing my contractions but they were still nowhere near the advised increments of time before a hospital will actually admit you. Since this was my first child, apparently things move quite slowly, or so we thought. My midwife told me to hop into a nice bath as it can help ease the contractions. Since the Tylenol/Gravol combo was an epic fail and I was unable to go back to sleep as promised, I was taking comfort advice’s very seriously. So, into the bath-tub I went.

Looking back, I speculate that during my time in the tub, my water must have broken because as soon as I got up and out after about an hour, I could no longer stand. This was at about 9 AM. My mother had called me and told me that she couldn’t go to work and that even if I was having false labor, she wanted to come over and be there for me.

With no support yet on scene and armed with only a heating pad, I crawled from the bathtub back into my bedroom, threw a nightshirt on and strapped that heating pad around my lower back as I continued timing my contractions.

At 10:30 AM, my parents arrived. By this time my contractions were about 5 minutes apart and I was SCREAMING through every single one of them. All I wanted was to get to the hospital so that I could have my planned epidural so that I didn’t have to experience this level of pain. Unfortunately, my parents weren’t sure if they would be able to move me and since I was unable to stand, they were worried that I might give birth in the car on the way to the hospital or in the stairwell of my building so they called an ambulance instead.

The first to arrive on scene to any emergency are almost always the fire-fighters because they are also trained in essential life-saving skills. While I expected to have my lady-bits exposed to complete strangers during my delivery, I did not expect 5 calendar worthy fire-fighters to walk into my bedroom whilst my dignity was on the line. The running joke is that it’s not the way I imagined 5 handsome fire-fighters in my bedroom, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

When they arrived, I was so relieved. Finally, someone who could take me to the hospital to get my epidural! Sadly, it wasn’t going to be that easy for me. They checked my vitals and told me to hang tight as they would have to wait for the paramedics to arrive. It was very crucial not to move me until they could listen for the baby’s heartbeat to make sure she wasn’t in any kind of distress. When the paramedics arrived, I pleaded the same plea I made to the firefighters:

“Oh thank goodness! Please take me to the hospital so I can get my epidural.”

It was all about that epidural.

I asked everyone and anyone who walked into my bedroom that day for my damn epidural. The epidural I was promised I was allowed to request as part of my “birth plan”.

More sad news; although they confirmed the baby was safe, they could not move me until my midwife came to check my dilation. In the meantime, thankfully, the paramedics had gas and they hooked it up above my bed using a wire coat rack. That gas was my saving grace and although it scared the shit out of my cat, who watched the whole gore fest unfold from under the crib beside my bed as I screamed in a demonic like tone from the gas, it was probably the most enjoyable part of the whole birth-giving process.

When my midwife arrived, I pleaded my same epidural plea. She checked my dilation and told me we weren’t going anywhere as the baby was “right there”. This was the moment I was officially terrified…

At 12:26 PM in the company of 5 firefighters, 3 paramedics, 2 midwives, my Mom, My Dad, my horrified cat and a ton of gas later, one solid push brought my little girl into my world. It was such a shocking and insane experience but one that I wouldn’t trade for anything because it was a true testament to what my life has come to be- unpredictable and full of surprises. Also, apparently I’m in the 1% of women whose first delivery went insanely fast and without typical rhythm so the pipe dreams I was painted in my pre-natal classes and with creating my “birth plan” were purely for shits and giggles. Nice.

Jokes aside and despite my post delivery complications (I lost a TON of blood and had to have a DNC, blood and iron transfusions), the beginning of my daughters life changed me in so, so many ways. From going through insane chaos through my pregnancy and facing all of it on my own to being here with her now nearly six months later and watching her grow and respond to the world around her every single day, it has all been worth it. It will ALWAYS be worth it for her. Any pain, any struggle, any fight- I will do it all for her. Becoming a mother feels like my life has finally and only just begun.