I never for a moment doubted that I would breastfeed, it had never even crossed my mind that I might not be able to breastfeed; unless you count the times I imagined what would happen if I died or became hospitalised and wasn’t allowed access to my baby. During pregnancy, I couldn’t really think past the birth and the underlying fears that my child might not come out alive. A few weeks before giving birth I noticed colostrum starting to leak out of my breasts, which I now I realise was a good sign for the future of my breastfeeding journey.
After an unfortunately unsuccessful attempt at water birth in the Spires Midwifery Centre at the John Radcliffe Hospital, I was transferred to the bright lights and wintery chill of the operation theatre to attempt a delivery with forceps. I screamed in pain as I was waiting for the anaesthesiologist to arrive and administer a spinal block which numbed all sensation from my waist down. I was already high on gas and air, but at this point I kind of sailed around not quite in my body, having thrown in the towel and sadly and reluctantly given up my control of the situation. The baby had felt stuck and wasn’t coming out. I convinced myself I might die of pain if I didn’t just go with the doctor, have the pain stopped and have the little guy pulled out before he or I lost our lives.
It wasn’t the idyllic birth I had imagined and I found myself completely unprepared for actually taking care of a human baby after all the injury and pain I was left with once the anaesthesia wore off. I developed an infection, still had pain in my wrists and felt that everything would just fall out of my pelvic floor, but I was blessed with plenty of colostrum and three days later an overabundance of milk that would spray out of my breasts in all directions. I was constantly soaked in milk as it ran down my body once the breast pads were over-saturated. It was a blessing which sometimes overwhelmed my new-born who would choke from the steady stream spraying into his mouth and down his throat. He was so excited about the milk on the first day it came that he over drank and it came out both ends in the car as we needed to return to the hospital for some help with my infection.
I definitely faced challenges, as I would imagine most mothers do at some point. In the early days of cluster feeding my nipples would become so sore that they felt on fire. After a while things calmed down, but by then my son sprouted an early sharp little tooth at three months. He had enjoyed clamping his gums on my nipple at times, but with the tooth, the game was no longer amusing. I ended up with thrush on a few occasions, which I managed to clear up with anti-fungal cream; however, the doctors I visited did not seem to see the point of continuing to breastfeed after nine months and recommended I just stop.
I am so glad I didn’t stop and that at some point I managed to make my way to the LLL meetings where I found an incredibly encouraging, kind and safe place to share stories, feel listened to and valued for the immense amount of work it takes to care for a child, both physically and emotionally.
Along the way, I realised that it is a challenge to actually be able to find other mothers that have similar values or ideas to my own. I suppose it’s another instance of recognising that everyone has different beliefs, values and priorities. I often found it difficult to navigate friendships with other new mums and have unfortunately lost some along the way. It hurt very much at the time, but it is like the favourite sun hat of my son which we lost at a swimming pool recently… it would have been too small very soon and it’s better to find something bigger that will fit longer than spend too much time wishing one had what would be a tighter and tighter fit. Luckily I found LLL, which I see as my larger sunhat (to stretch the analogy to its seams)!
I feel so blessed that my son still loves nursing. He’s into his second year now and walks over to me or climbs up in my lap and takes my hand and puts it on my chest and asks for “nana.” We have nana when he wakes, throughout the day when he is hungry or if I notice he is getting rowdy and I need a way to calm him, in the evening to fall asleep and throughout the night. It is our special time of bonding, cuddles and togetherness. It is an incredible gift of comfort, love and closeness for both of us. Looking back, I remember how proud I was with my ability to nurture my chubby and healthy baby as he grew miraculously fast. I’m very grateful for all the help I received from Baby Café and LLL, which allowed me to overcome some challenges I faced along the way and to find other mums with similar values with whom I can openly discuss breastfeeding without fear of rejection.
Breastfeeding can be a wonderful journey made even more fun with others to share stories and laughs!
Laura Jimerson, LLL Oxfordshire
This story was originally published in issue 216 of Breastfeeding Matters (Nov/ Dec 2016)