Or at least, they’re supposed to. But sometimes, these darned beautiful babies of ours, they just don’t get it right.
This is supposed to be a blog about our experiences of moving to the States, so I thought it only right that I should continue with Part 2 (Part 1 of this post is here) – my American experience of breastfeeding my brand new son, Hank the Yank. Otherwise known as Dear Henry.
But first, I need to address the spirit of the comments that people have made from yesterday’s post. Heartening as it was to have so many of you send such kind “poor you” messages my way, in absolutely no way was I looking for sympathy, or trying to write a woe is me post. The decision to persevere with this doomed attempt at breastfeeding my daughter was entirely mine. I wasn’t forced into it, and I’m not blaming anyone for the problems we encountered along the way. Well, maybe I do feel we could have been helped more in the hours immediately following Evie’s birth, but nobody held a gun to my head and forced me to spend all those hours attached to a Medela Swing for the following 5 months! I don’t think I even did it because I thought that I was doing the best for Evie. Maybe initially that was the case, but ultimately I just believed that eventually she would “get it”. That one wondrous day, we would wake up and she would just magically decide that today was the day she would make her momma proud! I so badly wanted it to work, I so desperately wanted to have that experience with my firstborn, that I refused to give up on us.
Even when the hospital lactation consultant came to my home and gently suggested I call her when I was ready to call it a day. Even when the breastfeeding expert at the local children’s centre shrugged her shoulders and resignedly admitted that she had run out of ideas to help us. It was my shamefully stubborn “I will not fail at this” streak that kept us going on this ridiculous crusade. And it was only when we both succumbed to the mother of all summer colds, that I finally conceded defeat and reached reluctantly for the Aptamil (the UK equivalent of Enfamil).
A week later, I gleefully shredded those bastard nipple shields, and tossed the hand pump in the bin. Hallelujah – we were both finally free of the desperate need to breastfeed, and it felt like the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I could finally forget all that pain and anxiety, and just bloody well enjoy my gorgeous daughter.
And so. Let’s fastforward a couple of years, and move to a new continent. It’s around 2.15 pm on Monday 30th April, and I’m lying in a king-size bed in the most incredible midwife-led birth center, having just delivered my beautiful son after yet another 47 hour, drug-free labour (it really was quite uncanny!).
Imagine my delight when the midwife pronounced our Dear Henry free of any tongue-tie. Imagine my absolute joy when he immediately fed from my breast, and fell asleep on my chest. This. This is what I’d been waiting for. It was wonderful. I fell immediately and completely in love with my hungry little man.
And now imagine my dismay when, less than 24 hours later, that familiar, broken-glass pain returned. 24 hours after that, the bleeding started again, and I was on the phone to a private Lactation Consultant – who provided an absolutely fabulous service (at a price, of course), and turned up at our home 3 hours later. She diagnosed my darling, nipple-shredding son with a posterior tongue tie. Otherwise known as “the hidden tongue tie”.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that I would have learned my lesson, and called it quits? That I’d accept that maybe, just maybe, my offspring and I are not designed for “natural parenting”? Ha ha. Ohhhhh, no, not I. That would be far too easy!
Once again, I refused to be beaten. We faced a myriad of problems, my son and I. Not only was he tongue-tied (and actually subtly lip-tied as well), but he was born with his hands over his head. He had, in fact, been in that position for much of his time in the womb, and so the muscles in his neck and shoulders were extremely tight. And wouldn’t you know? This has a huge effect on tongue and jaw mobility, and therefore feeding ability. Marvelous.
He was still bloody gorgeous, but Henry was rapidly turning into the Butcher of Boobland!
I cried as I sat in the local breastfeeding clinic, seeking advice while the nipple shields filled with blood. I cried when my lovely midwife asked me how the feeding was going. And I cried a river while I unpacked that sodding breast pump and switched on the sterilizer again.
And I absolutely refused to be beaten again! Idiot.
While Henry and I got in the car and drove to endless appointments, visiting lactation consultants, midwives, tongue-tie specialists and our friendly Osteopath, “Dr. Steve”, my poor family urged me to call it quits, reminded me that powder isn’t poison, and tore their hair out at my refusal to give in just yet. My friends were sympathetic but exasperated – “Happy mummy equals happy baby”, they cried, “Give yourself a break, give it up already!”. My awesome big brother wrote me an incredible email, in which he pointed out that my two formula-fed nieces are both happy and healthy, and that he personally had enjoyed a bond with them that he would never have experienced if his wife had breastfed. He talked of sitting watching dodgy B-Grade zombie movies with his daughters in the wee small hours, while my sister-in-law enjoyed sleeping through the night! He said that he hated the thought of me suffering when there really was no need.
I nodded, I listened, and I wholeheartedly agreed. I know that formula isn’t poison. I know that bottle-fed babies and breastfed babies are completely indistinguishable by the time they start kindergarten. And I know that it made absolutely no sense for me to endure this pain again, particularly when I now had a 2 year old to entertain, absolutely no time for endless pumping, and no chance any more of “napping while baby naps”. I simply cannot explain it, other than to say, I guess the breastfeeding mafia did a pretty amazing brainwashing job on me!
It is without any smugness whatsoever, that I’m so happy to say it did work out this time. At 8 weeks of age, after half a dozen osteopathic treatments and several visits to Dr. O’Hara in Seattle, Henry finally had his tongue-tie snipped. The effect of this procedure was instant and nothing short of miraculous. He is now 100% breastfed, and seems to be doing pretty well on it, the little chunk.
I’m so pleased that it finally worked out well for us, and I’m thrilled that Henry is clearly thriving on his mama’s milk. But I’m also well aware that it could so easily have gone the other way – I could have endured all that misery for absolutely nothing, all those appointments and all that money spent on specialists could have been time and dollars down the drain. Henry could just as well be 100% formula fed by now, and would that photo look any different? Who knows!
So the difference between my English and my American experiences? Well, obviously, we had a happy ending this time. Eventually. We also had access to so many more resources, and it was a nationally renowned medic that saw me and Henry in her own offices, rather than a breastfeeding specialist (qualification unknown) in the foyer of the council’s children’s centre in Brighton. On the flipside, every appointment I had in Brighton was completely free. I had several home visits, as well as a regular weekly appointment with a wonderfully kind woman who so desperately wanted to help us, and I never once had to open my cheque book. Whereas here, that first lactation consultant was $150 alone. Each appointment with Dr. Steve was well over $100, and I daren’t even think what Dr. O’Hara might have charged our insurance company. Some of this was covered by insurance, some was not.
I certainly don’t love my son any more than I do my daughter. I don’t feel that our bond is stronger. I simply adore them both, completely and utterly. Mostly I just feel a huge sense of relief that I finally know what it feels like. That I don’t have this sense of having to apologise as I pull a bottle out of the baby’s changing bag. And that I don’t have to spend every evening washing and sterilizing bottles and teats before I can go to bed!
The point of this post was really to say that you just don’t know what might happen when your precious baby is born. You might be one of the fortunate few that enjoys the first joyful breastfeeding experience within minutes of giving birth, and it’s plain sailing from there on in. But I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that that scenario is rare. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who have had absolutely no problems, or for whom the problem was a simple latch issue. When I asked that lovely Brighton counselor why there were so many posters making it all look so blissfully easy, when so many women found the opposite to be the case, she shrugged and said “if we told the truth, nobody would ever even try!”.
Maybe she’s got a point. But there has to be a middle ground. So many tears have been shed by so many unnecessarily guilt-ridden mothers who feel like they are the only “failure”. But, at the end of the day, it’s so rarely our fault when it doesn’t work out. Just blame the babies, mamas, blame the damn babies!!!