The one about breastfeeding.
Caitlin: If you could use one word to describe your breastfeeding experience what would it be?
Neall: Stressful. Which sounds cliche, but that’s what it was.
C: And how long did you breastfeed V for?
N: I think we lasted about 10 weeks. I pretty much just gave up. With the feeding, supplementing with formula and pumping, my entire day was being swallowed by a breast pump, and it just wasn’t getting anywhere. How long did you guys try for?
C: I lasted maybe five days, if I'm being generous. We had a bad latch and she had a powerful suck that shredded me in the first twelve hours. Then I tried pumping but sitting alone in an upstairs bedroom while my family enjoyed the baby downstairs did nothing for my already battered mind.
N: Did you feel guilty for stopping? I Kinda felt like I should have felt guilty, but mostly I was relieved
C: I think people underestimate that it's a proper skill that has to be learnt. I remember telling RKS it was like I'd decided, after Labour and pregnancy and everything that was, to learn how to breakdance. If I'd done that he'd have told me I was insane, and that I should rest and recover and concentrate on learning a new skill when I was physically and mentally strong enough to do so. But we just expect new mums to pick it up in a matter of hours. I felt immense relief. No guilt at all. I was instantly happier and more able to enjoy being with my baby.
N: It is a skill. And it’s a difficult skill. With shitty repercussions: 3 days in hospital without my mastering the latch saw me lose a large chunk from the end of one nipple.
C: On top of a big old slice into your midsection. Too much pain in my opinion.
N: I remember waiting in hospital for my milk to come in. I didn’t get the big, bulging, veiny boobs that they’d promised in our birthing classes. Some minor swelling and that was it. And, it wasn’t until weeks later when I finally realised that I actually had no milk.
C: Same, they said a traumatic pregnancy and birth stopped it from coming in properly. Like I didn't have enough mixed feelings about my body as it was. What changes did you notice when you stopped, if any?
N: So, when we finally worked out what was going on, I had a VERY hungry baby who hadn’t regained his birth weight, and I’d had 3 weeks of no sleep because our evenings were spent crying (all of us).
N: Firstly, V slept. He slept, and slept, and slept. The formula instantly solved our night time drama. Then, he got back up to his birthweight, and then some. With formula, he put on 600g in a week. I think he was making up for lost time. And, I instantly felt better. I knew why my baby was crying. I knew how to solve this problem. I got to sleep. And, I got to share the load. I think one of the big things that no one talks about is that breastfeeding isolates you even more.
C: That's the big thing isn't it, being able to get someone else to help more than standing next to you trying to be encouraging
C: I live with my parents and one of my brother's - there was one room in the house I could safely whip my boob out without flashing someone and I sat there all alone and cried. It was heinous.
N: Awful! And being in public is even worse!
C: I never even tried that, thank god. Did you have any ideas before V was born about what it would be like or how you'd manage it?
N: I think I just always assumed that breastfeeding would work. That it was really natural and came to everyone. A friend and I used to joke about how you’re basically a cow when you have a baby And it all seemed pretty funny, and weird. But never did I ever think it would be so challenging. What were your thoughts before Monty arrived? We’re you surrounded by breast-is-besters?
C: The midwives definitely pushed it. But I was always pretty anti doing it. I said I'd do it for as long as it worked. My body hadn't been mine for so long, with the HG I felt so out of control of everything. I couldn't leave the house, or do anything normal really. So the idea of going from being a prisoner of one kind to being a milking machine just made my head spin.
N: Did you get any backlash from the nurses? Or anyone?
C: No, but I weirdly got shamed by my dentist! We quickly worked out which midwives, in the hospital, would be helpful and we cornered them and asked for advice on pumping and formula feeding. One smuggled us contraband information fliers that I would never have seen otherwise. She was an angel and I should have named Monty after her.
N: We had a really shitty nurse at the hospital who I asked for help with the latch. After being rough and rude for about 10 minutes, she left the room and I just fell to pieces. Then, the community health nurse was super judgey, and reluctantly suggested we supplement with formula. When we saw her a week later and V showed her what a champion sumo he’d become, she tried to suggest I’d been overfeeding him. We never went back. Thankfully, we saw a private lactation consultant who was an angel, too. She told us: Fed is best. She taught me how to latch. She asked me how I was and what support I was getting.
C: We had one who hand expressed my one milk-making boob into the world’s tiniest plastic spoon and then fed Monty that way. She was a darling and I miss her. I was lucky. Some of the girls in my antenatal group had hideous times in the postnatal ward and have had even worse luck with the community health nurses. I've only been to them once, for the six week check, and after assuming Monty was a boy, chastising me for dressing her in grey and copping the mother of all greasers from me she didn't dare criticise anything. What do you think it was that made you persevere for so long?
N: Oh, #boobspoon.
C: Yes, #boobspoon was a real low point for me
N: I think I did it because it felt like I should want it more than I did. But, my supply never increased: I had the cookies, and the fenugreek, and the actual pills. And, I still struggled to get more than 70mls out in a pumping session.
C: It's funny how your mind plays tricks on you like that, especially when you're postpartum.
N: And it’s just reinforced by everyone you meet. Even that people ask you how you’re feeding shows that people have weird opinions on the subject. Do you feel like you missed out on some special bonding opportunity?
C: Absolutely not. I would cry through every feed, not even looking at the baby or connecting at all except to ram her head into my boob. I screamed at my husband in a way I've never spoken to anyone in my life. I was a woman possessed. As soon as we bought formula, that first bottle I gave her I was able to look at her. She makes this very adorable sound when she drinks and in five days I hadn't ever heard it. That was the last time I cried while feeding her - I felt I'd been robbed of something that I'd now taken back.
N: I know the feeling. One night V and I had been at it for HOURS and he just wouldn’t stop crying. I ended up sobbing pretty violently over his tiny little face. SK materialised from our room and just silently came and took him away. I curled up in a ball on V’s bedroom floor and howled for hours. I couldn’t understand what was going wrong. I thought I was feeding him. I thought I was doing it right. But he was so miserable: he was starving. And the only guilt I felt when I gave him the bottle was that I hadn’t done it sooner. I’d waited 3 weeks to actual get some proper food into my child.
C: Anyone who says that's the way it has to be is a bullshit human and I will fight them