I am a perfectionist, no two ways about it. I have always demanded excellence in everything I do and pregnancy was no exception. When I became pregnant on my first cycle I was thrilled. I couldn’t have done better, round of applause, three cheers, well done me! Except pregnancy and what follows doesn’t always meet your expectations.
I was assigned a fabulous midwife, Lucy, under a one-to-one care system. Lucy was my rock. She saw me through several trips to the EPU with unexplained bleeding, the hideous injections that came with rhesus negative blood type, varicosities and a whole manner of other nasties. With Lucy by my side I could tackle anything. I was happy to go with a minimal birth plan and was determined that I would feed my baby myself. You wouldn’t expect anything less.
All going to plan then? Well, yes. That was until the labour started. I was calm and measured, cooking tea and going for a walk. I bounced on the ball and focused on the yoga-driven breathing I had recently learnt. I managed with just the TENS machine until the team midwife assessed me on my bathroom floor and declared I was 6cm dilated. Hooray! Did I want to transfer to the hospital? Hell yeah – there was no way I was labouring on the bathroom floor.
That was the turning point for me.
The start of the pain, the hospital, the dread, the shock. I spent two hours attempting to push out my baby boy. With only gas and air to help me, I was tired, drained, exhausted as the sun was starting to dawn on a new day. At times I thought I was going to die, I certainly wasn’t able to be rational.
My baby boy was born following the insertion of a cannula, local anaesthetic, a large episiotomy and forceps. I don’t remember the moment as I had knocked myself out on the gas. When they placed him on me I was disgusted. I had no idea what on earth this giant thing was that had just come out of me. I was a mess.
With the help of the midwife I fed my boy straight away. He latched on like a dream, a natural they said. I was elated – at least I could do this. I fed him all day, no problems, but when the darkness of night came so did the dark veil in my life. He fed and screamed, wouldn’t sleep, I was exhausted.
“Give him formula,” was all the night staff could offer. “He’s obviously hungry.”
I stood my ground and refused, there was no way formula would pass my baby’s lips. I was discharged the next day and tried to slip into normality at home.
Except it wasn’t normal, it wasn’t perfect. Within two days my boy was yellow and looked like a scene from an Ethiopian famine. He was screaming to be fed a minute after having a feed. He was on me constantly, there was no respite. We were sent back to hospital and diagnosed with jaundice and severe dehydration. I was put under a regime of feeding and pumping, whilst my other half topped him up with the formula that the paediatric doctors insisted was given.
I was broken, tired and just wanted out. In that time we fed by syringe, cup and then teat. Each time he was downing ridiculous volumes despite having fed off me for up to an hour. I agreed to mix-feed as a means to get me out of the hospital hell and back to my own home.
But by day eight, the black hole had swallowed me. In the depths of the night, having refused to latch and me expressing no more than a few drops I gave in and declared I’d had enough. My baby would be fed formula. Lucy asked if I was ok with the decision and I said I was.
Boy, was I wrong.
Now I know I was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and most likely post natal depression as well. The dramatic entry my son made into the world probably didn’t help my milk supply which to this day I don’t think ever established.
I felt like I had failed my baby and failed myself. I was embarrassed and constantly relived the nightmare in my head. I missed out on the first few months of joy, because I had plunged myself into this dark world of despair. I obsessed about researching what might have gone wrong, what I could have done differently. I just couldn’t let go. I was a failure not being able to do what every mother should.
So, does it get better? Does the guilt ever subside? It’s nearly three and a half years since my beautiful boy arrived and yes, I still think about it and what went wrong. But he is just amazing, formula didn’t break him. He’s funny, intelligent and kind and just the cutest thing ever.
I have met wonderful friends who’ve pulled me through and are such a support even to this day. And next year, when he walks through the school gates with his friends, no-one will care how he was fed as a baby. They will just see the optimism and excitement that he exudes.
At the end of week one, I didn’t even like him. But today, I love him with all my heart and couldn’t imagine life without him. When he looks at me, smiles and says “mummy, I love you”, I can see it was all worthwhile.
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