Disappointment – and success

By Bonnie Steer

I was disappointed following my daughter’s birth.

My husband and I had done the Calmbirth course and I had really wanted that natural birth experience. Especially since my husband’s twins, who were eight at the time I was pregnant, were born via emergency C-section. However at 38 weeks and four days my blood pressure was too high, and as I was already taking blood pressure medication, it was decided that I should be induced.

After five hours of painful induced labour my baby was in distress and I was told that I needed an emergency C-section. I was pretty sad – and also pretty terrified.

But then Francesca was born.  And she was okay, and so was I. Although I remember lying in bed in recovery thinking about my baby and my husband and wondering “why can’t they be here with me?” But I didn’t say anything because I was so tired and overwhelmed.

What followed was four days in hospital, shoving my giant breasts towards her tiny face and trying to get her to latch – and when I couldn’t get her to latch I would feed her with a syringe. It’s a strange feeling to lie in a hospital bed hand-expressing colostrum from your breasts while a midwife you’ve never met before collects it in a large plastic syringe. But for the first couple of days of my daughter’s life that is how I managed to feed her.

I remember late one night a different midwife grabbing my breast and showing me how to hold it like a hamburger. This was actually really helpful and I would recommend it to any large-breasted first-time mums!

After four days we were sent home. The following morning when I woke up my milk had come in. My breasts were huge and hard and I remember commenting to my husband that I looked like I’d had a boob job. I had all this milk but it made it even harder to get my daughter to latch. Her tiny mouth was just so tiny! Thankfully, a wonderful maternal and child health nurse visited that day and gave me a nipple shield. She was my hero – I could now get my baby to latch and feed painlessly.

I was still struggling though, and I was pretty sure there was something wrong with my C-section incision. I was told “you’ve just had major surgery, of course it hurts”. But I was right. Two weeks post birth, on the very day my husband went back to work, my incision started weeping this disgusting fluid. I had to put maternity pads over my wound inside my undies to absorb it! I ended up back in hospital on IV antibiotics. Francesca and I were in there for a week. The nurses were wonderful while I was recovering and helped me with Francesca when I needed to rest.

I don’t know if being in and out of hospital had anything to do with it, but when we got home we discovered Francesca had contracted conjunctivitis and we had to use eye drops to clear it up. Cue maternal guilt…

At this time we had also been advised to give Francesca top ups of breast milk or formula to try to get her to gain more weight, and soon we found ourselves in a pattern of breastfeeding, expressing, bottle feeding with breastmilk or formula – and repeating. Francesca had always been little and I kept being given conflicting advice about our regime. Some said not to worry about her weight as all other signs pointed to her getting enough milk. Others made me stress that I was potentially starving my baby. But I knew I had plenty of milk as I was able to express around 100ml after each feed. I even decided at one point to exclusively express and feed her from a bottle. That only lasted about two days though, as it was just too time consuming and exhausting!

My husband was incredibly supportive. There were a few times I told him I’d had enough and I wanted to switch to formula. But then I would feel sad and guilty and change my mind again. I think I was so determined for breastfeeding to be successful, because I felt like I had failed in birthing her.

We used the nipple shield for about five months and then one day I realised that we didn’t need it anymore. Breastfeeding was just working. And it was lovely!

When Francesca started to talk she would ask for “mama mook”. I used to bring her into bed with me in the morning for a feed and a cuddle. That was my favourite part of the day. And feeding her as a toddler was such a different experience compared to feeding her as a newborn. In the beginning, I felt like I needed an extra arm. By the time she was two I barely needed to do anything. She would just climb into my lap and help herself!

We ended up weaning just after her second birthday. We were both ready to wean but I remember feeling really sad for a couple of weeks afterwards. I didn’t realise at the time that weaning, especially after feeding for such a long time can be a very difficult time for mothers. It is suggested that this is due to the woman’s hormones changing.

Sometimes I wonder if Frankie (“my name is Francesca but you can also call me Frankie”) would have turned out any differently if we had switched to formula early on. Maybe now at age five, she would be taller and stronger.

Or maybe she would be exactly as she is – which is pretty damn amazing.

Bonnie is (not so wicked) step mum to Ash and Ellie, both 13, and mum to Frankie, age five. She lives in Canberra where she works part-time as a nanny (‘cause looking after her own ratbags is not enough) and part-time in a women’s refuge.

Click here if you’d like to read more stories from The Full Bottle Project

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