Am I even a mother?
By Stephanie Baird
One of the first things that they teach you in antenatal classes is that anything can happen. Have your ideal birth plan in mind but to be open to other possibilities. You are not in control. This goes for your whole journey of motherhood.
I thought that I had taken this to heart, but in hindsight I see I did the very opposite. In my head I said I am happy with whatever comes my way, but deep down I know what I was actually saying to myself, “that will never happen to me” and “I’m going to be one of the lucky ones”.
The ideal I found myself believing in was that I was going to have a surprise entry into labour and would manage natural-birth with no epidural. I would breastfeed my baby until 1 year old and would feel like a super mom knowing I did everything that I could for my little one.
The reality was that my baby boy was breech and the ECV was unsuccessful. I went into labour at 37 weeks and delivered via cesarean. I didn’t get the labour that I wanted but at least I had breast feeding right? Wrong.
My breastfeeding journey started off seamlessly. He latched perfectly, my flow was strong (he often got shot in the eye from a really strong let down) and my beautiful 2.6kg newborn boy met his 2.9kg birth weight within a week. I felt like a super mom, setting my alarm for every three hours, feeding, pumping and storing bags of extra milk for my husband to do some feeds. I was even lucky to have my boy take to a bottle easily and switch back to breast with no issues. I listened to friends talk about their struggle with breastfeeding and was just so relieved that we were doing well.
This was short lived.
At 10 days old the hours and hours of screaming had started. I went from being in a haze of love and amazement at this tiny human to being a wreck. If he was awake, he was screaming. He would puke up every feed and then just carry on screaming. I took him to the chiro in the hopes that she could help with (what I thought to be) colic. The chiro mentioned his tummy was really distended and hard and she suggested that I go to my paed.
Fast forward through multiple paed appointments, x-rays, scopes, cutting out dairy, colic remedies and chiro appointments I was a mess. We did not have a definitive answer and although he didn’t have an allergy to cow’s milk, our paed suggested that it seemed he had an intolerance to cow’s protein that caused his colon to bloat to three times the size and caused him a lot of pain and discomfort. Even me cutting out all dairy didn't help. On top of that he also had reflux that seemed to just get worse and the medication for it seemed to make his gut worse. Throughout this I was adamant to breastfeed. In my mind it was the best thing for him and I needed to push through.
It was then at 11 weeks old that a friend from college reached out to me after seeing one of my Facebook posts. In the 11 short weeks of being a mom, I had always tried to be as honest as possible, hoping that the truth (not just the Instagram highlight reels) would perhaps help someone else out there that was going through something similar. I felt that my honesty was a way for me to work through it and at the same time would potentially help others that were going through similar things. I knew I felt alone and isolated. I wanted someone who had been through the same, or something similar, to chat it through with. Surely others felt the same? My friend asked how it was going and shared her own story of her battle with breastfeeding and her son having a reaction to her milk. She eventually stopped breastfeeding at 14 weeks and what resulted was a happier baby and happier mom. She told me that she felt defeated because she couldn’t breastfeed and shared a post she had written months before. One part really stuck out for me:
"We have missed out on so much these last two and a half months not being able to "enjoy" him and going through weeks of hell. But now we can see what we have been missing out on and this is actually a truly special time. We will treasure these cute and precious baby days even more so now".
It was thanks to my post and to her reaching out to me that it hit me. I was not enjoying my baby. I was petrified of him waking up, I would dread the evenings because I didn’t know if I had it in me to endure another 6 hours of non-stop screaming. I was an anxious mess that didn’t want to spend time with my boy, and that made me incredibly sad. It was that night while in bed waiting for the next feed that my husband and I agreed that it was best for me and best for our son to start formula.
Hearing from another mom who had gone through the same, and was still going through it, helped me to see that the important thing wasn’t breastmilk vs formula but rather a good and healthy relationship with my son. I contacted my paed about what would be the best option for an intensely sensitive-to-cows-protein baby and was ‘prescribed’ the Maserati of all formulas, Neocate. Not only was it incredibly hard to find but it was also insanely expensive and we were in for a monthly bill of R4000. A very hard pill to swallow knowing how much milk I had.
The first bottle I gave him I sat and cried as he guzzled his milk from a sterile teat. I felt like I had lost the connection with my baby and failed as a mother. I was designed to do this, to be the source of his nourishment, and here I sat, after scooping out powder from a metal tin, mixing it with water, feeding my baby. After switching to formula, I continued to pump and donate my milk. In a way it made me feel like I was still a woman and doing what I was born to do. But eventually the continuous formula feeding, bottle sterilizing, pumping and freezing became absolutely exhausting to the point where I had to stop. I eventually packed the pump away and said good-bye to breastfeeding for good. The ironic thing is, even stopping to breastfeed was seamless for me! I didn't have to take anything to dry up and only needed one relief pump.
Over time the hurt of not being able to breastfeed subsided, I started to feel less like a failure and began to enjoy spending time with my happy and thriving son. I also began to enjoy the ‘freedom’ and convenience that formula feeding brought.
We have since moved down a ‘level’ in formula and have begun introducing dairy again (for the 5th time) and hope to move onto a more standard formula soon. MyMilkClub has been a huge relief in not having to hunt down the formula anymore!
I still have days where I wonder what it would have been like to have more of those moments with my boy doing the thing that only a mother can do, but then he grins at me and wiggles his little bum as he crawls away and I realised that I did the best thing for both of us. Maybe next time will be different, and if not, that's ok too.
The big thing I learnt from this, as cliche as it sounds, is to not be so hard on myself. My boy’s reaction to my milk was not my fault or his. I didn’t do anything to cause it and what I did end up doing was the best thing for us both. What I will say to other mothers out there is find a network of moms that you trust and can be vulnerable with. I can guarantee you that even though everything may look Instagram worthy on the outside, they are struggling with something too and just talking to them may help you and them. Publicly posting on a social platform may not be for everyone one, but just find one person to open up to. Motherhood can be a very lonely and scary new world and it’s one that only another mother can truly understand.
Am I even a mother, even though I couldn’t get to this point of motherhood “naturally”? Hells yeah!
A Facebook post from 9 February 2020 - 3 days in to my formula milk journey
Sitting with you in the quiet taking this all in before it’s too late and you’re all grown up.
The honest truth, it’s been a tough 7 weeks. There have been moments where I’ve wanted to give up being your Mom and the thought that that wasn’t an option felt imprisoning. I felt guilty for not enjoying my time with you because when you weren’t sleeping you were screaming. I felt helpless and hopeless. I felt broken. The frustration and exhaustion outweighed any good moments we had together and days became about survival rather than a journey together.
The decision to stop breastfeeding has been hard and emotional. I still hope it’s possible to start again, but if not, it’s something I will need to accept.
I know today is only day 3 my gorgeous Harrison but I do believe that we’re finally on the right path.
You are the sweetest little man and just know that there has never been a moment that I haven’t loved you, a mother’s love is inescapable and the moments where I wanted to give up was from a personal feeling of failure. It’s still early days my beautiful boy but you have taught me so much about myself and about love and I am so grateful that you are mine and I am yours.
Let’s continue this crazy adventure called life together.
Vulnerability is the driving force of connection.
MyMilkClub is about sharing experiences and supporting each other. We launched the #mymilkjourney series to share stories from other mamas about their experiences on their milk journey. If you have a flair for writing and would like to share your story get in touch
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. MyMilkClub reserves the right to its opinions and fully supports the notion of promotion that breast is best in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) infant feeding guidelines. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods for up to two years of age. Breast milk is the best food for infants. Good maternal nutrition is essential to prepare and maintain breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is not possible, an infant formula may be used according to the advice of registered health professionals. Preparation and storage of any infant formula should be performed as directed on the tin in order not to pose any health hazards.