Four births later and I was faced with new emotions, struggles and choices.
My fourth birth was incredibly traumatic. My littlest was born via emergency caesarean after a routine 38 week check-up. I had suffered a late term placental infarction and his heartbeat was quickly fading. Through miraculous timing and excellent medical care we were able to save his life that day, but knowing the story could have been very different had we not had that scheduled check-up still gives me chills.
I was rushed under general anaesthetic and wasn’t awake to welcome him into the world. After birth he showed signs of respiratory distress and spent the first five days of his life in NICU hooked up to a number of machines. I was told I couldn’t touch him or hold him. Which meant I couldn’t feed him either.
I remember laying in the hospital bed after the second night without him, thinking this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He was supposed to be in my arms. My first three children latched within minutes of being placed on my chest. I fed them every couple hours from birth. Our breastfeeding journeys all got off to a smooth start.
Now here I was, separated from my little babe, not able to breastfeed him, not able to hold him, comfort him or bond with him. It was incredibly traumatic. I watched as the NICU sisters tube fed him ready-mix formula, 1ml at a time. I knew it wasn’t my fault or even in my control that he was here, yet I felt so much guilt and anxiety. I felt I was letting him down by not being able to hold and feed him myself. I was frightened watching his tiny body so dependent on tubes and machines for survival. I would sit next to his NICU crib and cry big sad mama tears. But we didn’t have a choice - it had to be this way.
On the second day, I began to express colostrum and asked them to feed it to him via the tube. I had to hand express and would only get a couple milligrams at a time. I had thumbprint bruises on my breasts from squeezing, but I took comfort in knowing that he was getting at least some nourishment from my body. I needed to know that. I did it for myself as much as for him.
I kept expressing and by the time they released him from the NICU my milk had come in and we were finally able to begin our feeding journey together. I was so excited but also so nervous. Would he know I was his mama? What if he didn’t latch? Fortunately he did and I thought we were finally out of the woods.
Cue 4 months of recurring nipple pain, random bouts of mastitis, hours of dreaded, soul-destroying pumping and intense D-MER when he latched. It was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I can’t say this breastfeeding journey was smooth or as enjoyable as the others.
I had introduced a bottle at 6 weeks, as I had for all my children, once a day, just so they were bottle adjusted when it was needed. At first I would pump and bottle feed, but I was struggling to pump enough milk over and above feeds, and overall I found the pumping incredibly depressing, so over time I slowly started supplementing with goat milk formula since it is closest to breastmilk in many of its properties. By 6 months we were on two formula bottles a day and 3 breastfeeds.
I breastfed each of my first three kids for a different period of time: 6 months for the first, 12 months for the second, 3 months for the third. I chose to wean each of them when it felt right, in some cases their feeding preferences leaned towards the bottle and in others our life circumstances (working, traveling etc.) demanded the flexibility that formula offered. I found breastfeeding very convenient and rewarding, but I had very little guilt attached to weaning them when the time came.
However with this little guy there was so much daily guilt, so much regret, so much anxiety, so much I felt I was trying to make up for, and at 7 months old I finally broke down. I was suffering from PTSD.
As soon as I took ownership of my mental health journey and accepted that I needed professional help things improved. I began taking some medication to control my anxiety and trauma-induced depression. I also decided that I would not continue breastfeeding under the circumstances. I weaned him almost overnight. It was 100% the right decision for us.
With three extra added bottle feeds a day, the goat milk formula became a very expensive option, so we switched to an organic cow’s milk formula and we’ve never looked back. My little guy absolutely loves his bottles. I cuddle him while I give them to him and it still feels like a very special time for us. He is now 9 months old and is a healthy, strong, happy baby.
I’m also a happier mama. Not because I’m not breastfeeding (I am incredibly grateful to have fed him for those 7 months), but because I'm not making feeding decisions out of guilt, obligation or expectation anymore. I finally gave myself permission to make the feeding choice that was right for both of us, in our circumstances.
My hope in sharing this story is that it encourages moms to find the freedom to make the feeding decision they feel is best for their family, and often that means the decision that is best for their mental and physical health, because a happy mom sets the tone for a happy family.
My experience has also taught me that no two feeding journeys are alike and comparison will only add unnecessary pressure. We already put so much pressure on ourselves as moms, we don’t need the added pressure of making parenting decisions out of guilt or fear of judgement.
Tracy is a corporate-escapee, business coach and mom to two teenagers, a tween and a baby. You can follow her motherhood journey on Instagram @mamaof4capetown.
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.