So last week I had a lady imply to me that the reason my twins got chicken pox was because I didn’t breastfeed them… I’ll be honest, it hurt. I don’t really believe it but it still hurt.
Before I go on, I am not disputing that breastfeeding gives babies antibodies etc etc and I genuinely take my hat off to anyone who breastfeeds their babies, particularly mums of multiples – actually don’t know how you do it, just amazing! Equally I have no problem with anyone who bottlefeeds – it’s what I did. This post is NOT a breastfeeding vs bottlefeeding debate in any way – I am very much of the ‘each to their own’ mindset and think everyone should just be allowed to get on with doing things their way for their own children.
BUT… I did object to the insensitivity of the comment and I genuinely think it was borne out of ignorance. I am always seeing phrases like ‘if you choose to bottle-feed’ or ‘it’s your choice how you feed your baby’ etc. Plenty of women choose not to breastfeed and that’s fine – having experienced it now I can totally understand it. For me though, I don’t really feel I had a choice. In a nutshell, I really really wanted to breastfeed but just couldn’t f**king do it. And I was devastated. I’ve spoken to a lot of mums of both singletons and twins who felt the same. Yet somehow it still seems to be divided into the two camps – those who breastfeed and those who choose not to. And no-one seems to really realise about the third camp who feel they had no choice.
I’m going to tell the story of my breastfeeding journey (it was a short journey, barely left the bastard station 🙈) When I was pregnant, I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. I went to an NHS antenatal class run by militant breastfeeding Nazi midwives who basically said your child would die if you didn’t breastfeed them (ok not quite 🙊) But they also said a lot of things like ‘your body knows what to do’, ‘your body is capable of producing enough milk, even for twins,’ ‘the baby’s instincts will tell it what to do’ etc. I left thinking yes it was going to be easy and I’d perfect the rugby ball hold with a twin on each boob in no time. Oh how naive. WHY can’t they be bloody realistic and warn you that actually sometimes your body doesn’t know what the f**k to do, it doesn’t produce enough milk, it BLOODY HURTS, some babies don’t/can’t/won’t latch properly and you’ll more than likely end up with bleeding nipples on at least one occasion, never mind the fact that you’ll probably be in a sh*t load of pain from the traumatic birth which was also supposed to be beautiful and easy, overwhelmed by the fear and responsibility of having a small life or two suddenly depending on you and crying hormonally every two minutes when you don’t even know why. But they don’t tell you any of that! I honestly wish I had been better prepared mentally for just how hard it could be. I know it’s not the same for everyone and some are lucky in that it does come naturally and quite easily, but for me and probably many others, there just seemed to be so many factors working against me. I was a wreck after the birth – my episiotomy was buggered, I had a blood transfusion a few days after having the twins, I was in total shock and utterly overwhelmed. Feeding didn’t feel natural – if I’m honest I was such a mess I definitely don’t think I bonded with them straightaway. Cora didn’t seem able/willing to latch at all so we concentrated on trying to get Henry feeding – I had just about every midwife/breastfeeding person in the hospital try to help me but he still kept coming on and off and I didn’t feel like he was really getting anything from me. I kept trying and was also painstakingly hand-expressing drops of colostrum to feed them in syringes but eventually there was blood in H’s nappy from dehydration so I was forced into giving them bottles (we’d been cup or syringe feeding up to this point). I was so upset and already felt like I’d failed. To be quite honest, for me, trying to breastfeed was one huge trauma – I never expected I would be quite as emotional about it as I was. Looking back I kind of wish I’d just accepted then that it wasn’t going to happen and moved on but I didn’t. I decided to pump and keep trying with the feeding. When we went home, I was absolutely terrified and there was so so much to think about – I had been so naive thinking that I’d be bfing them both that I had nothing ready for bottle-feeding so we had to buy bottles, a steriliser, formula etc and learn how to use it all. It all felt so overwhelming that I didn’t really realise that I needed to start expressing straightaway. Although I didn’t have a feeling of my milk ‘coming in’ I guess maybe it did because I got engorged which was sooo painful – my boobs were like actual rocks and just agony, I didn’t know how to use the pump, I didn’t know if I should when they were like that. In desperation I spoke to a ‘La Leche League’ woman on the phone at like 2am and she basically said ‘why are you pumping, just feed them’ which was really unhelpful at that point and did not make me feel any better. Anyway with cabbage leaves and hand expressing in a hot shower I eventually sorted it out but I never got on with pumping – don’t know if I wasn’t doing it right or what but I barely made any milk and my nips were sore and bleeding. Plus it was HARD. The babies were feeding every three hours through the day and night (formula with a tiny top-up of my milk at some feeds), with each feed taking about an hour. I was trying to express every three hours as well which took ages, so I would snatch maybe twenty minutes sleep in between before the cycle started again. Not to mention my stitches had come apart again and they couldn’t stitch me back up this time so I was in a lot of pain and healing very slowly. I was barely even finding time to try either of them on the boob and once my OH went back to work, I could barely find the time to express either. I saw a breastfeeding support worker who advised me to try nipple shields but my nipples were so sore that I screamed in pain when Cora latched on. That was the point where I thought ‘enough’s enough’ – I couldn’t cope with any more. I’d expressed for three weeks but was barely making any milk and just making myself miserable – it was all too much. So the pump was banished and we bottle-fed them fully from then on. I’d like to say I was much happier after but then the guilt was unbearable. I was so upset and felt like a total failure. Looking back, I probably should have sought more help really – I was still very traumatised from the birth as well. I’m aware this is sounding so so negative 🙈 But it’s genuinely how I remember the very beginning – I don’t really look back on that time very positively, which again makes me feel even more guilty about it all (motherhood is one neverending guilt trip right? 😏) Of course there were so many lovely and amazing moments in amongst all the crap which I haven’t mentioned in this post because I just really wanted to be honest in talking about my feeding experience and how I felt about it all which for me unfortunately wasn’t the most positive 🙊
But anyway getting back to my original point – that is why I don’t really feel I had much of a choice when it came to not breastfeeding. Even now I feel a pang of jealousy/guilt/sadness when I see a woman breastfeeding, and I know I should really have got over it by now – they’re nearly two! 🙈 But I think more people need to understand that it can be such a sensitive subject and just think before they make offhand comments about women who haven’t breastfed – whether they chose not to or just simply couldn’t do it for whatever reason, you never know what feelings they might be hiding.