I've breastfed successfully three times, actually, you could say very successfully with all three of my younger children feeding beyond two years old, and I've tandem fed twice. My first attempt wasn't such a roaring success though. Actually it went wrong, very wrong. You would think that the success since then would have exorcized those particular demons, and I suppose in some ways, they have. If I'm totally honest though, it was my lack of success, first time around that has had the biggest impact on me.
While pregnant, I'd been sure that I would breastfeed, have a natural birth and all would be fine. I watched dvds on breastfeeding, and although I knew that sometimes people couldn't do it, I thought that it must be fairly easy really, because it was supposed to be natural. The first few feeds actually went well, and all seemed to be good. I'd had an emergency caesarian, which I hadn't even considered might happen. He seemed to be feeding ok, but I remember being upset that I couldn't change his first nappy, or pick him up when he woke up without the help of a nurse. I was feeling like a failure from the birth before I started with anything else. A few days or so in, and all seemed to be going well, except he was feeding and feeding, which I was sure couldn't be right. Despite all my preparation before hand, no one had mentioned cluster feeding or the fact that they feed and feed to get my milk to come in. It hadn't been painful either to begin with, and then thrush struck, even thinking about it now, almost eight years on, and my toes start to curl.....
Huge weight loss followed, and at just under three weeks old we were back in hospital, and I remember trying not to fall apart while a nurse gave him his first bottle of formula. While we were in there I remember a particularly brusque sister demanding to know his date of birth, which I couldn't remember, and then giving me a lecture on how better hygiene would have prevented the thrush. Thanks for that, just what I needed. I tried many times after that to drop the top ups, but it's a vicious circle, and every time I attempted it, the weight would drop off. By the time we reached six months, the breastfeeding just wasn't happening any more, and I gave up.
In many ways, none of this really matters. I did my best, I didn't want to go down the formula route, but when you must you must, and I managed to feed successfully with the other three children. But it still bothers me that it didn't go right first time around. On Wednesday I went to see Breastmilk the Movie. It was good, and I enjoyed it, even if it made me angry in quite a few places, in fact I was amazed at one point that any of them managed any breastfeeding at all, with all of the pressures to not breastfeed that were going on around them. (Having given birth in two countries where "rooming-in" is the norm, I couldn't quite get my head around the poor lady who had to wait for her newborn to be brought to her while her baby was bathed, dressed and the nurse had a break.) One lady in particular who had to top up, in her case due to tongue-tie and the issues that it caused really resonated with me, I've been there with the brave "I'm not going to cry, while I explain that it was probably for the best that I had to formula feed, even though I really really didn't want to." As she talked about it, I really felt her pain. Sadly, I think that many of the issues the women faced could have been dealt with much sooner and easier with proper support. We're lucky, here in Dunedin, that there is fantastic support locally, there perhaps is in other places too, but of course you have to look for it, and know where to look for it. I think that you can have all the support in the world, but for as long as breastfeeding is the exception rather than the rule, and bottle feeding the norm, it will be a struggle. The outside pressures that are, often with the best intention, put on women when they are trying to build a breastfeeding partnership with their new baby, cause huge damage to that process and it makes what can already be a very hard situation, next to impossible. I'm beyond glad that my next attempts to breastfeed went so well, but there will always be a bit of me that feels guilty and sad when I remember my first attempt.