Even before Henry was born, I knew I was going to breastfeed. It was something I felt incredibly passionate about, I’d done all the research, gone to the classes, knew who my local breastfeeding advisor was, I’d bought tubes of lansinoh, boxes of breast pads, nursing bras – I’d done it all. I knew what kind of mum I wanted to be & that was a mum who breastfed her baby. I didn’t even contemplate the possibility of bottle feeding because I was prepared & preparation leads to success, right? Wrong.
I had a wonderful birth, everything went to plan, it was great. After Henry & I were settled I asked my midwife to help me feed him for the first time. It was tricky – we both became frustrated and emotional. There were tears.
My midwife suggested we spend an extra night in the hospital until I felt confident feeding him. Even after that extra night and a lot of support we were still struggling, I could feel my anxiety levels increasing & i began to feel quite panicky about going home. What would happen when I we were on our own? How would we manage? How would I feed him? The midwives and other mums I knew kept reassuring me, many told me that the first 2 weeks were the toughest but once we got past that milestone it would be easier. I waited for the magical 2 week mark, quietly dreading every feed, crying in the middle of the night with pain and frustration. 2 weeks came and went, it was no easier. (Luckily I had a fantastic milk supply, so even though Henry couldn’t latch on I could get a good quantity of milk down him with a very unique ‘point and shoot’ method!) I had so much help and support from the post natal team, but nothing helped us, my nipples were torn to shreds, we were both exhausted & it seemed impossible.
Finally my breast feeding advisor noticed something – Henry was tongue tied. This meant he was unable to latch and feed properly. While all this was going on, Henry was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with suspected genetic blood disorder (he’s fine now, long story….one for another post!) He became severely anaemic & needed a blood transfusion as well as weekly blood tests. This meant that the routine procedure to correct his tongue tie couldn’t be performed.
So, I started expressing milk & bottle feeding, it wasn’t ideal but it worked for us. In the night I would wake up to pump while Martin fed Henry, then we would spend hours organising & labelling up the milk to store in the fridge and freezer. It meant I was able to continue feeding him without the trauma of breastfeeding. We happily carried on like this for 8 weeks, until Henry had an allergic reaction. I was told that, if I wanted to continue feeding Henry, I would need to go dairy, soy & nut free. For 2 weeks I did this & routinely ‘pumped & dumped’ my milk until all traces of dairy and soy were out of my system. It was exhausting – a poorly baby, weekly hospital visits, sleep deprivation, major diet changes, constant worry & stress….then, one day, when Henry was 9 weeks old, it dawned on my that I needed to stop.
I realised that my whole life since Henry had been born was a blur. Partly because we had spent so much time in hospital, but partly because I was putting an inconceivable amount of pressure on myself to feed Henry. I had become so focused on breastfeeding, so wrapped up in expressing, worrying & feeling like a failure that I was missing the first few months with my baby. At that point we decided to formula feed, it was the hardest, most emotional decision I had ever made & one which I still question every day. Even now (Henry is 19 months old) I’m still very emotional about that time & still wonder if I could have tried harder or done more to keep feeding him.
We want the best for our babies, but sometimes our perception of what is best is far from reality. There is no disputing that breast milk is the healthiest option for our babies, but is it the only option? Is it always the best option? Is it worth hours, weeks & months of stress and upset? Or, is it more important that babies and mothers are happy, safe & supported in their choices? It saddens me deeply that I spent so much time worrying and tearing myself to pieces in the early months because I was unable to breast feed Henry, even though I successfully expressed & bottle fed for a good period of time. To this day I still feel painfully jealous of mothers who successfully feed their babies, & have to remind myself that I tried. I tried really hard.
Looking back now I can see that I have myself such a hard time, & put so much pressure on myself to be the ‘perfect mum’. I wanted to be ‘that mum’ – the one who who blissfully breastfed my baby & gave him the best start in life. I set myself such high standards that it was almost impossible to fulfil my own expectations & inevitably I felt like I’d failed.
Every day I have to remind myself that I’m not perfect, but I do try my hardest. I might not have been able to breastfeed my baby & that will live with me forever, but i gave it a damn good go & I am trying to cut myself some slack. All we can do is try, sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t – the way I see it, if we tried we didn’t fail. If we don’t measure up to our image of the perfect mum it doesn’t matter, we are perfect to our babes & they will love us regardless. Realistically, Henry won’t care if I managed to breast feed him….he’ll love me for spending hours reading his favourite book, he’ll love me for letting him soak me while he’s in the bath because he thinks it’s funny, he’ll love me because I comfort him when he’s sad – he’ll love me because I’m his mum & I’m trying my best, even if I don’t always get it right.
Our perceptions of the perfect mum are far, far, far from the reality of parenthood. Sometimes we get so caught up in doing what we think is right that we forget to live, we don’t ‘see’ things properly & we miss our babies growing up.
Breast fed or bottle fed, sleep trained or not, dummy or thumb, baby wearing or pram – regardless of who we are or the choices we make we are, in our own way, the perfect mum.