I’ve never considered myself to be one of those ‘baby-wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, kale and quinoa loving’ mothers but I have known to test the waters from time to time. I ‘wore’ my first child (The Diva) for her every waking moment only because if she wasn’t blissfully sleeping for 30 erratic minutes at a time, she was screaming like an irate banshee until she was firmly pressed against my chest, holding me captive. Co-sleeping was the same deal. If I wanted to indulge in any scrap of sleep it was going to be tucked up ‘hostage style’ with my 2.67kg mini-dictator. Breastfeeding didn’t come easy either. I’ve had my fair share of cracked & bleeding nipples, poor attachment, thrush, slow let-down, engorgement, and my personal favourite- mastitis.
Now back when I lived in 4-hourly sleep cycles the Diva would feed for two hours straight. I’d spend 45 minutes settling her, before getting 30 minutes of shut-eye myself. I did this torturous routine for 9 months straight before two friends staged a booby/ sleeping/ settling intervention. After nine months of next to no sleep I’m quite surprised I wasn’t institutionalised. Looking back I wished someone had grabbed me earlier, shaken me by the shoulders & told me that it was ok to put her on the bottle. That I was still a good mother. That dragging my half-dead, sleep-deprived corpse around wasn’t helping anyone. In the midst of that heavy, sleep-deprived fog where all rational thinking goes out the window, sometimes all we need is an external source to tell us when enough is enough.
And for all my efforts- the two-hour feeding stints and sleep-deprivation that would reduce a tortured hostage to his knees; I got mastitis. Now for every mother that’s had the misfortune of experiencing mastitis, we can all agree that its sheer agony. A fate worse than death (or giving birth to quintuplets without an epidural). At 16 weeks postpartum I went to bed feeling like I had a touch of the flu only to wake the next morning wide-eyed, bushy-haired and trippin’ balls. I bounced on in to the living room, deliriously recounting the conversations I’d had with people overnight despite my phone being off, my grandiose future plans for the pets in the family, whilst feverishly wiping the dripping sweat from my forehead. Hubby wasn’t listening to my ranting of course but was alerted to my fixed and dilated crazy eyes. In particular, the one eye that constantly twitched when I was getting really ramped-up. Poor Hubby didn’t know whether his normally coherent wife had finally cracked under the sleep-deprived pressure & developed post-partum psychosis, or had just revealed her true self after all. Luckily he took me to the GP later that day & they took one look at my sad, inflamed, saggy tits & prescribed antibiotics.
So it’s no surprise that my breastfeeding journey has been one of a love/ hate relationship. Some days I feel like a nourishing, life-giving goddess & other days I want to break the seal, palm the kid off to hubby, get in the car & drive off into the sunset. But when my second child, my ‘cleft-cutie’ was diagnosed with a unilateral cleft lip and palate via ultrasound, I was devastated to learn breastfeeding may not be possible. What shocked me even more was my reaction to such news. Whilst I’ve never been a hardcore breastfeeding advocate, simply having the choice taken away from me made me want it even more.
After three weeks of an indulgent pity-party I decided I needed a plan. I enlisted the help of the best lactation consultant money could buy. We spoke about exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive bottle feeding, expressing, mixed-feeding, skin-to-skin, kangaroo-cuddles & everything in between. I joined numerous online cleft groups from all over the world & asked their advice. I spoke to members of the ABA and even organised a private education session at the Westmead Hospital Cleft Clinic in Sydney. I bought specialist cleft bottles, sterilisers & bottle brushes. Safe to say I had all bases covered. I got shit sorted.
When my cleft-cutie was born my lactation consultant met me at the bedside & assisted me with proper attachment. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room when he latched like a trooper & breastfed like he’d been doing it his whole life. In fact, my cleft-cutie has turned out to be a better feeder than his sister, who’s non-cleft affected. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing though. I’ve had to re-learn the art of breastfeeding as feeding a cleft-kiddo is different from feeding a non-cleft kid. I hold him in different positions on each breast to fill his cleft & create a seal. I can’t be lazy or do it half-assed as this creates air-pockets, leading to ingested air, sore tummies and one very cranky baby. Its taken a lot of time, learning and patience.
For all the hardships I’ve endured, the challenges & roadblocks in my way I’ve managed to push through every single one. And for that, I couldn’t be prouder. Some days I need to sit back and acknowledge how far I’ve come on this journey & allow myself to be proud of what I’ve accomplished.
I think there’s a lesson here for every mother. I don’t believe it matters whether you bottle-feed, breastfeed, mix-feed or exclusively pump. After all, a fed baby is the best baby. Only you can decide what works for you, your baby and your unique circumstances. Yet its the lengths we go to in order to achieve the very best for our babies which makes a good mother. It’s the love that goes into our thought processes, our decisions & actions which really should be celebrated. And for all the hard work, long nights, sacrifices and big decisions- WE deserve to be proud. No matter what your feeding journey is, it’s time to celebrate the little victories…