I’ve put off writing this for so long, because I know how upsetting it will be. But today I had lunch with a friend who has a month-old baby and she was talking about how painful breastfeeding was and it all came flooding back to me. And I thought, I want to write this down because it was such a HUGE thing for me to deal with, and I want any other mum out there having the problems I had to feel they are not alone.
As you may already know if you’ve read my birth story, Daphne was born in the evening after a three-day labour and five hours of pushing. I had to be put on a syntocinon drip in the end, and I had a catheter and a second degree tear. I lost my voice through screaming (no pain relief!), bruised my forehead against the side of the birthing pool and lost the sensation in the tips of my fingers thanks to squeezing Oli’s hands so hard. I hadn’t eaten anything other than sweets for 24 hours and hadn’t slept for more than an hour for 72 hours*. By the end of my labour, I felt as though I had been in a car crash. I could hardly walk. Physically, I had never felt so terrible. Emotionally however, I was on a massive high. The weirdest thing is, it really was the best experience of my life.
After she was born, and I’d been stitched up (by a trainee, meaning the whole process took AGES – nothing like watching two midwifes poring over your bits, with one of them telling the other to ‘do that bit a bit tighter’), I shuffled along for a shower. A shower I actually didn’t really want – I would far rather have been sponged down but I was told to go and shower, so I did. I stood hunched over in the shower and bled. A lot. As you do when you’ve just given birth. The blood pooled all over the floor when I got out and I tried to clean it up with loo roll, but every time I bent over I felt dizzy and sick. It was so hot in that shower and I was still convinced I might die. Or faint at the very least. Anyway, after the shower from hell, I got myself dressed somehow, stuffed a huge maternity pad in my knickers and shuffled back to the room I’d had Daph in. Walking along the corridor, I remember hearing all the women in the other rooms screaming. It was a horrible sound and so strange to think I’d been making those exact noises not long before. I was wheeled in a wheelchair up to the postnatal ward, and all I could think was ‘thank god, now I can sleep’.
When Daphne was first born, I had skin to skin with her as requested, and she tried her best to latch on. But we were both knackered, so she didn’t quite manage it, and the midwives were preoccupied and no one really thought about me trying to feed her straight away. But she definitely tried, bless her heart.
By the time I was settled into my delightful bed on the postnatal ward, Daphne all swaddled and tucked up in her plastic cot, it was about 11pm. I said goodbye to Oli, who had to get back home to feed the cat, and collapsed into the bed.
Somehow I slept. God knows how given the adrenaline and the racket all the other new babies and mums were making. But I did. For about an hour at least. Around midnight, Oli texted me that he hoped I was sleeping but Daphne had woken up and done her first huge black sticky poo so I was busy trying to change her. My first ever nappy change and I was so tired I was almost delirious. I managed it and was quite chuffed with myself. Again, I assumed now we could sleep.
But at around 3am Daphne woke up again, and this time she was hysterical. I picked her up and tried to comfort her, but it didn’t work. All I could think was how tired I was, and why wouldn’t she sleep. Stupid, but it never occurred to me that she would be hungry. I don’t know why. I feel so ashamed of that now. After 20 mins of hysterical tears, I got up and shuffled through the dark ward to the reception area. I found a midwife. I handed her Daphne and said ‘she won’t stop crying. I don’t know what to do.’
The midwife looked at me and said ‘have you fed her?’ I shook my head. She gave her back to me and disappeared for a minute. She came back with a tiny bottle of formula, took Daphne back and fed her. I watched as my little girl gulped the milk down and then fell into a satisfied sleep.
I took her back to the ward and watched her sleeping. Then fell asleep myself.
At 6am, I was woken by someone offering me paracetamol. I took it, without wanting it particularly. I wanted sleep more. Then another nurse came round and asked me how my breastfeeding was going. I told her I hadn’t done any yet. She looked genuinely concerned, then in a businesslike manner set about trying to get Daphne to latch on. But Daph was having none of it. She actually turned away from my boob. I became fixated on the fact that I smelt of shower gel, and paranoid it meant Daphne didn’t recognise me from before when she’d tried to feed. The nurse helped me to hand express some colostrum which we gave to Daphne in a syringe. She threw it all up. The midwife told me to keep trying to latch her on and to express as much as possible.
The rest of that day was a blur of visitors and inspections and checks. Everyone was concerned with how small Daph was – she was only just above the weight at which they keep babies in for glucose testing. The only thing I could focus on was getting her to eat something – anything. Oh and getting out of the hospital so that I could go home and sleep. I had some formula left from the night before which I gave to her, reasoning she’d already had some so a little more was unlikely to hurt. She drank it all and didn’t throw up.
At some point I was told that I wouldn’t be able to go home because I had yet to successfully breastfeed. I cried. I just wanted to get out of that place so desperately, and back to my own bed. It was so noisy. Then, miraculously, Daphne seemed to latch on a bit. She took a few sucks. God knows if anything came out, but the midwife agreed to let me leave.
I took her home with a bottle of formula ‘just in case’. Daphne was so tiny, all I wanted was for her to eat. And that was probably the beginning of the end for us, but I’ll stop here until the next post because this is already so long and already I feel so sad remembering it all.
*Just a little caveat: I know most people’s labours are pretty horrific, and I’m not trying to say mine was worse than anyone else’s. But I didn’t quite realise just how physically tired I would be – I was ready for the pain, but not the exhaustion.