Still here, still hopeful

A reader got in touch to say that couples trying for a baby need to hear they’re doing great too. We are very grateful to her for writing about her experience and letting us share it here. She has asked to remain anonymous.

Swirl

We’ve been trying to have a baby, my husband and I, and it’s not working. For nearly three years we’ve been at it: planning sex, taking tests, seeing doctors, taking temperatures, adjusting diets, avoiding alcohol, avoiding stress. We are exhausted. We are definitely stressed. We are bound so tight it’s sometimes hard to breathe.

It’s a situation made worse by the fact that nothing is technically ‘wrong’. There are a lot of reasons for infertility, but ours remains ‘unexplained.’ Everything should work, it just doesn’t. We haven’t been successful. We haven’t been lucky.

I remember what it felt like in the beginning, starting to try for a family. It was exciting and terrifying and we didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for, but we wanted a baby. Our friends were settling down and starting to fall pregnant. We would do the same and be part of that community, guiding each other through the pitfalls of parenthood as our children grew up together.

That was the plan, anyway. Looking back a clear metaphor comes to mind. I see us sailing down a river along with our friends and colleagues, all of us in our separate couple-boats, waving to each other and having fun. As each couple falls pregnant their boat peels away, heading for the shore and we wave and laugh and keep going, keep sailing, waiting for the time when we will change course and return to land. As time passes more and more boats leave us and the river opens out into the sea. We start to feel nervous, helpless. We have no food or water, no life-jackets. No-one told us we might be away for a long time. No-one told us we might never return. The last boat peels away and we are left alone.

We are at sea now, my husband and I, sailing the calm mid-cycle waters, when hope is as intoxicating as love, and surviving the crashing end-of-cycle lows, when our boat is battered by wave after wave after wave. We are stuck here, sailing steadily onwards, too sad to face the thought of life without a child, too weary to think of IVF and the enormous pressures it brings.

We keep sailing, but we can no longer remember the land.

Aside from a few close family and friends, we don’t talk about our experience of trying for a baby. Part of it has to do with the language surrounding fertility. The first time someone labelled my condition as ‘unexplained infertility’ I immediately wanted to squirm away from it, as if something heavy had been placed on me. The word ‘infertile’ seemed so final and it presumed I was broken, defective. It took what precious hope I had and squashed it.

The other reason we don’t talk much about our experience is because of the pressure and awkwardness that comes with telling a person. Our situation reminds me of grief – it’s heavy and it doesn’t go away. People who ‘know’ see us after a month or two or six and nothing has changed, we are still here, going through the same things, making the same choices every day. It’s uncomfortable for them to deal with and inevitably, we receive a lot of advice. I am often told to ‘relax’ – that when I let go or just stop trying, it will happen. But when someone says that it makes me feel like I’ve failed again, because (according to them) the answer lies with me and I still can’t fall pregnant. I understand their intention is to comfort, fix, smooth over, but mine is a problem that can’t be fixed. And while positive thinking can be helpful, sometimes it feels like pressure. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes things are shit and you have to accept that.

Honestly, the most helpful thing people can do for me is not mention it, and when I bring it up, be ready with a hug and some love. I don’t need advice or excessive assurances – if this experience has taught me anything it’s that nothing is certain – I just need a friend. Someone who’s willing to be in those moments with me. Nothing more.

We are on a journey, my husband and I – a great, challenging, healing journey that will take us somewhere we’ve never been. It’s heart-breaking and hard – the hardest thing we’ve ever been through – but we are still here, still hopeful, still trying.

While we are alone in our situation, I know there are other women and couples going through the same thing. And I want to say to those people:

I see you out there, on your boat, riding the waves and staring out at the vast ocean. You’ve fought and yearned and picked your hopes up time and time again.
You are braver and stronger than you know.
Keep going. Keep going, wherever that might be.
You’re doing great. You’re doing really great.

Stuff I want to say to you about breastfeeding challenges

This is part three of a three-part series about breastfeeding with Insufficient Glandular Tissue.

IMG_2806You can read my breastfeeding story here. This post is a collection of everything I’ve wanted to get off my chest (ahem, pardon the pun 😉 about facing breastfeeding challenges.

  • Just because you can’t exclusively breastfeed it doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed at all.
  • Please don’t judge bottle-feeding mums.
  • Please don’t judge women who have stopped breastfeeding after breastfeeding challenges.
  • Please don’t judge any mums!
  • The things women are told to do to increase their supply are very daunting for a first-time mother still learning the ropes. It’s all very well to say to feed and pump around the clock, but when you have a baby who takes a long time to settle, naps for 40 min stretches, needs you to hold them constantly and their feeds take an hour (as Leo’s did), that’s pretty much impossible.
  • Formula is necessary for some women, for lots of different reasons. I felt like I was feeding him poison at first because of everything I’d heard and that’s soul destroying.

To health professionals dealing with women with breastfeeding challenges, including IGT

Please acknowledge a woman’s grief when breastfeeding doesn’t turn out as she had expected.

A new mother is as vulnerable as her tiny baby. She’s spent 9+ months nurturing this little person and she wants the absolute best for them and it’s very confronting if you can’t give them what they need.

Continue reading Stuff I want to say to you about breastfeeding challenges

Living with low milk supply

This is part two of a three part series about living with Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT).

You can read about my story here. Here are some things I have learnt from my two experiences of breastfeeding (and supplementing with formula) due to IGT.

  • Best is best, sweet lady.
  • Only you can forgive yourself.
  • Try to make peace with, and love, your breasts. They are doing their best.
  • Give yourself permission to grieve and feel sad/disappointed/angry.
  • It’s not always going to feel so hard.
  • IGT fucking sucks.
  • You've got a lot going on, Mum
    Pumping, drinking breastfeeding tea and looking after two boys

    Just because you can’t exclusively breastfeed it doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed at all.

  • The vast majority of people who see you breastfeeding/bottle feeding/using a supply line won’t judge you. They may be curious if they see you mix feeding, but they won’t judge you. Women often give themselves a much harder time than anyone else would.
  • Surround yourself with support. Because IGT and related conditions are pretty rare, sometimes your best support will be from other mums online. Like the amazing IGT Mamas Facebook group.
  • Once I imagined love, rather than just milk, being transferred through both breastfeeding and bottle feeding, I felt so much better about it all.
  • It’s really annoying to read in a lot of breastfeeding literature that it’s very uncommon to have bonafide low supply (i.e. supply issues that aren’t due to some other issue with baby’s latch or introducing formula etc.) when you have bonafide low supply.

Continue reading Living with low milk supply

My story of breastfeeding with Insufficent Glandular Tissue

It’s World Breastfeeding Week this week and to celebrate I wanted to write about my breastfeeding journeys with my two boys. It’s not a conventional story of “successful” breastfeeding, but I am proud of our story.

My precious Leo

I was diagnosed with Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) when Leo (my eldest son) was 3 days old. I had been expecting to breastfeed through any challenges that came our way. I had read all the literature about ‘boobie traps’ and formula compromising your supply, so it was a horrible shock to have health professionals telling me that I needed to supplement him. I thought that if I saw enough Lactation Consultants someone would tell me that it had all been a bad dream, but no-one could tell me that I’d ever be able to produce enough milk for my little one.

Every bottle felt like a reminder of my inadequacy and failure as a mother.

To say that I was shattered by not being able to exclusively breastfeed is an understatement. I left the hospital feeling like Mother Nature and hours later I felt like a worthless piece of junk. It felt like I was grieving for a death – the death of a relationship with the most precious person in the world. I felt deeply ashamed of feeding Leo formula, and bewildered by all the extra jobs: sterilising bottles, counting out scoops of formula, having a warm bottle ready for him as soon as he needed it – all at a time of the greatest sleep deprivation.

You've got a lot going on, MumChronic low supply is chronically depressing! Every time I expressed I was faced with it, every time he chugged down a bottle of formula I was faced with it. Eventually I had to stop pumping after his breastfeed in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep afterwards.

In those early days breastfeeding feels like mothering itself, and many of you would agree. Part of me agrees… I loved our time we had breastfeeding. BUT, when you have something like this happen, you’ve got to find another way of thinking or else you’ll go mad. It’s the first question you’re asked by GPs and other health professionals: “Are you breastfeeding?”. So if you ‘fail’ at breastfeeding it feels like you’ve failed full stop. Making new mothers feel like failures is so unhelpful.

Continue reading My story of breastfeeding with Insufficent Glandular Tissue

The challenges mothers face

After spending the last six years listening to women’s stories of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood, I have seen women dealing with all sorts of challenges.

Challenges to do with:

  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Birth trauma
  • Mother’s health (mental or physical)
  • Baby’s health
  • Breastfeeding
  • Sleep (baby’s or mother’s)
  • Feeding
  • Family or relationship stress
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Identity crises
  • Outside stress (death of a family member, moving house, financial stress).

There are surely exceptions, but I can’t think of a mother I know who hasn’t faced one challenge or another (or multiple challenges). It’s as if this is part of a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood.

Sometimes women face these challenges alone – not wanting to tell anyone what they are going through. Especially if their issues are hidden, such as injuries from birth or pregnancy. Other times it’s very obvious that they are being challenged to their core. At the time it’s not something you would ever hope for, but often there are amazing insights that can come out of dealing with one (or more) challenges in that early time.

I found that the challenges I faced as a new mum have given me deep compassion for other mothers’ struggles. Our book has been borne out of this compassion and everything we have learnt.

May all mothers going through struggles

Through Leo’s birth I learnt how to communicate my needs and advocate for myself and my child. I don’t feel like I can know for sure what Clem’s birth has taught me until he is a bit older, but one year on it has taught me that surrendering to, and learning from, life’s ups and downs is my life’s work.

It’s so important to honour our disappointment when things don’t go as we had hoped. I remember my despair when I couldn’t produce enough milk to sustain Leo. I needed to grieve. Gratitude would come later, once I’d honoured my sadness and my profound wish that things could be different. (I will write more about my journey with breastfeeding with Insufficient Glandular Tissue in a later post.)

It’s easy for people who aren’t in a mother’s position to belittle her feelings of loss and disappointment when things don’t go as she had hoped and planned for, or dismiss them as ‘first world problems’. This is so unhelpful. Everything feels heightened with a new baby around and what the mother needs is support and empathy – not “at leasts” e.g. “at least you have a healthy baby”.

I had mild postnatal psychosis and postnatal depression after the births of both of my children. I thought that all the work I had done and the lifestyle changes I’d had would mean that I’d be fine after Clem was born, but it happened again. Mental illness is bad enough at anytime, but trying to recover while you’re also looking after and getting to know a baby with round-the-clock needs is extremely challenging. Beating myself up about getting sick again wasn’t productive, but I have had times when I felt like a failure for having it happen a second time.

Women dealing with challenges: I salute you.

It can feel so lonely to be going through whatever it is you’re going through. I know so well that feeling of just wanting your family to have a happy life free from struggle. I solemnly hope that you find some peace in whatever your sorrow is.

Related reading:

Loneliness in early parenting

Learning to go with the flow