The story of two births

Birth is such an important time in a woman’s life. When a baby is born, a mother is born as well. Here are some thoughts about my two birth experiences with our boys. Reading other people’s birth stories has helped me process my own experiences, so I am offering these up in the hope they may help someone else.

2009-12-02 at 04-00-10Leo’s birth in haiku

Labouring at home
Get to hospital: freak out!
Vaccum and he’s here

Leo’s birth was traumatic for me (and probably for him too). We laboured beautifully at home (got to 9cm dilated), but when we got to hospital things went pear-shaped. He was born with the use of ventouse extraction, with a lot of fear and a bunch of medical people we had never met before in the room.  He was whisked away for oxygen before I could hold him, or even look at him. We were reunited about twenty minutes later, but it was the longest twenty minutes of my life.

For the first few hours after he was born I felt like it had all been wonderful. I had a beautiful, healthy baby after all.

But then the memories of the birth started coming back to me in bits and pieces, along with a flood of emotions. I remembered being told not to push when I had the urge to (with no explanation) and then later being told crossly that I wasn’t pushing hard enough or fast enough and that my baby was in danger. I remembered the rushed episiotomy. The phone call for back-up being made in haste and the room being filled with medical professionals and bright light and me flat on my back.

I remembered the last thing I heard before he was born was the obstetrician saying to the midwife “of course the heart-rate would be fine now…”

Nothing was explained to me about what had just happened. It felt like I could have just dreamt it all.

“A woman is more likely to develop PTSD if she feels like all control has been taken from her and she is the passive object of other’s ministrations. She isn’t asked for consent, for example, for different maneuvers which they may do. She’s supposed to shut up and let them get on with doing the birth. And she comes out of that feeling helpless, and this helplessness can persist in other areas of her life too, so it’s not just the birth. So she gives up and feels that it isn’t justified for her to take responsibility for anything. And women can feel this for many, many years and I’ve had women in their 60s and 70s call me to talk about births which they haven’t yet worked through and this experience has stayed with them and incapacitated them.”

Sheila Kitzinger (1929-2015), author and birth activist

I believe in Jane Hardwicke Collings‘ idea that “everyone has the birth they need to have to teach them what they need to learn on their journey to wholeness.” She also believes that we learn something from each birth that helps women mother their child. Through Leo’s birth I learnt that I didn’t know how to communicate my needs effectively. Everything that I learnt during Leo’s birth, and in those early months as his mother, taught me how to tell people what I needed and how to advocate for myself and him. Now that Leo is five, it makes my heart sing to see how easily he tells people what he needs. That was always something I struggled with as a child (and as an adult).

Continue reading The story of two births

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

Unhelpful things said to new parents

I had some unhelpful things said to me when I was a new Mum that have rung in my ears for five and a half years.

I may never forget them, but with time they are losing their power. In some ways a new mother is as fragile and vulnerable as their tiny baby.

The power dynamic between people makes a big difference to how a comment is taken. Comments from people in positions of power, such as health professionals and elder family members, can be particularly hurtful.

The two comments that have haunted me the most are to do with breastfeeding, and they were both said to me by people in a position of power.

You'll only ever make enough milk to

Formula lucky

I felt deep shame about not being able to breastfeed Leo exclusively due to what was eventually diagnosed as Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). My condition made me feel like I wasn’t a proper woman and had no right to be a mother, so those comments cut me to the bone.

Often the comments that hurt the most are the ones that connect with an insecurity you already had. It’s like they agree with the critic you carry on your shoulder that tells you you’re a crappy Mum/Dad/person.

Hey peeps

Passing comments from well meaning family, friends or strangers along the lines of ‘enjoy every second’ can make you feel like an ungrateful bitch if you are not having a great time.

Often if you talk to the person telling you to enjoy every moment, they will be only to happy to talk about the times they themselves didn’t enjoy every moment. It is so easy to forget the power of that early time and everything going on for new parents. I am guilty of this myself – babies and little kids look so cute that you forget how intense life with them can be and how they can push any parent to their limits.

Sometimes innocent questions like “have you tried leaving them to cry/giving them a dummy/hanging their cot from the ceiling from an elephant’s tail” can drive a new parent INSANE! Too. Many. People. Telling. Me. What. I. Should. Do.

What I am learning over and over again is that comments like those above – that are either designed to hurt, or not designed to hurt but they do – often say more about the person saying them and their preoccupations and issues, than about the person it was said to. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Some comments people made to me about how much their baby slept or fed or ate or pooed or cooed induced pangs of guilt or fear in me. Once again, they were unhelpful without meaning to be. Those comments rang in my ears too, but not as much as comments levelled directly at how I was doing as a mum or how my baby was doing.

Comparison of yourself to others is probably worthy of a whole post of its own. By the way, please let me know if you want to write something about comparison (or anything) for the blog! Would love to have some guest posts. :)

Did you have something really unhelpful said to you when your baby was small (or at any stage in parenthood) that you’d like to get out of your mind?

People say great stuff too! I’ve also written about the helpful things people say to new parents.

One thing we were sure of when writing You’re Doing Great, Baby was that we didn’t want to be giving advice on how to feed, settle or take care of your baby. We hope this gives people room to see themselves in the characters and that no-one is made to feel guilty by our book.

Blog 300x300 kickstarter2

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