Celebrating my boobs

During my first midwife appointment, only a few months pregnant and not really even showing yet, was when I was first asked, ‘Will you breastfeed?’. A silly question to ask at that stage to be honest, because no one can know for sure, but I certainly wanted to try.

It seemed that my boobs wanted to try too, because at around six months pregnant I started waking up to small wet patches in the bed where I’d started leaking already. This was when I first started thinking that, really, the whole thing with boobs is weird.

We are subconsciously taught from a very early age that breasts are for admiration. They are a feature of attractiveness, a sexual tool. And yet here mine were leaking through my clothes and bedsheets at night – not at all sexy! Suddenly they were not mine anymore, they were preparing for someone else’s arrival instead.

Once Millie had been born we began to negotiate the breastfeeding minefield, which for us took a while. My nipples were dripping milk onto my swollen tummy in the shower, they were suckled for hours as Millie would fall asleep during feeds so I was expressing to make sure she was drinking properly, and as it turned out they weren’t quite large enough and needed little silicone shields to ensure a good latch. They were now a constant consideration, as they became full, hard and sore, then had to be switched regularly to ensure good flow for Millie, and were also pumped like udders with a loud electric device to allow my husband to get involved in feeding too.

This is all a bit overwhelming for anyone, and I feel lucky to have stayed in hospital for six days where I had access to clinical experts and a daily breastfeeding clinic where I could go and ask questions, and sometimes just sit and feed knowing I had people around to help if I needed it. The first time I literally asked the nurse to grab my breast and do it for me because I felt so lost, and she duely obliged – that level of support was invaluable to me.

Being able to ask my mum and friends openly about feeding was also vital, because it helped me feel more normal and less isolated – I’ve said it before and will always insist that a support network of any description is they key to how you manage with a child. No one can do it alone.

Initially I had been pleased at my extra cleavage but in fact it’s a huge amount of pressure. On top of trying to manage the varying size, leaking and feeding, there’s the constant talking about it all. Asking friends if the things I was feeling were normal, did their babies do this or that too, trying to fit my breasts into different bras, checking for their fullness. I lost count of how many times I was asked how I was feeding, and then when I started topping Millie up with formula at around six weeks because I couldn’t keep up with her appetite, waited for the judgement. I wasn’t often openly judged, in honesty, but there’s so much conversation about it that I felt ready to be, which is wrong in itself really.

The breast vs bottle thing is a crazy weight to land on a woman’s shoulders after squeezing a human out of her hoo-ha. Yes, breast milk has the longest list of utterly fantastic properties, but if we’re honest formula is great too these days, and the fact is that not every one can physically breastfeed, and even if they can they may not want to – and that’s THEIR decision.

Then came  feeding in public. Because of some of the hype around breastfeeding publicly I was ready to fight anyone who dared challenge me, despite never having actually been challenged! I believed vehemently in my right to feed my daughter wherever and whenever she needed it, and never shied away from that, because I was determined to normalise it and help change perceptions, but then I came back to the old societal rules. There are loads of places that openly support breastfeeeding in public, which is fantastic, but sometimes I didn’t want to just flip my boob out for all to see, despite the very necessary purpose. It feels beautiful, but also vulnerable, and very out of the ordinary for a woman, so I used to carry a big cloth for a bit of privacy now and again if I wanted it.

On the flip side of all that, breastfeeding Millie was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had with her. My favourite times (and my husband says the same, so it’s clearly more about bonding than just boobs) were the night feeds. In the early hours when it felt like we were the only two awake, quietly snuggled together as she filled her tiny tummy and blessed me with her new smiles. It was all about her, all about us, and those moments are so very precious.

Then at only five months it was all over, we’d worked so hard to create a routine and adapt together to her needs as she quickly grew, and then one day she decided she had finished and preferred full formula. I was bereft, and not ready, but the use of my body in this way was no longer my decision, and my baby was choosing to move on.

Now my lovely lumps, humps, breasts, boobs, tits, jugs, or whatever you call them (thanks again to society for steering us towards objectification) are mine again. They’re sexual again, meant for a very different purpose than for those few months of newborn sustenance. And I think I love them a little bit more now. They’re not quite the same as they started out but they’ve worked hard and deserve to stand a little less high, though no less proud.

Breastfeeding is beautiful, important, effective and bloody hard work at times, and I’m very glad I was able to feed Millie this way for a while. Everyone does this slightly differently, and ‘trial and error’ were never more important words for me than in raising a child. We made it work for us, which I think should be celebrated and cherished. I look forward to the day she might want to know her story, and perhaps if she chooses, to experience all this for herself.

Whether you breastfed or not, give yourself and your boobs a little hug, because whever you’ve been through, you deserve it!

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The birth story

We’ve all got them, and every one is different, so here’s mine…just make a cup of tea before you start because it’s pretty long! I want to tell Millie this story one day so I needed to get every detail down.

I was due on July 14, 2015, and for weeks had been convinced I would give birth early, but the day came and went with no action. I walked every day, ate pineapple and spicy foods, bounced on the yoga ball, tried all the things people tell you will bring on your baby, but she was far too comfy in there. Eventually Dave and I found ourselves in the induction ward at 7.30am on July 26.

I was given my pessary and waited six hours. I was then two centimetres dilates which was positive, so the midwife broke my waters with the scary knitting needle thing. A very uncomfortable experience that led to no liquid leaving my body, immediately or in the hours that followed. Go figure.

Eventually, at 4pm I was moved into a room on labour ward and hooked up to two drips to begin receiving the hormones that would begin contractions. Here are two things they did not tell me; that once the drip began I could not eat or drink anything except water (I hadn’t eaten for 5 hours before this, thank goodness for the jaffa cakes we had packed in our hospital bag!), and that the hormone drip is designed to bring on your contractions hard and fast to encourage your body to get involved. I wasn’t really prepared for this.

I started off bouncing on a birthing ball but very quickly I was unable to concentrate on staying steady during contractions and had to move to the bed. Within an hour or so I felt like they were coming every minute and I couldn’t manage to speak to Dave at all. I was given gas and air because I didn’t feel I was coping well with the pain and that really helped to focus my breathing but very quickly I felt panicked because they were too much for me. The midwife said I was having four contractions in ten minutes and that I needed to maintain that for a number of hours. I simply replied ‘No’.

At this point I’d had enough and asked for more pain relief. I must have looked pretty pissed off because they went straight for an epidural – despite the nine months of insisting I didn’t want one I almost called the anaesthetist myself I was so desperate! The lady putting the giant needle in my back was so lovely, she was gentle and calming and stopped working as promised during the many contractions that came while she got the line in.

Within a short time the effect kicked in and I was ecstatic. I think must have said about a hundred timed ‘this is bloody wonderful’. It meant a catheter, plus they attached a heart rate monitor to the baby’s head, and I had an odd side effect in that I was shivering badly from head to toe, but to be honest I really didn’t give a monkeys, I was just so happy not to feel the pain anymore.

It was around this time that the staff began to notice the baby’s heart rate dropping during some of my contractions, to worrying low levels. She wasn’t consistent and would pick it back up again for ten or twenty minutes, but it still kept happening periodically. This is when we began to worry, because although the midwives were very reassuring and offered various ‘normal’ reasons for it happening, there were more people coming in to check us, including senior doctors.

So this carried on for a while as baby seemed to pick back up and then her heartrate would drop again on and off, and eventually someone suggested I may have to be prepared for a caesarean. Now we never really had a birth plan, but a caesarean was something I had genuinely, and somewhat naively, never considered, and it scared me. I said ‘ok’ a lot to the surgeon when he came in to speak to me briefly, but in my head I was saying ‘no thank you’.

So this all carried on for some time longer until a doctor came and asked to examine me. I told her she could do what she liked because I couldn’t feel it anyway. We all had a little polite laugh. While she was down there, and I had my leg in the air on a stirrup, I noticed my pants in the corner of the room and I was horrified. I whispered to Dave to remove my pants to save my embarrassment – I’m not sure my drug addled brain really grasped my current situation.

One other side effect of the epidural was that I became desperately thirsty, and my lovely husband had been continually providing me water, which never seemed to hydrate me at all. I decided I needed to clean my teeth instead to try and stop the horrid feeling in my mouth and sent Dave out to get me a cup to spit my water into. All this still while the doctor was doing whatever she needed to inside me. Apparently they’d never seen anyone clean their teeth during labour so at least I was memorable!

This was where our journey took a turn. The doctor announced I was 8cm dilated and could be in a position to push soon, which we were delighted about. She wanted to take a small sample of blood from the baby’s head to test her oxygen levels and see how she was coping with the dropping heart rates, which was very quick, and within minutes someone looked round the door to give the result, which was a number I can’t remember, but we immediately realised it wasn’t good.

Still very calm, the doctor pressed a button somewhere and said we were getting the baby out now. I then felt a bit like I was in an episode of casualty – within seconds there were about eight people in the room and I was swiftly unhooked from the two monitors on my tummy, the one in the baby’s head, the two drips in one arm and the pulse monitor on the other hand, and the epidural line in my back, before being wheeled out of the room.

Dave was given a set of scrubs so I expected him to follow me down the corridor but he was quickly told he couldn’t join me – if I was unconscious there was no reason to have him sat in for support, so he simply got left behind, and was very alone after so much activity.

I was then in a theatre with so many people, and I was asked by a man to move myself onto the operating table. I told him I couldn’t feel my legs, much less move them, so he asked me again and I told him again. This all felt very weird considering we were in such a rush.

My lovely epidural anaesthetist lady was back and explained the two people in the corner of the room were baby doctors and would look after my daughter, and she then put a mask on my face and asked me to count to ten. The mask was very small and I felt suffocated, but I knew I had to keep it on, and my last thoughts were these; ‘if a teeny tiny baby needs two doctors things aren’t good’, ‘I might not wake up, and I never said goodbye to David’, and ‘what if that big light up there is the last thing I ever see?’.

My daughter was born at 1.20am on July 27. By the time she finally came out she had no heartbeat and did not breathe by herself so those two baby doctors had to help her get started, but apparently she very quickly took over from them. By the time I woke up at around 3am she was settled in a little plastic box in the neonatal unit, and David was at my bedside with my mum. I tried to ask a few questions, established she was ok and drank some liquid morphine before drifting off again for a bit.

David got to visit our little daughter while I was still out for the count, and give her a tiny feed of milk from a cup. We have a video of that, it’s lovely.

I was able to finally meet her myself around 7am after I’d woken up properly. I was still numb from the waist down so my entire bed was wheeled into the neonatal unit so I could meet this tiny, squeaky little being. I’ve read about these huge rushes of love when meeting your baby for the first time but I was a bit stunned by it all and kind of in awe really, and we just held hands and looked at each other, both not really sure what was going on, I think.

I had a day then away from my baby back in my labour room, with compressors on my legs to stop any clots. It was bizarre really, knowing I had a baby but not being with her, and didn’t feel real. I was the most thirsty I’ve ever been in my life. I was told it was still too early to drink for a while so Dave was sneaking me small glasses of water against his will until I was allowed to drink properly. It felt like every mouthful of water just evaporated immediately and my whole mouth was just sticking together. I ate nothing all day and just had litres of water instead, filling three or four catheter bags as the anaesthetic wore off.

We decide to call our absent baby Millie, and after we were eventually reunited later that day, the pair of us spent another five days in hospital, enjoying the support of medical professionals and getting to know each other. If you’ve read this far, good work for sticking with me. It’s a fairly long story, but a very personal and emotional one. Thank goodness for the NHS!

Caesarean ‘vs’ vaginal births

I gave blood today, and during the preliminary questions I had to declare my caesarean section operation from giving birth to Millie. The nurse and I bonded briefly over having had c-sections and she asked me, “Do you feel cheated? Not having had a normal birth?”

My reply was an immediate (and emphatic) no, but I was pretty taken aback by the question. I’ve never been asked that before, or even considered it.

I feel…very guilty I think, because Millie’s birth story was basically me being induced, a rush to an emergency caesarean, around 17 hours in neonatal and then five days in hospital. Those initial 17 hours are some of the essential ones you anticipate for nine months of pregnancy and however long you dream beforehand, enhanced by all the magazines and films. Seeing each other moments after birth, holding your baby for the first time, powerful skin to skin, the first feed, and Millie got none of that from me.

No one’s actually responsible, but for whatever reason our bodies were not working together that day and we took a slightly different route. But do it feel cheated? No.

I told my husband about this and he said he feels cheated, because he got nothing. I was unconscious for a decent chunk of it but he was left with an empty labour room for hours. No wife, no baby, just a whole lot of fear for both. An awful situation, bless him.

The same way that every baby is different (if you need a mantra as a new parent, that’s a good one!) every birth is too. Millie’s had a bit more drama but was still just as valid as everyone else’s. There’s some debate over different births but aren’t they all still births? Women producing actual tiny humans using their bodies? It’s a bloody miracle however they come out!

Frankly I’m grateful for our experience, because without the medical magic of an emergency caesarean, I’m not sure Millie would even have made it. And sadly many don’t. So when you think about it, I’m actually just very lucky.