Night time shopping

I just received a confirmation email from Amazon telling me that last night, at 3.38 a.m., Night-time-me thought it would be an amazing idea to buy alphabet magnets for our fridge. Since I have almost no recollection of this, I’m convinced that Night-time-me and Day-time-me are two separate entities. This means I bear no responsibility for the absurd purchases and I can enjoy Night-time-me’s spontaneity completely guilt free. Lovely.

Breast is the best. Except when it’s not.

I find never ending discussions about breastfeeding and its alternatives really unnecessary and annoying. Let me explain: First of all, I find the biological side of breastfeeding puzzling. It’s supposed to be the most natural thing in the world, still majority of my friends struggle with it.

So I do understand discussions about breastfeeding in sense of reaching out for help. Online forums can be extremely helpful in those situations and it’s great to hear experts’ advice and encouraging stories from women who went through something similar to us. What I don’t understand is the need to discuss it over and over and over again – because there’s a lot of passive-aggression, judging and, consequently, feelings of guilt.

I read tons of online articles and forum discussions on how to properly breastfeed and why breast is the best and then even more of apologetic articles written by women who couldn’t breastfeed and who felt guilty about it. Aside from usual statements on how breastfeeding is healthier, cheaper and better for bonding, many, many other questions arise, the ones we fear to ask aloud, scared that someone might think that we have no clue what we’re doing: Am I really a better mum if I breastfeed? If so, how long should I breastfeed for to be considered a good mum? Is six months enough or should my six year old also get some breast milk in the morning before a hard day at school? Is just breastfeeding enough? Do I have to stare deeply into my baby’s eyes to form that special bond? How long do I have to look at him for while I feed? Am I a bad mum if I just watch TV while he does his thing?
Am I a failure if I can’t breastfeed? How long do I have to keep trying for it to work before I can give up? Am I selfish if I consciously decide not to breastfeed without even trying? 

It gets even more complicated because women are not just divided into those who breastfeed and those who don’t. There are those women who don’t have a lot of milk so they have to breastfeed, pump and also feed their baby from a bottle. And then there’s a whole world of mums who exclusively pump because their bodies produce lots of milk but for some reason their babies can’t drink from the breast.

After having two kids and struggling with my own insecurities, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. On not breastfeeding.

With my first child I fit into the last category. My daughter, for some reason, couldn’t or wouldn’t drink from the breast and, because breast milk is the best and I wasn’t going to be a bad mum, I spent twenty five minutes every two and half hours, day and night, attached to a milk pump and then feeding my daughter expressed milk. I did this for ten weeks. It made going anywhere impossible – I only had a window of two hours to get us ready, to go out and to come back before I had to attach myself to the pump again to save my breasts from exploding. I was also scared that if I didn’t pump regularly, my milk production would stop and at that point, nothing seemed worse than the idea of my baby drinking horrible, evil, poisonous formula. This meant that I also barely slept. I had to be up every two and half hours and more often than not, Molly was awake between the pumping sessions. This also meant that when Molly was crying or wanted to be held, I wasn’t able to pick her up because I was pumping milk which was supposed to keep her healthy and allergy free.

Due to some complications at birth, I only got to see my second baby a day and a half after he was born. At the hospital they immediately brought in the pump and told me to wake up every three hours and pump for twenty minutes. I was groggy from the anaesthetic, weak from the operation, sad for not having seen my child and worried if he was healthy but still I obediently attached myself to the pump again. When it was time to wake up again at 3 a.m., I already feared I wasn’t going to keep it up. My body shut down and it wasn’t producing any milk. I kept having flashbacks to all the stress with Molly and no guarantee that the breastfeeding was going to work out this time when I finally do get to hold my baby. Then I visited him in NICU where I tried to breastfeed but it was impossible – he was crying hysterically, making me want to cry myself. The second time I visited, I was told it was better to not even try breastfeeding at that moment because Benny was hungry and was already used to drinking 50ml from the bottle – since I had no milk, putting him on the breast was only going to upset him and tire him out. Weak and hormonal, it took a lot of self control to stop myself from falling apart, but that was when I finally made my decision – I will not attempt to breastfeed any more this time and I definitely won’t exclusively pump. I will gather my energy and strength until he’s released from the intensive care and then I’ll give him all the attention, warmth and love I have. And a bottle. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but once I made it, I felt a sense of relief.

I weighed my options, I thought about what works best for me and the baby and decided to stick with it. There wasn’t as much guilt connected to it as with the first baby, probably because I was more self-assured, but instead came anger at all the women who judge those who can’t breastfeed and sympathy for those who keep up with it out of guilt even though it’s driving them insane.

Ironically, even this post is written out of sense of need to explain the reasons behind my decision not to breastfeed. Even though I’m sure my decision was the right one for us, deep inside me I hope that who ever reads this understands me and agrees with me. And there’s so much wrong with that.

I needed to write all of this down as a message to all the new mothers out there – it’s something I wanted to hear two and a half years ago, but didn’t have anyone to tell me: We’re all very well informed about the benefits of breastfeeding and we all agree it’s the best when it works out the way it’s supposed to, so if someone decides against it, be sure that they had a very good reason for it. There’s no need to discuss it, to question it or to judge it. Sadly, there’ll always be people to judge our way of raising our children and (not) breastfeeding is just the beginning. But I strongly believe that as long as I do my own personal best, I can be proud of myself and that’s what’s important.
We all have the same doubts and feelings of guilt. Be brave enough to do whatever feels right for you and your baby and don’t worry about what people around you think. If you want to / can breastfeed, take that boob out proudly! If you don’t want to / can’t, know that you’re not the only one and that you’re a great mum nevertheless.
Simple exercise: Next time when you’re out on the street, take a look around you and see if you can guess who was breastfed and who was not. You can’t? Strange. What if they gave you a history of their illnesses and told you about their relationship with their mums? Still impossible? Right. Go and enjoy being a guilt-free mum.

And if you think whatever you’re doing is the best and the right way to do it and you’re really great at this being-a-mum thing, keep it to yourself. No one wants to hear you brag about it. There’s always someone doing it completely differently and that’s fine. Also – none of your business.

Does the perfect birth exist?

I never dreamed of a “perfect” birthing experience – I didn’t come up with a birthing plan, I never sat around imagining what it was going to be like.

I pushed it out of my mind because I knew that
a) eventually it had to happen one way or another and that
b) whoever’s in the delivery room with me (nurses, doctors) will know a lot more about giving birth than me, so they’ll be able to advise me on what to do if needed, not the other way around.

Also, giving birth to Molly was relatively straightforward and confirmed my idea that the best way to think about giving birth was just letting nature do its thing. I thought I would just be happy to hold my healthy baby, regardless of how he arrived on Earth.

That’s why the emotions I felt after giving birth to our (spoiler alert: healthy and perfect) baby boy on the first day of the year – sadness, disappointment, grieving – took me by surprise. It took me almost three weeks to work through what I was feeling and to get my mind to stop rewinding what happened that night.

And what had happened was a perfect birthing experience turned unexpectedly into the scariest birthing experience before I could even grasp what was going on.

Long story short, after only 45 minutes of painful contractions (and a couple of hours of not very painful ones), we were in the hospital and in a great mood. I was already 9 centimeters dilated, “our” midwife (who we had known for two years, liked and trusted) broke my water, I started to push, thinking how great this was and how it was going to be the quickest birth ever and I was going to be the boss of births. Birthing queen. OK, I was also in a huge amount of pain and freaking out, completely forgetting to breathe properly, but I knew this was the last stage, the shortest one and everything was going to be over soon. And then I heard the midwife shout “Shit! The umbilical cord!” as she pushed the emergency button.

In a second, there were six people around me. I was told they had to perform a C-section right away, one of the doctors literally pushed the baby back inside me and had her fist up there while they were wheeling me into the surgery. Jay had to stay where he was and neither of us knew what was going on. Honestly, I was relieved at that point because I knew I was going to be knocked out. I was too scared to stay awake for whatever was about to happen.

What actually happened was the umbilical cord prolapse. Not to scare anyone, it happens so rarely that our midwife only knew about it in theory and hasn’t experienced it once in eight years of working at the hospital – according to Wikipedia, it happens in 1% of the cases. I guess we have to consider ourselves special. It basically means that the umbilical cord comes out before the baby (in our case it probably happened because I had a lot of amniotic fluid and the baby’s head wasn’t completely engaged yet). If the woman continues to push the baby out, the pressure on the cord from the baby stops the oxygen flow which can cause brain damage. Or worse.

Surviving the next couple of days is a separate topic and deserve its own blog post (or doesn’t).

Fast forward to me being home and, in addition to my hormones going crazy anyway, having constant flashbacks to that night. The picture that kept coming back to me was Jay’s smiling face as he changed my shirt and dressed me in my new pajamas with buttons which I bought specially for the occasion. That was right after we found out I was 9 centimeters dilated and right before the midwife broke my waters. It was a perfect moment in which I was completely connected to my wonderful husband and felt a strong sense of love for him, for our daughter and for our son who we were about to meet. I woke up an hour later with all the buttons on my new shirt ripped because no one had time to fiddle with them to attach me to all different sorts of machines.

It wasn’t the fact that I needed a C-section that made me feel bad, it was the sudden change from happy and excited to horrified and alone that left me in a state of shock. It left me with a feeling of having been robbed of the “perfect birthing experience” even though I didn’t have an idea of one to start with. Three weeks later I threw away the ripped shirt and finally managed to vocalise all the sadness I felt when I thought back to us being happy in that little room. It felt cathartic – I talked at lengths about it with Jay, we cried a lot and came out of it “renewed and restored”.

In the end, I guess every birth that ends with a healthy and happy baby should be considered a perfect birthing experience.
With some births, though, it just takes longer for that feeling to sink in…

The “Slow drop” move – or how to get the baby off you

Slow dropSome of the mums with newborns and mums-to-be might find this useful when dealing with a sleepy baby:

I call this move “The slow drop” and it consists of 6 stages:
Stage 1 (preparatory stage): make yourself comfortable on the bed but make sure there’s lots of space on one side of you (if you’re right handed, free up the space on the right hand side)
Stage 2 (comfortable stage): let the clingy baby fall asleep on top of you because that’s the only way you can get him to sleep
Stage 3 (lowering stage): when you’re sure he’s asleep, start the descend. Lower him towards the bed, half a centimetre each minute, so that he doesn’t feel that he’s being moved
Stage 4 (the riskiest stage): put him down on the bed next to you. Stop breathing so that nothing disturbs his sleep. Don’t move! And make sure at least one part of your body’s still in touch with his.
Stage 5 (waiting stage): start moving away from the baby. If you notice any change in his breathing pattern, stop moving and get back into the previous position.
Stage 6 (freedom stage): slowly get out of the bed. Try to remember why you got up. Get back into bed and take a power nap because the baby’s about to wake up in 10 minutes. If you’re lucky.

Watch your feet!

Only two years later, I have already forgotten so much about newborns! I’m experiencing it all over again now: The way babies open and close their tiny fists, their random reflexive shakes, the wonderful smell of their warm necks, their confused stares and how they inevitably always dip their (so far) useless feet in poo while you’re changing their nappy.