It is hard to believe that I have a toddler now and a whole year of motherhood has flown by already. I always cringed when I saw mum posting photos of their kids with the caption “where did my baby go?” but now I find myself refraining from doing the same. It all really does go by so quickly and life becomes so fast paced (I thought life was too much before kids- LOL) that you don’t often get a chance to reflect on everything that you have done or achieved in such a short space of time. I remember climbing into bed for a nap when I was around 17 weeks pregnant and I felt this tiny little flutter in my lower belly that felt like a pulse and I could have sworn I was having a abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), but I soon realised it was my teeny tiny baby kicking for the first time and I burst into a fit of tears. It was the first time I felt truly connected to my baby and the first time it really sank in that this was all really happening. I cut to now and that little baby has made some of her first steps (she is a very reluctant walker) and it is so crazy to think back at the little journey we have gone on together. One thing that scared me about giving birth, was that, although I wanted so badly to meet my daughter, I knew there were lots of other people waiting to meet her too and I was terrified that this little connection would wither once she no longer was connected to me physically. I had such a horrible pregnancy and then a traumatic birth and my first week of motherhood had me at one of the lowest lows I had ever experienced, but I was so determined to breast feed. Throughout my life I have always been a bit of a quitter, I cannot really handle a lot of pressure before I either burst into tears or throw in the towel. I had given up during pregnancy and decided I wanted to be induced to get it over with and I gave up during birth opting to have an epidural, despite not wanting one, but I was absolutely not going to give up breastfeeding because it made me uncomfortable. I had tried to research breast-feeding beforehand so I had an idea about how to latch properly or deal with issues as they arouse, but all the reading in the world could not prepare me for what breast-feeding actually entailed. Charlie did the boob crawl thing where she naturally found the nipple herself and latched perfectly the first go and I told myself “oh my god, this is so much easier than I expected “ and it immediately went down hill from there. 12 hours after giving birth and my nipples were already on fire and everything I had tried to learn went out the window. Every single midwife gave me different advice about how to get a good latch. They all took turns at playing with my bleeding nipples to angle them into Charlie’s mouth and grabbing Charlie’s long bruised head and forcing it onto said bleeding nipple. It was agonising. I ended up being given a nipple shield by an ICU nurse that took pity on me crying through a feed, which was a saving grace; only to be told by my midwife upstairs that nipple shields should not be used until you have a proper supply, which I did not have for another 2 weeks. I digress. Every 3 hours I would try and breathe through the pain of the first 5 minutes of a feed and discuss with my fellow mama pal Naomi at 3 in the morning about our new fear of towels and accidentally brushing your nipples with one when drying ourselves. After 5 weeks of this, my nipples had adjusted and then everything became much easier. I was now a professional breast feeder and loved every second of it. I never became engorged (except over night when Charlie would sleep longer than 3 hours) and I never leaked, so I was kind of blessed in that regard. I had just enough milk and never really had an excess of milk, it was just the perfect amount for us. I loved the connection breastfeeding allowed me to have with Charlie. It kept us physically connected just that little bit longer and not to mention all the other good stuff and happy hormones that came with it. I have never really been one to be overly possessive, however I get really put out and a bit queasy every time someone other than my husband and I call my daughter “my Charlie” or “my baby” and breast feeding was my passive aggressive way of saying “in your dreams”. When she was sick, breastfeeding helped me feel like I was helping her to get better. Apparently kissing your babies skin sends information to your milkmen who add what your baby needs to your milk! Science is crazy! Thanks milk men! When Charlie woke at night, I would bring her into bed with me, feed her laying down and then put her back to bed, keeping us both still semi sleepy.
I had initially told myself that I would breastfeed for 6 months, but pretty soon 6 months had gone by and I was still so comfortable breastfeeding and found it so convenient for feeding in public, soothing her and just because. I never ran into conflict breastfeeding in public, but was always prepared and ready to throw down if someone had a problem with it and was willing to make a comment. Some of my favourite moments of motherhood involved Charlie had I just staring into each other’s eyes while feeding and just knowing that it was her and me in that moment and nothing else mattered.
When Charlie was 7 months old I went back to work 2 days a week and she went to day care. The adjustment at first was a lot. I felt like I did not get enough time off with her, and felt resentment to everything and everyone. Initially I was so down about going to work that I would hold back tears for 8 hours a day, but after the first month, Charlie warmed up to her educators and peers so it was easier knowing she was enjoying herself. I had realised how much I missed this part of my identity and that was connecting with others and seeing my pals at work who are the only ones on the planet who know what it is like. I formed friendships with colleagues I hadn’t before because we had common ground and understood what it was like to balance work and family life. I stopped taking work home with me and as soon as I left the doors to come home, I was completely done for the day and that is a sense I never thought I would have in my job. It made me appreciate my family and the bond I have with my daughter and made look forward to breastfeeding and reconnecting with my daughter. I would pump on my lunch breaks and when I got home to make sure she had milk for her days at day care. Eventually I did not need to pump for those days, because Charlie loved her food so much she didn’t need a bottle anymore. My supply started to dry up and it started sinking in that maybe my breastfeeding journey was starting to come to an end. My skin, which was always quite clear before having a baby, had turned into a hormonal mess and became dry, itchy and flaky. I had gone to a dermatologist who prescribed me creams that I couldn’t use while breastfeeding so I just had to manage the symptoms as best I could, but any form of stress or change in weather or skin products had it flaring up again and I was so self conscious. I had officially made it to 12 months of breastfeeding, which I never though I could do and still to this day haven’t properly let it sink in at what an achievement that is. Once Charlie hit 12 months old, I doubled my hours at work, but was cramming those hours into 3 days with two 12-hour shifts and one 8-hour shift. With this increase in work hours came night shift and an increase of grief of what I thought I was missing out on; I cried on my way to every shift that first week.
I found that I could literally feel my energy being sucked out of me with every feed; my energy levels started depleting and my iron levels dropped so low that no amount of coffee could get me through the day. Charlie’s sleep, which had never been perfect, was getting worse and she was waking up to 5 times during the night for a feed and was becoming so aggressive during the day and crying and screaming just to have a feed. My skin was the worst it had ever been because I was so stressed and so tired and I realised something had to give. Breastfeeding was no longer enjoyable and was becoming a hindrance to my life and I needed to start weaning for the sake of my health. I first switched Charlie to toddler formula during the day and when she would cry and pull up my shirt, I would have to distract her and engage with her in a different way. After about 2 weeks I cut the nighttime feeds and eventually the first feed in the morning. I took weeks to wean. We have now officially stopped breast-feeding for a month.
Since weaning, Charlie cries much less and is less aggressive. She sleeps through the night most nights and I feel like I finally have energy again.
I found once we hit the 12 month mark of feeding, more people starting asking when I planned to stop breastfeeding and I could feel the judgment as they asked, this made me want to keep going with breastfeeding, despite knowing I did not have anything left to give. I felt this immense sense of guilt like I wasn’t doing enough and could have gone on longer, but I just need to remind myself that I did more than I had ever expected myself to do. Charlie currently has croup, an ear infection and is waking more at night and I cant help but feel a loss at the thought that maybe she would be feeling better if I was still feeding. I have been asked if I miss breastfeeding and to be honest I haven’t properly thought about it. I was always scared that with stopping breastfeeding I would be losing that connection with her, but I have found that we have entered this new stage together where our bond is so beautiful and unbreakable. I make sure we have skin to skin in the shower at least once a week and our new bedtime routine brings us closer everyday.