Before having my first child just over five years ago, I knew very little about breastfeeding and did not hold a strong position on whether or not I was going to breastfeed. I was kind of laid back thinking 'I would give it a go' not because I was pressured or because I felt strongly it was the best way to go, but just because I fancied doing it.
In my mind it was going to be so natural and easy because as far as I could tell, it was kind of what my body was supposed to be doing, right? Otherwise why did my boobs get milk in them and why did my baby want to stick my nipples in her mouth?
So on that note I set out with the best expectations, bought some nursing bras, looked up what best positions there were and read a book or two until the time came for me to whip out my boob and feed my hungry baby.
Only to my amazement, shock and horror, the reality of this 'natural' experience was nothing like the beautiful magazine images I had seen of happy mommies peacefully feeding their babies in their arms.
For me it was somewhat more complex.
For one, my baby did not 'latch on'. I can't blame her to be honest. I have massive nipples. There, I've said it. Something I've been embarrassed about all my life. I always envied the girls with the little pink nipples that looked perfectly shaped for a newborn baby's little mouth. Instead, my daughter got a mouth full of brown, big mama nipples which she just spat out.
On top, my boobs were enormous. I mean Pamela Anderson style. They are big on a normal day, add some milk into the mix and I honestly have never seen them so big in my life. Another tricky element to consider when you are breastfeeding, especially in public.
I watched friends with their elegant small to medium size breasts managing to be so graceful about it, whereas I always got into such a twist and ended up basically topless, boobs hanging out COMPLETELY in cafes, cinemas, supermarkets, at friends' houses etc. This was not even me trying to make some sort of statement, I just never got my head around how to work those nursing bras and hold a baby who needed to feed and then burp without having the whole world see my magnificently huge breasts.
But despite the 'latching on' issue and other difficulties I was finding, being the determined person I am, I decided to stick at it and took some 'one on one' lessons with a midwife who assured me that these things "take time" and that I was doing a great job.
I wondered to myself why non of the books I read before having a baby and why non of the pretty magazine pictures I saw, ever mention that getting the hung of breastfeeding "takes time"? I mean, what is the point in telling women that breastfeeding is easy and natural when in fact, for many new moms (like me), it's actually hard and does not come natural?
My own journey continued - for three months I struggled till things started to get better. I got one of those nursing pillows which was a massive help and I found a local support group for moms' who breastfed. We would meet up and breastfeed our babies together. It was so Rock n' Roll I can't even take it.
At some point I decided to start pumping milk because I was lucky enough to be making quite a lot of it and I wanted someone else to be able to help with feeding.
I ended up pumping till she was seven months old. If you came round my house that time and opened my freezer all you would see were those little bags with frozen breast-milk in them. I could have fed a small country at that point.
I had one of those double pumps and I cut out two (massive) holes in a on old bra allowing me to walk around the house hands free while pumping two bottles at the same time. It was not a sexy time I can tell you that. I thought my husband seeing me poop a little bit during childbirth was the lowest I'd ever go but this totally topped it.
At seven months I decided it was enough. The sound of that pump suction was starting to get to me and I had enough stock in my freezer to last for another month at least. I felt like a winner for sticking at it, but at the same time - nothing gave me more pleasure that throwing out that old bra and getting rid of that pump.
Those who have read my story know that with my second pregnancy (twins), labour and everything that followed was a bit of a nightmare. I won't get into that story again because I feel I have shared it so many times, but I will say that it did have an effect on my decision not to breastfeed.
I was shattered. I had nearly died. My body was full of drugs. My mental state was at the lowest it had ever been and I just could not take on the responsibility and commitment breastfeeding (or pumping) involve.
It was a tough decision, one that was wrapped up in a lot of guilt and doubt. While still in hospital I told one of the midwives what I had decided and she gave me a piece of her mind. Yeah, I felt pretty shitty, thanks, and after that I just told people to stay out of my business and let me do what the heck I felt was right for ME.
You see, as much as my little babies needed me - I needed me too. I needed to recover from what had happened to my body, and I'm not just talking about the near death experience, I'm also talking about the actual pregnancy.
So I decided to bottle feed.
I'll say two things right away:
1) Bottle feeding is no trip to the Bahamas. It comes with it's own set of problems, challenges and difficulties. After having three kids I now know that there just aren't any easy fixes or shortcuts when it comes to parenting. Only choices.
2) I had one breaking point which was on day four. One of the twins was on top of me for some 'skin to skin' time and she found my nipple. She latched on all by herself and started sucking. She did it so beautifully and naturally, just like the books said, only I had no milk to give her because I had taken the pills that dried it all up. I burst into tears and I feel like shit every time I think about that moment.
HOWEVER (and here comes my bottom line) - looking back I know that both journeys were right FOR ME at the time. Although it would have been nice to breastfeed the twins, I am also aware that not breastfeeding them meant I could spend a lot of time with my eldest who really needed her mommy at the time.
My husband got to experience something he did not experience the first time we had a newborn in the house because he got to feed them from day one. In fact, he got to feed the twins before I ever did while I was still in intensive care in hospital. His silly face is the first they saw, not mine, and he gave them their first bottle feed and told them how much he loved them when I couldn't.
They are blessed for having that experience just like my first child was blessed to have my great big nipples poke her in the eye.
Bottom line - this month, breastfeeding awareness month, is a time not only to celebrate and encourage ladies who have chosen to breastfeed, but also a time to be honest about it. I would like to encourage women to share their stories - good bad, funny, sad, embarrassing, they are all welcome.
I honestly believe that it's only through sheer honestly and sharing our experiences that we can truly support each-other. Each in her own way.
Sending love and hugs to all you mamas out there.