I was once asked if I had gotten to that sweet spot during a breastfeeding relationship where one “fell in love with breastfeeding”. I looked quizzically at this person as if what she said was the most asinine thing one had ever heard. In love with breastfeeding?!? Who ever is in love with breastfeeding? I always just saw breastfeeding (up to that point in my life) as a job that needed to be done and moved on from quickly. It was a chore, albeit a rewarding one (my daughter was gaining weight quickly). But that is how I saw it. This is my journey through my eyes, the eyes of a mother (wanting the best for her children) and that of a birth professional (with her reputation on the line).
My name is Amanda Burke; I am the extremely proud mother of 3 amazing little creatures; Amy, our eldest (8), Julianne, our middle (2) and Kieran, our baby (5 months and counting). I am also a 6-year veteran in the field of family support; I am a Doula, Childbirth Educator and now owner of the largest Doula practice (bebo mia) in Toronto and quite possibly Ontario. My journey with breastfeeding is one of hills and valleys, failures and victories.
We begin in 2002; I was 22 and thrust into motherhood (unexpected, unplanned, unattended accidental homebirth at 36wks pregnant). We had brought home a very wee baby (4lbs 4oz) after an epic 10days ordeal and were treated to the revolving door of family and friends. About the 3rd day home a visit from a Public Health Nurse was the make or break point with my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter. We had not been breastfeeding at this point however the nurse insisted that with a little guidance we could get this up and running. So she decided that this was my moment to make it happen, my moment included being observed by my husband, my mother (granted she had been nursing babies since 1980), my 2 younger brothers (10 and 8) and my very good friend from high school (male, gay but male). I was shell-shocked from my birthing experience, our first 10days postpartum and now I have to whip out my boob in front of an audience? I was extremely nervous and uncomfortable and unable to express these feelings. The nurse never offered to take me to the bedroom or asked how I was feeling about what was going on, the environment or anything else. Needless to say that was a complete and utter (udder? LOL) disaster and something I was never to repeat. We immediately went back to formula and at 12months switched to cow’s milk. Amy developed wonderfully and she is a blossoming young lady and I marvel at her daily. But I often think of that moment with the PHN and wonder how different things could have been had she just tuned into what was happening, tuned into me and what I needed in that moment (a quiet, private room). I would have loved to say I breastfed my 1st but alas I cannot.
2008 after several years of stalled fertility whether medically or just the Universe saying, “you need more time”, we gave birth to our second daughter. Julianne’s birth was as different from Amy’s as you can get; I was now a birth professional (3 years in the field), I had chosen midwives and I was having a homebirth. Well the homebirth was not to be (Pregnancy Induced Hypertension meant a hospital birth, which turned into an induction with Pitocin and eventually an Epidural). Julianne like her sister before her decided that at 37wks she was done gestating and out came what we believed to be (according to the scale) a wee thing at 5lbs 6ozs. With the help of our support team: midwives and doulas we managed to get Julianne latched and it felt normal and comfortable and I was determined to make this work! I had a plethora of theoretical knowledge, I had helped over 40 families establish and maintain breastfeeding relationship, so in my head I thought, “and how hard could this be”. The days after Julianne was born was a struggle; she had a small little rosebud mouth and I have ENORMOUS boobs!!! It was a terrible combination, so at the end of the first 24hrs I caved and gave her formula in a bottle. I thought to myself “great, another failure”. We arrived home 2days after her birth and I was quickly out to Wal-Mart to buy a pump, this kid was going to get breast milk even if that meant I was going to pump and finger feed her until she grew enough to handle my over abundant ta-tas! That is what I did, for 3 days I would pump and finger feed and pump and finger feed and supplement with formula. By the end of that week I was exhausted and on the verge of a breakdown, my midwife arrived at my door and I couldn’t even say hello without tears welling in my eyes. She asked me what was happening and I told her about the pumping and finger feeding and formula routine. She asked me if I wanted to breastfeed, I broke into tears and says “yes, desperately”. And then she asked “what would make sense to right now?” I said, “giving her a bottle” and Lisa nodded. I gave Julianne a bottle of pumped milk and of course she downed it in seconds and I felt this huge weight lifting. So later that evening, it was time for bed, I gave Julianne 50ccs of milk (all I had left); she drank it and was still wide-awake! I looked at her and I got nervous; “what do I do now?” I thought. So I picked up my precious baby, swaddled her as tightly as I could and I nervously put her to the breast … she took it!! So that was the start of a brand new routine: bottle, swaddle, and boob. Eventually we eliminated the swaddle and the bottle and before I knew it I was exclusively breastfeeding. All was well; at our 6wk discharge appointment from the midwives Julianne was 12lbs 4ozs!
Julianne and I worked together for 7months; I continued to struggle through either vasospasm or thrush (both undiagnosed) with pain so intense at times that I was going cross-eyed and curling my toes, a spirited baby who never liked being covered up so nursing in public was always a chore (would often glare at people, thinking “I am covering up for YOU”). I also was often left to feel alone and sad; no one had ever spoke of the loneliness that comes with breastfeeding. No one ever tells you how breastfeeding, especially in the beginning, is a lonely and thankless job (a baby never says “thanks”). I just looked at it like a job, you and me kid we got 20mins to get this job done. I know it sounds harsh that I limited her to 20mins but really if I fed her any longer she would become this spewing disaster. And finally at 6.5months I decided I was done. I wanted my “freedom” back; I wanted to sleep through the night (granted that didn’t happen for another 6months). She was very interested in food and we did somewhat of child-led weaning, she discovered new foods at her pace all the while being supplemented with formula. Julianne is now 2 and she is bright and vibrant. I appreciate the challenges we went through and I am proud of my efforts.
Enter Late 2009 Early 2010: We are caught off guard by a surprise pregnancy 13months after Julianne. It took many, many weeks to get my head around the idea that we would be welcoming another baby into our family in August 2010. At 23wks we discovered we were having a boy, which was exciting after having 2 girls. At 34wks we learned that Kieran was breech (sigh), another plan for a homebirth dashed. We worked for 5wks solid with homeopathics, acupuncture, moxa, meditation, swims in the pool and finally a failed ECV. On August 24th 2010 we welcomed our son (lofty 7lbs 7oz) via scheduled surgery (I have run the gamut on birth experiences). Leading up to his birth I spoke with dozens of people and many warned me about the challenges of breastfeeding after surgery … NO WAY, NOT THIS TIME!! So less than 20mins in recovery I had a baby on the boob! It was the first time that it felt “natural”; I was so deliriously happy and relaxed. That night I just laid with him all night, just staring at him and any time he wanted to nurse I was right there. I never had to resort to formula, a bottle or tube. It was him and me. I called a good friend 4 days after baby, in tears, why did my son only eat for 5mins? Why did my son sleep for 2hrs after every feed? She chuckled and told me that I should be thankful and keep that piece of knowledge a secret.
Kieran only ever lost 2% of his body weight after birth, got through his meconium in 12hrs, by the 6th day of life he was 7lbs 9ozs. He continued to gain steadily. He is a boob monster all the way; he will opt for me rather than a soother or his thumb or fingers. He is currently 4 ½ months and is probably 17lbs. He is my greatest victory, after 8years I have finally done it! I have finally breastfed a baby successfully from the very 1st moment of life! I enjoy the quiet moments he and I have; I enjoy nursing in public (I no longer glare at people because I just don’t care what they think anymore), I enjoy knowing that all of his weight gain is based solely on the nourishment I have provided him.
I have fallen in love with breastfeeding!!!