Nursing Regrets

I should preface this post by saying that I consider the decision to breastfeed (or not) to be a completely personal one. The internal struggles expressed in this piece are my own and not what I expect others to experience as a matter of course. I know from personal experience, however, that this is a bit of a battleground. As with all decisions in motherhood, I believe that feeding is one that has to be made by the mother herself in light of what is realistic, doable and desired. In the small chance that revealing my thoughts on this issue might help someone, however, I have decided to post about this contentious issue. 

My history with breastfeeding has been coloured. At times I have embraced it – emanating a sense of muted pride when arms flop contentedly and eyes roll back in peaceful, happy bliss. This is what success is. 

Other times it has frustrated the hell out of me. I’ve downed fenugreek tea, baked ‘boobie bikkies’ in endless batches, felt the familiar dread at the first signs of blocked ducts and mastitis. I’ve expressed, switched positions, obtained prescriptions for medication to boost my supply – watching in anxious helplessness as my babies have writhed in frustration, still ravenous after an hour of feeding. Gingerly lowered my babies onto the hard white surface of judgement – watching with hands half covering my eyes as the numbers reveal my ‘score’. You can’t even get this right. 

I come from a line of women where love is expressed through food. Delicious textures, flavours, creations – a veritable bounty of ingredients lovingly arranged to feed our close ones. To go hungry is to be unloved, uncared for.

Supplementing with formula came as a relief. As though I couldn’t quite believe that something I had battled with for so long could be ‘fixed’ with just a few scoops from a tin and some boiled water. In some ways I overdid it – lovingly preparing bottles filled to the brim just so that I could see my babies stare at me contentedly again. Hudson quickly began to morph into the Michelin Man. At least he was happy. 

I always hope it will be different. That feeding will be how I imagined it – relaxing, straightforward, effective. A chance for bonding and closeness, not a hotbed of growing anxiety over increasingly negative results.

This time around it seemed to be so. Harvey fed enthusiastically and I laughed in disbelief as the numbers showed substantial growth. I even relished the night feeds, setting up a cosy space for myself complete with chocolate and a laptop to laze back and catch up on episodes. My little haven.

Then the familiar struggles began to reappear. His weight gain dropped off significantly and no amount of effort could right the balance. When Motilium failed to make a legitimate difference, I began supplementing again. Strangled breath released. 

My health took another turn for the worse. I caught one infection after another, finally fronting up at the doctors to beg for something to help me get better. Antibiotics had little effect and test results began to come back. It was discovered that I had a serious bug that would only respond to strong medication. I was sent for chest x-rays, CT scans and blood tests – being warned that the medication would require me to stop feeding. Grief spilled from my eyes.

I sought guidance from trusted experts, medical papers and online resources and adjusted the feeding schedule so that I would only have to miss one feed per day. It seemed to be working well. Then my latest CT scan revealed an extensive sinus issue – one that could only be treated with a heady cocktail of drugs. Drugs incompatible with breastfeeding. A decision made for me. 

The relief I felt at ceasing nursing the previous times has vanished and I only feel sorrow at the thought of a chapter closing forever. It took me a while (and a few rewrites of this very post) to realise the crux of what I’m feeling. I tried to shut myself off from the discomfort and be blase about it, thinking it to be an all or nothing decision. I can’t express every feed so I will express none. I inhabit a land of black and white. 

It also took the gentle questions of close friends to highlight to me what I actually wanted. I do want to keep nursing, even if I have to give up the day time feeds, at least I can express to keep the overnight ones. My body unclenches, discarding intangible binds. 

This is new ground for me, and I’m learning to be curious about the discomfort. To lean into it and ask what it has to teach me. Too many times in the past I have just topped up the wine glass instead. Numbing the questions, quietening the voices that speak in poignant tones. 

I cannot foresee the future, or how long this may last, but I’m relieved that I don’t have to live with the regret of stifling my desires. Perhaps that is when we are at our best – living with a calm and curious sensitivity as to what makes us tick.

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  1. Emma,
    oh congratulations! He is just precious! I have been absent for a while at FMF and came back today looking for my dear friends. So, I just came straight here and found your sincerest thoughts and your heart.
    Oh, I do help you will reach many women who wrestle with those feelings of inadequacy when breastfeeding simply isn’t simple!
    My eldest should have had supplementation at 4-5 months. She was hungrier, but couldn’t swallow solids yet. I had guilt on me her entire early years, but now she’s a solid 50th percentile (she lost 10 oz at birth and was in the 10th percentile for a while, then 25th).

    I am delighted at the sibling photos you have here as well. Congratulations, my friend!
    And, it’s genius to continue to express the anti-infection “infected” milk so you can continue producing. My third daughter I had a day surgery and anesthesia when she was only 3 months old. I had to “pump and dump” all of that milk (not to mention store up overproduction prior to the surgery). A month later I got a violent stomach illness that left me so dehydrated I thought nursing would not be an option.

    Know I am praying for you to be completely healed from all these illnesses that are plaguing you lately!
    Much care and love,
    (#62 this week)

    1. Oh Tammy, you had such a hard time of it! I had no idea 🙁 So difficult when breastfeeding doesn’t go to plan, or when other illnesses make it difficult to keep going. You did so well to keep it up throughout all those odds! Your encouragement and prayers mean so much, and it is so nice to reconnect with you. I had looked for your posts the last few times at Five Minute Friday and wondered if you were still posting… so good to have you back! xx

    1. Messy middle, indeed! So great to have that language to understand the depths and heights and realise that it doesn’t always have to be straightforward or perfect… xoxo

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