Mothering Is A Never-Ending Process of Learning About Yourself
I have always been interested in mothering. I knew from very little that of all the things I could possibly be when I grow up, I would at least have to be a mother. I had a passion for caring for others and loved babies. Any new cousin I would see, I would immediately await to hold them because even at that precious age of 8, I knew that babies were not only cute. They were in need of care, love, and attention.
Perhaps that is why the profession of Nursing interested me. I entered the Nursing profession not knowing anything about breastfeeding and by the time I was in the middle of it, I had done my clinical placement in maternity and began to see exactly what Mothering was like. I saw people at their most vulnerable during and immediately after birth. I saw people after they have just adjusted to bringing their baby home. I saw people that were enjoying motherhood and I saw others that struggled. What I saw was women being as strong as they can be in order to provide the best that they could for their children. Strong women, happy women, sad women, brave women. Qualities in all that I could admire.
A little later after I had finished that clinical, I found out I was pregnant and I was elated. Little did I know at the time, that my mothering journey was just beginning and I was going to be on a lovely never-ending journey full of moments. Happy moments, sad moments, moments of joy and moments of frustration. Mothering is supposed to bring so much joy but experience has taught me that the tough moments matter more. The moments of frustration, those are the moments that change you the most. Those are the moments where you feel lost and full of despair, and those are the moments where opportunity presents itself in disguise. It is a moment not only to learn but to persevere. Because that is what mothering is. Mothering is never giving up and to take every moment as a learning experience, not failure. To arise from your previous experiences and to better yourself. Negative experiences encourage you to learn and grow. Positive experiences encourage you to keep doing what you are doing and reminds you of the rewards of never giving up.
Breastfeeding Is Natural But It Doesn’t Come Naturally For All Mothers
This is one of the things that I wished I knew before the day I gave birth to my first baby. Before the day of birth, I wish I knew that breastfeeding would take effort on my part and the baby’s part. There is supposed to be this formula, this textbook way of knowing how to breastfeed and as long as I followed all the instructions, knew which way was best to position baby, looked out for signs of hunger, and knew how to recognize signs of fullness; I could do it. Anyone could do it. It’s easy, how hard can it be?
After a stressful labor under epidural, episiotomy, tears, and forceps delivery, where I became unconscious during labor and after baby was born and baby was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; breastfeeding difficulties were just the icing on top of a birth plan that did not go to plan. What many women have been doing for thousands of years, I found difficult to do on my own. However, how can this be? I am educated. I learned about breastfeeding in Nursing school. I observed breastfeeding. I have informational sheets on breastfeeding. So, it should be straightforward, but it wasn’t. I thought something was wrong with me when I tried to breastfeed my baby for the first time. You see, I thought colostrum, mother’s early milk, just came on its own without any encouragement. I thought that I should have been able to put baby to breast and I would have this awesome supply to feed him without effort.
Those first two days were devastating for me. I gave birth on a Saturday and the whole weekend I was in hospital, there were only the Nurses there to help teach me how to breastfeed. I had to wait almost a week before I could get in to see a lactation consultant. When I went home, I had the health beginning nurse come in to help me to breastfeed and even that was difficult for me and my baby. What I learned from the visiting Nurse was that my baby had jaundice and this made him too sleepy to eat and that I had to wake him up frequently. And for the short bursts that he was awake, he would feed so ineffectively that we had to introduce a syringe filled with pumped breastmilk to reward him with each suck of his breastfeeding work. After two months of a combination of feeding, pumping, and topping up with bottled breastmilk, we finally had learned how to breastfeed.
This is not the end of my breastfeeding story though. You see, the experience of my birth, breastfeeding, and adapting to parenting experience; was traumatic for me. So much so that there is almost a 4-year difference between my first and second children. When I became pregnant with my second child, I had what I now recognize to be post-traumatic stress. I was so scared that I again, would be sensitive to the medications given during labor and would become unconscious. Well, of all my labors, my second labor was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It was all natural, non-medicated, and no interventions needed.
The Unexpected Textbook Birth
This birth is a dream to a lot of mothers, the way it unfolded. However, this too did not go according to my birth plan. The whole process was 4 hours, from beginnings of labour, going to the hospital, getting assessed, labour progressing fast, no time for medications, and birth of baby. Although, this birth did not go according to plan, I am thankful for it. I felt instantly better after the birth, was not mentally foggy, and baby was able to breastfeed right away. It felt strange to breastfeed baby without having any difficulties. She latched properly, showed textbook signs of hunger and fullness. Even though this birth and breastfeeding experience was a far cry from the first, the biggest problem was having confidence in myself and my ability to breastfeed.
I did have a pump to help jumpstart the process of lactation as now, I know my body, and for me this worked. I was breastfeeding like a pro and yet I did not feel confident in me or my baby’s ability to breastfeed, so much so, that I rented a breast pump for two months. I only used it for two weeks but insisted on having it around for “just in-case”. When the third month was coming up, my husband insisted that I did not need it as he hardly ever saw me on it. It took his outside observation for me to recognize that “I got this”. For me to recognize that I knew what I was doing and that I knew my baby best. Suddenly, the phrases “breastfeeding is natural”, “breastfeeding is easier”, “breastfeeding is more convenient”, “breastfeeding is wonderful”; started to make sense. I understood it. I understood it because I was confident in my ability to breastfeed my baby and my baby’s ability to breastfeed. I was confident in being attentive to her every cry and knew how to attend to her accordingly (this more because of my experience of already having had a baby). Most of all, I understood my body and had accepted the processes that brought me to this point.
The Push and Push-Back
My third birth was different from the second. I wanted an all-natural birth just like my second birth. I knew that if I did, my recovery time would be quicker and birth would be shorter. Well, this did not go according to plan. The fetal heart rate was high indicating that baby was in some distress. As such, I was not allowed to cope with the labour pains by rocking. I tried to stay in bed without rocking but without any movement allowed, I soon caved into getting an epidural. I remember feeling upset and mad. I wanted to yell at my Nurse (I didn’t). If only I was allowed to move, then I would not have had a medicated delivery and even though I knew this, I still felt like a failure. I wanted a particular birthing experience and so far, none of my births had gone to plan. I was hoping that at least one of my births would go to plan.
When it came to the pushing stage of the delivery the health professionals in the room kept telling me to push and that I was not pushing hard enough. Hearing that during labour made me mad but I ignored them and told them I was doing my best. Then as the baby was crowned and I was in mid-push, all the Nurses and delivering doctor shouted at me to stop pushing, in unison. My baby’s umbilical cord was around his neck. I am not sure how difficult it was for them to rectify this but it took close to a minute to untangle him and in the meanwhile, a very difficult and long effort on my part to suppress the strong and involuntary waves of pushing. After he was birthed, I heard a Nurse say “so that’s why”. I took that to mean, “that’s why she was pushing and it seemed like she wasn’t”, “that’s why baby’s heartrate was elevated”, “that’s why baby was in distress”. In that moment after hearing her say that, I was thankful that I had not been allowed to get out of bed and move around. If I had, baby could have descended down the birth canal and I shudder to think what could have happened. So far though, of the three births I have had, 3/3 were vaginal deliveries. 2/3 required forceps and 2/2 that required forceps, I escaped having emergency caesarean sections (largely because I had experienced doctors that were taught and had many years’ experience of forceps delivery. The art of this delivery seemingly is becoming less favoured for the “no risk” caesarean delivery otherwise known as major abdominal surgery).
Even though this labour was medicated, it was far less medicated compared to my first birth experience. How this translated to my breastfeeding experience, was that I already knew how to breastfeed so getting my body up to the point where I would be able to, was less of a hurdle compared to my previous births. As a result of my previous breastfeeding experiences, I ended up breastfeeding my third baby the longest. He breastfed for 15 months.
My First and Last Caesarean Delivery
Fast-forward to my fourth and last birth experience, this was a more complicated one. It was complicated because my baby has Down Syndrome. There were many things to assess for to ensure that he remained healthy in-utero. I too, wanted this birth to be a healthy vaginal delivery. Unfortunately, that did not happen and it was not anyone’s fault.
You see, I was getting ultrasounds every 2nd week. When I went in to have my ultrasound at 34 weeks, my ultrasound extended beyond the usual 30-minute appointment. It was over an hour long which gave me an inkling that something was wrong. What was explained to me in the exact words was that the line in the umbilical cord, the umbilical vein, was moving blood from the baby to me, properly. However, the umbilical arteries carrying blood from the baby back to the placenta was failing and baby was getting weaker. I was also told that I could not have a vaginal delivery because baby was slowly getting weaker and that he would not be able to survive the additional stress of a vaginal delivery. He needed to get out as soon as possible. I would need to have a caesarean section.
I was devastated. I really did not want to have a caesarean section and being a Nurse and understanding what exactly happens during one, I did not want that to happen to me. I even cried a bit in the operation room. The Nurses were so supportive and understanding. I got through it with the Nurses’ help and became calm enough to become awed with watching my surgery through the reflection of the surgical mirrors.
After baby was born, I saw him for a few seconds, did not even get to touch him, before he was whisked away. I had lost a lot of blood and my husband was not allowed to come and see me. Instead, my husband was instructed to stay with baby as the hospital staff prepared for baby’s transport to a specialized children’s hospital. After my blood loss was controlled for (I was so close to having my uterus removed because they could not stop my bleeding for a good 45 minutes after baby was born), I was sent to the maternity floor where I stayed there for four days. Four whole days without being able to see, touch, feel, hear, or smell my baby. I was kind of prepared for the feelings of loss that accompany such a separation because I had endured a 4-hour separation with my first baby. In those two days, I was sad and prayed long and hard that my baby would be okay. I got regular updates from my husband. I took the time there to rest and to breast pump so my milk supply would not dry up.
Breastfeeding Is Natural But Doesn’t Come Naturally To All Babies
After I was discharged, my loving and supportive husband wheeled me from the hospital parking lot to the hospital room so that I could see, care, and pump milk for my baby. My previous breastfeeding experiences had prepared me for all the obstacles I faced in being able to breastfeed my baby. At 34 weeks, he was 4lbs and 9 oz. He slept all the time and had extremely short wakeful periods. He had to endure surgery on his 3rd day of birth so, he never got put to breast or bottle until 17 days after his birth. In the meantime, he sucked on a pacifier and was only able to keep it in his mouth for one suck at a time. When he was finally given the okay to breastfeed, he could only breastfeed for 1-2 sucks before falling asleep again. His low muscle tone made his sucks so weak that he was not able to pull any milk out. He needed to be fed by a nasogastric tube. By the time he was 8 weeks old and able to come home, he was still primarily fed by the nasogastric tube; his suck still weak; and still sleeping through all his feeds.
My previous mothering experience made me be able to identify what his needs and strengths were. It took a process of 3 months before he was able to breastfeed exclusively. It was a long process of transitioning him from nasogastric tube to bottle and then from bottle to breast. This process involved a lot of skill on my part both from mothering and Nursing experiences. It was SO HARD. One feeding cycle would take 2 hours and 25 minutes long where I would breast, bottle, nasogastric feed, and breast pump milk; in that order. Multiply that by 7 feeds a day, that is 17 hours of preparing to feed; feeding; pumping; and preparing for the next cycle. I know this, because I recorded data and created Excel spreadsheets to track my baby’s progress. Being able to do that, I was able to objectively see how closer he was getting to being exclusively breastfed.
Exclusively Breastfeeding Sounds Difficult But In Reality, Makes Life Easier
Why did I go through such an ordeal when other woman may have decided to just nasogastric feed or to bottle feed instead? Well, I did it largely because I knew that once I got to the point where I was exclusively breastfeeding him, it would be smooth sailing from there. There would be an end-point where breastfeeding would be convenient and allow me to be flexible in whatever I chose to do. I could leave the house with all four children without any preparation needed.
I literally, leave the house with a diaper and wipes in my hand at a moment’s notice without prep needed, and go anywhere I want, when I want, for how long I want; and not worry when I have to be back in order to feed the baby or get any more supplies. Yes, baby is dependent on you but as long as you and baby have a great relationship and are together all the time, there is no reason why you cannot be together all the time in many different places. This is the type of breastfeeding lifestyle I really like. With every increase in the amount of children I had, this flexibility became more important and more depended upon. The time I could have been prepping a bottle or pumping, I was out and about instead with my other three children in-tow.
What My Mothering Experiences Taught Me: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and The Philosophies of La Leche League
My births, breastfeeding, and mothering experiences have taught me that mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of my baby. For breastfeeding and the breastfeeding relationship to be more successful, mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply. To increase the chances that breastfeeding will be successful early on, alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start. Especially when faced with physical hardships such as surgery or economical such as unexpected financial stress; human milk can ease hardships. It is the natural food for babies and it uniquely meets their changing needs.
Further, for my healthy, full-term babies and for my premature baby, breast milk was and is the only food necessary until baby shows signs of needing solids, about the middle of the first year after birth. Ideally, the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need. During which time, good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
I also learned that breastfeeding strengthens the relationship between mother and child and can alleviate a lot of the feeding stress that the father experiences. This can in turn make the mother-father relationship stronger as a united force in being able to attend to the baby’s needs. In this process, breastfeeding is enhanced and sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby’s father. This all aides the father’s unique relationship with his baby as an important element in the child’s development from early infancy. Further, from infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings. The beginnings of all this is achieved in the early years where the baby has an intense need to be with their mother which is as basic as their need for food. Support this, and you will support much more than you know.
Upon reflection of all my experiences, I have one regret. My regret is that I did not seek the help of La Leche League sooner. It took all these experiences to happen to me before I finally decided that I needed a non-judgmental community of support around me and I in turn can help support others. With everything I have been through, I wish that every mother can experience not only the womanly art of breastfeeding but, the accompanying transformational positive experiences as well.
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