I was fast asleep. Something mushy and soft was pressing against my face. I tried to brush it away. Then realized that it was D’s stomach. Her head was on my chest, blissfully breastfeeding upside down. I then flipped her, snuggled close and went right back to sleep.
I was very confident when I was pregnant that breastfeeding would be easy breezy, one of the most natural things a mother and child could do. I found myself drifting off and being dreamy when the instructor in the Bradley childbirth class was explaining about pumps and feeding bottles. I have an aversion of any food in plastic and how could anyone feed their baby in bottles , when they have two perfect body parts designed just to do that! ( how little did I know)
Things turned upside down when I was told that my labor will be induced as D is not able to grow in my womb. Our concern for our baby took over and we agreed to everything my midwife recommended. D was born vaginally in a free standing natural birthing center. My wishes as stated in my birth plan were heeded too. So in a way D had an almost perfect birth. But she was immediately transferred to a neo natal ICU (NICU) because she could not hold on to her body temperature. And her first food was drops of formula and not the liquid gold that was waiting for her, made just for her.
I remember being very angry and feeling betrayed when I found about kangaroo care. Why wasn’t I told about our choices when D spent one week in the NICU? When I was struggling with pumping, confused when the doctor told us that the only way we could take D home was if she saw D “eating” well. This was a very vulnerable phase in our lives and it came as a shock to me that my daughter was getting formula, that too from plastic feeding bottles. But I so badly wanted to be at home with my baby that I convinced myself that her getting a few more bottles of formula is ok for the “larger good”.
One of the nurses in the NICU had even put a pacifier in D’s mouth although we had made it very clear that we did not want it. I was so angry!
A very close friend who had an older nursing daughter pumped and sent us the milk to feed D. I was grateful that D would be getting less formula and more breast milk. But due to strong opposition from my family I had to stop giving her that precious milk. I wish I had not, but I was quite exhausted, confused which led to this decision.
Once we were home, I was determined more than ever that D should breastfeed and was hoping to wean her off formula at the earliest. That was not to be without an uphill battle. I hated pumping, was quite depressed. I cried every time I gave a bottle to D. I pumped round the clock, 8 times a day, in addition to nursing D. But I was told by my lactation consultant (LC) that I wasn’t making enough milk.
Pumping memories are bitter sweet, K and I used to sit and watch movies in the night time pumping sessions while D slept. We listened to music, K used to bounce D on a big exercise ball to calm her as I went through some marathon pumping sessions. K also used to wash all the pump parts and sterilize all the bottles. His presence, during non office hours was such a blessing and lifted my spirits.
On my LC’s suggestion we visited a chiropractor who specialized with babies. She helped us realign D’s spine. During child birth, a baby’s spine can loose its alignment due to the stress he/she undergoes. The chiropractor also massaged D’s cheek muscles to loosen them up. We went for these sessions once a week, for two months. I was unable to gauge if this really helped our breastfeeding but did go along with the sessions.
I was in constant touch through phone, chat and email with a LLL (La Leche League) leader. Though she was a stranger, it was somehow more comforting to pour my heart out and express my anguish. She encouraged me to keep up the fight. She told me something that I never forgot- she said while it is very important to breastfeed, it is even more important to enjoy being with my baby. All those conversations gave the courage I so needed and made me feel better.
After 2.5 months of pumping, eating every possible herb and food to up my supply, doing everything possible, D was still having formula. I was not myself and saw it was effecting my relationship with my child and husband. I had enough of pumping, so I decided to stop. My LC told me to just breastfeed D once in the morning and once at night and continue giving her formula. I was quite resigned. Then a friend of mine suggested that I continue breastfeeding before offering formula. Which, thankfully I did.
Later as months passed by, I felt confident enough to reduce her formula slowly. Around 8 mos we had halved her formula consumption. I weaned her off formula at 11 mos. All this time we continued to breastfeed. I had also introduced her to ragi and some vegetables, fruits after 6 mos. Once we stopped the formula, it was like a burden had lifted off my shoulders.
I was very self conscious about nursing in public (NIP) even during the few times we all went out for walks in parks. I remember feeling stressed which did not help as D would sense my discomfort and cry out in protest. She wanted a happy mom.
I was very fortunate to meet an acquaintance who too had recently became a mother. We went on to become very good friends and spent a lot of time together- indoors and outdoors. Seeing her NIP and hearing her talk about her experiences was very helpful. In her own way without any pressure she showed me how easy it was.
We breastfed on treks, visits to the parks or at friend’s homes. After moving back home, to Bangalore, we nursed on moving motor bikes, on bus and train rides. Anywhere and everywhere (except the loos, of course)! It was an instant remedy for tangled overwhelmed nerves or a tired body. Breastfeeding gave me downtime too, as more often than not I would be asleep along with D.
As time passed, I had seen, heard, learned and read about child led weaning. There was enough evidence and I was convinced that this was the way forward for us. Despite repeated well meaning advice that she will not eat or gain weight if she has breast milk, that she will become very dependent on me, that extended breastfeeding is not good. Despite questions on how long I will breastfeed, if I still had milk, and how could I nurse my child in front of strangers. Despite being ushered into bedrooms in relatives homes when I started nursing her in the living room full of people. Despite stares interspersed with a few smiles, we continued.
Its been three years and four months now. Breastfeeding has helped us stay close, has helped D through some rough emotional and physical patches. Has helped her drift off to sleep- day in and day out. Has helped her recover from the trauma of her first blood test, from infections and have a source of nutritious food while nothing else was palatable. Breastfeeding has taught me to be kind, patient and compassionate. It has helped me forge ever lasting friendships and experience the kindness of strangers. Above all it has helped us grow as a family, in more ways than even fathomable. And for all of this, I am forever grateful.