Note: This was written in 2016, printed in an LLL members publication. Current day, Tessa is a Lactation Consultant with many more stories to share about the time in between.
At the starting line, walking into my motherhood journey I held some strong values. They were informed by work as a healthcare professional, by my upbringing and society as a whole.
My daily role involved supporting breastfeeding mothers. I thought breastfeeding was nice but not all that important. I felt that sometimes breastfeeding was pushed upon some families, formula was a favorable alternative. I very naively believed babies should feed, sleep and fit in with parents existing lives.
The most important misconception that I held privately, was that breastfeeding was purely a means of providing nutrition. Sure I knew about the added benefits of bonding, antibodies etc, but I didn’t give them all them all that much value. Before I met my son, I cared about what got the points on his growth chart moving, and even less about how it happened.
You will already know, as a nature of where you are reading this, that breastfeeding must have shattered all of these values. When my son came along, my milk nurtured and help him grow but what I didn’t expect was for the mere process of breastfeeding to help me grow, heal and transform into the person I am today.
Our journey was hard and with my strongly held misconceptions I probably had a longer way to fall down the rabbit hole than most. I’d like to share with you our story of overconfidence, one very rare tongue tie complication and how I’ve re learnt everything I though I already knew.
Our story begins, as all of ours invariably do, with a pregnancy & birth. I had fought hard to have the birth of my choice, and when my son arrived into the world bottom first we were high on life. The medical professional in me reveled at how wonderful the first feed felt, how easy it all was and I had no qualms about giving him a bottle when his blood sugar dropped dangerously low.
Roll on the next feed and things began to change, the latch looked perfect to me and the few staff who chanced a glance our latch, but already something was very wrong as I was in toe curling pain. One midwife chuckled when I said it hurt more birth, for me this was true but this was the beginning of my divergence from the things I thought I knew, into the realms of the unknown.
Within a few hours I was resenting the formula bottles that were medically recommended but I was dreading the breastfeed before it as I was already suffering from bleeding nipples. I had seen this behaviour before in mums, and I was beginning to understand their pain both literally in the moment and figuratively as the HPA like me, with no first hand experience at breastfeeding just didn’t get it.
Do not fear reader, I was prepaid in part for issues breastfeeding and I had my handy nipple Shields ready to go. I was astonished over the derision with which this decision was met and one year on, disappointed no one looked for a tongue tie at this point. The shields didn’t fix the pain completely but I was breastfeeding and already this was becoming very important to me.
When we left the hospital for home, I vowed to defy my colleagues and my own training and not give anymore formula. Ringing in my heart was a feeling that bottle feeding wasn’t right for us and the same stubborn streak that lead me to my less common birth choice, set in. From that moment on, my commitment to succeeding in breastfeeding was absolute.
The first few weeks were filled with hourly feeds, much to my annoyance. I had previously been a strong believer in routine and I was still experiencing a lot of pain. But the latch was great, my son gained weight and on the paper it all looked great.
I was already learning that the things I had said to breastfeeding mothers over the years were not always helpful! Advice like, oh it shouldn’t hurt, although not necessarily inaccurate, wasn’t actually helpful to women like me. I voed next to never utter it again.
My tiny son and I spent the next few weeks bouncing around the varying breastfeeding clinics in our area, I was accumulating much advice which reaffirmed my own training but something still wasn’t right. I watched the plotted dots on his weight chart go up but along with the pain, something still didn’t feel right.
One day, between one of our many visits, my grandmother reminded me about our relative, who only a few months ago had had a tongue tie ‘snipped’. It was like a light bulb had been turned on in my head. Training I had received a year before reminded me of the symptoms & they fit! Amongst all of the professionals we had seen, not one had really listened or looked. I was embarrassed as I too had missed the very obvious signs!
The next part of our story is much like many others, a delay in diagnosis, a long wait for the procedure and eventually we decided to abandon the health service I worked for and paid to see a Lactation consultant who was able to do the division herself.
This was the best money of all that I spent on my new baby. The support I received was fantastic but unfortunately for us, we had to see her a lot over the next few months
Anyone who has witnessed the procedure done will know it’s hard to watch. For me at this point in my mothering journey it was clinical. It needed to be done. The next few weeks where better, my son started jumping the centiles on his growth chart and I was exultant at the start of less stressful nursing. It didn’t last but this is the point in my story where I found my first breastfeeding gru and my way into LLL.
I met this lady in a children’s centre and I bombarded her with so many questions that she gave me her number, the womanly art of breastfeeding and invited me to what would be turn out to be my soul food, LLL. She also gave me a nudge to go back to the lactation consultant and I was devastated to be told I had mastitis, and that he needed his tongue tie divided again.
My son was one of a very few unlucky babies, whose tongue tie grew back. Not just the once either as he still has one. This one is very stretchy and is of the grade they say doesn’t necessarily need dividing.
The second time around I struggled to even stay in the room with my son during the procedure. Breastfeeding had wound us together so inexorably, that his discomfort was also mine. I couldn’t bare his distress but I knew his full potential wasn’t being met with his tongue so restricted and my recurrent Mastitis was due to the unlucky combo of oversupply and his tongue tie.
With the mother to mother support I was receiving in LLL meetings, I was beginning to feel the way into my new mind and body. I deleted that app that let me see charts with feeding statistics and crucially I began to let go of any illusions I had of control over my baby’s needs.
Around this time too, my sons latch changed and I began to experience pain free breastfeeding. This was the best feeling in the world and I finally got it. I got what this breastfeeding was about. Why my colleagues who pushed parents so hard, even bothered. They would have seen in them the potential to be here, where I am, and what a wonderful place it is to be.
Through the magical process of reflecting within the chapter meetings, I realised that I learnt first hand that each person who offers support offers one piece of the puzzle. Its then down to us, as mothers to follow our instincts and find the pieces that fit into our family.
I said this before as a healthcare professional, but my understanding of this now is so much deeper. It underpins our entire journey, not just in breastfeeding.
I am no means at the end of my breastfeeding journey and my toddler does still very much love his ‘do do’ with mummy, but I am at a close with the baby chapter in our lives. Gone are the values I held at the beginning of our journey.
Now as I move into the next chapter of my professional life, I take my quiet objections to some of the misconceptions my colleagues hold. I hope to help more mothers discover the magic and in the process spread a little more LLLove.