Got milk?

I’ve had one or both babies almost permanently attached to a breast (or breasts) for the last fifteen months.  I’ve spent more hours breastfeeding than sleeping in the last year.  It occupies my thoughts almost as much as my time.  I thought I’d write about my experience.  A little bit difficult and a little bit funny.

I’ve said before that I was fairly unprepared for the birth of the boys.  Exhibit A.  I was 38 weeks pregnant with twins and had an appointment with one of my doctors.  I didn’t think to take my hospital bag ‘just in case’.  Turns out I had high blood pressure and had to get to the hospital toot sweet.  The boys were born via c-section the next morning.  And all I could think was, thank goodness I had a cool outfit on when I was admitted (and let’s be honest, my tartan Doc Martens with studs are all that and more – even if I did have to get Shane to put them on because I could no longer see my feet).  As an interesting side note – my mum also had twin boys, born at 38 weeks due to high blood pressure.  Both of our second babies were breech – hence my planned caesar.  I had a cast of thousands in the theatre – an obstetrician for me (it happened to the be the one week of my pregnancy that my usual doctor was away, but the stand in guy was pretty awesome too), a doctor for each of the boys, the anaesthetist, two midwives and I don’t know how many nurses.  On the other hand, mum had a doctor and a midwife and delivered naturally.  She’s a far better woman than I.

I wouldn’t recommend having a baby the day before a public holiday that rolls into a weekend.  The hospital will seem very short staffed and busy and none of the usual support services are there.  At one point during my hospital stay, a midwife told me in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed.  She listed the reasons as these: I had twins, I’d had a caesar, I had PCOS, I had inverted nipples (too much info, I know!).  I was devastated.  I’d planned on breastfeeding because that’s just the done thing.  I’d studied evolution.  I came from a family of breastfeeders.  I’d dutifully gone to breastfeeding class when I was pregnant.  As she left, she drew the curtains, told me not to have any visitors and put a ‘do not disturb sign’ on the door and left me in the room with my babies.  Shit just got real.  And then mum came.  With my great big teacup and saucer and real tea from home.  Opened the curtains and took me outside and we hatched a battle plan.  She who had fed twins and another two children besides told me ‘if in doubt, feed’ and was and is my strongest supporter.

Finally, on the Monday the lactation consultant came and I could have kissed her feet.  She was amazing.  She spent hours with me and the boys.  Showing me how to get them latched, how to tell if they were drinking, how to tandem feed, how to swap sides and how to get Shane to give me a drink through a straw whilst I did it.  Mostly, she was so kind and encouraging and supportive that I felt so much better about the whole breastfeeding thing.  We went home the next day.

We were lucky enough to have had mum and dad (and Aunty Shirl and Uncle Paddy) come to our place and get it baby ready while we were still in hospital.  You know, those pesky little details like getting the change table ready, clothes out and food in the fridge.  And lucky enough to have them to answer one million questions a day.  I remember nights of holding nappies and wondering if that classified as a ‘really wet’ nappy or just a wet one.  Were they getting enough milk?  Which side was I up to for which baby?  Should I be letting them fall asleep on me?  What’s that bloody pump thing and should I be using it? How many tubes of Lansinoh should I be going through a week?  Why do the breastfeeding mothers in pictures look so serene?  This actually really hurts.

My early advice was to change sides for the boys every feed to make sure my supply was good.  I was sent home with a pump and told to pump after every feed.  But I never really got the hang of this or understood it.  The boys were feeding every two hours and the whole process would take almost an hour.  So I thought I was better to go to the toilet, have a shower, a cup of tea or a lie down rather than sit down with a pump and feel like a jersey cow before I started feeding again.  Eventually, I stopped rotating sides and they ended up with a side each and that seems to have worked pretty well.

I only had mastitis once, but if you do it properly, once is enough.  Far out – it was the sickest I’d ever been.  None of the remedy suggestions seemed to work – massaging whilst feeding, massaging in the shower – not even cabbage leaves.  The doctor said the only way to get rid of the lumps was to have Shane massage the breast while ‘the strongest feeder’ drank.  He said I couldn’t do it because I’d stop when it hurt so I needed someone else.  Oh Dr Ziggy – you were right, but gee whiz, it was bloody tough!

In the early days, I would sometimes spend hours sitting on the floor feeding, sitting in the chair feeding, standing up feeding.  Counting the hours and minutes until Shane would be home.  I wondered if my bleeding nipples would hurt the boys.  I wondered why I even bothered wearing a bra.  Or a top for that matter.  I wondered if I really couldn’t feed them.  And when it was 3:30 in the morning and I had a question and didn’t want to ring mum, I’d consult Pinky McKay on Facebook.  That woman is also a legend and reading her words has reassured me so, so so many times.

But feed them I did and feed them I still do.  I still often find myself sitting on the floor feeding.  Now it’s because they like to leap off the couch, grab all the important things that don’t really have a home that I keep on a shelf about the couch or tumble over the back.  Sometimes one cops a foot to the face or a finger to the eye, but most of the time they hold hands and laugh while they drink and it’s precious.

It hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been worth it.  I don’t know when I’ll stop.  Maybe sometime soon so that I can start wearing dresses again.  But I’m glad that I’ve been able to breastfeed my babies and share those moments in the middle of the night when it’s just us against the world; when we need each other the most.  And I’m pretty sure that I’ll miss it when I do stop.

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