I’m writing this to the sound of my breast pump whirring away. Yes, I’ve begun the very unglamourous task that is expressing. I hadn’t wanted to start expressing until at least 7 or 8 weeks but, I’ve started. I’ve managed to build up a nice supply in the deep-freeze too. There’s something strangely satisfying in seeing your breast milk stored neatly and ready for your baby’s consumption, should you not be available to breastfeed directly.
But that’s not the only reason I’ve started expressing. For quite some time now, Mika’s not been settling well between feeds. By “not settling well”, I mean being wide awake and generally pretty unhappy as a whole. Crying and only really calming down when he’s held. Now, I know every baby is different, but Luca was never like that. He would wake, eat (breast-fed), occasionally poop and then go right back to sleep. And his awake times were calm and easy. I don’t really remember ever feeling stressed out by him crying. Not the case this time around.
Anyway, Dave came home on Thursday evening, to a particularly frazzled wife. It had rained most of the day, which meant that I had been “trapped” indoors with a whining toddler and a screaming 5 week old. NOT fun. I was reaching the end of my proverbial tether. I had snapped at Luca more than once and also felt incredibly guilty about having to say, “Not now monkey-moo, I’m busy with Mika” every time he asked me to play with him in his room. I felt as if I was drunk with exhaustion. You know that feeling when you “miss” a couple of hours in an evening because you’re so hammered? I felt exactly the same way, but because I was so freaking tired. So all the pain of the “hangover” without the fun of getting drunk. I was irritable, tired, dirty (you know those days when it’s impossible to even bath because your newborn just needs you THAT much? Yes, that!) and very despondent. Dave walked in and said, “Would you like me to go get some formula?” The dreaded F word. I immediately got a lump in my throat and my knee-jerk response was, “NO!” The guilt set in immediately. Just THINKING about giving him formula already felt wrong. But, as he continued to wail in my ear, I thought about it. He weighed more than Luca at birth. He never stays awake longer than a couple of minutes on the boob, or fusses uncontrollably and then starts I cry. He wants to eat EVERY TWO HOURS, day and night. My poor boobs. Every TWO hours. So, I took a deep breath and allowed Dave to buy the formula. He came home with it and I cried as I made the bottle. I cried as I sat down to give it to him. And he wouldn’t take it. Shit. What if he won’t take bottles?!?! Will I be chained to him every two hours FOREVER?! (Dramatic impulses kicking in here, obviously). I thought about my stash of breastmilk in the freezer and took a container out, preparing a second bottle for him. We did the old suck-on-the-dummy-then-quickly-whip-it-out-and-replace-it-with-the-bottle trick. It worked. He downed that 120ml of breastmilk faster than you could say GUILT. His arms instantly relaxed to his sides, his body unclenched and he assumed the adorable milk-drunk look that he hadn’t had for ages. And I then realized, he’s using me (my boobs) as a soothing device. He’s using me to relax and go to sleep, but not to eat. I pretty much cried myself to sleep that night, wracked by the guilt of giving him formula already. A bottle already. That night I breast-fed him twice and gave him one formula bottle. He had a great night. As soon as I got home from taking Luca to school, I breast-fed him again. But I still felt like a failure. Cue a voice of reason…on the way to Tanya’s blogging workshop at Manna Cafe, I called Roz. I cried. I told her how terrible I felt and how much of a failure I believed myself to be. My special and darling friend spoke the kindest, non-judgmental and caring words. She pointed out how tired I sounded, from the obvious lack of sleep I was experiencing due to the two-hourly feeds, lasting for anything up to an hour at a time. Roz helped me, in that conversation, to see that I wasn’t a failure, that I was trying too hard to be the “perfect” mother and, in the process, destroying my own sanity and general well-being. I needed someone to commiserate with and to look for reassurance with, and she was that person.
I still felt pretty down for most of the day. Mika was SO chilled, so relaxed. Was my own milk THAT useless? Once home again later that morning, I breast-fed Mika again and this time he drank with gusto, remaining awake until he was satisfied. To say I felt proud is an understatement. I could do this! I could do a combination of actual breastfeeding, expressed and bottled breastmilk and formula as a form of “top-up” to keep Mika’s hungry little belly nice and full.
Just as an added bonus, Mika gave me his first proper smile shortly after a bottle feed that morning. The first time in almost 6 weeks that he looked satisfied after a feed. I knew then, that I had made the right decision. For both Mika and I. Saturday has come and gone and I have spent the whole day, marveling at how relaxed and settled my baby is. Tonight I am going to sleep with a smile on my face and contentment in my heart. It’s what’s best for us both.