I started writing this post when Baby A was 2.5 weeks old, and saved it as a draft in case I forgot anything and I could amend it later when I felt more awake. Well, Baby A was 2 months old this week, and needless to say I never came back to this post, although we have (just!) emerged from the newborn fog and feel a bit more alive…
I have written 100 more posts in my head in the meantime, documenting those tiny moments here and there, and addressing some of the major parenting issues – feeding, sleeping, sickness, immunisations, etc… I hope to catch up on a few of those today, now that Christmas is over and I have some brain space…
Baby A was born! And born hungry! From about 2 minutes after she was born, and the midwife put her finger in her mouth to check her palate, Baby A sucked her finger so hard it gave the poor woman a fright. Baby A spent most of the rest of the day sleeping and rooting around when she woke, while Lou recovered from the anaesthetic and the 20 hour semi-traumatic birth. Breastfeeding-wise, Baby A latched on OK initially, but would give up really quickly so we were all unsure whether she was getting any of the colostrum. Auntie Jo was her first visitor, showing up in her police uniform. Happy tears and laughing all around. Lou managed to take a shower about 7pm, and we were moved to the quieter post-natal area. I went home that evening to see to B-dog, and Lou had hectic night with about 4 hours of midwife support to breastfeed, though she didn’t make much progress. The blood sugar heel prick test was OK though, so nobody was too concerned, except Baby A, who was getting quite stressy. Baby A did her first meconium poo, and I panicked and asked the student midwife for help. After this she did a few more and we handled our business after that!
Still in hospital to monitor Lou’s iron levels & blood pressure because she lost 1 litre of blood, and to help Baby A with feeding. Lou’s iron levels were about 9.7, low but not needing a transfusion. They gave iron tablets but withdrew Diclofenac today, the slow acting painkiller which meant Lou – who never complains & hates medication – was in significant pain getting in and out of bed and felt trapped & unable to care for baby. I was there all day and, like the day before, they allowed me to stay from 1-3pm when no visitors are allowed, to support Lou & Baby A. Baby A had her second visitor, Auntie Tin, who also showed up in full police garb. The staff must have thought we were serious trouble by now. There were a few more meconium poos, and wet nappies which told us that all the inner mechanisms were working fine. The student midwife sat with us for about 2 hours helping with breastfeeding again, and finally in the evening the nursery nurse came and cup fed her. Baby A had her hearing test and check up from the baby doctor, and passed everything with flying colours. Towards the late evening, Baby A had a complete meltdown while attempting breastfeeding, screaming and coughing and struggling to catch her breath. We pressed the red button, and a midwife came eventually and told us that baby was fine because babies cry! (no shit!) but quickly ran away when she found out we were a same sex couple. The nice midwife came back, and decided to order an X-ray to check that everything was OK with her trachea and esophagus. Lou was very scared for those couple hours that Baby A was away and asked me to go to the NICU to check on her, which I did and found she was just chilling totally fine. The NICU nurse came in an hour later and asked if it was OK to bottle feed her formula just to check her suck/swallow. We said OK, as you do when you trust medical professionals. An hour later Baby A was wheeled back in, swaddled and tucked under the blankets, fast asleep. Who is this baby, we wondered!? And the nurse told us she took an entire 50ml bottle in 7 minutes, and she will likely sleep for 5 hours. She left us a couple spare bottles, to use as top-ups while we figured out the breastfeeding. Brilliant we said! And I went home feeling very confident that Lou would have a good night sleep. When I got home, I put the parking ticket I got on the kitchen table and went out to scratch off 1 of the 2 evil parking stickers off the car window with a razor blade.
As we had hoped, Baby A slept for several hours and Lou got some much needed sleep. The nice night midwife also reinstated her Diclofenac prescription for another 7 days so she had some good pain relief. Lou kept trying with the breastfeeding all day, for about 30-45 minutes on the breast (which equalled about 5 mins actual feed) then topping up with the formula. With our concerns about feeding slightly lessened, we were discharged from hospital about 1pm. Lou sat in the back as I drove, and Baby A slept soundly in the car seat. I was honked at 3 times by passing cars for going slowly, so Lou was very proud of me. We arrived home and started to settle in and unpack. About an hour later our neighbour Sue knocked on the door, and we invited her in for a cup of tea. This was visitor 3. We were both shattered but she was so excited to hold Baby A, who slept in her arms, that this unexpected visit was actually quite nice. We persevered with the breastfeeding, while topping up after every feed with formula.
Sometime around 4-5pm on Day 3, we faced the realisation that breastfeeding was just not working. We would coax Baby A to take the breast for 15, 30, 45 minutes, and she would suck two or three times and come off crying. We would persist until we couldn’t calm her down between attempts and her cries became panicked and desperate, coughing or losing her breath. Then we would give her a bottle, and she would guzzle the 60ml of formula. Lou’s milk hadn’t yet come in, and while Baby A would bottle feed, Lou would hand express 1-2ml of colostrum into a syringe to give later. It was becoming so apparent that this child was not getting what she needed from Lou, and rather than giving formula “top-ups” we were essentially exclusively formula feeding. We discussed it briefly, and decided that in order to have half a shot at breastfeeding, we needed help. So we called Karon, our NCT instructor. It was the weekend, but I think she could tell my desperation and kindly offered to come over the next day. We struggled through the rest of the night, I tried cup feeding – expecting that she would tell us that bottle was not helping the latch – but this was a sort of torturous exercise in patience and persistence when your nerves are frayed and you haven’t slept for days. Just imagine – 2am / 4am/ 6am, sitting next to your distraught, sobbing wife who feels like a failure having yet ANOTHER unsuccessful feeding session. But you can’t console or cuddle her because you are trying to balance an agitated baby on your lap, trying to hold a small cup with 10ml formula, tilted at just the right angle for her to lap at with her tongue, while her baby bird mouth searches and searches for nourishment. One ml at a time, we would work our way through up to 10 of these cups, with half of it ending up on her bib, or in the crease of her neck, until she finally had enough or gave up and fell asleep. This was love for our child and pain in every other sense possible, a true low point.
Finally – Lou’s milk came in this morning and she entered the living room with only her bra on and shouted “LOOK! Instant boob job!” Karon arrived at about midday and I hugged her hard and almost started crying. She is also a breastfeeding counsellor for La Leche International. She picked up Baby A and gave her a cuddle, calmed her down, and even that was a huge relief. A woman was here to help, and she had half a clue what she was doing. She sat with Lou for an hour, trying positions, and angles, and latching… re-latching… rocking and cuddling her calm before trying again. Finally, she asked if we knew what a nipple shield was. Neither of us had, but I set out on a hectic drive at 3pm on a Sunday to any shop that was open: 2 grocery stores – NO, pharmacy – all closed, and finally Toys R Us where I found a nipple shield. I brought it home feeling very triumphant, but Karon needed to leave right away so quickly showed us how to use it, while I barraged her with all the questions I hadn’t yet been able to ask. She left and we tried the nipple shield. Lou fit the shield on, expressed a few drops into the teat (so A would know something was coming), put A into a rugby hold, and put her nose to the shield to latch. A couple tiny sucks, a pause, and then a swallow. Another pause, but stayed put. A few more sucks, then swallow, and so she continued for what felt like forever. Our child was breastfeeding! She was really doing it! With help, OK, and Lou was having a very painful let down with all this new milk, but I knelt beside her on the floor and stared up at both of them on the sofa like a little miracle was happening before my eyes. However, Karon had warned us that her tiny stomach had become quite stretched with the formula, more than a breastfed baby would have, and more than Lou could produce right now. And A is a baby who knows when she is full, and will scream for even one last mouthful if you try to stop her feeding early. So we continued with the cup feeding, with the aim of giving less and less formula each feed and meanwhile she would take more and more from the breast. This would be a hard slog, but we decided to bite the bullet and try. This was one of the very first things I learned about parenthood – everything is TRIAL AND ERROR. You have to try, and it probably won’t work, but when it does… WOW. Empowerment. Confidence. Relief. Joy. Love.
The community midwife came just as we finished the feed. She was a lovely lady. Baby A weighed 8 lbs 1 oz, only losing 3% of her birth weight (largely thanks to the mega formula bottles we had been using). At the end of her visit, Auntie Tin, Nanny Chris, and and Olivia come to visit for a couple hours. They brought cupcakes, which is mainly what I remember. (SN – several weeks later, Tin told me she was a little worried about me after this visit as I was up and down like a whore’s drawers, couldn’t sit still for a minute, rocking without holding a baby, generally hectic. This was a sign of the 2 week anxiety problem that I realised afterwards was what kept me running but also mentally exhausted and feeling quite negative and panicky. A post dedicated to this odd event coming soon…)
Sleep remains elusive, with Baby A taking naps no longer than 3 hours (except one which I stupidly woke her up from, panicking her blood sugar would drop too low, after reading some tripe on the internet. Note to new parents – in the first week, just let your baby sleep if they are sleeping!!!!) Since coming home from hospital, she doesn’t like to be put down, especially not on her back. So we try tummy, propped on her side, beside one of us in bed (not popular after Lou tried to tuck her under her bump in her sleep, thinking she was a pillow). But the clear winner is ON us. Either being cradled or sleeping on our chest in bed. So this is how we managed the next few nights, while trying to persevere with the crib during the day. Sleeping tummy to tummy with an infant is a very special feeling, and we could catch an hour or two here and there before trading off.
Karon came back to check our progress, and was amazed with how quickly A took to the nipple shield. She tried her without it, but she wasn’t having it. So we continued. Breastfeeding with nipple shield, followed by cup feeding. Less and less, until we had our first exclusive breast milk feed that evening! Another giant mile stone. Lou was still having a painful let down. Our friend Jo visited, walked B-dog, brought chocolate, wine (which I couldn’t even fathom drinking at this point) & other supplies ! 3 giant bags of cotton balls, maternity towels, nipple pads, nipple cream, etc. Now that is a good friend who will bring you stuff like that.
More progress with the breast feeding (our days were at this point revolving in every way around feeding). Aside from a 15ml cup feed in the morning, this was our first day of exclusive breast feeding. Baby A now feeding every 2-3 hours, more frequently in the evening (cluster feeds) and about every 3 hours in the night. My good friend Ruth visited, held Baby A for one of her naps, cooked us 4 meals & filled our fridge with leftovers! An absolute godsend in our ever deepening fog of sleep deprivation…
Baby A still resisting the crib, and also the swing. Screams emit almost instantly. Sigh, and pick her back up again…
Karon came back to check, and was happy with breast feeding now exclusively. Baby A did get her first good latch after starting on the shield and taking it away, but Lou is lacking in confidence and prefers to keep using the shield after Karon leaves. Baby A also had her first poo since Day 4, a huge relief for all 3 of us! Also, her belly button falls off, making nappy changes (and poo explosions) a tiny bit easier to deal with.
Days are starting to blend together now, although our little girl does seem to get day/night very early and never tries to be awake in the dark. But Lou and I have seen more consecutive sunrises now than ever in life, and the whole “both of us wake for every feed” is starting to wear us down.
Unfortunately, the side effect of exclusive breastfeeding is that Lou HAS to wake up for every feed, while I can sleep right through, leading to our first taste of unevenness in that department. Resentment on one side, and guilt on the other. This is not nice for either of us, and something for which we were not prepared. We are a very 50/50 couple.
Baby A had her first walk to the shops with Lou, she spit up in her pram (motion sickness?) but never fussed. She had her first bath – she screamed at first but then settled right into it. This baby who loves her cuddles, unsurprisingly also loves the wrap. It is an instant sleep maker, plus you can do what you need to do – be it sterilise the nipple shields, or make a cup of tea, or put on a wash. H and Nix and Eloise visit, and bring a huge chicken curry dinner & leave us leftovers. Of all things, this has been a wonderful time to truly appreciate the kindness of friends.
Late this evening, Lou’s parents arrive to meet their granddaughter. Granda sits down on the sofa and Nanny puts her in his arms. We ask how he likes her, he replies “It’s a baby” and flips on Match of the Day. Nanny is much more impressed, and gives her cuddles and follows Nic around the house wherever she goes – which is usually upstairs to breastfeed because this cannot be done in front of her old school father!
Lou’s parents hang out for the morning, and then head off around 2pm for their 3.5 hour drive home. We pack up Baby A in the car and go to friend David’s birthday party, we managed to stay for an entire 2.5 hours and she was the life of the party while there. Sleeping mostly, thankfully. She slept in the car seat, and aside from a little spit up, did great in the car there and back. More things to tick off the list – leaving the house for more than an hour, check! Car ride, check! BFing away from home, check! We are exhausted when we get home, this is really, really hard work.
We have a visit from our friends Amber and Shirley who have boy/girl twins. Somewhat humbling to think of doing this with TWO babies! We ask loads of questions and they give advice, but we are realising that most people don’t have such a hard time with feeding, and we feel a bit sad about this. Is our baby particularly difficult? Are we doing something wrong? I think they can sense our desperation and tiredness, although their visit is very welcome (and they too bring food!) and they leave after a couple hours. That evening, Baby A cluster feeds more than normal and Lou’s milk seems to have dried up. She is eating about every 40 minutes – 1 hour. Left breast producing more milk than right, but even that is not satisfying her and Baby A spends most of the evening crying, and we fear that this is a huge regression in the breast feeding. In retrospect, this is likely her 10 day growth spurt.
It’s my last day of paternity leave. We just have a chill out day, and try to relax together with Baby A. The past 2 weeks have been the longest of my life, and also flown by. I can sense Lou’s anxiety about how she will cope when I am gone. I am worried about being away, not being able to cheer her on through another painful feed. I don’t know how my brain will function beyond the basic survival skills needed to keep my family alive. I decide to do some 6 hours days for the next week or two.
My first day back at work, it was so so tough. I cried several times at my desk, and can’t stop calling home and looking at baby pictures. I seem to have verbal diarrhoea whenever a colleague asks how Baby A is doing, wanting to share and explain everything, warn the non-parents how difficult it is, and seek the advice of the already-parents. This is another point of realisation, that I am completely off the deep end, baby obsessed, and also that other parents basically block out the early days of infanthood. For example, when I ask one woman at work about breastfeeding who recently returned from maternity leave, she explained that it was tough because her baby had a tongue tie that wasn’t sorted out until 8 weeks. I ask, but how did you manage to keep breastfeeding before then? And she looks thoughtful and says, I don’t know, I just did. They sorted it at 8 weeks though, and after that it was fine!
Listen parents – if a first-time parent comes to you with questions in the first month, they want details. If you can’t give them that, just give them a hug. But please, don’t blur together the first few months. What happened in week 8 is good to know in a couple months, I want to know what happened week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4….
Anyway, Lou’s friend Sam comes down to visit for the day. She has 2 young children so is a huge support for her. The community Midwife comes – and A weighs 8 lbs 9 oz, and has regained all her birth weight plus a bit. The Health visitor comes right afterwards, who is not so nice – wakes baby up to undress her and do an exam, waits until baby is thoroughly agitated then hands her back and asks Lou to fill out some forms. WTF.
Tonight I came home, and debriefed with Lou. She had a good day but this whole breastfeeding thing, the pressure is immense and she’s not sure how long she can take it. She feels she is not producing enough (although she probably was) but it is still painful, she is dependent on nipple shield, and frankly she is just. not. enjoying it. This last bit is crucial in our decision to discuss introducing formula. Lou has conflicting feelings – fear she is a bad mother for not wanting to breastfeed more than she does, fear she is letting me down, but at the same time a sense of relief, like a weight has been lifted.
It’s fair to say that our decision to persevere with breastfeeding was led by me. Left to her own devices, Lou probably would have given up in the early days. Although she is proud of herself for continuing, in order for baby to get the colostrum – the “liquid gold” – she is struggling to see a light at the end of the tunnel. While I am at work, I can not support her, and I see signs of baby blues creeping in. This is my biggest fear – since Lou’s mum and sister both had post-natal depression. And Lou had a pretty traumatic birth experience, I am desperate to find a way to build her confidence and make her feel empowered as a mother. She is not one to ask for outside help. We are in a tough place.
Lou’s first day all on her own. It started off on the wrong foot, as I did the first night feed about 2am, which was a literal shit show, and included 2 nappy-bursting poop explosions, a nappy-free wee, and 3 outfit changes. After that I swaddled A and put her down in her crib (still getting used to this) and I slept in the spare bed. Lou took over, and she was awake feeding on/off with A until 7am. I gave her a bottle to let Lou sleep a few hours, and then I had to go to work. I left sticky notes around the house for her to find through the day. Lou kept herself feeling busy – she read a bit of Gina Ford, learned how to sterilise bottles and how to make up formula (which I had been doing before), spoke to Tin, and after another (!) 3 poopy nappies (god what is wrong with the child!?) she napped. However, I came home to a different woman. She was still tired, ragged, and in her pyjamas, but she was happy and had a new sense of strength about her.
Right or wrong, introducing formula / mixed feeding was the right decision for us. People may say, if only we had persevered, it would have worked out. And they might be right. But we will never know. Baby A is now 9 weeks old and there are still days when Lou and I both mourn the fact that our daughter no longer receives all her nourishment from Lou, we fear that we have wrecked her “virgin gut” with formula, we feel like failures and wonder “what if…” But on balance, we both feel at peace with our decision. Our baby is growing and thriving, Lou is thriving in her new role as a stay at home mother (which we are fortunate to allow her to do for 10 months). We are also comforted by our friends and family supporting our decision. I have happily taken over the night feeds, getting to participate in this very special ritual, staring at my baby girl’s face in the dark, my tired heart softening with every slow blink of her long-lashed eyelids, feeling a motherly bond with her like never before, feeling ultimately satisfied by her contented sighs after a good feed while my wife sleeps before taking over in the morning.
This is not meant to be an anti-breastfeeding story. In fact, I used to work as a community nutritionist for pregnant women and parents of under-5s, and I used to be the biggest champion of exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months! I was convinced that if you just suck up the pain for a couple weeks, anyone can do it, and after all “breast is best!” I still believe that breast is best, and I prefer for all mothers to try breastfeeding, but now I also have the wisdom and experience to know that it doesn’t work for everyone. That what is best is a healthy baby, and a happy mother. That your baby won’t remember this. That every baby is different. That we are fortunate to have options in feeding. That sometimes you must ignore others, and trust yourself. That parenting is hard, and that you will fail over and over again, and that is OK. That all any well-meaning mother really needs to hear is that she is strong and capable, and that she knows what’s best for her baby. That you, as a mother, are not a failure if you do not breastfeed. This is the message I want to shout from the rooftops.
However, I will leave you with a word of warning about stopping breastfeeeding. After 2 weeks, Lou drastically cut her feeds without expressing. 2 days later, Lou woke up in the middle of the night with a severe case of mastitis. She drove herself to the out of hours GP at 2:30 in the morning, feverish and shivering, in extreme pain. I had to stay home with A. She got antibiotics and was in bed for the next 24 hours. She had to keep expressing every few hours to clear the ducts, which was very painful. Worse, at first we threw the milk away thinking it was infected. Only the next day Lou called a BF hotline and they said it was OK to give to baby. It was a horrible experience, and totally avoidable if Lou had weaned her gently – dropping one feed every few days – or had she continued to express. Since then we successfully expressed about 250-300 ml (8-10oz) per day in 2 expressing sessions until 6 weeks using a rented hospital grade Medela pump. At 6 weeks, Lou’s breasts became softer and her milk supply drastically reduced (likely in response to infrequent expressing) and she was able to wean the expressing sessions over the next week. She still produces some milk, but not enough for a bottle, and Baby A is now happily exclusively formula fed.