Writing Workshop #4
Here we are again for the 4th writing workshop. I know I really should attempt a fiction piece but I have a bad feeling I’m just not up to it! So I’ll stick once again with my newly discovered but not quite honed autobiographical style. This week I have chosen to write about a sense of loss, inspired by Josie’s very sad post about losing her beloved cat Beth.
I was thinking about writing about losing my own pets, lovely Ben, my black lab who died when I was 14. Our funny, frisky Bichon Friese Jasper who held on long enough to walk all over my wedding dress but died when I was pregnant with Sam. Or Nellie, who lived with Craig much longer than me and who died when Sam was 6 days old, right in the middle of the baby blues. In the end though I decided to go with what could be called a strange topic, when Sam stopped breast feeding. 10 months on I’m still upset about it.
Sam self weaned at 6 and a half months old. I was devastated. We had such a wonderful experience. When Sam was born he latched on straightaway (despite the fact that I was still in recovery after an emergency section) and fed like a pro. We had no problems with latch, no problems with engorgement after a few days. He didn’t have nipple confusion when I expressed and gave him milk in a bottle. When I introduced a bottle of formula a day at 3 months (sometimes I just needed a rest!) he wasn’t phased, just kept on breastfeeding the rest of the time. The only occasional problem we had was thrush in his mouth but that was easily cleared up too.
It was so important for me to breastfeed, despite my mum and grandma’s scare stories about how agonising it was for them and as I was a redhead I wouldn’t be able to do it (!). Before the birth I knew I wanted to feed him but it did develop into a bit of an obsession after the section. I didn’t recover well and got a couple of infections in my scar. It was about 7/8 weeks before I was really feeling myself again and was up and about as normal. For all that time I couldn’t look after Sam as I would have liked. It took me a month or so to be able to bath him. As a result of this I had no confidence bathing him and 16 months on have only done it 6/7 times. I couldn’t get down on the floor to change him properly and Craig had to change him for the first three weeks (not a bad thing to be honest). I was struggling to cook and clean and there was always people around helping us out. As a result I felt the only thing I could do for my baby was to feed him myself. It developed into a bit of an obsession. I would feed him and then express an hour later so I was pretty much always full. I wanted to make sure he had enough milk and also I had enough in case I needed to go anywhere without him. My life revolved around breast feeding and my lack of confidence in every other aspect of Sam’s life. I used to half joke to Craig, especially in the first few weeks, that I was only the Booby Lady and not needed for anything else.
We mastered public feeding quite early on which surprised me as I thought I wouldn’t have the bottle (as it were) to do that. One sunny day in August when Sam was about 7 weeks old my mum and I were having lunch sat outside Starbucks in St Anne’s Square in Manchester City Centre. It was packed as any city is on a Saturday and there was a band busking with a big crowd a few feet from us. Sam was making his little mewing hungry noises but I was loving the sunshine and the band so with a lot of encouragement from my mum, whapped them out and got on with it with a little blanket to cover my modesty. I was honestly expecting someone to come up to me and tell me I was disgusting and I had a number of retorts ready. I was so fired up just waiting for someone to comment that when an older lady came up to me I almost bit her head off. Actually, she had come up to me to ask if the baby was having his lunch and lovely it was that I was breast feeding. I felt rather sheepish after that. Of course there were a few looks from teenage lads and groups of girls but mostly people just gave me a little smile and a nod. A waiter from Starbucks came up to me and asked if I needed him to get me another drink if I was feeding the baby which was lovely and a really nice touch from a company I’m not normally a fan of.
As we had got off to such a good start I was anticipating feeding forever really. I wasn’t putting a time limit on it but I had a secret aim that I wanted to feed past Sam’s 2nd birthday. I did mention this to a couple of people only to be met with over reactions about that being too late, it was wrong, when they could ask for it you should stop, how ridiculous, what about your life etc. They didn’t quite realise that this was quite a selfish decision really. I really enjoyed breastfeeding, I loved the closeness of it. I loved Sam looking into my eyes as he ate, the way he’d come off, give me a cheeky smile and latch back on again. I adored that I was the only one who could do this one thing for him.
So, things were going great over Christmas. My mum and grandma both had a complete change of heart regarding breastfeeding and were advocating it to anyone and everyone who was pregnant/had a pregnant friend or member of the family. My dad had been given an award for his cafe from the local breastfeeding group. They had come into the cafe looking to run coffee morning and had apparently been quite confrontational about the fact that they’d all be breastfeeding and would that be a problem. Of course my dad had seen me breastfeed on countless occasions and was completely unphased. He even offered to keep tables free for them so they could have a regular morning there as he now thought breastfeeding was so important after he’s seen me with Sam. I was waiting for the evening breastfeeding counsellor’s course to start so I could go along and train to become a counsellor. Of course, you can see that something was about to go wrong!
Sam got proper, full on man flu. Not a bad cold (I know a bad cold, he’s had many) but full on not eating, not drinking, not sleeping, crying, high temperature, dehydrating, debilitating flu. He would eat a couple of spoonfuls of fruit puree here and there and drink only a little water from his sippy cup. He couldn’t breathe to drink from a bottle and couldn’t breastfeed. This carried on for nearly a week, culminating in a trip to the emergency doctors when he took a turn for the worse on the Saturday afternoon. I’d been staying at my parents for a few days so they could help me look after Sam. I had an exam on the Monday and my mum was off work as my sister was emigrating, also on the Monday. It just so happened that this Saturday was my sister’s leaving do. Sam had become very dehydrated very quickly. Wouldn’t you know it, within the hour it had taken from me ringing to getting him there Sam had picked up. The doctor was fabulous though, told me I was doing the right thing and he wasn’t going to hospitalise Sam as we were staying with my mum who’s a nurse. The next day I thought we’d turned a corner as Sam had his first breastfeed in 5 days. I’d been expressing like mad to try and keep my milk supply going and luckily it had worked. On the Monday however he refused again, probably picking up on the stress from me after saying goodbye to Helen and then sitting my exam. Finally on the Tuesday Sam had another feed, only for 10 minutes but I knew it might be our last so I went upstairs, on our bed, watched his little face and had a good cry. It was his last feed. I carried on expressing for another couple of weeks, freezing & refrigerating anything I got so he was still having EBM until he was about 8 months old. The day my milk dried up was awful.
The utter desolation and sense of loss I felt after Sam finished feeding was devastating. Everyone thought I was crying because my sister had emigrated. Of course I shed more than a few tears for that but the vast majority were because I couldn’t do my special mummy job anymore. At the weekend I had quite a lot of wine and cried all over Craig because Sam didn’t need me anymore. I honestly felt like that and was down for quite a few weeks. Even now 10 months on I could cry when I think about it. I shouldn’t though. I know I should be proud of what I did, 6 months is a long time to breastfeed. I didn’t make the choice to wean Sam, it was his choice which does make it easier in a way. At least I didn’t deny him anything he wanted. This weekend Sam was pulling up my pj top and poking my boobs. I told him this used to be your dinner, you had mummy milk for months. I’m not sure if he understood but he tried to latch on much to mine and Craig’s amusement.
I feel, not quite jealous, but envious of mums still breastfeeding their babies. Even those new mums who are just embarking on this adventure. Someone I know is pregnant and says she won’t breastfeed as she hated it first time round and thinks it feels creepy. I had to hold my tongue. I was so upset and wanted to talk her round. But, you know what, it’s not my choice. I’m not going to thrust my views down people’s necks but I’d love to help them if I could. I don’t feel able to be a breastfeeding counsellor now as I don’t know if people would take me seriously as I only fed Sam for a relatively short time. I see counsellors as women who have breastfed for ages and have much more experience.
I look back and know I did a good job feeding Sam but still can’t help feeling down that it’s over. I always said I’d feed until he wanted to stop and I did, it just happened that he wanted to wean at least 12 months too early for me! Ah well, the next baby will have booby milk thrust down it’s poor throat until school age, and can blame his big brother for that!