Before I got pregnant, I had one fear, and it was never about childbirth: I was terrified of breastfeeding. I am not sure where it came from, or what specifically made me go into panic mode about it, but it almost looked unnatural to me. Having spent so much time in Asia, breastfeeding was just not seen or done much in public. I also don’t have many younger cousins, so naturally, I wasn’t exposed to it.
When I got pregnant, I spent months plagued with anxiety, researching and keeping my breastfeeding fears to myself. I finally blurted it all out during a big, pregnant “I-am-not-fit-to-be-a-Mother” meltdown in front of my husband. He tried not to laugh, and asked “Is this your only concern?” I had to pause, and think. Well, yes, I was set about everything else. But for some reason, breastfeeding just freaked me out!
By the time I was 6 months pregnant, I sat down with my OBGYN and expressed my fear. She looked at me, perplexed; she said that breastfeeding was “natural” and stated it was best for the baby. My fears were completely dismissed, and I left that office feeling stupid.
In Vancouver there is a whole hospital dedicated to all things related to female bits. Aptly, it is called The Women’s Hospital. But, I never really felt they were there to help or support women, or their fears. Instead it was like “Have your baby, put them on the breast and then get out.” No, there isn’t anything wrong with it, but women do carry a huge weight, especially when everything about pregnancy is unknown territory.
I felt like the greatness of breastfeeding was shoved down my throat, no matter to whom I spoke. I felt that breastfeeding was my only option. I had sleepless nights; I had anxiety that I would not be able to produce enough milk; I was terrified. I was given endless numbers for lactation consultants, and nurses, but all gave me the same feeling: I would be a bad Mother if I didn’t breast feed.
At one point, I called my mother long distance and cried. She didn’t laugh, she simply said “Everything about having a baby is scary. Listen to your body, be your own advocate.”
My mother (bless her heart) had all of us on posting, or in between postings. Now to understand my family background, my Great Aunt was one of the first female doctors in Canada to write about breast feeding, nutrition and formula. My Grandmother was a nurse who advocated for Canadian hospitals to allow men in the delivery room. My Mother breast fed all of us, and well, she bit her lip in horror at my anxiety!
After giving birth naturally, I was admitted into the high risk room of Women’s Hospital in Vancouver. I had over a dozen people standing over me, lecturing me about breastfeeding, watching me. I was told I would have to put my son on me every 2 hours to get him used to nursing. I obliged and religiously followed the breastfeeding instructions.
As a new Mother, I was plagued with doubt worry, especially over bodily functions I had never before experienced.
For two days in the hospital, I had a crazy male nurse named Money, who coached me through my new role as a milk machine. I have to admit, dear old Money was the best nurse and cheerleader anybody could ask for!
A week after giving birth, I had a massive bleed out. I called the doctor and went to the hospital, in one week I saw a handful of various doctors. I had a massive infection and had to go in for surgery. I kept on nursing, but my son would stay on me crying for hours. I never got a break.
When I finally went to a pediatricians office, before going in for surgery, I broke down in tears in the doctor’s office. I told this wise older Doctor that our son was on me for hours at a time and crying. I rambled on about feeling like a bad Mother because I felt my son needed more food. It was the pediatrician who intervened. It turned out that my massive bleed out shut down my milk production, but not one doctor that I saw during my week of visits clued this in. My son was starving, and because the hospital made me feel that I was a bad Mother if I gave my son a drop of formula, I never thought that I was not producing enough food for my son. I was immediately plagued with guilt, but also relief. This doctor finally understood my deep fears, and I guess I finally understood mine.
The pediatrician, sat me down, gave me a prescription for medication to help with getting my production back, telling me that with my bleed out, I needed to keep nursing to keep my uterus contracting. He then kindly gave us a bottle of formula to feed our son right there in the room. He put a hand on my shoulder and said,
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you are a bad Mother. You are doing everything right, and supplementing with formula will not hurt your baby.” For the first time in over a week, my son was happy and full, and slept for more than 20 minutes.
For the first time, I was hyper-aware of just how extreme the pro-breastfeeding movement was in Vancouver. I met more women just like me, on medication, and terrified to admit that they had to substitute with formula. A friend recounted at the hospital how she was forced to try nursing with her second child (she had previously had a double mastectomy), but kept on telling everyone that she couldn’t produce milk. They gave her lectures and made her fear for her baby’s health. She also never went out and about with a bottle, and she would have complete strangers screaming at her about her being a horrible mother for giving her baby formula.
I did keep on nursing, and was blessed with a ridiculous amount of milk after being on medication. Still, I was horrified that with all of the pro-breastfeeding and the hyper-awareness of babies health, that in my circumstance, it took so long for someone to clue in that a bleed out would, or could, shut down my milk production.
Why are women so harshly judged over something that in some instances, can’t be helped?
This is an original post by Travel Lady with Baby from Vancouver, Canada. You can also find her on her personal site,Travel Lady with Baby.
The image used in this post is attributed to http://www.flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/4800982099/in/photostream/. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.