August 06, 2016

My friend recently posted on Facebook an observation about black-and-white thinking. She observed how many of us have a difficult time seeing the grey area in certain things. She asked in her post, what areas in our life could it pay to consider the grey area? The first thought that popped into my head was breastfeeding. 

Admittedly, before I entered motherhood and was smacked in the face with my own reality, I only saw breastfeeding as a black-and-white matter. To me women either breastfed, which meant they were selfless mothers doing what was best for baby, or they formula-fed which meant they were selfish, not the greatest mums, and not doing best for baby at all. I am actually embarrassed to type that out for you to read now. How naive I was to have those opinions and to even think those thoughts. But as the saying goes Breast is Best, right? 

Wrong! What that phrase doesn't explain is that, Breast is Best if it is best for the Mother and she wants to, or has the ability to. Making the decision to breastfeed is such a personal one, and one a Mother has to make for herself. 

I knew even before I was pregnant, that I would breastfeed. I yearned to do it. I could feel this
viscerally, though I knew nothing about it. The only example I had were those lovely photos on Instagram of Mums feeding and cuddling their babies in bed, with a caption mentioning something about how they treasure these moments. It looked like such a beautiful time to bond with the baby and provide the nutrients it needs to grow to be a healthy one. So I had that vision in my head and left it there, not doing much more research or seeking stories from real life Mums about their breastfeeding journey. No one was offering free advice on the topic so I thought, OK, the birth is painful and sucks, but after you have the baby everything is wonderful and the breastfeeding will commence soon after. It sounds perfect doesn't it?

So I have a question. Why doesn't anyone tell you the truth about breastfeeding? I'm all ears over here and would have loved to know that I will soak through nipple pads and have to buy 15 nursing bras because I will go through three a day! I would love to have known that if you don't get a good latch from the beginning then your nipples will feel like someone lit them with a match, and they will crack and maybe bleed. It would have been great to know if you don't fully empty your breasts each time, then you can get engorgement which can lead to mastitis. Which will make you want to die because mastitis is excruciating, and that's coming from a woman who was in labour drug free for 25 hours! Now I get that during my pregnancy it would have been hard to imagine the struggle you can have with it, but it would have been nice for a heads-up. In a way I feel stupid for my naivety and not educating myself more, but when you're pregnant it's hard to think past the part after the baby arrives. I feel as Mothers we are all a bit shaken when we find out how hard and unnatural at times breastfeeding is. In a way I felt a bit let down by my fellow women, why aren't we speaking up about our struggles?

You might scroll through my instagram and say, ''Um hey Jules you have photos of you and Oslo breastfeeding and it looks blissful and dreamy. It doesn't look painful and horrible, and like you struggled at all.'' Yes I admit I did and still do post photos of Oslo breastfeeding, but my reason for doing that is to help normalize it, and less to bring awareness to how difficult it can be. As I write this I do think it might sound a bit hypocritical of me to not share my experience with breastfeeding. So I want to lay it all on the line to hopefully help other Mothers through their challenges with this incredible journey.

I haven't talked openly other than to some family and a small number of friends about Oslo's birth, because it was the worst/best day of my life. Without going into too much detail here, as I will share my whole story in another post, the birth was quite traumatizing for James, Oslo, and me. As Oslo was entering the World, I was leaving it. For whatever reason (the doctors still don't know why) at the last push my blood pressure spiked off the charts and I had an epileptic seizure, and stopped breathing. The midwife had to grab Oslo under his arm and pull him out as I started to convulse on the bed. I spent 4 days in the ICU only getting to see my sweet new baby for 2 hours a day. So we started our breastfeeding journey at a bit of a disadvantage. On day 4 the doctors said I could move to the maternity ward and finally be with James and Oslo. I went home after a week at the hospital, feeling weak, scared, and completely physically and emotionally unprepared to care for this tiny thing.

I began breastfeeding Oslo on demand and quickly got the hang out it. It felt amazing to bond with him, because I really felt those moments in the first few days were stolen from us. I was producing a lot milk and he was gaining weight at a good pace. All seemed wonderful in those first couple of weeks. Then out of nowhere I started to have breast and nipple pain. It was severe and I stopped enjoying feeding Oslo. I told James I could maybe only last one more week and then I would have to stop.

I struggled with the notion that I might have to quit breastfeeding and that my body had failed me again. It had failed me so horribly during the birth and this time I was going to try and use my mind over my body. I kept telling myself suck it up, this is good for your baby. You are a mother now so it's your job to provide Oslo with nourishment. I had felt so let down by myself during the birth of Oslo that I couldn't even fathom quitting.

We got a breast pump to help keep my supply up and I could pump bottles to give to Oslo. The pump definitely helped but I was still in pain. After searching endlessly on the Internet and asking a few midwives for someone who can help us with breastfeeding, we finally found the only widwife in the South of France who specializes in lactation. In France breastfeeding is not common, so many of the midwives aren't trained in how to help when issues come up. I finally had my appointment with the midwife and she was my saviour. My breasts were a mess! I had clogged milk ducts, nipple blisters, and thrush. I had no idea I could get a yeast infection in my boobs! In case you didn't know either and without giving TMI, the pain I had with thrush felt like a million needles were jabbing me from the inside out, everytime Oslo sucked. It was excruciating and a pain I will never forget. My midwife saviour fixed my latch which was completely wrong also, because again no one teaches or tells you this stuff, not even at the hospital. She prescribed me homeopathic remedies and pain killers, and sent me on my way. 

The thrush soon vanished and the milk ducts cleared, and I wish I could say all the struggles were over. But a couple weeks later I was still suffering and got hit with two cases of mastitis, one after the other! So yeah I had a completely messed up journey through breastfeeding and I wouldn't wish it on any mother. I would gladly go through 10 drug-free labours than have the feeling of it all over again! 

After all that I get it now. This is why other Mums formula feed! This is why they make the decision that suffering is not an option anymore and we have to find an alternative. This is why formula exists, so women have an option in case breastfeeding doesn't work, or women can't phsically do it. This is why we shouldn't judge a Mother's decision to formula feed her baby, because we may not know what she has been through to get to that decision. To put it impolitely, breastfeeding is fucking hard! It's by far the hardest thing I have ever done. Period. Again I will say I laboured for 25 hours drug free, but at least with that I knew there would be an end. Breastfeeding is ongoing. 

It took me over 4 months to finally feel comfortable and pain free, and right now I feel like I am out of the woods. I can't say completely because again breastfeeding is ongoing, but things are pretty smooth. Oslo is 10 months now and one of the proudest things I can say is, I have been successfully and solely breastfeeding him the whole way. I'm still surprised with myself that I stuck with it even through the struggles. I can't say I would have regretted to stop breastfeeding and switching to formula, because that would have been the right decision for me if I made it. All I can say is I am so thrilled to still be on this journey with my baby. Through all of the highs and the very low lows, I accomplished what I set out for myself and Oslo, and have learned so much along the way.

Never be fooled by the lovely and perfect photos you see of mothers. It does not mean they are without struggles. We are all human and because motherhood is so personal sometimes it's easier to only post the curated photos of life with a baby, even though in reality it can be chaos. I hope if you are reading this and are about to begin your breastfeeding journey, or are already in it, or have ended it, you can take something away from my story. It feels like a bit of therapy writing this out to share with you. I continue to be in awe of mothers and our abilities, and the tough decisions we have to make for ourselves and our babies. So whether you breast or formula-fed, all you need to remember is Fed is Best, and you are doing an incredible job!

We are all in this together.



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  1. Chloe OrganAugust 06, 2016

    Such a fantastic post Jules, thanks for sharing such a personal story. I had an awful time breastfeeding Hallé - when I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed as it felt like it was the most natural thing in the world. It never crossed my mind that things wouldn't work out. From the moment H arrived she didn't want to latch. I stayed for longer in the hospital to try and get as much help as possible. The midwives kept telling me it would get easier. When we got home, she was still having none of it. Weight gain was incredibly slow and I could barely pump an ounce! We called the midwives most days asking for them to visit us to try and help. Most feeds, Hallé would eventually latch after around 45 mins of trying, but would only feed for a few minutes at a time. After around 6 weeks, she stopped gaining weight and we knew something had to change. In our case, fed was best! I felt like I was failing as a mother & my body was failing me. I still very much beat myself up over the whole situation & it took me a long time to realise that I did everything I could have done. I sincerely hope that if I'm lucky enough to have another baby we'll have an easier time of it xxx

    1. Aw sweet Chloe, thank you so much for your lovely comment & for sharing the struggles you had as well! It means so much! It feels so nice to know we aren't alone in our difficulties as new mums. You are so strong for sticking it out as long as you did and coming to the decision to bottle feed instead. Sometimes I think I should have made that choice too, because those first 4 months were so so hard, and put a lot of pressure on my relationship with Oslo. I feel the same, and hope if I can have another baby it will be much easier. I'm sure it will be for both of us!! Love, Jules xxx