Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Photo: Sebastián Puenzo
I am—I think the word my midwife settled on is “awkward.”
I come from a family in which traditionally we didn’t talk about stuff. I have used various dodgy ways to deal with life, including food and drugs, which led to eating disorders and heroin addiction. I am nearly five years clean now, but still struggle with trust and communication issues, especially with people I don’t know. My experience with health professionals has been tainted by my secrecy and their judgment. Sadly, some of this remains with me even now that my past stays firmly behind me.
I have had a couple of minor operations since becoming abstinent and although I requested minimal medication, I still struggled afterwards with the old compelling thoughts and feelings popping back up.
My partner and I were delighted when I conceived a baby. I hoped to avoid medication and hospitals if possible. I asked about a home birth, but initially it didn’t appear to be an option.
The books I read explained how feeling at ease would help with contractions and how avoiding medication lessened the risk of a cascade of interventions and further medication. I was worried about having a hospital birth but tried not to think about it.
Luckily when I explained my worries, my midwife said a home birth would be fine for me. Not only that, but all the appointments could take place at my home too. As soon as this was arranged, we began to get excited about the birth. Our midwife got our sense of humor and I trusted her. We met the secondary midwife and a couple of others on the team and really liked all of them.
Where I struggled to communicate important points—“Everything’s fine” having been my mantra for decades—my partner stepped in. I was really lucky to have him there for the midwife visits.
I think I was in very slow labor for about a week and then in actual labor for 36 hours. I was lucky the midwives were patient and said that as long as the baby and I were fine, I didn’t have to go to the hospital. It was just a really long labor. I was keen to avoid the hospital, and so tried all the suggestions to move the baby, to alter his position, as he was presenting back to back.
Other than a lot of gas and air and the injection to speed up the delivery of my placenta, I managed to birth my son, who had a 98th-percentile-size head, without the need for opiates or intervention. I believe this was entirely due to the support and patience of my midwives and being relaxed in my own home. Even though the two midwives who were there when he was born were complete strangers, the trust I had in the ones I had met spread by association to the others in the team. I felt really comfortable with them, as did my husband. When the last of my waters broke, my son shot out, less than half an hour later, onto my bed.
After he had been checked, I breastfed him, which was amazing. He was a very keen feeder and continues to be. I was grateful about that later, when I realized the struggles some mother and baby pairs face. I had to go to the hospital for stitches, which was sad, but we hurried back home as soon as we could.
Without the home birth and my trust in the caregivers, I don’t think it would have gone so well. It meant I could spend the first few weeks without my past demons raising their heads. Another consequence of my using drugs is that I find it hard to connect with people and form relationships. I have been told my mother and I didn’t bond when I was a baby, and I was scared of reliving this with my own son.
Breastfeeding was our way of bonding, and although it was painful initially, I loved doing it.
I had oversupply and he was very windy. I researched on the Internet and found out about La Leche League. A Leader came out to help me and I started going to the group’s meetings. When he was five weeks old, he had a scary episode of strange breathing, including stopping breathing altogether for brief periods, and we called an ambulance.
I do not like hospitals. I was panicking, until at last we could go home. The doctor thought perhaps he had aspirated some milk. A couple of weeks later, it happened again. I performed the choking maneuver that I had been shown and he came round, but by the time we got to hospital, he was pale and floppy. Here is where my confusion started.
Due to my frail mental state and self-doubt, I totally lost all confidence in my judgment and mummy instincts. Half the people I spoke to, including my husband, mum, and one of the doctors, said it was all in my head and that I was just a tired new mum. The other half, including the health visitor and a doctor, said he had acid reflux, which was affecting his breathing. The suggestion to pump and not breastfeed, because I had a forceful let-down, was not helpful.
The next day, when we were allowed home, I barely slept as I was constantly watching his breathing and had to hold him upright for 40 minutes after every feed. And he fed a lot. My husband would take him at about 9 pm, then bring him to me when he needed me, which meant I sometimes got a few hours in the evening.
I heard about connections between dairy and reflux and so cut out milk and cheese, which seemed to help. For the reflux, we tried gaviscon, which did not help, and then rantitdine. At four months he started sitting up and at six months stopped bringing back milk when I laid him flat, so then we began to cosleep. We still do now at 15 months and he is a happy, lively little boy who loves his milk and is fine with dairy also.
I still struggle with panic and confusion when he gets unwell, unable to fully trust my instincts. And the sleep deprivation and isolation can affect my mental health. Breastfeeding and cosleeping help me connect with my son and let me love and nurture him, when I don’t have the words and struggle to be in the moment with him.
I am so grateful for the amazing birth experience we had and for everything I have learned through LLL about breastfeeding and nurturing. I need those positive voices to drown out the negative ones from other people and myself!