Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Amy Denton, Wharfedale, Yorkshire, UK
Isaac’s birth was traumatic. My labor started when I got up to pee at 3 am with my water breaking. Contractions became gradually more intense until 8 am, when they stopped altogether.
On reaching hospital I was a couple of centimeters dilated and meconium was detected. A drip, which took a number of attempts to place, artificially began my contractions.
So I could be monitored continuously, I was told to lie on the bed. I declined pain relief and coped with gas and air for a while. To help with the unnatural intensity of induced labor, they tried to place an epidural. Unfortunately, it failed.
Against my wishes, a probe was placed on my baby’s “head,” which was in fact his scrotum. The registrar came to check on me, and turned down the drip that was giving me continuous contractions. The last in a long list of people to examine me, she discovered my baby was presenting bottom first.
I was ready to push. In hindsight, I could have pushed him out but was rushed to theater and given a spinal block.
Isaac was pushed upwards and outwards, tearing my womb, and brought into this world through the sunroof at 10.10 pm. He was perfect. Daddy held him (because I was numb up to my chin) and we gazed at each other for a few minutes until I started to shake. I then felt very poorly. I was put under anesthetic. There were complications and what followed was horrendous.
Waiting for me to get out of surgery, Tim fed Isaac formula milk a couple of times. He was a wreck with worry and didn’t know what to do with Isaac, or with himself.
I came round elated to be alive and wanted Isaac immediately. He was still wrapped in a towel with just his diaper on. I put him on my chest, skin-to-skin, and my tears flowed. He snuggled there for hours. Asleep or wriggling around, he was content. He had been fed, so I just lay there.
Tim dressed him and once I was moved to a room, we tried to establish breastfeeding. I had colostrum, but Isaac had trouble latching on to my flat nipples and large breasts. He was 6lb 13oz with a tiny mouth.
The midwives tried to help me when they could and he got a fair amount of colostrum. I kept him on my chest most of the time, unless Daddy was holding him. He had no more formula milk. We needed that contact. My milk came in and he began to feed well.
It sounds gross, I know, but I did not wash for the first three days I was there. I think that helped with the feeding. After three days I was stable enough to get up, get the catheter out, and take a bath.
Tim slept on a chair next to my bed while we were in the hospital. Isaac cried nearly all night, I was very poorly still, and Tim was exhausted. The midwives did their best but there were only two for the whole ward. I later discovered that while I had been too poorly to move, I had been given morphine, along with a lot of other pain meds and antibiotics, so perhaps Isaac suffered as a result. Eventually, we gave him a pacifier and he settled. My aunty traveled across the country to come and look after me for a week.
When I got home I had an oversupply of milk. It was like Niagara Falls! Flannels down my bra helped, but breastfeeding was awful. Isaac would get soaked through with milk. Because I had so much milk, he would get full on the thinner milk and soon be hungry again. He was gassy, would pull off and go back on and off and on. I got sore.
But I persevered. My supply took ages to settle down—months. I was sore the whole time. I tried nipple shields, but he wouldn’t latch using them.
I didn’t look for support in the right places. My midwife and health visitor were far from helpful. It took me months to get back on my feet from the surgery and further complications, but all the time I was laid up, I had Isaac on my chest or in my arms, which made it all worthwhile.
Once my supply had calmed, Isaac got fed up of one breast (the slower flowing one) and refused to feed from it. So we just used one breast. Then we got thrush. Once we began to wean Isaac onto solids, he decided he didn’t want my other breast either. So I pumped and bottle-fed. At eight months, I gave up, exhausted and sore. I was happy we had made it so far, although I would have preferred a longer stint.
When he was a year old, he was hospitalized with multiple infections and diagnosed with an immune system deficiency that breastfeeding had perhaps held at bay. I tried to relactate and got colostrum back but once my mature milk returned, I could only pump a few drops. The doctors were not helpful and I gave up again.
Second time round
Todd was born in water at home, with my husband, son, doula, mother, and three midwives present. I had the birth I wanted, after much adverse criticism from consultants, midwives, family, and friends. I had only paracetamol and a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine for pain relief and the water, of course. I suffer with osteoarthritis in my hips and back so the water really helped control the pain.
I had a long, slow labor: the show almost two weeks before the birth. On the day he was born, painful contractions started about 3 am. I spent much of the day moving back and forth from bedroom to living room, lying down with the TENS machine and then getting in the birth pool. He was born at 8 pm.
Having a doula to support me meant that my husband could help my mum care for our son, deal with midwives, and do things for himself as well as being with me.
I had been wracked with anxiety from the way my previous birth had gone, but my doula helped me make choices so that by the time of birth I was confident, ready to meet our son. Massage, low lighting, hypno-birthing music, touch, and being encouraged to listen to my own body helped enormously. I caught Todd as he was born and lifted him out of the water myself for the first cuddle.
For a biological third stage, I got out of the pool to deliver the placenta. I sat on the sofa with Todd to wait for the cord to stop pulsing before our doula tied it with a tie we had been given in the shape of a rat! I held Todd skin-to-skin before the midwives examined us. Unfortunately I needed to go to hospital.
My mum stayed with Isaac who was in bed asleep, and we drove anxiously to hospital, where I had to be anesthetized and stitched. Having my baby on my chest was all that kept me grounded through the grim stress and pain.
He would not latch to nurse. I tried to express milk but nothing came out and the midwives said I needed to feed him before they would let us go. I panicked and gave him formula.
Once home he still wasn’t latching on. I managed to express and spoon-feed him colostrum in addition to formula. A couple of days later, I used a double electric breast pump and kept on trying to get him to latch. By day 3, he was having my milk exclusively. By day 5, he was being fed exclusively at my breast, but it was painful and he got a lot of gas and I was engorged again.
My doula suggested speaking to her friend Steph, a La Leche League Leader, who suspected Todd had a tongue-tie. The very next day, he was assessed and the tie was snipped. The results were immediate, since when we have never looked back.
I had got the natural birth I wanted, apart from the unpleasant stitching, and through perseverance, I have the breastfeeding relationship I want.
I just wish I had received the love and support I have had through this pregnancy and birth for my first birth too. My breastfeeding relationship would have been less of a struggle and more a labor of love.
Attending La Leche League meetings during pregnancy can be a great way to find out more about birth and breastfeeding before your baby’s arrival.