The truth is… I hope to achieve some form of closure by writing this post.
My best girlfriend dedicated this for me a few days prior to Mother’s Day.
I believe this was initiated by a recent conversation that I had with her. Out of concern, she was asking how things were with my newborn and how has my breastfeeding been coming along. But the awkwardness I felt with this issue prompted me to shut her up. This is the first time I have shut anybody up with regards to this issue. She graciously backed away and wished me well. I knew that she wasn’t judging me nor any of my other friends for that matter. I was, like how I have always been, the harshest critique of myself. This trait of mine punishes myself and sadly, my closest loved ones as well.
Like all new parents, I was determined to do the *right things for my children. Meow and I don’t believe in giving them the best, but that story is for another day and time. Part of doing the right things simply meant accepting the societal norms for me, and by the current standards, the highest expression of love for your child is being able to deliver the fluid of gold, the elixir of life, the all wonderful breast milk. I did my research, sourced for all breastfeeding necessities and told myself I will do a job just fine. Didn’t they all say that breastfeeding is such a natural process? How can I go wrong with something so primitive? But went wrong it did.
When I was dealing with engorgement for the first time, I didn’t realize how uncomfortable it was going to be. I applied cabbage leaves as commonly advised. But I left it on for too long that my milk supply eventually dwindled to nothing. Thereafter it was an uphill task for me to work it back up again. I tried latching, pumping after latching, waking up at 3 hours interval to pump (and that is on top of waking up to feed and change the baby) and power pumping. All the assembling, washing and sterilising of the pump parts were enough to tire me and I have to repeat this 8 times a day! To build up my supply further, I drowned myself in nursing teas, devoured fenugreek pills and eventually ate domperidone pills. Moreover I was adjusting to a new lifestyle with a baby and my mother-in-law who decided to move in with us shortly after my delivery. So in addition to caring for myself and baby, I had to take care of the needs of MIL as it was her first stay in Singapore and maintain the domestic chores of cooking and cleaning. MIL was not able to help as she was not used to household chores herself. To add to the physical stress, MIL and my mum who both never breastfed their children were sending negative vibes that my supply was insufficient and I cannot breastfeed as I have the same low breastmilk problems as my mum. Xxm was also suffering from persistent jaundice (took a month before his bilirubin levels reached the normal range) and I was told by the medical professionals that my breastmilk might be causing the problem and that I should substitute with formula. All the aforementioned factors compounded the problem and left me weary and in tears most of the time. It was a miracle I did not suffer from postnatal depression. By the time Xxm was 3 months, he was feeding on mainly formula milk and one feed of breastmilk per day as I could only pump out a mere 10 to 15ml most of the time. I eventually threw in the towel and ended my breast feeding relationship with him when I rejoined the workforce.
So when Xmm came along, I was determined not to repeat the same mistake. By now, I have read up a lot about breastfeeding. I frequented sites that supported mothers with low milk supply and drew strength from their stories. This time round I also decided to hire a confinement nanny to help care for me and baby. But as luck would have it, Xmm had an eye infection after birth and could not be discharged together with me. He had to be hospitalised another week for observation. Without him by my side, I could not nurse him and have him remove the milk when my milk came in. I tried the pump but my body just couldn’t respond to it well. While he was away, I tried to pump according to schedule. Without the milk coming in, Xmm was fed formula milk in the hospital. When he returned home, he was not accustomed to the slow flow at the breast. As I tried to pump to match up, it never did even though I was doing better than than the first time. Moreover, I was taking more supplements and with the confinement nanny, I was drinking more soup as well. However, all these efforts only amounted to 1.5 feeds per day. Determined to breastfeed longer than Xxm, I continued to pump at work. To maintain my supply, I needed to pump every 3 hourly. My yield was a miserable 30ml each time. There were no proper facilities to pump and I had to pump in the toilet. As facilities were limited, I felt rushed when pumping as I knew a long queue was forming outside. Unlike others who pump twice away from baby, I have to pump thrice because I have night classes after work. Thankfully Meow and I work in the same department so he could bring the breastmilk that I pumped in the day home first. However as there wasn’t any cold storage facilities where my classes were, I could only retain the milk in my breasts and pump an hour before going home. I persisted as long as I can but the intensive pumping schedule was taking too much of my time away from work and studies. I could not stay committed to anything with the pumping constantly on my mind. When Xmm was 4 months old, I convinced myself to stop breastfeeding the second time, for sanity sake.
Too many breastfeeding advocates pass sweeping statements making one feel that you have not tried hard enough to make breastfeeding a success. For mums like myself, besides bearing the guilt of not being able to breastfeed my children, I find such concerned comments a stab in the back. They come with the mentality that I have been there, done that and succeeded therefore I am right. I applaud your determination and dedication to breastfeed for as long possible. However I really do not need constant reminders of the benefits of breastmilk. I also do not need pictures of your cute and chubby children to prove how well they grew on breastmilk. Last but not least, please don’t tell me that time will tell how breastfed or formula fed children differ. You do not have the exact same child to conduct a comparison study between breastfed and formula fed children. So please do not suggest that my children will have impaired IQ or suffer from more diseases than usual.
My two older boys, though formula fed, have a weight range typically in the 95th percentile and above. Both boys are healthy and to the best of my knowledge, did not require much medical attention during their first two years of life. These days, they do get the occasional coughs and sniffles but nothing worrisome. I am not trying to discount the benefits of breastmilk. I simply want to bring to your awareness that it is more so the proper care of the children such as having regular meals and sleep, that contributed to their healthy development.
This Mother’s Day, I simply desire to achieve peace within myself that I am no less a Mum for not being able to breastfeed my children. I have done my best.