Writing a breastfeeding journey after C-Section is not something I naively even imagined I would be writing...
Growing up -
Growing up as a little girl all I ever wanted was to be a mum , I was obsessed with my dolls and playing ‘ mummys’ as a young girl and as I grew up I was always so in awe of anything pregnancy /baby related. I used to say I wanted at least 5 children !
Fast forward a few years and at the age of 17 , I found myself pregnant. Not planned , but it was happy news, I had been in a relationship for a few years and everybody seemed happy for me and more importantly I felt ready, unfortunately at 10 weeks I found out I’d had a missed miscarriage.... I was heartbroken and shocked. I knew then that was all I wanted , so we tried again and a few months later I found myself starting at two pink lines again. Except this time it felt scary, I knew I wasn’t guaranteed a baby. So it was a nervous 12 weeks .... at the 12 week scan all was good , so I began to relax, and enjoyed pregnancy- even the sickness because that reassured me that my baby was doing well. I loved my bump. I wrote a birth plan and as an 18 girl , in my head , the birth would go exactly how I’d written it. No pain relief (I decided it was best for my baby ) , nice relaxing water birth, home as soon as possible to bond...... and unless absolutely unavoidable no c-section (the thought terrified me )....
2009 Darcey -
The world had other plans for me.... at 38 weeks and 2 days , and having spent the last few weeks wishing the days away so I could meet my precious baby girl , just so so excited, my world was about to become crashing down. I woke up through the night to what felt like a gush... thinking it was my waters I jumped out of bed , with a wave of excitement which quickly turned to terror when I looked down and saw it was blood. And a lot of it , pouring out. An ambulance was called. I sat on the end of my bed staring at my baby girls Moses basket , with my hand on my belly , praying she would be ok. I felt a kick. I felt relieved. By the time we got to hospital it’s all a bit of a blur for me . I was rushed straight to theatre for what they called a ‘ crash c -section’. Even then I never imagined my baby might not be ok. My baby girl Darcey was born at 4.44 on the 8th of February. The doctors came and told us, our baby was very sick . She had been deprived of oxygen for two long. We spend the day by her bed side singing to her talking to her , touching her , telling her how loved she was. The doctors advised that the best thing to do was turn off the machines and cuddle her as she passed away. She was taken off the machines, and placed in my arms and we watched as she passed away, surrounded by her closest family. At the time it felt like I was in a daze , it hurt like hell but looking back now I have no idea how I did it , how I managed to breathe or function. The doctor pronounced her time of passing at 00.02 on the 9th February. A lovely midwife Melanie helped me to bath a dress my baby, I put her in a lovely cosy snow suit that was packed for her in my hospital bag. It had began snowing that night so it felt appropriate. My heart was shattered , I felt so raw. My beautiful Darcey is always in my heart and thoughts and influences the decisions I make every day even now.
8 months on and a lot of support from family and friends and guidance from various consultants there I was staring at two pink lines, I felt so many emotions , relief , excitement , pure terror and also guilt. My pregnancy this time went smoothly , I was closely monitored , I felt supported , it was emotionally hard and there was not a single day I was able to relax or fully believe I would be bringing a baby home . I felt like a ticking time bomb.
My little girl Lila was born at 37 weeks by planned c-section. Everything went well , She was placed in my arms. I had my baby and she was safe.. I was a mummy.
Luckily she latched on almost straight away , and from then she pretty much spent most of her days on there... Night two at home my nipples were so sore and cracked I was in pain with every ‘ suck’ but we persevered. I had mastitis a few times, and when Lila was around 5 months old , one mastitis bout had developed into an abcess which had to be drained at hospital. Each time I had mastitis or a rough night of no sleep , my family would say ‘ give her a bottle ‘ ‘ you need a break ‘ ‘ she must be hungry ‘ ‘ she will sleep better with a bottle ‘ .... and when your feeling anxious about whether your baby is getting enough that is not what you want to here. I know now she was getting enough and every emotion I was feeling was normal but as a young (19 ) year old slightly traumatised girl ... the doubt set in. By her first birthday Lila was still feeding from me , frequently... mostly for comfort night and day.... I was happy for her to do that but was beginning to feel like I was being judged by everyone around me. I would feed Lila where ever I was , out at a restaurant/in the park .... it didn’t matter , if ‘ boob ‘ was what Lila wanted then that’s what she got , whether it was because she was hungry or she needed that comfort. I did sometimes feel over whelmed. Like I needed a break , or at least a good nights sleep. I tried Lila on probably every single bottle out at the time , she wouldn’t take to them and I wouldn’t force her. Breastfeeding for Lila was her safe place , if she was poorly, tiered , sore , if she had a wee bump , she would cosy in and feed. It became our normal . But the older Lila got it was very obvious to me that what we were doing and what felt so natural to us wasn’t socially ‘ the norm’. At the age of two I decided Lila was ready to wean. A few weeks after her second birthday I told her ‘ the milk was all done ‘ she took it ok , other than when she was tiered .... It took a week of replacing comfort feeds with cuddles /singing .... and distraction through the day and we had a few tears ..... But it was so much easier than I ever imagined it would be to wean Lila off. I must say even though Lila was so reliant on comfort nursing , she was a very advanced and secure little girl . Not shy . And happy to go to family /play groups for periods of time. Age 2 and a half she had her first sleepover with her grandparents and was completely fine. My breastfeeding story with Lila was on the hole a positive one , I just wish I could have told myself not to worry what people thought , I was doing best for my baby.
2017 7 years later-
A wiser head , with a lot more anxieties in life and with a new partner I was ready to put myself through whatever would come again. I’d had some surgeries on my cervix , some biopsy’s removed and part of my cervix removed two years previous .... I knew deep down it wouldn’t be easy but I hoped this time round things would be ok . I had Lila , so I knew it was possible to get that happy ending .
I found myself staring at two pink lines again. This time I felt excited , completely positive for us all. It wasn’t to be and just a week and a half later I was miscarrying. I felt quite traumatised and shocked. Angry that my body had failed again.
A few months later I was staring at two pink lines again..... this time I felt nervous... I knew that if things didn’t work out this time I couldn’t put myself and my family through anymore heart ache. This was the last try I could emotionally take.
This pregnancy was full of drama. Every stage felt like it brought another worry. I had various bleeds from early on up to 11 weeks , some really quite big , and with every one I gave up hope. But every scan , there would be a little heart beat. At 16 weeks we found out we were having a baby girl. It felt right , I would have been just as happy with a boy , but I think something inside me knew I was made for baby girls.... I began to relax.... we shared the news.... then at a 19 week scan we found out my cervix wasn’t coping and was unlikely to hold much longer. The utter panic. Of hearing your baby is doing perfectly well , growing so well. But knowing that once again your body is failing and knowing that if it did , your baby is too young to survive. I felt broken. A few days of lying as still as possible and I was in theatre getting a cervical stitch to hold my cervix in place.... it was such a bizarre and scary experience, being on the maternity ward , going into the theatre, receiving a spinal , but knowing I wasn’t leaving with a baby. The procedure went well. The consultant said it was a struggle due to the shape of my damaged cervix but that she was happy with outcome and positive it should hold. I just had to take it easy , no heavy lifting /exercise.....
16 weeks later of doing not very much apart from worrying ... at 35 weeks , the stitch was removed.... a much less scary procedure than getting the stitch in .....
One week later at 36 weeks and climbing out of bed... my heart stopped... I felt a gush . It felt exactly like the gush I had felt all those years ago . I can’t explain the place that took my head too. I was quickly reassured by my partner it was clear ... completely clear ... it’s just the waters it’s not blood. I’d spent years imagining what it would feel like to fall into labour naturally, a bit sad /envious that I’d never experience it and yet it had just happened and all I felt was fear. Off we went to the hospital and rightly enough my waters had gone ... kind of confirmed by the puddle in the car and my wet leggings.... the hospital knew of my history so were quick to reassure my and put me on the monitors . My baby girl was doing well, she was just on her way a little early. I began hand expressing to try and collect some colostrum for her once she arrived, I say I , I mean my partner... I don’t think either of us imagined I’d be lying in a hospital bed with him being taught how to hand express.... A few hours before being taken to theatre her heart rate was becoming un steady.... the midwife sat by the bed reassuring me , explaining it would probably be because my heart rate was increasing... not to panic ... I was in the right place..... everybody who knows me will know if I’m panicking .... telling me not to panic does not help. I just knew I wanted my baby out now. Going to theatre I was so teary and anxious , again it’s a bit of a blur ....
My baby girl Harper was born crying and placed on my chest ... for a breath second ... then the midwife scooped her up. They took her into the next room and I didn’t understand what was happening. It was so scary to be back lying helpless on a theatre table not knowing what was going on. Again brought me back to a place in my head I did not want to be. I took deep breaths , the doctors / surgeons around me tried to reassure me. A midwife came through and asked my partner if he wanted to go through into the room. To take some pictures and they would explain to him what was happening. As much as it shouldn’t have mattered , I wanted to be the one taking pictures and being told what was happening. This probably stems from when Darcey was born and me not being well enough to see her so a few family members saw her first ....I was happy my baby girl would have her dad in the room with her , and would hear his voice and hopefully feel a little calmer in the scary unknown situation she found herself in, in which I was helpless. My partner came back and explained she was having breathing difficulties which can be common with premature babies born via c-section and that they were taking her to the neonatal. I cried and cried. I’d failed my baby. She wasn’t ok. I was so worried about going into the neonatal Ward, I knew the sounds and beeps would fill me bad memories. I got taken back to the ward , while Darren (my partner ) went down to the neonatal unit. They brought me a picture of Harper , it should have made me happy but it felt like dejavu ... I cried and cried. She was absolutely perfect and beautiful but she was g meant to be lying attached to machines. I wanted to see my baby now. The midwife went away and came back and said right she was going to take me up , I somehow managed to get out the bed but then almost passed out , she said she was so sorry but she thought I’d better wait a while she didn’t want me passing out in the corridor. A wee while later my mum and sister arrived at the hospital with my daughter Lila , unaware of the situation we were once again in. I realise now the situation was no where near the same but at the time I had completely convinced myself it was bad. I was staring at a photo of my baby wired up to machines , not cuddling her. It felt the same. I felt awful. I also had to try and stay calm and reassure my daughter Lila , who was expecting to see her baby sister , who knew all about her big sister Darcey . I decided it would be best if Darren took Lila to see her baby sister Harper , I was worried as she had seen photos and videos of Darcey , heard the noises on the videos of the machines and I didn’t want her to thing Harper was going to be an angel too. The midwife spoke to Lila and agreed Lila was ok to go into the neonatal. I sat and cried again. I’d imagined the moment Lila met her baby sister for years and years and it most certainly wasn’t like this.
Neonatal and breastfeeding-
Harper spent 5 days in the neonatal, I hated being away from her , it felt so wrong and un natural to me. And still now 8 months on , I’m still traumatised by being away from her . We did skin to skin, we practised latching... but my little Harper was not great at latching on. The midwifes suggested I keep hand expressing to get up supply and in the mean time Harper was tube fed formula ... everybody said that because I had breastfed Lila my milk may come in quicker this time , but it didn’t ... we were just getting small amounts.... day 3 , whilst Darren was hand expressing ... a big squirt of milk hit him right in the eye .... oh how we laughed..... by day 5 Harper was nursing then being topped up.... her latch was perfect , I had expected pain as with Lila.... but none came , even now 8 months on , I haven’t had a single bit of nipple pain. I joke that’s because they (my nipples) never did ‘ recover ‘ from Lila.
By day 7 at home I’d stopped the top ups and Harper was now exclusively breastfeeding, whenever , she liked for as long as she liked.... it was tiring and I was constantly worried she wasn’t getting enough . Debating with myself whether I should just give her formula. In the end I stuck to what I knew , I ignored the doubts . And we breastfed .
Theres probably not a negative comment I’ve not been told over my time breastfeeding ..... ‘ she’s using you as a dummy , being a consistent one...... yes she is... kind of .... a dummy is a modern day man made prop used to mimic a mother’s nipple..... I must add I have nothing against bottle feeding /dummies.... in fact if Harper would take a dummy my car journeys /long pram trips would be a lot less stressful at times. But if she wants to comfort nurse for whatever reason that is ok , where ever we are , whatever we are doing , and it is certainly not weird. It is 100% natural.
‘She’s eating solids now, she doesn’t need you as much ‘ ..... I think until you breastfeeding yourself you can’t understand how much more breastfeeding means than feeding your baby, for me with both girls breastfeeding is there safe place . It’s not solely about the milk.
‘ she should be sleeping through , she doesn’t need the feeds’... can you imagine waking up in the night feeling scared , lonely, overtiered, stressed, worried and your partner saying to you no I’m not cuddling you , go back through there and go to sleep. No loving partner would do that . So why should I refuse my baby her comfort needs for the sake of a good nights sleep. I know from my experience with Lila , the better nights will come.... it may take a while but they will come. Time passes quickly. The long nights won’t last, and on the bad nights I remind myself this.
I don’t have any plans to stop breastfeeding Harper (now 8 months ) any time soon. I will nurse her until she is ready to stop. Whether that’s one year , 18 months , 2 years..... I feel so much less concerned with what other people think now than I did when I was feeding Lila. That’s probably due to me being 7 years older .... but also because I know from Lila that she did thrive .... she was able to leave me ..... she is a secure and confident young girl .... on her first day of playgroup she didn’t even look back. Yes it’s exhausting and I am still walking around with my leggings on and hair scraped back most days , stealing 5 minutes here and there to take a bath in peace , or spend some time with Lila or my partner , but I know Harper and Lila don’t care what I look like , Lila understands just now Harper needs a lot of mums time but that it won’t always be like this and my partner Darren understands I am doing the best I can to help out baby thrive , and hold my self and is all together, he knows Harper won’t always be so reliant on her mumma and that we will get our date nights again. When the time is right to stop feeding Harper , we will know. Breastfeeding has been such a massive part of my parenting journey and is something I really feel is so misunderstood by society.
I wouldn’t change my breastfeeding experience the determination, the effort and time is what has created such strong bonds between myself and my girls and I am very proud of that and thankful that for us breastfeeding has worked out. I am not against bottle feeding and understand breastfeeding is not for everyone , but for me it’s what feels right. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.
When Harper was 10 days old we visited Darcey’s ‘ special garden’ to put flowers down for what should have been her 9th birthday. Lila and Harper will grow up knowing all about Darcey and how precious pregnancy really is.
Thank you for reading my story of pregnancy/baby loss/ and breastfeeding after C-Section.
Ceilidh - one exhausted but proud breastfeeding Mumma xxx