OK, and now to the other “I Will Never…” story I mentioned before – giving The Baby a bottle.
So while I was pregnant and completely and blissfully unaware what motherhood was like, I had arrived at the very realistic, balanced and calm (not very like me at all, in fact) decision that should I have any difficulty with breast-feeding, if my nipples became cracked and I was feeding The Baby pink milk, if The Baby struggled to latch on and wouldn’t feed well, then I would just switch to bottle feeding without it being any kind of an issue. If I can do it, great. If not, not a problem, I thought. What was the big deal with mothers feeling guilted into breast-feeding and causing their little ones to starve, while stressing themselves out in the process? It’s not worth it, I thought. It’s simple, I thought, just bottle-feed.
The Baby arrived, with relative difficulty, into the world, and the minute she was placed on my chest she wriggled her chubby little body down mine, found my breast and stayed there until it was empty. She then wriggled herself over to the other one and emptied that too. And that’s how easy breast-feeding was from the start. I couldn’t have asked for more. Amazing, I thought, no having to traipse downstairs in the middle of the night to sterilise bottles and make up feeds, no having to pack bottles, formula, and sterilising solution for any excursion out of the house. This will be easy-peasy.
Except that I hadn’t realised just how often breast-fed babies like to feed. Or that some, or many in The Baby’s case, of the feeds are just for comfort. Or just how exhausting feeding-on-demand actually is. After the first few days of feeding The Baby every two hours round the clock I felt like I was purely here to feed. I hadn’t had the easiest labour, nor the easiest pregnancy, and the first two weeks I was basically immobile. The Boyfriend was doing everything – EVERYTHING – from making cups of tea, to changing the beds, to changing every nappy, to rocking and cuddling The Baby. I, on the other hand, got to position my swollen, painful backside atop a bag of frozen peas, only changing position from lounging on my right to lounging on my left, and was handed The Baby whenever she wanted a feed. Almost two weeks went by before I simultaneously exploded and broke down. “I am NOT a frigging milk machine!!! I want to change a nappy!! And I want to cuddle her – I AM HER MOTHER!!!”. Thank you, dear Boyfriend, for doing all the housework, making me breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, bringing me endless drinks of water (who knew breast-feeding makes you thirsty enough to drink a gallon of water an hour?), changing all of The Baby’s stinky explosive nappies, and generally waiting on me like my personal butler, somehow, did not make it into that conversation. A few months later and I was wishing I had kept my mouth shut.
By the time The Baby was 8 weeks old, she had got into a very workable routine with her feeding. Every 2-3 hours during the day and every 4-5, sometimes even 6 hours during the night. This had gone on for about 2 weeks. I kept a log of the times of her feeds to see how long it would take before the daytime feeds got further apart.
They didn’t. At 10 weeks, the night feeds had increased to every 2 hours again and the daytime feeds varied from 1 ½ – 3 hours. At the time I was despondent and couldn’t figure out what happened. But I soon realised the reason: she had started teething. Her feeds never settled or returned to that lovely pattern she had developed at 8 weeks. (At 7 months she now has 8 teeth and 4 about to come through – she literally has never had a break from it.)
So that was how it went every night. She had colic from 3 weeks old, and would reflux a lot of her feeds, so after each feed I would wind her for 20 minutes followed by thirty minutes of keeping her upright, before lying her back in her moses basket, only to have her waken for the next feed less than an hour later. I barely slept, I barely left the house. It was tiring, draining me both physically and mentally. I insisted that, because The Boyfriend was working, I do all the night duties. After The Baby out-grew the moses basket, and refused to sleep in the cot (2 nights of lots of screaming and crying…ha, little did we know what was to come), we had no choice but to share sleep. It wasn’t as if this was something we were against, we had done it for the first few weeks while I was unable to move well, and on and off during the nights when the colic was bad, and it was lovely. Our new family all cuddled up in bed together, what’s more nurturing and natural than that? But once it was realised that this would be our long-term sleeping situation, things had to change.
The Baby was absolutely fine, sleeping soundly in the starfish position between each feed, with at least enough room for Rick Waller between her and the edge of the bed, while The Boyfriend and I were stuck in whatever position we chose to start off in. I sustained several elbowings of the eyes/nose/ears and was smacked across the mouth once, while he had to grab the edge of the bed to stop himself falling on the floor every time he woke up. It was, to say the least, not an ideal situation.
The Boyfriend moved into the spare room. After nearly 5 months I begged for help during the nights when he wasn’t working. He readily agreed. And so every night we would say goodnight at the top of the stairs and go our separate ways, one of us with The Baby cradled in our arms. Every 2 hours I would be woken either by The Baby crying next to me, or by The Baby crying while being carried into the bedroom by The Boyfriend. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could do this, but was at a loss as to how to change it.
After Christmas I met with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long while. We shared stories about our beautiful little bundles, who were 4 months apart in age, and noted how similar our stories were. Except for one thing. My friend had had enough of the constant hourly – 2 hourly feeds after 3 months, and refused to be so exhausted any more, and so, she breezily told me, she gave him a bottle at bedtime. I felt like Archimedes in his bath (although I don’t think he nicked his idea off his mate). It was so simple, yet something that had never even crossed my mind. Because The Baby and I had never had any problems with breast-feeding, the notion of bottle-feeding had literally left my head. Plus there is so much literature, so many leaflets, articles, handbooks, DVDs, clinics and cafes all dedicated to the joy that is breast-feeding, bottle-feeding has become a dirty word.
I left my friend and immediately went shopping for (organic, pure-as-is-humanly-possible) formula. I was so excited to tell The Boyfriend that I had found a way to get The Baby to sleep longer; he thought it was a great idea and was keen to be able to help with feeding, particularly in the night to give me a little break. We dug out the steriliser we had bought while I was pregnant and 2 bottles, and while they were steaming themselves clean in the microwave, the thoughts suddenly came screaming into my head. We were about to feed The Baby with dried-out milk, which made me feel like we were basically feeding her dirt, despite the fact that I had never had any problem with breast feeding. It suddenly all felt very wrong and selfish.
And I was now redundant.
The Boyfriend made up the bottle and went to feed The Baby her last feed before bed, while I turned hysterical and ran upstairs. My tired fuzzy head wouldn’t let me stop thinking that she no longer needed me. Everything she needed – nappy-changing, bathing, cuddling, entertaining, and now feeding – could be provided by anyone else. I felt as if I was no longer any use. I may as well just pack my bags and leave right now. I had just lost my pivotal role.
The following day, after The Baby had slept (with The Boyfriend in the spare room) for 6 hours between each feed, I had a very different, rather less hysterical, thought.
I am still her mum. She still relies on me for everything she has always relied on me for. But I have slept. I haven’t woken every hour and battled with The Baby who thinks she needs to feed but actually doesn’t. I have had 6 hours of beautiful, refreshing, uninterrupted sleep. And while formula isn’t as pure as breast-milk, it’s certainly not bad for her. My rested, refreshed, fog-free head could certainly see that now. And besides, so what? She was full, she didn’t need any top up feeds, and SHE SLEPT!
The Boyfriend had a week off work, so every night he and The Baby slept in the spare room. He would deliver her to me at about midnight so I could breastfeed, and then they would slope off back to bed for another 6 or maybe 7 hours when she would have another bottle feed. That week was blissful!
If only we hadn’t gone away for a weekend a week and a half later and messed up our beautiful new routine….