One sh*t tit
BreastfeedingMotherhood

One sh*t tit

Before I had Dotty my thoughts on breastfeeding were simple. I knew that it was something I definitely wanted to try and do but at the same time, I wasn’t going to torture myself in the process. If for whatever reason it didn’t work out, I was ok with that. Of course, I imagined that I might find it upsetting if that were the case but I told myself to remain rational, know that I hadn’t failed and just crack on with
formula feeding.

By way of research, I asked my midwife a few questions and grilled a couple of friends on their experiences. I hit the internet for maybe an hour or so and then booked into a daylong NCT session wondering how on earth anyone could possibly talk about boobs for that amount of time?!

In a yellowy room at the top of a local church, it was an intimate session with only 6 of us giggling and waiting nervously for the show to begin. I realized quickly that breastfeeding might not be quite as easy as plonking the baby on the nip and hoping for the best. We were shown films and diagrams of different holds, positions, techniques and pieces of kit that I’d never seen or heard of before.

“Ladies, breastfeeding your baby for the first year is a real achievement…” said the woman taking the class.

“THE FIRST YEAR??!” I shrieked a little louder than I intended to.

She paused for a second and nodded at me gently, smiling as she carried on with her sentence.
I squirmed in my seat, leant into my (then very new friend) Nic and said, “I thought 6 months was pushing it!! Surely they’ll have teeth beyond that?! AND I’ll need a wine before then!”

Undeterred, I felt confident that I still wanted to give it a try and hoped that my boobs would be up to the challenge. I kept looking at them thinking that they’d always been a fairly decent size, never that perky but a good handful on each side that were getting bigger each day. I gave them a supportive squeeze on my way home that night and didn’t think that much more about it until Dotty was born.

Motherhood hit me like a spade to the face and little Dotty was a handful from the start. I was a nervous wreck that put far too much pressure on myself from the beginning and I struggled to breastfeed from the off.

My ‘one shit tit’ (Lucy on the left) refused to give anything up and my reliable one on the right (Rita) was knackered and struggling to do all of the work on her own. Dotty had real trouble latching on and I wasn’t sure how to help her. We were kept in hospital for 3 days while midwives milked me, one on each nipple, catching my measly colostrum into syringes in front of my shy and awkward husband. In a different scenario I dare say he might’ve found this enjoyable but the jazzy fleece Christmas PJs I was wearing, with my hair scraped back from my forehead to further enhance the manic wide eyed stare that had taken up residence on my face saw to that. Less rubbing of his thighs, more shifting in his shoes, staring at the ceiling, trying not to pass out.

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With the benefit of hindsight, Dotty’s reflux could’ve been a contributing factor as to why she was so difficult to feed but she was undiagnosed at the time and silent reflux is hard to spot in babies so young. In the absence of that knowledge, I typically blamed myself.

We had ourselves a little screamer and one that’s only initial sustenance came from a syringe courtesy of the Milk Maids or a couple of sucks on good old Rita. That meant we combination fed from the beginning to ensure she was getting enough milk. Although I felt useless and emotional at the thought of not being able to feed her on my own, I was ok with giving her a bit of formula. I told myself that it’d be a lot easier when we were home where I wouldn’t feel like I had people watching me messing it up. I’d keep trying with the boob in the hope that once my milk flooded in, we’d be able to drop the bottle.

When we eventually got home, I hadn’t banked on how lost and alone I’d feel. After pushing to be discharged from hospital I found myself wanting to turn around and go straight back. What was I thinking? We couldn’t be trusted to look after this tiny human on our own… she was so precious and when she cried, I didn’t know what to do to make her stop.

I found that nothing came particularly naturally to me.

I was a frazzled, anxious and uncertain mother that second, third and fourth guessed every decision I had to make. I was no nearer to mastering breastfeeding and the frustration was consuming me. It was hard. I was so frigging angry at my tits and upset with myself for agonizing over it so much and not focusing on and enjoying beautiful Dotty.

Each midwife that visited in the first 2 weeks saw my desperation and made sure they or a colleague came back every couple of days to check in and help me with my technique. I found the rugby hold the most successful and each time someone was there to help me latch her on she seemed to take more milk but as soon as they left I fell apart again. This part was particularly hard for Mark. I knew he felt powerless, he’d never seen me so lost and was worried for my health. I barely ate (unless it was toast or mini eggs), I was half way to Crazy Town and we both knew it. But we kept going, we certainly didn’t talk about it as I simply refused.

I was adamant that I was a rubbish mother unless Dotty’s milk came from Lucy or Rita. We knew Lucy was a lost cause and poor Rita was a mess. Cracked, sore and exhausted, she was taking a beating and I was at breaking point. It was then that a close friend of mine came to visit. We hadn’t had many visitors up until this point as I couldn’t face anyone other than immediate family but Jayne came on exactly the day I needed her most. A friend that’s seen me at my most vulnerable and someone that’s never gasped at my really ugly, properly crying face, she knew what to say to stop me hyperventilating or throwing up on myself as I sobbed into her armpit.

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We hugged it out, we cried and we talked for almost the entire day. We worked through my frustrations with the boobs and talked about everything else that was on my mind, mainly things like how to be a good parent and not fuck it up! She told me that I had to stop the boob immediately and that the most important things to focus on were my health and Dot’s needs.

I remember she told me, “If the captain of the ship goes down, the ship goes down with it”… Just to be clear I was the captain! She had to reiterate that bit to me several times as I nodded blankly at her as she spoke. But I got it eventually and I was so relieved. Relieved that someone made the decision to stop the boob for me. That might sound like a copout but I didn’t want to fail and couldn’t bring myself to make the call on my own. I wasn’t listening to Mark, instead I was letting my struggle to feed overwhelm our first memories of parenthood and I regret that now. I wish I’d been less proud and had the strength to discuss how hard I was finding it and how vulnerable I felt at the time. The fact that I couldn’t breastfeed or maybe didn’t persevere long enough still gets to me. The guilt I feel is still rife but like many other things that have happened that I can’t change, I’m working on letting that stuff go.

The next day, an obvious weight had been lifted and I felt so much better. Dotty was already combination fed so adjusting to more formula wasn’t an issue. In fact, in week three she fed better and seemed a lot more content but I wasn’t counting my chickens just yet. I was calmer and Mark felt a little better about going back to work and leaving the crazy lady at home with the baby. With ongoing support from my family, I was soon signed off by the midwife and felt for the first time that things might just work out.

I have such respect and admiration for any Mama that’s managed to breastfeed, whether that be for a whole day or a whole year. It’s an amazing achievement and it’s bloody hard.

My struggle with breastfeeding is something I truly wish had turned out differently but we survived and it hasn’t put me off. If I ever get drunk enough to agree to number 2, I’ll definitely give it another go, this time with a bit of experience under my belt to spur me on.

6 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Emma this is inspirational for all of us who just ‘couldn’t do it’ I felt such a failure because in my day every one kept saying it’s the most natural thing in the world – well it most certainly wasn’t for me

  2. Anonymous

    Oh Emma I can certainly relate to ‘the friend’ that takes the decision from you …. My friend did exactly the same when she visited and watched me grimacing and crying with cracked sore nips as my son ate me alive!!!! You will lose the guilt …..

  3. Emma

    I’m sorry to hear that you struggled with it too. It’s such a wonderful, naturual thing when a mother is breastfeeding their baby, but like you I found it very difficult. All I tell myself now is that I know I tried and I tried hard so it obviously wasn’t meant to be this time around. Thank you for your support! Em x

  4. Emma

    Thank you! I really hope so. Sounds like you have wonderful, caring and important friends too. I’d be lost without mine! Em x

  5. Carly

    Wow – no idea you went through all this! Amazing blog lady!! I remember all that pain v well myself!
    carly (from identica)

  6. Emma

    Thanks Carly, really appreciate you taking the time to read it! Em xx

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