A good old rant

I’ve been thinking a lot about not being ok since I wrote a recent blog post on this subject.

I feel great at work and how I am in my role as mother to Jenson – often I feel that I’m flying when I’m in the midst of a meeting or playing in a park with my son.

But I’m left on empty when it comes to other things outside of these realms. Small events like unexpected plans or having guests to stay can throw me into a spin and leave me on my knees with exhaustion.

Not putting boundaries in my life, taking on more than I can deal with and having little-to-no time for myself is impacting me.

I’m comfort eating more, snapping more, feeling more and more on the edge of ‘ok’.

I need time for myself.

And so I’ve been weighing up what I need to do to find more time in my jam-packed life.

Breastfeeding

I’ve started to stop breastfeeding my son, which comes with a multitude of feelings including sadness, not being good enough, judging myself as selfish for putting my needs above his well-being.

I know I’ve breastfed him far longer than most people. I know I’ve given him the best start I could. I know many babies never have breast milk and are perfectly happy, well-adjusted, healthy.

So I’m not looking for reassurance or anything like that from you in writing this. In fact, you’re likely to get a punch on the nose from me if you say things like that (ok, more like a frosty ‘thank you’ – I’m too polite to turn to fisticuffs 😜)

Because I know all these things already and that doesn’t change how I feel.

I still feel anger, sadness, disappointment, hurt…

So I’m asking myself what’s going on.

I’m tired so am not at my best. Things feel trickier, my emotions around this ending are heightened.

And I’m scared too, scared he’ll not need me as much if he doesn’t physically need me.

I can also tell that I’m trapped in a rhetoric that it’s possible to have it all – being a perfect mum, employee, perfect person – and thinks of myself as ‘weak’ for not being able to just buckle down and push on through.

But I’m not weak.

I’m a human.

With only so much energy to expend.

And I’m an introvert.

Who hasn’t had much time over the past 16 months to be in stillness and recuperate from the hustle and bustle of life.

I had quite a traumatic birthing experience with Jenson and, thrown into motherhood I perhaps didn’t get a chance to process all that went on so I’ve transferred some of my feelings about that into this whole breastfeeding malarkey.

Getting out of my head

I’m so so so tired of being stuck in my head.

Holding onto the million different parts of my life – do we have food sorted for the week? Has Gregg got out £20 to pay the cleaner? I’m not talking enough to Jenson, what if that delays his speech? Do we have the paperwork sorted? How can I find some French friends for him to hear French from people other than me? Where is my community in Brighton?

It’s so busy in my mind.

It’s exhausting.

I’m carrying the mental and emotional load .

And I feel like the writer in the link above – I have a good, kind husband who actively does a lot of work, picks up the slack if I ask him to, does things around the house.

But I still feel on my knees from the emotional load I’m holding which keeps our lives together.

I doubt he would have asked himself, putting the last vegan sausages in the oven yesterday, whether we had anything for dinner tomorrow. Part because I enjoy doing the food prep but part because he doesn’t carry this mental load.

I don’t usually mind carrying the mental and emotional load. It’s something I’m generally capable of until I get to this point of depletion and can take no more.

Politeness

And I’m so good-damn tired of being polite and not speaking my mind.

Of bearing in mind the feeling of other people and adjusting myself to fit into their ideal (or what I think their ideal is).

I know they don’t ask me to be anything other than I am (although they might not approve if I were to be outspoken and speak my mind) so I’m mostly angry at myself for taking on this polite BS and not allowing myself to speak my mind more often.

I hate that my default is ‘yes, whatever you want’ instead or ‘nah, I’m alright thanks’.

I hate how this makes me exhausted.

I hate how I don’t say ‘that hurts’ when something someone says hurts my feelings. And instead I bury it deep and hide away the pain.

I know I am getting better at speaking my mind, letting go of needing to please, being open and honest to those around me.

But it’s exhausting to step out of safety and into unknown territory.

The anxiety after my neighbour asked if she could cook a chicken in my oven (as hers is broken) and I said ‘yes, but poor chicken’ as I’m against slaughtering animals for our own purposes. I expressed my view but am on tenterhooks that she might feel ill-will towards me and my views.

Such a small thing but something that is taking up brain space when I’d rather not give a damn and respect my views.

Will this ever get better…?!?

I hope so, and I want to believe so. But it feels a bit hard right now.


So there you are – my good old rant! It feels so great to express how I’m feeling and to share that things are hard right now.

I’m sure it will get better in the future, but at the moment it all feels a bit ‘meh’.

I hope you’re in a better place than I, dear friend. Or if not, I hope you have the courage to speak out like me and say ‘I’m not ok, but it’s ok’.

Perfectly proportioned

I’ve written a lot on this blog about breastfeeding, specifically my troubles producing enough milk and worrying about my baby boy’s weight which started off in the top 25% of baby weights but then sunk quickly to the bottom 9%.

I’ve spent hours expressing milk to top up what he’s getting, taken so many supplements and medication, researched at all hours how to increase my milk fat or general supply.

But no matter what I did, he stuck in the bottom 9%.

I worried that it was me – had I not eaten enough at the start to get my supply going? Were the TV shows I watched too stressful and curbed my supply? Was there something wrong with my diet? Was I to blame?

And then I got angry. At the messages that I heard about needing to breastfeed or failing as a mum. At the high standards I hold which means that if I can’t do something 100%, I view myself as failing. At my body that was not doing what it should be.

And then a few things happened –

1. I went to see a paediatric doctor, who explained that a baby’s birth weight is linked to how efficient the mother is at growing the baby and after the birth, it’s down to ow good the baby is at putting on weight/finding their natural weight.

2. I came away on such a wonderful holiday with close friends and I relaxed. Whether it’s the hearty meals or the wonderful company but I seem to be producing enough milk, more than I’ve done in ages.

3. A break away from routine and the generously helpful hands has given me a bit of space and perspective about Jenson’s weight.

My son is beautifully chubby, with little sausage links and dimples on his arms, a cute round bottom and little double chin.

He’s also petite – he’s not as broad as his little best friend – but he’s perfectly proportioned.

And over the past four months he’s kept on the 9% track. Whether he’s been fed more or less, whether I’ve expressed more or not. He’s doing his thing, growing at his pace.

And so I’m going to remind myself of this if I get home and start to worry again about how he’s doing.

He’s doing fine. He’s doing his thing. We both are doing enough.

My supply

So before I start getting into this properly, I want to put a big caveat on this post – I’m talking about breast milk and all the things I’ve done to increase my supply so if it’s not your thing, please feel free to stop here.

I also want to caveat that I don’t think that breastfeeding is the be all and end all. Some mums make their choice to bottle feed and if that’s your choice, good for you! I just knew that I wanted to breastfeed from the moment I got pregnant and have continued to want to do so despite being faced with some challenges. Especially because Jenson will rely on breastfeeding to have immunity from disease when we’re travelling in Cambodia and Vietnam in June. Yes, breastfeeding has some great benefits – supporting your baby to get over sickness quickly, the beauty of relaxing while your baby is slowly feeding, not having to faff with sterilisation, supporting your body to return to its pre-baby state. But it’s a personal choice and I support anyone to do what is best for them whether it’s the bottle or boob.

I’m hoping to write this to partly come to terms with what has been a really hard journey and also to put my experience out into the ether to hopefully help other new mums who want to persevere and keep on feeding their babies if things get tough.

And for a lot of people it does get tough. I think I heard that less than 10% of mums are breastfeeding when their babies are 3 months old. It is challenging – a skill you and your baby are having to co-learn when you’re at your most vulnerable and exhausted. And it takes the perfect cocktail of hormones for the milk let-down reflex to be triggered and for your baby to latch on properly.

I wasn’t told that it could get tough before I had Jenson but I wish I had been.

Why was it hard?

Breastfeeding didn’t get off to the best start for me. Jenson was tongue-tied (as I’ve shared before with you, dear friend) and while he was able to latch on, he didn’t feed effectively. This meant he was either feeding, sleeping or crying for the first three weeks and didn’t put on much weight. He didn’t drop into a danger zone but went from being in the top 75% of babies, weight-wise, to being in the bottom 9%.

And since he wasn’t latched on properly, my milk didn’t come in properly.

It wasn’t that the tongue-tie was undetected. It was picked up straight away but the protocol at the hospital where I had him was to not treat it unless it proved to be problematic. But the pity is that when it was apparent that this was the problem, the damage had already been done. To my milk supply and to Jenson’s weight which is only just starting to pick up 13 weeks into his life.

I don’t know for sure this was the problem. But I do know that it might have been the problem and I wish that I had spoken up more to the doctor who brushed off my concern and didn’t give me the option to treat it when I asked about the condition.

There were other issues at play too which impacted my milk supply – severe blood loss in labour, being treated with lots of IV fluid, anaemia, perhaps not resting enough when he was born…

So I don’t know why it was hard, all I know is that it was and has continued to be hard.

What I do

Since it became apparent that breastfeeding was an issue, I’ve done a number of things to increase my supply including:

Supplements

I take brewers yeast, blessed thistle, goat’s rue, fenugreek and marshmallow root supplements three times a day with food. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot, both in volume and in cost. I probably spend £30 a month in supplements but think I’d spend even more on formula if I was using it so I’ve come to terms with this.

Medication

I’ve been prescribed medication by the GP which is used to treat nausea/vomiting but has the side effect of increasing lactation. If you’re struggling, speak to your GP to see what help they can give you.

Food

I eat oats every day – porridge for breakfast and a flapjack whenever I can for a snack. I also sprinkle savoury meals with nutritional yeast which is meant to be good for milk supply.

I don’t drink alcohol (it can decrease milk production by 30% for the few hours following drinking alcohol) and have boosted my water intake as much as I can. I can’t wait to have a G&T but it’s not worth it at the moment for me.

Peppermint and sage can decrease milk so I also try to avoid these. Instead of peppermint tea, I have a new Mother’s tea that my friend bought me.

I’m also not trying to get back to my pre-baby body, although I personally feel pretty damn great in myself. The most important thing is to eat well so I’m having plenty of good fats, not skipping meals and have also started to eat locally sourced, free range eggs to get more easily absorbable omega fats. It was a hard choice to make with my veganism but I feel like this choice to re-introduce eggs is not at odds with my principle of being vegan to opt out of the large-scale and (often) damaging meat and dairy industry.

Skin-to-skin

I was told how powerful skin-to-skin is in increasing milk supply. Jenson doesn’t like snuggling close to my chest during the day as he’s a nosey little man who likes to look out to see what’s going on in the world. So instead we both sleep topless while co-sleeping to get the skin-to-skin benefit during the night.

Expressing

I have tried to express milk to increase my supply but find it a difficult experience. Having to make sure everything is sterile, finding time to sit alone to express and timing it with Jenson’s frequent feeds has proved difficult and I’ve not done this as much as I should. But I have done this where possible.

Seeking help

The best thing I’ve done is sought help from people. I’ve called the La Leche League hotline to get their invaluable help and advice. I’ve been to breastfeeding drop-in clinics. I’ve gone to my parents house to get some rest and a chance to express while they look after Jenson. I’ve spoken to my GP who has referred Jenson for further tests to make sure his slow weight gain isn’t the cause of an underlying health issue. I’ve stayed under the care of my health visitor to get support. I’ve asked friends for help and advice to support me.

I’m getting there

I’m happy to report that Jenson has started to put on weight at a more rapid pace. And I’ve taken steps to help myself feel more in control – I’ve written to the NHS trust to ask them to improve how they treat tongue-tie and have implemented the things above that fit into my life. So I’m not expressing as much as I could, but I’m keeping my sanity and hopefully making gains with lots of skin-to-skin and supplements.

It feels good to write all this to you and share my story a bit. It’s been a long road to get to where we are, but I’m glad I persevered and hope I can help people in the future.

I suppose the biggest advice is give you is that if you’re going through difficulty with breastfeeding, reach out. Get help. And know that things can get better.

Baby moon

I wrote about my breastfeeding issues a few days ago and, while I’ve stopped being angry at myself for having trouble producing enough milk for Jenson, I’m still frustrated that things haven’t improved. If anything they’ve got a bit worse as Jenson needs to have all the extra milk I’m expressing in order for him to fill up. I’ve started to worry that his demand will outstrip my supply and that my milk will start to dry up…

My good friend Charlie recommended that I call the La Leche League breastfeeding support line to get some advice and I’m so glad I did this afternoon when I was having a wobbly moment. The woman at the end of the phone was really kind and supportive, telling me that I’m trying my best (it’s always nice to hear that!) and gave me some great advice that I’m putting into practice right now.

To have a baby moon.

Not a trip away to a tropical destination – although we’re planning to go away as a family to Vietnam in June (more on that in future posts, I’m sure!) – but a time to get snuggled up warm with my bubba doing lots of skin-to-skin contact*.

Apparently this can increase milk supply more than any food supplement, stout, breast pumping or concoction can.

I’ve written previously about how hard I’ve found the change of pace in my life. Slowing down has been tricky, let alone grinding to a halt to have my baby on me as I rest for as many hours a day as possible.

But this feels different.

Like in doing nothing, I’m doing everything that I need to as a Mum. There’s a point to this stillness.

And could it be that I’m comfortable with the notion of stopping because I’ve been given permission to do nothing? Instead of thinking that I should go out, be active, stimulate Jenson, I’m looking at this time as a chance to pamper myself (reading a book, eating chocolates, watching my favourite tv shows and writing to you) while getting endless cuddles with my son.

Suddenly the pace doesn’t bother me at all. It feels like I’ve entered the start of a very enjoyable baby moon where I relax, sit back, take things slow and look after both myself and my son.

*skin-to-skin is where you get naked on top and have the baby rest on you. It apparently gets the mother’s hormones working, encouraging the body to produce more milk and gets the babies hormones working, encouraging him to breastfeed more.

Double standards

I’ve been having a bit of an issue with breastfeeding. Sorry if this is TMI but it’s true.

I’ve loved the experience of providing sustenance for Jenson and have no problem whipping my breasts out in public to do so. That’s not the issue. It’s that I’m not producing quite enough milk for him and so he’s been slow to put on weight.

I don’t know where the issue stems from, although there are a number of potential reasons why my supply isn’t quite enough for him. The blood loss I experienced just after giving birth that left me anaemic, that Jenson was tongue-tied for the first 3 weeks and perhaps didn’t feed strongly enough to bring my milk in fully, my genetics, my diet (although I don’t think that being vegan has any impact on milk production)…

Regardless of where the issue stems from, I’m potentially not providing enough milk or Jenson isn’t getting quite enough and, although my health visitor isn’t overly worried, there’s a chance that we may need to top him up with formula.

I’m not the only person I know who has been having feeding issues. A few people in my anti-natal class have had to move fully onto formula and others are doing a mix of bottle and breastfeeding. And when they shared their sadness at not being able to fully breastfeed their baby, I was understanding about how they were feeling, but also had a real conviction that as long as the baby was getting sustenance (through formula or breastmilk) and was loved, there was no shame in switching to formula.

That is, I felt this strong conviction until I was faced with potentially having to use some formula myself.

What double standards!

That other people can be human but I need to be perfect, that good enough is enough for others on this journey of motherhood but that I need to get everything ‘right’.

I started writing this post feeling sad and a bit ashamed but now I just feel pissed off at the bar of perfection I find myself yet again trying to vault over – a bar that is never achievable because it’s too high.

Because if I was perfect with my ability to produce milk, I would fall short in how I’m playing with him. Or if I did both those things perfectly, I’d worry about how he’s sleeping compared to others. Or how he’s developing or interacting or what clothes I’m dressing him in…and the list of self-judgement could go on and on.

I’m so glad I started to write this post because I see how far I’ve progressed. Yes, that bar of perfection may still be in my life and I may still start to measure myself against it, but I’m able to step back and see it for the unrealistic, cold, unhelpful measure it is.

It doesn’t take into account how I rock my son when he is crying for the 100th time in the day, or how my days are planned around what will bring him peace, or how I cradle myself around him at night so he can sleep soundly. It doesn’t measure the depth of my love for him or the effort I put in to be the best Mum I can be. Not a perfect Mum, but as good a Mum as I can be.

So what if I can’t produce exactly the right amount of milk. I’m doing my best – my body is doing its best – and that is good enough.