This is Jacinta's nursing story.
A raw, honest account of what happens when breastfeeding doesn't, and a meaningful perspective on what defines us as mothers.
This beautiful story takes you through the highs and lows of Jacinta's experience feeding her two children. The expectations, the struggle, the exhaustion, the surrender, the elation, the bonding and the overriding importance of love.
When I was asked to tell my breastfeeding story I first thought of my little boy whom I recently finished breastfeeding. But I want to start where my story really begins, which is with my daughter Macy.
When I was pregnant with Macy the midwife on one of her visits was filling in a routine form that asked if I planned to breastfeed. I said "yes of course," as if I hadn’t given any other possibility a thought - because I hadn’t. I had assumed it would happen. My mum had done it, my aunty had done it and everyone in my family seemed to have had great milk supplies and no issues with feeding. I had no idea that things could actually be more complex.
When Macy was born she was immediately placed on my breast and it felt lovely. It felt right, instinctual and natural. However by 3 weeks of age Macy was on the bottle and this mumma was heartbroken.
I used to tell my story to anyone asked "are you feeding her?" because I felt I needed to explain why I wasn't.
I tell them about the cracked bleeding nipples that got so damaged I was told to take her off them and express. About how this resulted in my milk supply dropping off, and about how I would be up 2 hourly each night trying to pump to get it back up. About how this resulted in utter exhaustion, which then led to further drop in supply. About the mastitis. About the hungry baby screaming blue murder for food. And about me - anxious, upset, a new mum feeling like a complete failure. And about the trip back to the hospital with a starving baby and empty breasts, as I cried desperately to the lactation consultant that my milk is gone, that it’s too late.
My nipples finally healed enough to put Macy back on, but my milk was gone. The consultant showed me line feeding to promote sucking, while supplementing Macy with formula.
We fiddled and tried to get Macy on, but she was too frustrated at not getting anything. I couldn’t hold the syringe and the line in place as well as hold her in a position in which we could get her latched correctly. It just felt hopeless.
That afternoon I made the heartbreaking decision to surrender. I finally accepted that it wasn’t happening for us. I felt devastated and yet simultaneously relieved - like a weight had been lifted and I didn’t have to feel a sense of fear and dread when my baby started to fuss for a feed. A decision was made and we could move forward. And we did.
Today I have a healthy, happy, beautiful, clever three year old daughter. But I grieved for our breastfeeding experience for a very long time. I can remember when she was as old as one, still longing to be able to feed her at times.
Two years later I had a beautiful baby boy, Theo. The second time around I went into the breastfeeding experience more open minded, but hopeful.
I knew that with Macy the problems all began with an incorrect latch but I just hadn’t known she wasnt latched properly. I didn’t realise it wasn’t suppose to hurt like that.
With Theo though, to my delight, it didn’t hurt. At every feed I got the midwives to check his latch, got advice on how to hold him and how to attach. The advice about where their chin should be and how they should come on. I absorbed every word. I worked at it - I practised. It felt almost technical and that’s not the way I ever imagined something so natural to be, but for me to have success it did start out that way.
Then over the days or weeks that followed, all that advice and those little techniques did just become natural. I didn’t have to think about what I was doing, and I didn’t have to worry anymore. I was feeding my baby boy. Naturally, effortlessly feeding him, and I was so happy about it.
Breastfeeding was so healing for me. Healing because not only did it take care of him, but it required that I take care of myself.
I had to rest, I had to drink more water, remember to eat and eat well. And healing because I got a second chance to do what I so desperately wanted to do with my first.
But let me tell you this. Breastfeeding was lovely. It was convenient. It was free. It was a beautiful and guaranteed way to settle my baby, comfort when sick or gently and easily put him to sleep when tired and a lovely bonding time. But I am no closer to my little boy than I am my little girl. She knows no different, loves me no less.
I am no more or better a mother to him than I was her. I love them both fiercely and with my entire heart.
And that is motherhood - not our feeding experiences - if we can, if we cant, if we choose not to. That fierce love that drives us every single day to show up for our children, that is what makes us the perfect mum for our babies.