I have never really spoken about the beginning of my motherhood, nor the effect it had on me; and I probably should have done so a lot earlier. I think by voicing it, it's a way to start healing my own heart, mind and soul from my scarring experience. I do hope by sharing my experiences that I can help at least one other Mum to be be prepare or help her a Mum, especially if it hasn't started off as planned or even if she is expecting a multiple birth. So if you are reading this Mumma, and you need some encouragement to keep on keeping on then this one is for you (straight from the heart)... I have a not so great story, with a happy ending, as well as a near text book experience with the latest addition to the family. Hopefully you can take away something from this and not feel like you're alone.
My journey as a Mum begun just over 4 years ago, with an emergency c-section birth, due to complications of pre-eclampsia- of twin girls. It was definitely not how I expected I would be entering into motherhood. Everything I had imagined (and knew) at the start of motherhood went straight out the window. But one thing I did know for sure was that I wanted to breastfeed and protect my babies as much as I possibly could.
Artwork created for Medela By Shachar Ella Muller
Day 1: I was attending a 2pm obstetrician appointment with hubby and was advised that delivery needed to happen immediately. Due to the twins needing to be in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) due to an earlier than expected arrival, there were not enough beds for the three of us (twin girls + Me), so I had to give birth in a hospital that was not expecting this delivery. Glad to say our twin girls arrived safely that afternoon at 5pm, by our wonderful gynaecologist. I had one quick touch, glance and photo and they were whisked away from me and taken to the NICU where hubby stayed by their side in my absence. By 11pm that evening I was finally taken up to NICU. It was so good to be able to see them- stare at them and touch their tiny hands and feet. I stayed there for hours just soaking in all that I could.
Day 2: By the time I had woken the next morning, I felt a huge sense of loss. Bed ridden after the c-section, I had to wait for the bed to be wheeled up to the NICU. When I finally got up there, I definitely was not expecting the most amazing moment that was just around the corner! I was handed both of my babies and was able to hold them together, skin to skin- Kangaroo care! One of the most beneficial things you can do for both Mother and child. It's a way to bond, regulate, calm, and make the babies feel secure. In that moment I finally felt like a Mum... and it was the most incredible feeling! One happy family!
Our first family photo, I was puffed up fluid like a massive water balloon/Michelin Man!
If you are ever to be struck with this situation, I am sure the hospital will suggest this to you, but if not please, please ask for regular skin to skin contact. It will do wonders for your milk supply if you are able to feed your baby. It will also create a magical bond between the two of you, or in my case three!
Remember though, this hospital wasn't expecting us, and I didn't go through any of their prenatal programs, therefore had no idea how things worked in this hospital, nor what to do. This shouldn't have made a difference but I felt it had as I was prepared for something else. I was passed a breast pump and told I needed to express my milk, collect what was extracted in the provided syringes and take it up to the NICU for the twins. So I was shooting in the dark- assembled the pump as I saw it (no idea), lay back in my bed and started pumping... Colostrum was spilling everywhere, I was hardly collecting anything in the bottles and tears were streaming, and I was getting worried that I wasn't able to get milk for my babies. My brain was telling me on thing only- that I needed to feed them. I had no idea what I was doing wrong, and the worst ting was that I felt like I had nobody to ask, the nurses were too busy and unapproachable- cattle yard style. Thankfully I had a friend call me not long after putting down the pump, and I explained what had just happened- and in she came to me straight away. She showed me how I needed to hold it, how I had to lean forward into it, and thank god from then on the colostrum & milk started could actually be collected! Not a lot, but enough to start feeding them. It's sad I felt that I had nobody to ask on the ward, but unfortunately it can be all too common in some hospitals and community systems. As a new Mum though who else do you turn too? I no longer had a Mum of my own, and isn't that the person you'd usually turn to?
I am the first to admit that I am the worst for asking for help. So if this is you Mumma, make sure you reach out and set yourself up with a good support network, and list of people you can turn to or organisations and Facebook communities- as well as the Australian Breastfeeding Association. That way you know who to call on if needed. Medela also now have a great program called Take 5, almost like an online antenatal school to receive support from, and to prepare yourself for breastfeeding whilst pregnant.
Day 3: I was a little more mobile and was able to get around the ward/hospital in a wheelchair. In a way I was blessed the girls were in NICU as majority of my support ended up coming via them. I had access to a lactation consultant, and stumbled across some awesome nurses, and since the twins were tube fed they set up a routine of pumping, skin to skin, breastfeeding and formula top ups. I was like YAY I got this!
Day 4 -5: I went about my business for the following days but came across some further hurdles. I would go to feed my babies and they were already fed (unfortunately not uncommon in the NICU/special care scenario). And this is the one thing I felt I could actually do for them as their Mum. But I did get to hold them for half hour a day, and also try them on the breast. So I was pretty happy with that! You took what you got really. My milk was increasing and I was excited! Pumping around the clock every 3 to 4 hours was the way life was for me. They were my priority and I wanted to protect them.
Day 5: I transferred hospitals and split from the twins, they had to remain where they were. Yes that's right... split...from...my...babies...This timed with my emotional new Mum hormones, and to be honest I was not coping well at all. Once again a friend came to the rescue and set me up with my first Medela Swing double pump and got me on my way. At least no matter where I was I could get milk for my babies. I was still pumping every 3 to 4 hours every day, and at times I needed to look at a picture of my twins or just call the nursery to check on them. This became the norm and life was as I knew it. I did however get day passes from the hospital but I needed to be back to take my medication in between visits.
Day 9: After 9 days in hospital, I was finally well enough and allowed to go home. I started to get myself innto a routine of hospital visits, feeding, expressing until day 11 rolled around.
Day 11: This day is still as clear as day and would be considered as one the worst days of my life. I was told one of the twins had a heart condition and I needed to be transferred to a hospital in Sydney- immediately! I had 45 min to get home and get packed, get back to the hospital, get whisked away in an Ambulance to the airport, and board a flight. So that was 15 min home, 15 min to pack, 15 min back... Sadly the other twin had to stay in Canberra... Absolutely gut wrenching. You know all well that you can't stay with the healthy bub and you have to go but having to even make that decision well I don't wish that upon anyone. Hubby drove in parallel.
This flight was an absolute haze. I cried the whole way to Sydney
Day 11 to 18: For the 8 days I was separated from the healthy twin Charlotte, and sleeping in a dormitory with other Mum's and dad's on a mattress on the floor. I persevered with expressing my breast milk, and had my Dad drive between Sydney and Canberra to deliver her breast milk while I was bedside with Adelyn (the twin with the heart condition). After 7 days I came down to Canberra to see her for the night and organised to transfer her to Sydney. I couldn't leave her as the world in Sydney was unknown and our length of stay was unknown. I fought to bring her closer to us.
The expressing room I spent many, many hours in at Westmead Children's Hospital. I took this picture 4 years ago. I wonder if it has changed at all? Lucky I had the Medela pump I was familiar with.
Day 19: Charlotte was transferred by ambulance from Canberra to Sydney to a another hospital close by so I could walk between the two of them.
By this stage I didn't have enough milk for the both of them as they were needing more then I was producing. I had made the choice for the unwell twin to take all the milk she needed from expressing and anything left over I would give to Charlotte, the healthy twin. I had pressure from the new hospital to breastfeed on each visit with her, but I felt that if I did that it meant It would risk not having enough for the next pump and I couldn't risk this knowing I may not have enough for the unwell twin on my return. How does one even make that choice and feel that it is the right thing to do. I wanted to give both of my babies my breast milk and I was trying my hardest to do so. I just wanted to protect my babies, the universe was just making it all a little hard. I persevered. I wanted to protect my babies.
Day 22: The days were long... really long... The days were exhausting...really exhausting...The stress of trying to juggle the two was quickly becoming overwhelming and it was all starting to get the best of of me. I was exhausted and struggling with my milk supply and I just craved us all to be together. The ward social worker set us up at Ronald McDonald House (as we were away from home). With the help of the Grace Ward at Westmead hospital, we managed to get Charlotte, the healthier twin, discharged from the hospital. The amazing doctors on ward said they will check her daily and I could take her in with me to see Adi in the pram. This was the first time the twins had been reunited in almost 2 weeks and the change it had on the Adi's heart rate was incredible. All her vitals stabilised as soon as I put the two of them together. Heart was healed for all of us I think!
I had two gorgeous lactation nurses that I had contact with daily and they helped me get to get into a good routine of breastfeeding Charlotte and pumping the other boob at the same time to eventually get me ready for twin feeding. Adi the unwell bub didn't have enough energy to breastfeed until she was well enough at 3 months old, and this is when we finally arrived home. Surprisingly she was the one who fed better on the breast in the long run. Who would have thought? I was so glad I had persevered and was able to protect my babies as much as I could with my breast milk.
This was life as we knew it for the next almost 3 months. Two miracle heart operations later by the amazing surgeons, cardiologists and teams of awesome people at Westmead Children's hospital- we got through it all and we finally came home. We now have a very happy healthy 4 year old who survived and had incredible strength of her own to make it through the experience she did.
To say the least, I ended up best friends with my Medela Swing, and hands free bra. I tandem breastfed, expressed two boobs at a time and top up of formula if needed for a whole 8.5 months. I was on medication to increase supply and did everything possible to prolong my breastfeeding journey. I eventually called it quits after the 8.5 months. I am so glad in the end that we even made it as far as we had. Some may ask why I persevered as long as I did, and to me it was a connection to my babies when I couldn't physically couldn't connect to them, breastfeed or hold them. It was a way I could protect them and give them the best possible start at life that I could.
Don't let a hard start to Motherhood dampen your reasons to not breastfeed or think it's impossible, because it is possible, possible with the right support and encouragement and hell of a lot of strength!
Now for Round 2, single baby if you want to stick around to read more....
This one I will probably wrap up in a paragraph or two, a completely different experience and I guess you could call it normal or a text book baby, birth and pregnancy?
One baby, uncomplicated, except for Placenta Previa. The placenta had not yet moved, so we opted for another c-section. We delivered in a different hospital and different state. The hospital was amazing, as was my gynaecologist. Being the second time around I was a lot more relaxed and knew a little more what I was doing. And this was everything I expected motherhood to be. I had the full support from the nursing staff, and I had daily visits to the nursery whilst I was in hospital to make sure I was feeding properly. They showed baby Brooklyn and I how it all needed to be done, and we left confidently and we cried tears of joy for we were actually leaving the hospital all together, and no-one was left behind.
14 months later I am proud to say I am still breastfeeding. I also still have my Medela swing pump from 4 years and I still occasionally pump when needed. It also helped me in the early days with engorged breasts where I would express for 5 min before a feed so bub could latch on easily. This time around I learnt to reach out if there was something I was unsure about and also ask for help.
Support around you during your Motherhood journey is a must and you can't go at it alone. Don't be embarrassed if you don't know what to do. We all have to learn someway.
So how can you support a breastfeeding and/or new mum:
- Do not give any unwarranted advice or commentary on breastfeeding, nor any horror stories. If you don't have anything nice to say just say nothing at all. Just be kind. Breastfeeding isn't easy.
- Respect her wishes to breastfeed, or her feeding of choice.
- Do not close the door on her, make her leave the room or suggest she cover up or make her feel uncomfortable feeding.
- Don't just drop around. Call or message ahead if this is what the parents have requested.
- Respect the parents wishes no matter what it is.
- Breastfeeding is normal, don't make it a thing- cos it's really not.
- In the end fed is best right?
Even though my first experience was one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with, I wouldn't change it for the world. I blame myself a lot for not being prepared, so here I am talking about it open so others are aware that these situations do happen and maybe they can take something away from it.
I was broken, but it has all made me so much stronger. It has made me wiser and taught me to stand up for what I believe in.
So this is me today and I still worry about what people think of me when I am out and about breastfeeding my baby. I try to be as respectful as possible and respect others around me. Hopefully one day there will be less complexity around the issues of breastfeeding mothers.
Until next time
Big Love Ange x
For more breastfeeding support visit Medela over at http://medelabreastfeedingblog.com.au/blog/