Trigger warning – birth trauma, post-partum depression, breastfeeding failure. But I promise this has a happy ending.
Here’s my story. You’re not alone.
I wrote this to Suzanne Barston over at Fearless Formula Feedera little while after my son was born. In ‘celebration’ of Just Food releasing, I thought I’d share my full labour and delivery and breastfeeding story.
I’ve edited it to protect the guilty. Because nothing can protect them from God’s wrath.
I’ve also added a few things in my usual parentheticals.
So here goes:
“I’ve been trying to come to terms with my traumatic labor and breastfeeding journey and how it’s changed me. I hope telling my story will do that.
I would like to tell you I glowed and felt wonderful during pregnancy. I did not. Copious amounts of vomit aside, it seemed like the whole world was out to tell me that I would miscarry or harm my child. From random women I was sitting next to at Eid prayer (“I lost my baby at six months. Don’t do anything stupid. You’re not normal. You’re pregnant. Just because you feel you can do it, doesn’t mean you can.”) to my very own father (“You’ll lose the baby”).
I never felt adequate. I never felt up to the task of growing a baby inside me. Leave alone taking care of one.
And almost as a giant middle finger to my naysayers, I had my heart set on a natural childbirth. I wanted to give birth to my child, feeling every contraction like a wave of pain. And get through it. For once, I wanted to feel like a warrior. I wanted to feel strong.
I did Hypnobabies in preparation for this. Because I needed to calm the heck down. I’ve tried this ‘woo woo’ stuff before. It’s never worked. I don’t know why I thought it would work now. But I was still hoping against hope that it would still work for me.
I had a 38-hour labor. My body didn’t know what to do to get my son out. Also every time I stood up, my son’s heart-rate would go down. So I was confined to the bed. Not part of the plan. After about 24 hours, the contractions came hard and fast but my cervix was not dilating. I gave up and got an epidural so I could get some sleep.
During all of this time, the nastiest person in Colorado was my L&D nurse. The woman taunted and demoralized me every chance she got. “Are you okay?” “Do you want to talk about pain now?” “This is going to be the hardest push of your life.” No sh**, lady. She didn’t help me experiment with positions. She didn’t help me get comfortable. She even wanted to stop me going to the bathroom, going so far as to suggest a bed-pan. All as if to say, “you’re on my turf and you’re my b**** now.”
I don’t curse this much usually, but I’ve never felt more trapped and powerless.
Finally by some miracle, my child came out of me. By the grace of God, a vaginal delivery. I think my nurse and my doctor decided that they were going to ‘let’ me have a vaginal delivery. out of the goodness of their hearts. Perhaps because my doctor didn’t want her rate of C-sections to go up. Perhaps because the hospital didn’t want the rate of C-sections to go up.
Regardless, my son was born and he was stunning. He still is.
Oh, but it was about to get worse. So so so much worse.
The first few days, he latched and nursed like a champ. Trouble was, he was never satisfied. The nurse kept telling me that his stomach was only the size of a grape and he didn’t need much. Well, he had some grape in there. He screamed every time he stopped nursing. My nipples became cracked and sore.
One day, I broke the latch and put him down. I couldn’t take the pain anymore.
A few days after we took him home, he refused to nurse. He lay on my nursing pillow as I tried to put my nipple in his mouth, kicking and screaming and crying. His big beautiful eyes looking up at me in fury and hunger as if to ask me, “Why are you doing this to me?”
And you know what the worst thing about this whole time is? My son looks like me. And it killed me. I would look in the mirror and see his face, not mine. I wanted him to look and be like his father. I wanted his ‘screw-up’ mama to be a footnote in his genetic make-up.
Too many times in my life have I been bullied. Too many times have I looked into people’s faces and asked, “Why are you doing this to me?” I never wanted that for my son. I never wanted to become the bully.
He didn’t latch again for two weeks.
In this time, I went to see a lactation consultant. She was more concerned with talking to my mother-in-law about whether she nursed or not and what they do in Sri Lanka (where I’m from) rather than helping me. She treated me very much like a ‘magical person of color’ – as if us ‘Eastern’ cultures have this breastfeeding thing down pat.
Her comments to the Caucasian ladies who also attended the session were more comforting and more accepting of their feelings.
So I was paying 15 dollars a session to this woman for nothing new.
(What I described as nothing new was actually some top-shelf shaming.)
One day though, he miraculously latched – with a nipple shield. He nursed for a week or two with a nipple shield.
The nursing, though, made me feel better, much better.
One night, he and I were up for two hours trying to get him satisfied. I refused to give him formula, thinking to myself, “No! This is going to be a breastfed baby!” Finally, just as I had made up a 4-ounce bottle out of frustration, he tired himself out and fell asleep.
Did I just starve my son to make him breastfeed?
The ladies at the La Leche League Facebook group, of course, had plenty of advice. “Maybe he’s just one of those babies who wants to feed 24/7.” “You should wear your baby.”
All of their suggestions seemed undo-able to me and sent me spiraling even deeper into depression.
But then of course he stopped nursing and started screaming again. Right after that, about 5 weeks postpartum, I got my period. My milk vanished.
I went to another lactation session. The consultant looked at me wearily and said, “What are we going to do with you?” The other ladies laughed. I felt like a kid who’d failed an exam.
Am I a sack of sh** like everyone says I am? I know I’m not. After spending a day Googling suicide, I decided to see a therapist and take medication.
I hope my son turns out okay. I hope I turn out okay.
I’m sort of glad that breastfeeding didn’t happen. It’s like I needed a knock upside the head to figure things out, to finally turn off all those mean voices in my head. For my son’s sake, if not my own. Though really, we need each other. I’m also glad he refused to nurse and demanded the bottle. Who knows what might have happened to him if he was as dogged to breastfeed as I was?
And according to the research, my little boy will be fatter, sicker, poorer and less popular…because of formula???
I’m not sorry I gave up breastfeeding and pumping.
My son learned to turn over recently. I can’t remember being so excited about anything in my entire life. And one day, when he and I were doing laundry , I found him studying the cabinet with great interest. I decided to lie down beside him and figure out what in the heck was so amazing. From his perspective, it was like a cross between the Empire State Building (which I’ve never seen) and the TARDIS (which I’ve also never seen).
It was truly amazing.
If I was still struggling to breastfeed, I might never have had the joy, the love, the perspective to see things from where my son lies.
This must be what poverty feels like. Not knowing where your child’s next meal is coming from. Weeping because you can’t feed them. Counting pennies as you do. Why are we impoverishing each other? Why are we creating artificial forms of privilege? Don’t we human beings have enough weapons to hurt each other with?
There’s always going to be something. Women are always going to be trained to look askance at each other. ‘Oh you’re not skinny/married/single/straight/lesbian/dating/studying/pregnant/breastfeeding/whatever enough'”
(I don’t know if I’m going to have any more kids or how I’m going to feed them. Whatever happens, I hope they always believe that they are loved and that they are enough.)<
(oh yeah and that happy ending? I’m still here. And I made a film Alhamdulillah!)
And if you’d like a postpartum double bill, this is my friend Shoshana Rosenbaum’s horror thriller on early motherhood: