Sunday, 5 June 2016

Arri, Me & Boobie

To put the following ramble into perspective, let me just tell you that I'm a bit of a giver upper. My whole life, I've started things and then given them up. Various musical instruments, projects, hobbies all cast aside soon after I vow to dedicate myself to them. I've written countless introduction posts on this blog with the intention of posting more regularly, but given up soon after. I make excuses about how I don't have enough time or enough natural ability, or the kids get in the way, or even that my eyebrows haven't been waxed in a year. So for me to stick to anything for any extended period of time is nothing short of a miracle. Now, as you were.

Oh my gee, today has been an emotional day. Not just because Arya is now a bona fide subscriber to 'The Terrible Twos', but because today also marks the end of a very special period of our relationship.

To begin with, let me not that one thing I regret giving up on so easily was breastfeeding Joshua. I lasted 4 weeks before giving in to the voice in my head (and the voices all around me). Don't get me wrong, he's a strong, healthy, happy boy now, but I've always felt like I've let him down in some way because I selfishly decided I couldn't deal with breastfeeding. Nobody has ever said that to me, that I was selfish to stop, but my conscience reminds me that's it's just another thing I've given up on.

With Arya, I was determined. I did A LOT more research during my pregnancy with her, and as a result, I felt much better prepared for when she came along. Well along she did come and hallelujah, she latched on for that first feed with not a hint of a problem. The nurses told me she was a natural. They told me her latch was perfect, our positioning was great, that we were flying. 

We were flying, while we were in the hospital at least. I soon learnt that breastfeeding at home was an entirely new beast to tame. I had no midwives to guide me, no prior positive experience to draw on, and a toddler zooming around, It was hard. So hard. There were many tears, both mine and hers. I had no idea what I was doing. All the research I had done evaporated out of my head and I was basically running blindfolded. Nobody at all in my family or Geth's family had any advice; everyone was formula fed on both sides. Arya lost more than the maximum 10% of her birth weight within the first 5 days. The health nurse started to push for formula top ups which I was loathe to agree to. All the research I had done suggested that formula top ups meant you never built up a good enough supply, resulting in more formula top ups being necessary. This in turn caused a drop in supply and quite often, a full switch to formula feeding. But, I digress.

Like I said, I was determined this time round, but even I reached my limit. A bout of mastitis a few weeks in floored me and had me tearfully sending Geth to Tesco at half 11 one night for some formula and bottles. Arya was screaming, I was sobbing, and poor Geth was at his wits end. He fully supported my decision to keep going, but I can't imagine how distressing it must have been for him to see Arya and me in that state. He gladly made up a bottle of formula and Arya gulped it down, falling asleep soundly straight away afterward. THAT was my moment. The moment I'd arrived at many times before. I usually picked the easy way. That voice was in my head again. You're being selfish trying to carry on breastfeeding, it said. She's obviously suffering, and it's your fault. I was so close to giving up once again.

So little! Arya at 3 weeks old.




But I didn't. This time, I took the hard way.

I told Geth I wanted to give it one more try. I wanted to take it a feed at a time and see how we went. That's what we did. I made a choice to see the pain, bleeding nipples, cluster feeds, mastitis, all as tests of endurance, which they definitely were. And, after 5 or 6 weeks, I was sat in bed one night feeding Arya and I realised that I hadn't had to think twice about this feed. She'd latched on perfectly. It had happened so instinctively, I didn't even recall doing it. But we did it. And from then on, we really did fly.

Breastfeeding became such an important part of my daughters and my relationship. Arya nursed whenever she could. Through teething, tummy bugs, weaning, hospital stays and eye surgeries, boobie was her comfort. It became part of her routine. She nursed when she came into the big bed with Joshua for morning snuggles. She nursed while I read her stories. She nursed whenever she hurt herself and sometimes, quite often, she nursed just because.

I always couldn't wait to feed her after she had an operation; nursing was a comfort for us both.

One of the side effects of breastfeeding can be that it can delay your menstrual cycle returning, and that was certainly the case for me. By Arya's first birthday, there was still no sign of my period returning and to be honest, I didn't mind that one bit! So you can imagine how bloody shocked I was to find out that I was pregnant 3 weeks after Arya turned one. It was inevitable then that the questions started coming. Curious family members, friends, acquaintances, people I'd talked to once on a night out ALL wanted to know what this meant for Arya. Here's a selection of some of the things I had people actually say to me:

Surely you'll stop now? No.

Won't it mean there'll be no milk for the new baby? No. 

She's too old for that now anyway. Says who?

She'll grow up weird. (This remark made me want to punch the person who said it.)

You'll never get a minutes peace for yourself. What's new there, I have kids?!

There's no health benefits past the age of one anyway so why keep up the bother? Totally untrue. The health benefits of breastfeeding extend way past the age of one.

She's too attached to you. I fail to see how it can possibly be a bad thing that she feels safe and loved around me.

It all got old really quickly. I had no intentions of stopping any time soon, pregnant or not. Being pregnant meant I was extra sensitive and for the first few weeks I cringed every time Arya nursed. She began to nurse less. I know that when you're pregnant, the taste of your milk can change, so maybe it was that. I also read that being pregnant can result in a loss of supply, which causes many babies and toddlers to self wean, but I didn't experience that at all. Throughout my pregnancy, Arya nursed on average 3 times a day; when she woke up, when she went for her nap, and before bed.

The same routine continued after Finn was born. He's breastfed too, so we experienced a touch of jealousy on Arya's part. Finn needing to feed obviously has to take priority over Arya nursing, so there have been a few tears when she's wanted boobie but her baby brother has needed it too. But for the most part, tandem feeding has been a relatively painless experience. Having a toddler feeding has definitely come in handy at times too. She was great for relieving that newborn engorgement, and feeding her has kept my supply up brilliantly too.

But.

In the run up to Arya's 2nd birthday, something inside me changed. I've been getting a little bit tired of the constant pulling at my top, and the ever present hand in my bra. I've been feeling a sense of guilt for not allowing Finn full and sole use of my boobs. I never really had an end goal for this. At the beginning, 2 weeks seemed like an unobtainable goal. When I reached that, the goal became 6 weeks. Then 6 months. Then a year. After that, I stopped thinking about it. Honestly, I really thought Arya would wean herself off before she turned 2. I hoped she would, so it would be on her terms and it wouldn't be traumatic for her. But I think if I left Arya to self wean, she'd still be feeding after Finn has stopped! 

It's after midnight now, so technically, Arya had her last feed yesterday, at bedtime, on her 2nd birthday. It seemed fitting to do it then. She's no longer my tiny 6lb 8oz newborn. She's now a 22lb 2 year old. She received a special new big girl beaker for her birthday. We talked about how she can have warm milk in it at bedtime now, instead of having boobie. She knows that boobie is for Finn, who is only a little baby, whereas she's a big girl now.

Our last time.


That picture makes me feel so emotional. I'm sad for it to be the end, but I'm at peace with my decision. I do feel a little guilt that I'm forcing this to happen, but the fact is that Arya is growing up. She's becoming her own person, and she's finding her own mind. She starts creche in September. Her life is moving forward and she's leaving all traces of her baby self behind. This is just the natural progression of things. I'm incredibly proud of what we've achieved together. I would have laughed in your face if, 2 years ago, you'd have told me we'd make it to 2 years. I'm proud for the health benefits we've both received, and the knowledge we've gained.

Most of all though, I'm proud of the bond we share. I don't doubt we'd be close even if she were formula fed, but there's something special between us, and I'd like to think that breastfeeding has something to do with it.




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