A forceps delivery later, no less brutal than the yanking of a calf from its mother, Ruby Rose entered the world, having undergone the stresses and trauma I’d desperately wanted to protect her from – those early memories, I fear will be in some way deep-rooted forever.
In the coming hours, as it dawned on me I’d have to stay in hospital for a promised ‘only 1 night’, which was earlier a promised ‘home on the same day’ (bribery no doubt from the midwife wanting me to agree to go in) my emotions took over that yet another part of my wishes were being taken away – I’d imagined and hoped for a homebirth, followed by settling into motherhood in my own relaxed and familiar environment – stark contrast to the reality of the hospital ward.
That first night was hell. Ruby didn’t feed from me at all – she just couldn’t seem to retain suction for long enough to latch to my breast. A ‘helpful’ in a sarcastic voice nursing auxiliary advised that I had flat nipples, and that was why Ruby couldn’t latch properly – so a lump in my throat, I pursued with my hungry baby and crap nipples. Only hours after she was born, I was pressured into syringe feeding her some formula milk – I was gutted and dripped tears all over her, as I forced myself to push the plunger of the syringe, against all my instincts to do so, feeding her what I now believe is the cause of her milk allergy (another story of crapness).
Next day, eager to leave and get home to being a family with my husband and new baby, I was confronted with a midwife telling me that I couldn’t go home until Ruby was latching on to breastfeed. I felt a wreck of distress at another minute of having to stay, let alone another night. I wasn’t prepared for any of this – it totally contradicted my ideal natural home water birth, using hypnobirthing techniques, away from the medical stresses that a hospital brings – this I realise is for some, their preference, but not for me. I had no control over the direction of anything, so my stress levels were escalating and my emotional health disintegrating. Most women are incredibly vulnerable following having a child – whilst I’m usually very good at standing up for myself, somehow I just didn’t have the resilience to do this – I was in their hands, being lead by guilt trips that I needed to stay for Ruby and stop thinking of myself. I’m now outraged by it all – my rational mind knew that formula feeding Ruby was not helping, and that for the best care of her, I needed to be ok too – hospital was taking my mind. So, feeling fragile, I agreed to stay.
The next day passed, with more pressures to top up feed Ruby formula milk through a syringe. I worked hard to hand express, but was told that it wasn’t enough – I was beginning to hate my rubbish boobies, and a bit Ruby too, for not latching on properly.
A third night stay in – apparently I wouldn’t cope on my own persevering to feed Ruby when at home – I stayed up all night putting her on and off my boob, and then, we cracked it!! She took a 15 minute feed off my right side, and continued to feed intermittently from that boob, seemingly to much prefer it to the other. I was elated that we would finally be able to leave – until in came the midwife asking if I could feed from both sides – well ‘boob off!’ because some of my old self had kicked in and me and my baby were going home – thankfully my decision was (persuadably) supported and we didn’t have to self-discharge, something I’d been bullied out of doing our entire stay.
Home at last – complete bliss – I persevered with feeding Ruby, and she seemed to be getting the hang of it, or so I thought. But the health visitor and midwife home visits began, and there started the ‘weigh ins’. All was far from well – Ruby struggled to gain weight, and after a couple of months of little or no weight gain, she began to lose weight. We were visited regularly by the health visitor and midwife, attended doctors appointments and even had to go back to the maternity ward for them to observe Ruby feeding. Nobody could fathom what was going on – not the midwives, health visitors, or doctors. I was in denial and told everyone that Ruby was a small build, taking after my mums side of the family. I couldn’t see that really she was poorly – when I look back on the photos, it breaks my heart. Christmas time and she was admitted to hospital. She was diagnosed with failure to thrive, but nobody could understand why. Inevitably, she had to have top up formula bottles to boost her weight gain, as despite expressing every hour of the day, I just couldn’t express enough. Upsettingly, Ruby developed cows milk allergy. She went on to receive a diagnosis for Ventricular Septal Defect – but it was found to be only very minor and not have any impact on her weight gain. It was all a nightmare, as at 4.5 months old she was just 9.65 lb
Trying to continue with normal lifes’ activities, I always had that sinking ‘sick’ feeling that Ruby wasn’t feeding properly. She’d spend all day long either feeding or crying – hardly sleeping, we were both exhausted. My nipples were a mess. As Ruby would feed, I’d feel like screaming out in pain, as blood trickled down her cheek. I felt a failure of a mum that my boobs couldn’t satisfy her. She even began to refuse to breastfeed – throwing her head back and screaming. Months in and the baby blues were definitely lingering – or so that’s what I thought they were. Then the health visitor, who ran the local baby group that I attended, chatted to me about breastfeeding difficulties triggering post-natal depression – maybe that’s what was happening to me – I pushed it to the back of my mind and focused on finding a solution – I knew that once Ruby was sorted, I would be too.
To our absolute gratitude, we were put in contact with a wonderful breastfeeding counsellor – she provided me with all the reassurances that I COULD breastfeed Ruby, but that it would take time and patience to work out whether it was positioning that was inhibiting her latch, or something else. She helped me to learn about positioning and attachment. She also immediately recognised that Ruby had a minor tongue tie, but she wasn’t sure whether it was impacting her ability to breastfeed or not – I couldn’t believe that no-one had noticed it before. In fact, they’d even remarked that she didn’t have a tongue tie! We trialled positions for a bit first, to see if that improved things. However, Ruby was still struggling, so she sent a referral for her tongue tie to be cut and supported us to early wean her onto baby rice, as we needed to take desperate action. In the meanwhile, we were also attending clinics with dieticians and doctors – advice seemed to centre on prescription formula and increasing the foods we were giving Ruby. I’m so glad that Alyn (my husband who was by my side throughout) and I had the energy to stand our ground. I persevered (with the support of the counsellors advice) with breastfeeding Ruby and expressing in between, to maintain my supply, with only the introduction of baby rice mixed with breast milk, to supplement her diet. A few weeks later, and her tongue tie was snipped. In the coming weeks, she learnt to use her newly released tongue and PROPERLY latch to feed from me – the best feeling in the world I can’t describe! I’m now convinced that our problems with breastfeeding stemmed from a very minor tongue tie, which if picked up initially, would have saved a lot of heartache.
From my experience, I would advise anyone wanting to continue with breastfeeding, but struggling, to seek the right support – sometimes that support doesn’t come from those you would expect, as unfortunately some health professionals are poorly educated in the area of breastfeeding. If you can make contact with a breastfeeding counsellor, it’s well worth it – it certainly worked for us and I am still a happy breastfeeding mum today.