I was told so many things by different people on how to prepare for child birth and how to welcome my little bambino into the world. I even took up prenatal classes. I remember, the nurse from the classes I took had taught us the theory and skill of it, and obviously I can’t forget her emphasis on how not to smother the baby when feeding.
In all these classes and from all the solicited and unsolicited advice, I still never fully grasped the technique of breastfeeding. There were some things that were omitted. Things only experience decided to teach me after I gave birth.
The long wait of expecting had finally come to an end, and there he was, my baby, cute as a button. Well, only for a couple of minutes until he started crying. I was very exhausted. My whole body ached like I had just been hit by a train. All I wanted was for me and my baby to rest but he wouldn’t stop crying. The nurse instructed me to feed him. Easy peasy, I thought to myself, I took a class on this anyway. I held my baby exactly like I was taught, making sure not to smother him. I tried feeding him but he wouldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. It was in that search of answers I realised milk wasn’t coming out. Instead a milk like liquid was coming out. The nurse told me to keep on feeding that milk like liquid as it wasn’t harmful to the baby and ensured me that milk would eventually come out.
Late in the night, my baby kept crying because this milk like liquid wasn’t filling for him. I didn’t know what to do, my breasts were sore, my body ached. Labour hadn’t been too kind to me. I had teared whilst giving birth so my perineum had stitches. I was in so much pain that I just needed to sleep. I was so tempted to squeeze the grape juice meant for me into my baby`s mouth because I didn`t know what else to do. After what seemed like hours of wailing the nurse came and took my baby and told me to rest. I did not even ask her where she was taking him to or what she was going to give him. Later, I don’t know how much later, she brought him back soundly asleep. Breastfeeding was not that easy after all and this was just the beginning!
A few days later, I was out of the hospital and at my mother’s house. My breast milk still wasn’t coming out. I was fed tea, ground nuts and roasted round nuts, which were tasteless and tough to chew probably from having been dried up decades ago. Mom told me it would help my body produce and release more milk. My breasts had developed sores from baby`s suckling. My grandmother had told me that they would heal in no time and to continue feeding, but it seemed I would not live to see that day. I would also cry when my baby started crying for milk.
Making difficult choices
Every parent wants the best for their child. Every new mother wants to breastfeed their child, or isn’t that what we are told? So obviously, I had promised myself that I would not be introduce my baby to formula so early. Having been told that breast feeding was the only way to connect with the baby, I did not want to miss that in these early stages. My grandmother had also told me that it was the only way for my womb to go back to its perfect position, and not having a full recovery terrified me. So it was definitely a hard decision when I had to supplement with formula.
Even after a full week my breasts had not healed from the sores. However, giving him formula did not help me in any way too. My breast became painful from being saturated with milk, one way or the other I had to feed the baby. But feeding meant breast sores. I discovered a cream that I could use for the sores so I had to stop feeding baby from one breast temporarily to let it heal. I would have fevers and the other breast would get sores too from constant suckling then I would have change to the one which was almost healed but still too painful.
The suckling felt like someone slicing my nipples with a blunt razor blade and little termites chewing off my nipples. At one point I thought my nipples were just going to fall off. The pain was unbearable and as if that was not enough I still had to deal with my painful stitched perineum. I couldn’t walk or sit properly and defecating, every human`s basic and simple act, became a nightmare. I didn’t understand why I was so depressed when I was supposed to be over the moon about having my first child.
Evil spirits attacked my breast! I needed cleansing
One morning, at the local clinic waiting room, I shared my situation with other mothers. One mother decided to tell me bluntly that the breast sores I had were simply evils spirits and that ‘Madzibaba’ from her church would be able to help. Another woman told me that I wasn’t feeding my baby right and that my elders should have taught me well. She even went on about how mothers of my generation were abandoning the traditional ways of raising babies. She also pointed out how ignorant I was for wrapping my baby with a light cotton wrapper and a coral fleece blanket instead of a heavy blanket or two like she had done.
What scares me the most about child birth is the one size fits all manual that everyone expects all new mothers to apply. It seemed to me, at that point in the clinic, that everyone else except me knew what was good for my baby, and that I was the least person to make choices for my own child. It was summer and under the counsel of my mom, my granny, my prenatal classes and my five senses, I wrapped my baby with a light wrapper because using a heavy one would only make my baby uncomfortable and develop heat rashes.
Mothering on: “On my Terms”
Sharing with these mothers who had different beliefs on breastfeeding and raising children in general taught me that experience really is the best teacher. Being a mother just happens and the experience that comes with it teaches you how to be one. I told myself that I would take each day as it comes. For the first time that day when I went back home I didn’t cry when breastfeeding. I had just decided I was going to soldier on and be a mom the best way I could. I was going to do it my way and how it suited me. I became a mother. I still do not know it all but I am mothering on.
Article written by Taonga Annie Kandemiiri, proud daughter of Africa, enjoys writing about this and that as a way of expression. She dreams with dreamers and believes you start to die slowly the moment you give up reading.
Main image: Baby breastfeeding. Image taken from www.pixabay.com