Being Stuck

Nobody talks about the days where you don't want it. Where the last thing that you want is to be needed. By everyone. All the time. For everything. I know there are people out there who would give their right arm, literally, to feel needed. But wow. The relentlessness of it. The emotional toll, the physical pain, the slow grinding.

Some days I don't want any person within a two metre radius of my body. I don't want anybody to touch me. I don't want anybody to reach for me, to lunge in my direction, to call my name. I don't want to be the only person who can calm my screaming baby. I don't want to be the only one that seems to understand what it causing him so much distress. I don't want to be the only person who can fix some seemingly-minor-but-actually-vitally-important issue for my three year old. I don't want to be the only person who can do meal times for them. I don't want to be stuck.

Some nights the last thing I want is to climb into bed with my baby and breastfeed him back to sleep. Seventeen thousand times. Some nights his little hands that wander all over my body make me want to scream and scream and scream. Some nights I just want to put the white noise machine on for myself, turn up the traffic noise as high as possible, and hide.

The vast majority of days are not like this, and I have to remind myself of that. Tomorrow will be better.

One Year. We did it.

One year. 

I really can't believe that I have managed to breastfeed this little baby for the entire first year of his life. 

I've been a bit of a mess at times today, I'm so overcome with sentimentality. And, let's face it, with pride. There was a chance that I wouldn't even be capable of bringing him to my breast even once. I've now been feeding him without tubes now for longer than with, and it is all just so perfect. 

Goodness, when I think of all the things I have had to overcome to get us to this point... I feel as if I can finally relax a bit now. If I am hearing only one swallow for every fifteen sucks, that's okay.  If my milk supply dips a little at ovulation, that's okay. If he starts eating like crazy, I don't have to worry that it is because of my low milk production. 'Food before one is just for fun', and it was all about the milk. But now my milk is a complement. It is of course still absolutely wonderful for him, and has so many benefits, but I can just take a deep breath, drop my shoulders and relax now. I can't think of anything else that I have ever worked so hard to achieve in my life. We have actually done it. 

To all of you who have been involved along the way, whether it be by providing supportive comments, by asking questions, by cheering me on, by giving me hugs, by trusting my decisions and leaving me to do what is right for my baby and me, thank you. 

This is not the end, though. We both still are very much in this. 


11 months and (can you believe it) smoooooth sailing.

My breastfeeding journey seems to have been morphing more and more into my role as a support-person for other people with breastfeeding issues, and absolutely I love it.

These two! All that love!

My own breastfeeding situation of late has been one with absolutely zero issues. Can you believe it?! Zero. Milk? Got it. Feeding to sleep? Doing it. Nipple problems? None. Biting? Nope. Sure, he wakes a stupid amount of times in the night and I deal with that by nursing him back to sleep within a minute (the vast majority of the time), and I dream of one day being able to sleep with fewer than six interruptions, but that is what I chose and that is what I continue to choose. And the days where I am not wearing my breastfeeding necklace are days where my chest and face end up covered in pinches and scratches... but hell, not a big deal. He has started to crawl up to me when he sees an opportune moment and tug at my shirt or just lunge his body full-force into my breasts, which I really find hilarious. At baby yoga the other day, I made the mistake of wearing a grey t-shirt, and ended up with mouth-shaped wet rings around my nipple when I was doing a lying-down pose. My glorious, funny boy! These are things that, I have discovered, seem to repulse some people, and are a large reason why many mothers choose to wean when their babies reach these milestones. But these things just fill me with such joy.


I am sad today

I am sad today.

I am increasingly coming to terms with the fact that, in my past, I did everything that I could. I made the only choices that I could, with the knowledge I had and the strength that I had with my inability to breastfeed my first boy and my ferocity at continuing despite all evidence that told me to stop. This is a wonderful feeling, to feel a sense of forgiveness creeping up on me, knowing that acceptance and moving forward with it all is right there. 
First time this has worked successfully, out of total desperation.
Not easy, not in any way pain free, but absolute kryptonite to an overtired baby. 
I have had to write a very long and complex assignment as part of my studies, where I discussed my own breastfeeding experience in an entirely factual manner (I chose this current one, not my first), followed by an assessment of a number of specific choices that I made (deciding to try again in the first place, deciding to use the supplemental nursing system, deciding to use donor milk, deciding to start taking domperidone, deciding that I will fix his tongue tie even though he was already almost six months old), a discussion of my rational and irrational feelings at particular points along the way and the parts of my personality that led to these, a reflection on those decisions and how these choices impacted myself, my baby and those around me, and how all of that can be applied when I am working with other mothers in the future.

You can imagine what a mammoth task that was for me.


Milk in a cup

This might be a little odd, but I'm preparing myself for some catharsis today.

For the first time in this 10month breastfeeding journey, I expressed some milk. There is still no way that I am getting within five kilometres of any pump, but I did a bit of hand expression. It was totally on a whim, after my baby pulled off early, and I figured that I would just see what happened.

Wow. I totally have milk. Like, really. Wow.

With my first baby, I pumped and pumped and pumped and pumped and friggin pumpetypumped. Once, just once in the three months that I did this, did I ever see a little 'jet' of milk. It was always just tiny trickles that I would be collecting, perhaps amounting to anywhere between two and seven millilitres after forty minutes. To put this into perspective, when I went to receive my donor breastmilk, the mother fed her baby in front of me using one breast, and pumped on the other. Within four minutes, she literally had 160ml.

I got myself a clean glass, made sure my hands were clean, and practiced expressing. I figure that it was a good skill to have anyway, seeing as I'm embarking on studies of this nature, so I may as well use myself as my first guinea-pig. I had always been too scared to do this because I might be taking milk away from my baby for when he needs it next (maybe it would be one of those feeds where he was only half done and comes back two minutes later), or I might not get any, and I wanted to avoid overthinking it.


Breastfeeding an older baby (and visions of toddlerhood)

There has been a quietening of my breastfeeding-related thoughts of late. Oh, don't get me wrong, I have still had days where my knickers have been in one hell of a knot (like the fact that I seem to be one of the people – of course I bloody am – who experiences a very dramatic loss of milk just after ovulation. Sigh. That was stressful.), but on the whole, we are nine months in and going very very strong. Yay us!

Nine months beautiful
I can not ever foresee a time where it will stop, to be honest, and I know that we are nearing a point where so many successfully breastfeeding mothers start to pull back a bit, introducing a bottle and focusing on the concept of actively weaning their babies. I can totally understand that, I totally support that one hundred percent for any mother who wants this, but it just isn't where we are at at all. I still feel very much that we are new to this. We have been feedingsupplement-free for three months now, and I suppose in a way I feel as if we have really only been breastfeeding for this amount of time. I love that it is our go-to in times of pain, discomfort and tiredness. I love that I have a quick-fix for those times where, in other situations, things can get pretty tough. And really, there is no thrill greater for me than seeing a drop of milk roll down my boy's cheek when he distractedly turns his head mid-feed. I am still amazed at what we have achieved, amazed that I have milk to give him at all, and I am revelling in it.

I had never before thought about breastfeeding an older baby. Breastfeeding was something you did with teeny little ones who can focus only as far as the distance from your breast to your face. I even remember saying, once (and there's a high chance this came out of my father's mouth once upon a time; it sounds like him) that once that baby can chew a steak, it is time to stop. The eruption of teeth is a signal from nature, you see. And yet... here I am, eight teeth later. Instead of sleepy feeds in the morning as we wake up, he immediately gets into a crawling position, pulls up on the sides of the bed, starts gnawing away at the wood, then plops down on his bum, crawls over to me for about three sucks at my breast, and then continues. We even reached a point the other morning where his feet were at my head and he was feeding in a crawling position upside down. We are definitely at a new phase now.
The 'lying down' feeding position has become
the 'crawl with a truck in hand' position

It is so rare that you see a mother breastfeeding her toddler. I remember when I was pregnant with my first boy and I was all about being prepared, I attended a local La Leche League meeting. I tried very hard to appear nonchalant when a toddler walked up to her mother on the couch, pulled her shirt up and started breastfeeding, and yet I was absolutely weirded out. This was a child, not a baby. This child could walk and talk and play with her siblings and eat lunch... so what on earth was she breastfeeding for? Surely it wasn't necessary anymore? Surely it was somehow an invasion of the mother's sense of self? Goodness, I remember that so clearly. A part of me fears being that woman, not because I would be breastfeeding a walking-talking-playing-eating toddler, but because of the reactions of people like me. And really, if even I had those reactions, what about the mass populous? I wish whole-heartedly that I was a person who was immune to the reactions of those around me, but I am not.
Such a big boy already! When did that happen?!
The World Health Organisation recommends that chilren are breastfed until two years of age. I worked very hard in the beginning to have no plan and no goal for my breastfeeding, to take it hour by hour, one feed at a time. And that is how I still function. He is still yet to have a bottle besides that one panicked time... I still fear early weaning and still lack confidence in my milk production, and I look forward to his first birthday (for only this reason!) so that I can relax about it a bit and know for sure that my milk is not such a vital part of his nutrition.

But right now, these times are moments where he and I can connect as just us, where I have to shut us away in a room alone and I give him all of me. My first boy had all of me all the time. This is the only chance I get, really, with my little one. I have no idea how long we will breastfeed, but I sure am loving it right now.


Closing the door on Domperidone

Today is my first day feeding my little muffin with zero domperidone. It has been 32 hours since I last took a tablet, and considering at the height of it all I was taking 12 tablets a day, I am feeling relieved to finally be done with it.

In it together :) Almost nine months.
Weaning off domperidone has been a slow and difficult process. It seems that any breastfeeding mother wonders at times if they have enough milk for their baby, and when you throw in illness (yours or baby's), changes in my cycle, heat waves, stress, sleep deprivation, teething, growth spurts and variable eating of solids, a healthy and hydrated baby seems like the holy grail. To also throw my domperidone into the mix has at times been one variable too many.

The use of domperidone as a galactagogue is not well-known or encouraged here in Switzerland, the home of alternative medicine and simplicity. Those that do hold knowledge of the drug's prolactin-releasing abilities have very limited training and education on the matter, or remain entirely uncomfortable with its use and do not recommend it. After much research internationally, I tentatively gave it a try and, after seeing positive effects, eventually felt comfortable enough to increase my dosage and, at the heart of it, self-medicate.

Once my little boy reached 6 months and was no longer requiring supplemental milk, I began gradually lowering my dosage. I had read that abruptly stopping domperidone can cause severe anxiety and a drastic reduction in milk supply, and so I reduced one tablet at a time, one week at a time, and assessed my milk production. This means that these past three and a half months have meant that I am still constantly taking note of my little boy's wet and dirty nappies, still taking note of when he needs to feed constantly through the night as opposed to only three or four times.

Requisite breastfeeding photo! Recovering after a big fall,
blood on my arm, blood hiding all down his other cheek.
 Getting down from eight to six tablets seemed to take an age. I would reduce a tablet, and the next day it seemed I had such little milk. I would stick with it for two or three days, and then my confidence would fail and I'd go up again. The milk would be back, and so we would continue, until I felt that everything was in place to be able to try again. I eventually went down half a tablet every week or so. Getting down from two tablets to zero has been such a struggle... but we have done it. It has been so difficult to assess lately, though, as Switzerland has really been in the midst of a major heatwave and he has been sweating up a storm, so a certain level of dehydration is to be expected (though of course we have been doing our best to avoid this!).

But right now, I feel like we have done it, and I really can't see myself going back. Everything is good, nappies are being filled (though I had to go up a size, which reduces my confidence levels as they certainly don't feel as full when they are so much bigger!) and he is content.

Right now, I am a normal breastfeeding mama. No tubes, no drugs, just whipping out my boob all over the shot (it seems it has been about 18 times a day during this heat!) for one minute at a time, for hunger, thirst, comfort, pain-relief, boredom, love. Our journey is most definitely not over, but I certainly feel like the door of one of our really difficult corridors has finally been closed.

A Support Network: This is what it looks like.

I started a Facebook breastfeeding support group a few months ago. The reasons I started my group were multiple: 

It was because I had so many questions almost every single day, and I desperately wanted a collection of experienced mamas to help me out. 

It's working... it's not working... it's working...
It was because of those moments where I wanted to rejoice, to shout from the rooftops that I had fed my boy supplement free, and I wanted those people who truly understood how amazing this was to know that and to rejoice with me. 
First supplement-free feed in five months
It was because I wanted to cry and cry and cry sometimes because of things that the majority of the population deem as 'not such a big deal'. 
Pleeeease, bubba, pleeeease....
It was because I wanted to educate like-minded mamas in all the things I had learnt along the way on this crazy journey of mine -- About the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), about galactagogues and domperidone, about tongue and lip ties, about donor milk, about postnatal depression, about biting, about dealing with the past, about the medical system here in Switzerland, about monkey brain -- and I wanted to do it in an informal, positive manner. 

After 5.5 months of using the SNS, I was a friggin' pro.
I wanted to be able to freely discuss any issue whatsoever regarding feeding our babies, without having to conform to guidelines set by some overarching (however well-meaning) organisation.

My first defrosted bag of donor milk,
obtained from an informal milk-share.
I wanted other mamas to have a network of help that I desperately needed when I had my first boy, that may prevent future problems or assist them in reaching their personal goals. 

I suppose this is my version of tandem feeding :)
I wanted mamas to know that they aren't alone, and I wanted to feel less alone. 

This group now has almost 200 members (edit, it now has 1500 two years later!!!), many of whom actively post and respond. I am so proud of the mamas in this group -- there has never been a comment (truly!) that I have felt I needed to moderate due to criticism, judgement or negativity. It is such a wonderfully supportive environment where I feel so supported and so safe, and I hope that all the other members feel the same way. 

Now. To the point of my post. 

Yesterday I received this incredible message, and it has warmed my heart so wholly, more than I will ever be able to articulate. It is from a woman who also has been working so hard towards her goal of being an exclusive breastfeeding mama, but who was having to overcome a host of hurdles: Latch issues, Nipple shields, giving formula top-ups from a bottle, a sleepy feeder, a possible lip tie... sounds rough, eh? And sadly not uncommon! So among other things, I told her about the SNS, and a bunch of us helped her along the way.

Here is the message I received from her yesterday: 

Hi Johanna! I've been meaning to send you a message 'when I have a spare 10 minutes' for about the last month...slowly dawning on me that I may never again have a spare 10 minutes...haha! In fact it was in response to an article that you posted a while back...can't remember what it was about but you commented that you hoped one day to be people's go-to person for breastfeeding issues - I wanted to say that you already are! I'm not sure that we would have succeeded in weaning off the supplements (which I think we have - hurrah!) without your advice and the general support from the group that you have created. So thank you a million times! And having read on your blog about all your own seems that through these you find the strength to give such compassionate and non-judgemental advice. You already are a fabulous lactation consultant, even if you don't have the bit of paper to say so quite yet! How is it going with the motilium? Hope you are all feeling better xxx

I mean, really. How amazing is that?! Yes, it made me cry. To know that something that I have done has helped a mother to reach her goal, when I know exactly how important that goal can be, really fills me with such joy. This is what it's all about to me, this is what I am striving for. Yahreepa! 


My Magic Power

This last week has made me so incredibly thankful for all that we have been through to become a breastfeeding mama and bubba. I know there have been people who have doubted it, people who have thought that my passion to continue through it all, to find a way among the madness for us to somehow have this relationship, was entirely nonsensical, obsessive, ridiculous and potentially even damaging. And heck, I have obviously had my doubts too, never sure if I was doing the right thing, trying so hard to continue to see the big picture and ensure that the blinkers of my tunnel-visioned-stubbornness remain off.

But I know now that it was all worth it.

Feeding at the zoo - this is the only way to
do it in such a distractible environment!
My Little One has been sick. He stopped eating and his fevers reached 40 degrees. He became incredibly unhappy and listless, sleeping almost constantly, and crying when not. I breastfed as much as possible, and yet his nappies were nearly empty. He was sweating like crazy, losing a lot of fluid. He was biting me again – I now know that this is a clear sign that he is sick – but I just had to keep offering. He was going six hours without any pee. No matter how much he fed, he wasn't staying hydrated enough. I didn't have enough milk for him to be an exclusive breastfeeder in that way. I fed him tea and water from a cup, from a bottle, from a spoon. The biting was always the worst just after I had given him medication, I learnt, so that was always where I offered some sips of water from a bottle first, and then my breast.

I had flashbacks to feeding my first boy when he was sick. I have never given The Little One a bottle before, and yet at 3am, there I was, cradling a sick little baby in my arms in the dark, his head against my chest as he sleepily sucked at a bottle (though this time with tea, not with formula). It was nice. That surprised me.

Feeding my little one amidst flashbacks to life with my first bottle-fed boy
At the doctor, he had a blood test. He was sleeping when we arrived, so I gently took him out of the carrier and put him to my breast. They pricked his finger and squeezed out the blood, and he barely flinched. 'Wow!' the nurse said to me. 'I might just ask every breastfeeding mother if they could feed their baby during a blood test, that's amazing!' I was surprised that more mothers didn't do this, as it was my first instinct when I knew that my boy would be in pain. She said that they get every single kind of mother in their offices, and that it is very rare for a mother to feel comfortable enough to breastfeed outside of the private rooms and in the public space where they do the blood test. That amazed me; surely if a mother knows it will stop their baby from screaming and screaming in pain, they would? But she said no, you'd think so, but no. So now I'm on a mission to breastfeed my boy in those offices any time in the hopes that more mamas will feel comfortable doing so!

He then needed more tests, some attempts at catheterisation, and finally a bag attached to him to collect his urine. I just nursed and nursed and nursed my little boy through the whole thing. At one point, we had to take him from me to weigh him, and he screamed that kind of scream that makes a mama die inside. The kind where his mouth was open, his eyes screwed tight, his face almost purple, and yet no noise was coming out. Until it did. And goodness, it did. Straight back to my breast.

To know that this is how he reacted even when he was in a situation where no pain was being inflicted on him made me so thankful that I could breastfeed him for every other scenario.

So that's really all it comes down to.

I didn't have enough milk, yet again (I got my period, which is potentially also to blame... there's another post!). But that's not what this was about. This was about comfort. All that we have been through together has allowed us to now be capable of getting through such days. I absolutely love that he can receive that from me, that I can mother him in this way. I have a magic power that will make it all better.  

All better! Phew!

Postnatal Depression

I have so many half-written posts saved to my computer that have begun to discuss Postnatal Depression and then fizzle into nothing.

And, despite the fact that I have been sitting here for twenty minutes now with only that one sentence above in front of me, I am determined to finish this. To write about it.

Before I go any further, let me just say that I am getting better now. I am still plagued by days where life feels like this, but this is no longer the underlying feeling that flows through me constantly. I have never reached any point where I feel that there is a serious danger to either myself or my babies, and for that I am both grateful and lucky. I am getting help, I have begun to speak about it, and I am getting better. Acknowledging its existence, that it is different from normal new mum stress, has been a big step for me.

I always thought that postnatal depression was signified by lacking a bond with your baby, or by wanting to do harm to your baby. I thought it was being filled with such desperation to either get your baby to just stop that you want to leave forever, or by having the desire at 3am to throw your baby out of the window. I thought that the fact that my babies are absolutely the most beautiful babies that have ever walked this earth (fact), and that my love for them is so strong, meant that I didn't have postnatal depression. I suppose for some women, this is indeed how it manifests, but not for me.

(photo by Olga Bushkova)
Postnatal depression for me is a feeling of emptiness. It is the feeling of being so overwhelmed, so anxious, so emotionally isolated for such a long time that the only way to deal with these feelings is to just be empty. When things are particularly bad, I simply can't get it together to pick up my crying baby; I just sit next to him and stare at his scrunched up face with such hopelessness, until I find myself staring into space. When things are particularly bad, I can't smile when my two boys are making each other giggle hysterically. I just sit there, a robotic observer, trying to find a way to cope, realising that I am in a golden moment right now and I can't even properly see it. I don't cry, I turn to stone. And then of course I am filled to the brim with guilt over such things.

Postnatal depression for me is a complete lack of resilience. I can be fine one moment, and then one small unpredictable thing occurs that spirals me into a state of anxiety and overwhelm. This can be as small as my husband unexpectedly suggesting we pull into a petrol station on my way home with everyone in the car. That wasn't a part of the plan, you see. There is no room whatsoever for any form of spontaneity, due to the irrational fear that something will go awry. This manifests into a need to be entirely in control of everything all of the time, which obviously makes me a pretty (very) tough person to be around. This, in turn, continues to make me not like the person that I am, the person that I am modelling to my children. 

Postnatal depression for me is an overwhelming fear that something bad will happen to my children. Actually, scrap that. It is an overwhelming fear that one of my children will die. I have never voiced it before, but I feel quite a weight removed now that my eldest has made it to three, as it seems that so many fatal accidents occur when children are two. This manifests in a need to be so constantly on, that I begin to drown under the weight of responsibility. Terrible thoughts enter my mind about so many possible what ifs, and with such detail, that I just can not turn off. Perhaps all parents fear that their child will ride their bike onto the street in front of a car, but for me, I then find myself completely immersed in this fear: where would I be standing when I see it, what would I hear, how would he look, what would I smell, how would I sound, where would his bike be, what would the driver do, who else was there, what then would happen, who would call an ambulance, how would I speak (English or German), how would my husband and I cope with the grief, would we have to move back to Australia, how would it impact on his brother, etc etc etc. And this is just one in perhaps a thousand catastrophic scenarios that occur to me. It is an absolutely constant battle to keep such thoughts under control, to distract myself the moment that it enters my brain, to mentally slap myself into reality.
(photo by Olga Bushkova)
It is only in these last few weeks that I am realising now that I have probably had some kind of postnatal depression or anxiety ever since my eldest was born. And that I probably-most-definitely-probably had some kind of antenatal anxiety. My pregnancy with my second was rough. Not physically, but emotionally. I grieved for how I was going to lose my first boy, that stunningly beautiful and gentle child, the moment that my second was born. I spent so many evenings next to his bed as he had just fallen asleep, tears streaming down my face with the knowledge that this life was about to end and that I will never, once this new baby comes, be able to be the mother that I wanted to be to him one hundred per cent of the time. I felt as if I'd just have to give him up – to give him to his dad forever -- and I didn't want to lose him. I could never imagine a scenario where I would ever choose that baby in my belly over him. I envisaged both crying simultaneously, and just putting the new baby in the bathroom and closing the door so that I could help my big boy. But I knew that the best thing that I could do for my sensitive little toddler, in the long term, was to give him a sibling. And so that is what I did. For him. It was only when I was around 7.5 or 8 months pregnant, and after some counselling and a lot of discussions with my husband, that I began to envisage that baby in my belly as an actual person, and not just an object that would take me from my eldest. And my contractions started not long after...

(photo by Olga Bushkova)
But even when I was in the deepest trench of all of this, I still loved my babies whole-heartedly, needed to do the best for them, to be the best for them. And that includes modelling how to reach out for help, how to deal with big feelings and to give them a name, how to argue, how to heal. Now, I have my days. I have my couple-of-days. I am learning what my triggers are. But now I am able to laugh with my beautiful babies, to soak up the joy on their ecstatic faces when they watch me laugh out loud after they accidentally squirt my face with water. I am capable of being filled with joy without a permeating fear running through it all. I am no longer a functioning stone. I am doing my best to not isolate myself, to have coffees with friends, to talk. Having children certainly makes this easier, as I do not have the option of staying in bed all day and hiding, or hibernating from the world. We must go on walks, we must go to playgrounds, have play dates, go to the shops, talk and sing and dance and jump and laugh and hide and pretend and tickle and experience life.

There. I've written it now. Phew. 

Our Little One's Birth Story

My Little One is now seven months old and only now do I have the time to write his wonderful birth story. Thus is the life of a second-born child, I fear!

His birth perfectly reflects the person that he is: Patient, amicable, without too much fuss, surprisingly easy. He waited inside my belly, despite three weeks of regular contractions, until the perfect time; He waited until my mum had arrived from Australia, then he waited for his big brother to feel comfortable with his Nanny caring for him, and then he waited for me to put my big boy to bed one last time as an only child. He then, as the icing on the cake of perfect timing, made sure that he was outside of my tummy by the time his big brother woke up in the morning. Even now, if his older brother is crying for some reason, he will wait. It is rare that I am bombarded with two crying children simultaneously. Sure, the moment his brother stops crying, he sees his window, but that is him: Patient, amicable, beautiful.

Contractions started three weeks before your birth. Three weeks. I'm not talking about those Braxton Hicks contractions that come and go throughout the day, I'm talking about contractions that were three or four minutes apart, lasting for one minute... Proper, regular contractions, increasing in intensity. They would usually begin around 4pm, and then continue to get stronger throughout the night, dissipating by 6am. Handy timing, eh? But that was my uterus's fault, not yours. I was speaking to my midwife (the same wonderful woman who would come to my house for all prenatal checks, who would attend the birth and who would do all postnatal checks at home) almost every evening during that time, either she would call me or I would call her. She'd keep me on the phone and in conversation through a number of contractions to judge how my speaking changed when in the thick of it. Her advice was almost always the same: “Go and have a bath. Bring a cup of tea. If that baby wants to come, it will come. You will know if something changes. Call me in an hour.”

My mum was planning to arrive four days before the due date, and it turned out that this bubba was waiting for her. He was also waiting for something else: The beads. Mum had developed a secret plan of collecting beads from all of my friends and family throughout my pregnancy, in the hopes that I would have a long string of very different, very personal beads to hang above me and know that I had all of those people, both close to me in Switzerland and half a world away in Australia, plus a few from USA and Canada, holding my hand and telling me that everything was going to be okay. Most of the beads were sent to me throughout my pregnancy, which was really just so beautiful, but my mum would be arriving with a whole bunch more. So this baby knew to stay inside until then!
My big boy's favourite book for the months leading up to
his brother's birth: There's a House Inside My Mummy.
On the 13th of October, contractions started in the afternoon as usual. I made dinner, I tidied, and I became aware of the fact that they were really getting stronger this time. I listened to music with my big boy, stroked his beautiful hair as he watched Charlie and Lola, and then I put him to bed. I cried and cried and cried during that bedtime as I sang him 'The Long Time Sun' song, knowing that this might be the last time I put him to bed in that way, the last time it would be just us. I knew that his entire world was about to shift and he had really no idea. I knew that I would never be able to be there for him again like I had for every moment up until that one. And so I climbed into bed with him that night, clinging to the rail through my contractions, holding him against my body. When I had visualised my dream labour situation, I had always hoped that I would get to put him to bed one last time, and then by the time he woke, he would have a baby brother. And that's exactly what happened!  
Already two weeks into contractions...
I called my midwife, I told her things were different, and she told me to have a bath. This time, instead of the warm water easing the contractions a little, they intensified. I called her again, described how the pain was now much moreso in my legs and hips, she listened to me talking to her and told me that yes, this was it, I was in labour. This time, she told me to go to bed, try to sleep, and call her when I was ready to go to the hospital.

Just after midnight, I was no longer able to stay in bed, no longer remotely comfortable. I woke my man, told him it was time to go, and then went to the spare room to wake my mum. Once she recovered from jumping out of bed so quickly, she moved into our bed for the rest of the night, as our boy would religiously wake and sleepily walk into our bed, climb in and go back to sleep. We were all a bit nervous of how this would work, but my mum said that he didn't even register that it was her in the bed – he just climbed in and went back to sleep. Phew!

We grabbed the bags and the beads and headed out to the car. I had to stop three times and hold onto various things – my man, the tree, the huge bin – to get through a contraction. We drove slowly through the forest when I realised that I still had not threaded the last few beads onto the string and so, stupid of stupid can be, I decided to do it there in the car. Of course I had a contraction just at the pivotal moment and I dropped them all. Beads went everywhere, in all of the cracks and crevices, under the seat, down the side, under the mat... Gaaaah! We arrived at the hospital and I stood there against the car, holding on and contracting away while my man was on his hands and knees collecting beads. 'More!' I told him. 'There's that big green one! And the little black one! And the... (contraction)... blue one with the white in it!'

Hilarious, really, in hindsight.

Anja, my midwife, was of course there when we arrived. Both birthing rooms were already occupied, so she had set up a different room so it looked as relaxing and lovely as can be. We put on my birthing music – the music from my prenatal yoga from years ago, the same music I had used for my first birth – and hung my beads up on the bed, Anja got us some tea, and we just hung out for a while. My contractions were strong, but I was completely lucid and pain-free between them, a totally different scenario to my first birth, where the pain was continuous from the outset. She sat on the floor cross-legged, chatting to me between contractions about her studies, I talked to her about mine, she told me that I should really consider studying midwifery at some point, I told her that now was probably not the best time to try to convince me of that... It was all just very lovely, actually. Through each contraction, I'd turn over onto my hands and knees on the bed, Duncan would massage my back and talk me through it, and then it was done.

At some point I told her that the pain was beginning to seriously move into my back, which was one of my greatest labour fears, as my first was posterior and that was unbelievably rough. She reiterated that this bubba was not posterior, and asked how I felt about being given an enema. She said that there is a chance that it would relieve some of the back pain, and I agreed to giving it a try.

It was awful. I won't go into the gory details of the process, but having severe explosive diarrhoea every minute, while also having incredibly intense contractions at the same time? Not advisable. One requires you to sit, the other makes sitting impossible. Anja admitted to me afterwards that while, yes, there is a chance that the enema would relieve back pain, the other reason she suggested it was to speed up my labour. She said that the way we were, chatting away through each contraction, could easily go on for days. As it was, I had my baby in my arms only two and a half hours later!

After that, I was no longer able to sit or lie down at all. The contractions became almost continuous, with a very short break between only to catch my breath and attempt to gain enough strength to move my body to a potentially more helpful position. Once again, I was suffering from intense nausea and had to hold onto a bowl and often was gagging through each contraction... not so nice. I began to enter that bubble, where the world becomes fuzzy, I become unable to open my eyes, unaware of the world around me and completely retreat into myself. One thing I do remember at that time, though, was Anja, Duncan and Tanja (a young women's doctor there who is also my acupuncturist and with whom I hold a pretty close relationship. We promised to call during my labour, and she came straight over to witness it – though I don't remember when she arrived) all groaning in unison to try to get me back into my deep moans rather than my panicked screeches as things got nearer to the end. I remember hearing one of them laughing at the noise they were all making, and thinking that it was indeed hilarious, but being completely unable to come out of my bubble to express that in any way.

I hit the wall. It became too much. The nausea, the incredible steamroller that was driving through my body continuously, the inability to catch my breath, the feeling of being about to black out from the pain of it. Again, I remembered my last labour: I remembered being filled with those feelings, but then I was immediately relieved, as I had heard that these feelings often signified transition – that point where you were fully dilated and about to push – but it turned out, the first time, that I was only 4cm. Not even half way, and twenty hours into labour. This time was different. I opened my eyes for what felt like the first time in an age, locked eyes with Anja, who was holding onto my foot at the time, and though I was unable to speak, she understood. “You're in transition, Joh,” she said. I had done it! I was in transition! I don't think I have ever heard more beautiful words in my life. It was almost over!

And then came the urge to push. I was scared to push, fearful that maybe, like last time, I wasn't yet fully dilated and pushing could cause some serious damage. “Go for it!” she said, and so I went for it. I pushed once, and she laughed, told me to ease off a bit, that I was too powerful, which made me feel like a total warrior. Two more pushes, a few gasps as I felt that fire of crowning, and his head was out. One more, and out slipped his beautiful body. So simple, so perfect. 5.04am, and my littlest love was born.
Just out! All that hair! 
My eyes were open. I looked at Duncan, so incredibly rellieved that I could finally reveal my big secret. “It's a boy!” he said through laughter and tears, and I laughed and laughed. He had been so convinced that it was a girl, and it was such a release to finally share this knowledge with him after keeping it a secret from everyone on earth for such a long time.

The first thing that hit me was how different he was to our first. A head of beautiful, very dark hair (which has now vanished and he is also a blondey!), and he was immediately crying. Our first boy took a solid fifteen minutes and a bit of assistance before he began to cry after such a long and tough labour, but this little baby was the absolute picture of a quick and by-the-book labour – in fact, his face remained quite bruised with a red tinge for the first five days or so because the pushing happened so quickly. He immediately looked like the name we'd chosen. It's incredible how perfect that name suited this chubby-cheeked, double-chinned, dark-haired little baby instantly.
Mama, Papa and The Little One with the beads.
And then came the moment where I would breastfeed him; The moment I had been so nervous about, unsure of the anxiety it would bring, unsure even if I would want to, if it would make me feel some kind of repulsion or loathing... but no. This new, slimy little baby latched himself perfectly to my breast and it felt like the most perfect, natural thing in the world. I was met with a flood of relief. Sure, I knew it wouldn't feel like this forever, and I knew that we would have things to work through, but right now, for that first feed, things were perfect. And the plan of having no plan, of taking each feed as it comes, hour by hour, day by day, was underway.

It's working! Well... it was. :) Day 2.
Zero jealousy from the big brother, just adoration.
At home, our big boy woke up in our bed, and Nanny was there next to him. She told him that mummy and daddy were at the hospital and that he had a new little baby brother. He was apparently very happy and excited about it all, and still, seven months later, talks about how his brother brought him a fire truck when he came out of mummy's tummy, and how he loves playing with the wooden train at the hospital.

The first time they met.
And thus began our lives as four.  

Three weeks later...

Don't Bite Me.

Sure, I had heard about biters. In fact, before I was a mama, I used to think that sprouting teeth was nature's way of telling you to stop breastfeeding. The greater beings were showing you that your baby is ready to eat steak, and not only milk.

I didn't realise, you see. I didn't realise that breastfeeding was about comfort and love and sleep and pain-relief and the-world-is-overwhelming-me-relief. I didn't realise that the average age of weaning world-wide is 4.5. I didn't realise that the World Health Organisation recommends that all babies be breastfed until two years of age. I didn't realise that it would be something that was so fundamentally important to me in my role as a mama. Only when I couldn't do it did I realise how much I wanted to.

And then last week The Little One started biting. And now I understand. All those mamas with babes that have bitten them... I was way too flippant about it. He managed to get six teeth without biting once, and then he got a cold. It seemed to be the combination of a cold plus teething that triggered it, and suddenly everything upon which I had based our feeding relationship was out the window. 'When in doubt, whip it out!' was my adage. And so I whipped it out all over the place – to sleep, to wake, for hunger, for pain, for unknown grizzles. Now, if I attempt to breastfeed him at a time when he is not completely shattered with fatigue or absolutely desperate for my milk, he bites.

I cropped my nipple out of this picture.
It's about 10cm from those chompers. Scary stuff.
The first time he did it, it was first thing in the morning. Usually he wakes very happy and babbles away, and then I feed him a little which gives me time to slowly wake up too. It was a glorious morning ritual. Until he bit me. Hard. Literally, it was as if two shards of glass were being hammered into my nipples. Yes, I screamed, yes I cried, and yes, I bled. And yes, I was furious. It seems ridiculous now, in hundsight, but I was so angry at this little boy. All that I had been through to allow him to breastfeed, and he bit me?! I didn't even want to look at him. I got my husband to take him away from me while I wiped away my tears, wiped away the blood, and took some deep breaths.

And then I had to try again. Goodness, the fear...

This time I waited. I waited until he was unhappy, until he pulled at my shirt with his mouth open. Since that first time, there have been others. I try hard not to yelp, in case he thinks it is a fun game, or he gets such a fright that he goes on a nursing strike. I have now learnt to close up shop the moment that he starts babbling, in case he wants to play instead of feed. I have now learnt to offer him something to chew on first, to test if he really actually justs wants that, and not myboob at all. I no longer feed him to test if he is tired. I no longer feed him to relieve his teething pain.

I am not feeding him for comfort, and that saddens me. Funny; this has turned me into a somewhat 'normal' breastfeeder. I am now feeding him about every four hours, instead of little bits here and there all the day through.

I know it won't last forever. I think the thick of it is already over, as he hasn't bitten me today at all, and his sniffles are beginning to subside.

* This too shall pass *

Edit: It passed! I now know that, for my boy, sniffles and a cold seem to make him bitey. But otherwise, we are biting free!

7 months: More firsts and six teeth!

My littlest boy, or The Little One, as he has been dubbed in our household, is seven months old now. We have been exclusively breastfeeding for around six weeks now, which is mind-boggling. It has become normal. Normal. Can you believe it?

That's not my boob, honey...
I am hitting a whole bunch of new firsts -- Some great, some annoying, some not great at all. But even the not great ones actually make me really happy deep deep inside, as they are potential problems that any successfully breastfeeding mother deals with. They are not weird, rare, unexplainable issues, and this I love.


- His night nappy leaked. As in, it leaked from too much wee. And we had him in a size 4 nappy, which is technically from 7-18kg (how on earth you'd fit an 18kg child in one, though, is beyond me) and he is only 7.5kg, so that was a lot of wee. And it was from my milk alone. Rock on. 

- I fed him in a public toilet. Not out of embarrassment or harassment, but because I chose to. It is quiet and boring and reasonably dark in there, and since he is a very distracted feeder lately, I chose to do this to get a decent feed into him during a busy day. I sussed it out first, and it was impeccably clean (though it isn't as if I am dunking his face in the bowl), and yes, it worked.

- He bit me. We were having a bath together and he kind of pushed his way up to my breast and so I got him to latch on, thinking he was hungry, but nope - he just wanted to play. WOWSERS. He drew blood! New little teeth are thin, sharp little buggers! And now he has six already, four on the top and two down the bottom. Yikes. All the advice I've heard about this issue is to try your best to repel that instinct to take them off and yelp, and instead to try to remain calm (ha, easy to say when it isn't your nipple being carved!) and to actually pull them abruptly into the breast. I didn't do either of those things. I yelped and whipped him off. Oops. He is yet to do it again, though, and I have certainly learnt to wait for him to be more definite in showing cues that he wants to breastfeed from now on!

Chompers in there are busy at work!
- Feeding him to sleep is one of my favourite things about being a breastfeeding mama, but now that teeth are involved, sneaking my body away from a sleeping baby often involves having to drag my nipple past a set of grating chompers. Another new, and totally normal, thing to navigate!

* * *

In other news, I'm playing around with my domperidone levels again. I've been down at 60mg for a couple of days now, and no dramatic signs of less milk production, so I'm hoping to keep that up! As with everything this time around, I'm not taking notes on any specifics, so I'll go down another 10 in a few more days, after I feel confident that the 60mg is okay. This whole process scares me, but I would really love to be able to feed my boy for as long as he wants, and I really don't want to have to do that while medicated for the entire time... It seems a little.... I don't know. Wrong is too strong. But just unnatural, when the whole aim of everything I am doing is to allow this process to be as natural as possible. So... yes, it seems a little counterintuitive.

And in more other news, my ever-so-glorious first boy is three years old today. As I said to him at bed time, it is completely, totally, absolutely and definitely impossible for me to love any part of him any more than I do. He is an earth-shaker, that's for sure.

Becoming a Lactation Consultant

I have news.

I am on the way to becoming a lactation consultant. I fear it may take me a decade, quite literally, but the ball is rolling.

It was while I was in labour that My Amazing Midwife suggested that I also become a midwife. I wasn't exactly eager at the time, but the seed had been planted. The amount that this woman, Anja, has done for me is astounding and beyond my wildest dreams for prenatal, birth and postnatal care, and I must admit that the thought of being that person for another mother-to-be is pretty tempting. But oh, the study. I have spent so many years of my life in universities, studying Biomedical Science, Occupational Therapy, Creative Writing, English, and Secondary Education. I have studied at four different universities. I was only working full-time for just over two years when we left Australia. So the thought of totally starting over again, going back to university study again, and probably even in German, is daunting, to say the least. And the lifestyle of a midwife is one that I'm not sure I could maintain.

It was while she was working with me that Anja managed to obtain her accreditation to become an IBCLC (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant). I realised that a lot of the support that I had received – both prenatally, in dealing with my past scars, and postnatally, in finding solutions that allow my little boy and I to have a breastfeeding relationship in our own way – was in her role as a lactation consultant.

I feel as if I am so researched. Throw me any question regarding ways to boost milk supply, and I have the answer (big claim, I know, but try me.). I am so researched in both anecdotal and scientific evidence when it comes to the use of galactagogues, that I am just desperate to apply that knowledge to anyone besides myself. I have been in contact with the Human Lactation Research Group and the University of Western Australia. I must have spent many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours researching causes and treatments of low milk supply, the use of donor milk, tongue and lip ties, milk blisters, mastitis, over and underactive letdowns, etc etc etc. I absolutely adore when one of my mummy friends shares some breastfeeding story with me – either a personal achievement, a funny anecdote or a potential problem – and I am able to share in their joy or actually really help them.

And so, I'm on my way. It isn't easy to gain that accreditation, particularly if you aren't already working in a hospital environment. There are many units of study that I will need to undertake, and some of these remain entirely out of my reach for now, but it is great to know that my 'wasted' university study in the science and medical areas are actually going to be acknowledged now and will fulfill some required prerequisites. There are some more units that I will need to study (all in good time), and then attend a few days of a full-time lactation-specific course, probably in Berlin. In German.

The most scary and exciting part of it all is that I need to obtain one thousand hours of practical, hands-on work with mothers and babies, assisting them with breastfeeding. One thousand hours. Anja has admitted that she is desperate for me to just get accredited already, as there are so many women that she would love to refer to me already, but legally can't. She has spoken to her bosses at the beautiful alternative hospital where I birthed my boys, and I am about to begin a practicum there with mothers and their newborns. How incredible is that?! Just a couple of hours here and there on the weekends...


Let's presume I manage to go for four hours every saturday (and hope that my little bubba will be okay with Daddy and no boobie for that long). That would mean I will be there for 250 weeks. More than five years. Ha.

Gotta start somewhere! And man, this is going to do wonders for my German!

Maybe it's the domperidone...

This is the first chance I've had to write since the bottle incident. Apologies for leaving it so up in the air, but I needed to sort myself out a little.

Yes, I got my husband to give him a bottle, and that beautiful little baby of ours actually took it.

I was worried about my milk production. Again.

Ever since we had his tongue tie snipped, I have been slowly reducing my domperidone levels. All advice for stopping domperidone is to do it very gradually, and so I have been going down by one 10mg tablet each week. I was on 120mg, so it'll take a while.

The day before the bottle was my first day at 80mg. That night, despite feeding all night long, he woke with an almost empty nappy. Those morning nappies are usually my favourite; the ones that make me feel like yes, I DO have milk! But not that day. We then changed his nappy and went out for the day. I fed him as usual, which is every two or so hours (though usually only for a few minutes before he wants to continue looking and interacting with the wondrous world around him. Ah, the distracted feeder!). I subconsciously found myself feeling his nappy throughout the day, and eventually we came home around 4 and changed him. I presumed that my husband had done another change in the day, but he said he hadn't. It was dry. Perhaps there was a tiny pee in there, but it was pretty much dry.

So I took him to the bedroom, did our skin to skin lie-down feed and prepared myself for a marathon feed session, but he just cried and pulled at my nipple the entire time, like he used to before. I didn't feel any of the usual letdown feelings I have been getting (though I know that isn't necessarily a sign of anything), I didn't hear any swallowing. I couldn't hand express anything. Not a teeny drop.
Those sleepy feeds that I love
So I got my husband to give him a bottle. The last time we tried was in hospital and there was no way he was going to have that bottle anywhere near him, so I didn't actually expect it to work.

He stared at me with his big sad eyes the entire time, the poor thing.

He only took around 15ml from the bottle, and then was totally happy again. My crazy boy.

That was Sunday. On Monday, I took him to the local clinic to have him weighed, and he has only put on 0.35kg in two months. We had his 6 month doctor's appointment on wednesday where they weighed him again at 7.35kg, and I asked about it. He said that yes, the weight could definitely be higher, but my superstar is so healthy, is absolutely not a skinny-mini, is reaching milestones like a champ (already standing on furniture and sitting!) and is happy, so don't stress about it. He said if I like and am worried, I can give some formula again, but when I talked to him about what we had been through, he said not to worry about it. 
Standing like a champ already! His brother is impressed :) 
He suggested to keep feeding him as much breastmilk as I can, whenever he is bored or tired or grizzly or anything (which we do), and that the solids we give at the moment should not just be the plain vegetables or fruits, but try to focus on high calorie solids for a while. So at the moment there is quite the focus on banana and avocado, and some milchbrei (No idea what this is in English... spelt and millet cereals with the milk included in the cereal). He is snacking on steamed zucchini strips, red capsicum and cucumber, and I am giving him some pureed veggies with potato... but I am on that whole 'is my baby gaining enough' bandwagon. Back to get him weighed again soon.

So I am back up to 90mg. When I feel ready again, I'll try to go down to 80mg again and see if that really is to blame.

Meanwhile, I'm making heaps of milk again. His nappy this morning was chock-a-block full.  

And once again I don't really know how I feel about it all. Maybe it actually is me after all, and not just the tongue tie. Sigh. But one thing I do know is that I have some beautiful boys in my midst.

My happy healthy 6 month old boy
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