Before Hattie and Joe arrived I had an inkling that I really didn’t have any clue about what I had in store, or how I’d feel about various elements of motherhood – after all, you can’t anticipate the consequences of a totally life-changing event. A good example of my total inability to predict how I’d respond to something is my attitude towards breast feeding.
For most of the pregnancy, I was pretty pragmatic about breast feeding: I knew that loads of twin mothers cannot, or choose not to, exclusively breast feed their babies. Although I knew about the great health benefits of breast feeding (and I’m sure that all twin mothers feed for the first week or two, at least, to harness those benefits), I also didn’t want to set myself up to be gutted if I couldn’t manage to breast feed myself. I was also aware of the huge pressure to breast feed here in New Zealand: there are frequent news stories about poor women who have been really bullied in hospital and criticised by random members of the public for choosing to feed formula. And friends of mine who have given birth recently suffered a bit at the hands of hardcore lactation consultants. So I thought that I was matter-of-fact about the whole thing, and was ready to defend my right to feed formula if we decided that this was the right choice for us and our babies.
Later in the pregnancy I read an excellent book about breast feeding, and it made me realise that I might have been sub-consciously assuming that I wouldn’t be able to feed the babies myself. The author of the book pointed out that, in most places in the world, mothers have no choice but to breast feed, and don’t freak out about whether or not it will work for them: they have to feed their babies, and that’s their only option. This slight shift in perspective helped me to feel a little more confident about being able to feed my babies.
And then Hattie and Joe were born, and I was so delighted to be able to put into practice the theory that I’d read, particularly with regard to getting the babies latched on. I had them latched on in the post-op recovery room, and in my post-operation shocked state I was very pleased about it. But a couple of days passed, and my milk didn’t come in, and the hospital staff started freaking out about the babies’ weight. It made me worry that I wouldn’t actually be able to feed, and I was surprised at how much this prospect upset me. I realised that breast feeding was really important to me, and that when it came to the crunch I’d be prepared to do whatever was required to manage it: drink special teas; eat delicious lactation cookies baked by my mother (no hardship there, obviously); express milk on a regular basis to get my supply going; massage the relevant parts *ahem*; take medication… anything.
Three things have helped me to get going with breast feeding: a good session with a lactation consultant on my last day in hospital; a generally good, helpful and pragmatic attitude from the hospital midwives, none of which tried to push breast feeding on me or be anything other than sensible about the need to supplement with formula when the babies’ weights dipped a bit; and great support from my family and, in particular, Tristan. And Tui, apparently:
Man, isn’t that an unvarnished glimpse of the impact on one’s face of becoming a new mother!
The thing that changed my attitude was the discovery that, for me, breast feeding isn’t just a functional activity (which is how I’d been thinking of it beforehand, I now realise): it’s also an incredible bonding experience with the babies. 90% of the time I’m tandem feeding (which I’ve found to be surprisingly easy, probably because of the babies latching on well), and I can’t even tell you how much I treasure the view when both of the babies are slurping away and I’m looking down at their fuzzy little peach heads, their wrinkled brows, their sweet little eyes, and their starfish hands waving around, clutching their faces, or patting my skin. If it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t want photos of my naked boobs floating around in cyber space, I’d be recording this view for posterity. And occasionally I feed the babies separately (usually when one of them needs a quick top-up), and that’s lovely too: a really nice opportunity to give just one baby a cuddle. God knows how I’m going to keep my act together in a few weeks’ time, when they can actually make meaningful eye contact with me and smile.
It’s particularly handy to have Hattie and Joe accustomed to both tandem feeding and solo feeding, as there is absolutely no way that you can tandem feed in public: essentially, you’re naked from the waist up. Thank goodness that it’s warm at the moment, given the amount of time I’m swanning around the house barely clad.
Of course, I still believe that every mother should have the right to choose how to feed their children, without any judgement or expectation from others: if you’re not going to be holding the yowling baby at 2 in the morning, you don’t get a vote as far as I’m concerned. I am still supplementing with formula and may continue to do so for a while yet, and although I’m enjoying breast feeding very much, I certainly reserve the right to choose a different option further down the line (and if I manage to breast feed for more than three months I will be really happy). It’s certainly not all warm, fuzzy good times: Hattie has a latch like a barracuda, and you can’t even imagine the discomfort of suddenly having enormous, hard, milk-filled mammaries: they feel OK straight after feeding, but then gradually become uncomfortable again in the hours that follow. For me, it’s worth it, but I can totally understand why many women decide that they really have enough on their plate without also contending with this kind of thing.
So yeah. Chalk this one up in the ‘becoming a parent changes things’ column!