The Second Time Around
West Yorkshire Great Britain
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2008, pp. 18-19
I first began attending La Leche League meetings when my elder daughter, Isobel, was six months old. At that time many of my friends were weaning their babies and starting them on solid food. Isobel was showing no interest in stopping breastfeeding and I was keen to meet other mothers in the same situation as me.
I telephoned my local LLL Leader for some advice on how to wean since, as a first-time mom, I thought that human milk alone wouldn't be sufficient for Isobel's nutritional requirements after six months. I will always be grateful to her because she explained to me that continuing to breastfeed beyond six months benefited both mother and baby, and that it was a myth that the iron content of human milk was insufficient after this time.
She invited me to attend a La Leche League meeting. Before I had felt that I was the only one in my peer group to still be nursing my baby, but now I found a group of like-minded breastfeeding moms. Many of them were breastfeeding toddlers, which was a revelation to me. Since then, LLL meetings have been a constant source of inspiration, advice, and support. Isobel is now three, but I have found over those three years that meetings are not only about nursing, but also a fantastic resource for information on parenting toddlers, gentle discipline, and making friends. Every month I come away with at least one piece of wisdom to try or a new book to borrow. I have particularly appreciated the experiences of mothers with older children who give a broader perspective on some of the challenges I face. Without their advice and support, I might have given up breastfeeding after several bouts of mastitis and a nursing strike. Thanks to the support of LLL, I persevered and have very happy memories of feeding Isobel.
When I became pregnant with my second child, it seemed natural to continue attending meetings. Many of the mothers had very positive experiences of giving birth at home -- something I had wanted to do the first time around, but had been persuaded instead to go into hospital. They inspired me to think about approaching birth in a very different way this time. I hired Debbie and Katy (two midwives who work independently) and over the months we talked through my hopes and fears about my second birth. Isobel's birth in the hospital had been exhausting and traumatic -- 23 hours in labor with a painful induction and blood transfusion after a postpartum hemorrhage. So I was approaching this second labor with some trepidation.
Having sympathetic midwives who really knew what I wanted and were prepared to support me in my choices made a huge difference to the mindset with which I went into labor for a second time. I was 16 days overdue when Bryony finally arrived in a pool at home in the semi-darkness, with just my husband, Richard, midwife Debbie in attendance, and Isobel asleep upstairs. With no monitors, bright lights, drips, examinations, or procedures to disturb me, I was able to give birth in a place that felt safe and quiet. As a result, my labor was much quicker -- just under six hours -- and Bryony was born underwater at 3 am. Debbie and Katy had convinced me that I was capable of natural labor even though I was two weeks overdue, and I feel very privileged to have experienced such a calm and joyful birth.
I have been lucky that both my children have been able to feed well and instinctively right after birth. I fed Isobel about an hour and a half after her birth, after I had been stitched up and cleaned. For me, it was the only good part of my birth experience. I was able to nurse Bryony immediately after picking her up as she floated to the surface of the pool. We both sat quietly for an hour in the warm water while I waited to deliver the placenta naturally. What a difference it made not to have my baby whisked off to be bathed, weighed, and dressed, but instead allowed to enjoy skin-to-skin contact in those magical moments of peace after all the exertion and pain of labor. When we went to bed at 5 am, I was able to introduce Isobel to her baby sister and her first words were, "She's so cute." The two have been great companions ever since, and I feel that the home birth helped minimize the disruption to our family life.
I was back to being a vulnerable new mother, hormones racing through my body, deprived of sleep and never able to be on time for anything. Being able to chat about my feelings with other mothers and my midwives helped me cope with the shock of those first few days after the birth. Even though I had been through it before, I had forgotten exactly what caring for a newborn entails -- all the feedings, diaper changes, and constant carrying. Katy and Debbie were very supportive in the first few weeks after Bryony's birth. At a time when it seemed I barely had time to wash or eat, Katy's words encouraged me. "If you are managing to eat, sleep and breastfeed in these early days you are doing well." Debbie's reassurance that my new baby was not unusual in wanting to be in constant physical contact with me, day and night, helped me to adjust in those early days. I remember phoning my La Leche League Leader, Barbara, one morning after a night of cluster feeding when I seemed to have barely got out of my chair and was feeding Bryony constantly from late afternoon to the early hours of the morning. She assured me that this was normal for the first few weeks and that newborns needed to feed every couple of hours. Her support to continue nursing on demand meant that I didn't suffer from any pain or engorgement.
Now Bryony is three months old and I am finding that coping with a baby and a preschool child is hard work full of wonderful, touching moments -- like when all three of us snuggle up and Isobel and I read a book while Bryony feeds, or watching Bryony break into a huge smile when Isobel comes to cuddle her. I've tried to make the most of opportunities to sleep and taken the advice in THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING to "put people before things." That has helped me stop fretting so much about what a mess the house is in and how the washing seems to pile up endlessly.
Now, when people ask about routines and sleeping, I just laugh and say, "My baby breastfeeds on demand, and of course she doesn't sleep through the night -- she's a tiny baby." It's great to feel confident about going against the prevailing fashion for sleep training and early weaning. I no longer feel that I have to justify my choices and I am able to defend them robustly if need be. I have taken the wisdom of Dr. Sears' attachment parenting to heart and can quote from Sue Gerhardt's book (Why Love Matters) on the long-term psychological damage of leaving a baby to cry. Best of all about the second time with motherhood is that I am so much more relaxed. Bryony comes into bed with us for night feeds and I often wake up in the morning with my body cradled around hers, her soft breath on my face as she dozes contentedly.
She has just started to smile. When she wakes up and sees my face she gives me the most wonderful beaming smile and waves her arms and legs in pleasure and I just melt. I have found parenthood to be one of the hardest, most challenging, and physically exhausting jobs I have ever had. But it is also indisputably the best. Motherhood is a great blessing, and breastfeeding has helped me create a bond with my two daughters that will outlast the physical act of nursing. Without breastfeeding I would never have found LLL meetings and the warmth and friendships of the mothers there.
Adapted with permission from LLLGB's Breastfeeding Matters