Midwives, Breast pumps and formula

Dear Rosie,

This letter is about hope. Beautiful, glorious hope. Hope is the knowledge that if winter is tough, spring is never far away. Hope is staring at a pregnancy test every month and wanting so badly to see that red line. Hope has been a really good friend of mine. Hope was there when your Grandma was sick, hope was there when I was looking for your Dad and hope was certainly there when I was day dreaming about having a daughter. But what I came to learn in your first week of life is that hope can also be a real asshole. Sometimes, reality needs to set in and hope needs to be put on the back burner.

Before you were born I was full of hope about the way I would get to feed you. I day dreamed about breast feeding you in my comfy new armchair, connecting with you and giving you everything you needed in life. I had daydreamed about feeding you for so long, that it became my benchmark for success.

Not all of this hope was internally driven. If I had a dollar for every midwife, friend, work colleague or stranger who told me breastfeeding was the most magical experience and that I should not have any trouble because I had such great big boobs.

“Ohhh you’ll have no issue with boobs like that” or “It is the best way to connect to your baby” and the ever important “You’ll be giving your baby the best start to life”.

I don’t blame these wonderful people for filling my head with hope, its what you do when you care for someone. But it was too one sided. It had become more than hope, it had become a non-negotiable.

When the midwives placed you on my chest I was so overwhelmed from the C-Section and the drama from the lead up that I was utterly exhausted. I remember staring at you and being in complete disbelief that you were actually in my arms. In the recovery bay we tried our first feed but your screaming was unlike anything I had ever heard. You were hungry. You were so hungry. The midwives told me this was normal and for the first time (and most CERTAINLY not the last) a complete stranger began milking me. Yep. Manually expressing that golden good stuff to make sure you had something in your belly. You were fed. And as always, I was full of hope that our next try would be more successful.

Once back in our room, we had more cuddles and the visitors began arriving. Your Grandpa John was so excited to meet you Rosie girl that he had been sitting in the carpark for almost 3 hours waiting for me to let him into the room. During this afternoon of first family cuddles, I remember the searing pain of the C-Section site begin to set in. The midwives were quick to fill me with painkillers and pain blockers but for me, what we should have called them was emotion and conversation blockers. I was so spaced out that I barely remember anything from such a special time. Once your grandparents went home, we thought we would try to feed again. The midwives showed me the best way to hold you, I eagerly placed you on the breast and then…the most incredible sound in the world followed. You were feeding. You did it. I cried the happiest tears. But as soon as that feeling arrived, it went away because you stopped. This would be the first and last time you ever fed from me.

The next 24 hours were a screaming blur. You were so hungry and I couldn’t feed you. You cried from the moment you woke up to the moment you closed your eyes. Every midwife had a special trick, a new method, a superior technique that was “sure to be the solution” but each and every time it left you hysterical and me handing you to someone else. “Its okay Sarah, we’ll just manually express you this time and give it to her through a syringe until your milk comes in”. More hope.

My milk came in thick and fast and I was sure this was the answer to everything. Your God Mother made the incredible suggestion that we try the breast pump rather than yet another nameless face milking me while I tried to sleep or eat breakfast. “Ohhh my goodness Sarah you have enough milk for 10 babies” one midwife exclaimed. Hearing that never helped. “We really need to get this sorted Sarah because after not having a natural birth this is the best way to connect with your baby”. Yep. That one never helped either. Your birth felt pretty natural to me.

One night in the middle of a pumping session, you were actually sleeping peacefully next to your Dad and I could feel my final mental health straw balancing gently between managing and breaking for good. A new midwife walked into the room and announced “I hear you’ve been having trouble feeding, enough of this silly business, lets wake Rosie up and feed her once and for all, I have the magic touch and I’ve never let a mum fail”

Fail. Fail. Fail. It’s the only word I heard. I begged her to let you sleep. I begged her to let me see you peaceful. I hadn’t held you all day because I couldn’t stand the thought of being pushed away or failing you yet again. This woman grabbed you from your slumber, stripped you off and forced you onto my breast and as you pulled away screaming, the final delicate straw snapped.

“ENOUGH” I screamed. “MOVE AWAY FROM ME”. The midwife stepped back, shocked with the eruption she had just received. “You don’t know me, you haven’t even introduced yourself and you are hurting me”. She stopped dead in her tracks. The room was silent. She slowly walked out of the room and I could hear her deep breathing outside.

Five minutes later she walked back in and introduced herself. She asked me how I was and how she could help me. She held my hand and listened as I told her about my broken hopes and how you hadn’t fed or slept properly in 4 days. She looked me deep in the eyes and told me how hard some women find breastfeeding at first and I wept. It was the first time in 4 days that anyone had actually stopped to ask how I was and told me that it was okay for me to be finding this so challenging. That night we made a plan. A plan that I was a part of and a plan that empowered me for the first time since your birth.

Rosie, as you grow you will be faced with people that overlook you, step over you, try to talk for you and tell you how things need to be. YOU are in charge of your own body. YOU are in charge of your purpose in life and YOU have a voice. Never be afraid to use it.

“Sarah, I think it’s time we consider giving Rosie some formula top ups to help her keep some weight on”.

Your dad and I agreed that a little top up of formula would be okay and I could continue pumping breast milk tomorrow. Just as I was about to feed you, the midwife quietly placed a piece of paper in my hand. It was a waiver stating the implications of giving you formula and that I was of a sound mind to be giving it to you. As I signed it, it felt like I was signing the official failure paperwork. I was never against formula, it just wasn’t in the plan. Since when has formula needed a permission slip?

Never the less, something magical happened after you took that bottle. You stopped crying, you stopped pushing me away and you slept. You slept soundly for the first time since you were born. Your belly was full and you were content. For the first time in your short life, I felt like I had done the right thing for you.

“We live by hope. We do not always get all we want when we want it. But we have to believe that someday, somehow, some way, it will be better and that we can make it so.” – Hubert H Humphry

I slept that night with so much hope in my heart Rosie. Hope that you would continue to have a full belly, hope that I wouldn’t feel like I’d failed you, hope that I would be able to hold you again and feel like I was your Mum. And more than anything I had hope that you knew how hard I was trying to do the right thing by you.


Your Mum


3 comments on “Midwives, Breast pumps and formula

  1. If you have experienced anything similar and want to share your story, please comment below and join our community!

    1. Dear Sarah,

      Firstly, thank you so much for this blog! I have been reading your posts and this one in particular has hit home for me.
      I gave birth to my first child, a beautiful little boy, on Monday the 14th January.
      I never thought in a million years that I would become a mum and yet here I am. One of the happiest mums on the planet.
      However, like yourself, my hopes for breastfeeding and my experiences in the first few days have been soul shattering. Because of this experience, my self esteem slowly disappeared and the feeling of failure set in. My son managed to latch on the first few times and I was so excited we achieved this step! But since that first day, we have struggled. Like darling Rosie, he screamed the house down and would work himself into histerics but I kept telling myself that it would be ok and that we’d figure it out and that eventually it will happen, all the while being manually expressed by someone I didn’t know and never saw again.
      Although I was able to produce colostrum and provide my son some natural goodness, I eventually had to start him on formula top ups as well. From the moment I signed that waver form, I felt constantly judged even though I was reassured that this can happen and that it is a “bandaid solution” until your milk comes in.
      I am now day 4 and I am still waiting for my milk to come in. Even though the formula has helped my son maintain some weight and helps him sleep and fills his little tummy, I can’t help but feel a wave of shame every time I put the bottle to his mouth. I feel I have let him down.

      I still believe though, that although his first few days of life were fed by formula, our connection will still be just as strong. He is my son, and there is no shame in doing what is necessary to make sure he is fed.

      Thank you again Sarah for sharing your story.


      1. Heather, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. You my darling girl are already a brilliant mum because you are spending precious time thinking of how to best support and love your new baby. Your job now is to keep him fed by any means necessary and to look after your mental health. When a baby is born, so is a mother and this transition will take time for both of you. I have known many many women who’s breastfeeding journey has had such a rocky start, only to take off weeks into the babies life and be successful. I also know dozens of babies who are happily formula fed. Rosie has now been on formula for 5 months and our connection and love is beautiful. She knows who her mamma is and that I work every minute of the day to make sure she’s happy. I am here for you around the clock. How a baby is fed does NOT define you as a mother. Be kind to yourself and take it slow xoxox

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