I don’t remember how long they kept us in hospital after the birth (see entry titled Hostages to fortune) of my son.
I remember they made me go and be milked by the milking machine every three hours. They said I needed to get used to my milk being required every three hours. They also asked me to sign a consent form giving them permission to give my surplus breast milk to other babies in the nursery. They said sometimes babies come back from their mothers still hungry and they prefer to “top them up” with breast milk if possible.
(I wonder if those mothers signed a consent form accepting my milk for their infants? I wonder if they got their babies home and wondered why they had seemed able to satisfy them in the hospital but could not do so at home? Luckily for all concerned I had no diseases because I don’t remember them testing me for anything before using my milk to feed other people’s new borns!)
The machine was taking a full bottle of milk from me every three hours but the nurses were struggling to get any of it into my son. He was not recovering from the trauma of his birth at all. He remained too tired to even suck. They used, and showed me how to use, all the accepted techniques for waking a baby. Rub the soles of his feet and the side of his face, open the blankets to let him get a bit cold and so on. None of it seemed to work and, in desperation, they sometimes inserted a tube into his stomach and force fed him.
One day, out of the blue, the taboo against me holding my son was lifted. I was taken to the nursery and watched while I gave him a bath. Having performed that task satisfactorily I was told I could feed him for the first time. He wouldn’t drink but I stuck with it. They kept taking him away to weigh him and, finally, they said I had gotten 100 mls of breast milk into him. They said he was not used to the breast and I needed to be patient. They said I was to persist until he had taken at least 100 mls of milk each feed.
Then they sent me home.
They sent me home with an infant who was too tired to feed and breasts that had been giving 600 mls of milk every three hours for several days. I spent the whole of the first two days and nights with my son to my breasts trying to get the 100 mls per feed into him.
I wasn’t able to weigh him so my goal was for him to take enough milk each feed to ease the pressure and pain in my breasts. I figured surely that would amount to 100 mls. The problem was, it was taking ten minutes or so to wake him up enough to take one or two mouthfuls of milk. By my calculations it was taking more than three hours to get 100 mls into him so every hour I was falling further and further behind in giving him the amount I had been instructed to make sure he got.
By the end of the second night I was in real pain with the excess milk and exhausted from the non-stop battle to wake my son. I lost my temper and tore off all his clothing. He didn’t stir let alone suck. I rubbed his temples and the soles of his feet – hard. He lay there as limp as a rag doll with only his breathing to prove he was alive. I watched as milk trickled out of my breasts onto his firmly closed mouth and, suddenly, I knew what was wrong. My son was rejecting me.
He hated me so much he would not even take milk from me. He would prefer to die of starvation than accept me and I got angry. I lifted him up and resolved to force him to accept me. He was going to wake up and feed or else! I would MAKE him wake up – I would shake him awake.
I lifted him up and screamed at him. “WAKE UP!” I shook him just a tiny bit but he still didn’t stir. I felt rage overwhelm me and I was a heartbeat away from shaking him as hard as I could when something inside me said doing that would be wrong – really wrong. I was not aware you can give an infant brain damage, even kill them, by shaking them at the time but the instinctive belief it would be wrong to shake him was like cold water on the flame of my rage. Feeling beaten and rejected I dressed him and put him back in his crib.
I threw myself on my bed and cried. I cried and cried and cried. My breasts hurt so much, I was so tired, my baby hated me so much he would not take milk from me and he was going to die of starvation. I wanted to die myself.
After I had exhausted my tears I decided to accept my son’s wishes and stop trying to give him my milk. I took a hot shower to ease the pain in my breasts then I pulled out the baby basket I had been given. It had a small bottle and a sample of infant formula in it. At least, with a bottle, I would know for sure when he had taken 100 mls.
The battle to get milk into him continued for several more days. My breast milk dried up pretty fast which was a relief but the conviction my baby son hated my guts for bringing him into the world deepened and I grew more and more depressed. I was failing miserably. I was not even able to feed my child. It was only a matter of time before he died of starvation.
One night I looked at the bottles of beer in my fridge. Before giving birth I had invited some of the other tenants in my block of flats around for a bit of a housewarming party and they had left two big bottles of beer in my fridge. I didn’t like beer but I needed something to take the edge off my despair so I drank both bottles. I drank them as fast as I could so I wouldn’t have to taste them.
It was enough to get me drunk enough to pass out and pass out I did.
Eleven hours later I woke up and panicked. Was my son still alive? Had he starved to death? I stumbled over to his crib. He lay exactly as I had placed him and was still sound asleep. I checked him over. He was urine soaked from head to toe but I could see no sign at all that he had even woken in all that time. I held my finger to his nose and mouth – yes – he was breathing.
As I looked at him he stirred. It was the first time I had seen him move of his own accord. My mind raced – they said he was tired from the birth. Maybe I should just let him sleep. I looked at my watch. He had missed three feeds already. In another hour he would be due for the fourth. I would wait. I would watch to ensure he did not die but I would wait. I would not try and force food on him again – let him ask me for it or go without.
The hour came and went. He did not wake up but he continued to stir now and then. An arm or leg would move. He would turn his head or sigh. Every time my fears began to overwhelm me and I would make a move to clean him up or feed him he would stir and I would harden my heart.
No food until he asks for it! No bath or nappy change – nothing – let him lie in his own mess until he is ready to ask me for help!
Another hour passed then another. Soon he would be due for a fifth feed. Soon he would have gone 15 hours without food – how much longer could he survive? How much longer dare I wait?
As the 15th hour approached I cracked. I dare not wait any longer. I would have to give in and force feed him again. I began to cry. I got up and prepared the bottle. When I came back to wake him I saw he was stirring a lot more.
I gritted my teeth and put the bottle back in the kitchen. I would hang in a bit longer. The bottle went cold but he was moving more and more. He was making little whimpering noises in his sleep. Finally he made the sound I had been longing to hear. A sound I had never once heard him make – he cried.
I burst into tears of horror. His cry was a tiny, pathetic, little mew. I would never be able to go to sleep again because a sound that small would never wake me! I wiped my eyes and went to prepare another bottle. While the kettle boiled I bathed and changed him. As each minute passed he grew more and more distressed and his cries got louder and louder. My spirits lifted along with the volume of the noise he was making.
By the time I put the bottle to his mouth he was red faced and screaming. He latched on to the bottle eagerly and drank every drop in no time at all. He was, suddenly, just like everyone else’s baby. He was moving, looking at me, responding to me. My little, limp, rag doll of a baby had come alive and turned into a real baby!
I was over the moon with joy at first. I put him down after his feed and watched him sleep. I counted the minutes and held my breath. Was the nightmare really over? Would he wake and cry for his next feed when it was due? He did.
As I lay down for my first real sleep, drunken stupor not included, I wondered why the staff at the hospital had not done this. Why had they kept waking him to feed him? Why had they not let him sleep off the trauma of his birth?
It was the first time in my entire life I had questioned authority. It was the first hint I had ever had that the “experts”, the people in power, could be wrong. Could actually be dangerously, unbelievably, STUPIDLY wrong!
Maybe, just maybe, when it came to my baby I should listen to myself and my instincts not just assume other people knew better than me.
It was a novel idea and one that would have a huge impact on my life in many different ways.