A heart kid, low supply and milk delivery between hospitals
Strap yourselves in for the wild ride that was my pregnancy. I attended the 20-week scan with the same trepidations as most first-time mums – heightened nerves and excitement to see the new images of my growing bub.
After the scan however came the sentence no new parent wants to hear, “come into this room, we need to talk about your baby”. Turns out, my daughter, had a congenital heart defect. One that required medication from birth, a trip in an air ambulance (without me) and open-heart surgery in a different city at two days old. Without surgery she would not survive, and doctors warned of further complications and potential development issues. The prognosis was not good.
We went through rounds of tests and excruciating wait times. The pregnancy was deemed ‘high risk’ and every appointment was panic inducing and stressful. My planned ‘minimal intervention birth’ turned into a highly intervened induction with specialists at the ready to whisk my baby straight into intensive care.
BUT…she was born a healthy weight and was beautiful. If I’d had time to think I would have been in love. Instead, I was in serious shock. From the day I found out she was sick, out of self-protection, I’d complete disengaged from the pregnancy. I hadn’t allowed myself to buy clothes or baby supplies, I didn’t want to come home to a house full of baby goods with no baby. My brain, let alone my body was not ready for the immediate onset of “motherhood”.
My daughter (Kit) was moved to intensive care and I was moved back to a ward. A ward filled with mothers and babies (and me with no baby). I had every intention of breast feeding. It was one thing I could do for my baby. After what seemed like a minute back in the ward, I was jolted into reality. “Ok we need to milk you now”. I was completely unprepared but willing to do anything. I managed to express a small amount colostrum and spent the next 24 hours attempting to bond in the NICU.
The day after birth, Kit was flown in an air ambulance to Melbourne for her surgery. By Day 2 she had her heart repair and was thankfully doing well. I desperately tried to bond with her but it was incredibly disjointed, like an out of body experience. Even from a logistical standpoint, bonding with your sick baby is hard in the NICU. Every cuddle is a full-scale technical operation with cords and cables and for a first-time mum, it was frightening.
Kit was too weak to suck so I set my alarm for every 3 hours to pump. I was determined to do it no matter how disconnected I felt. From the very first pump though my supply was low. Heartbreakingly low. I remember the absolute despair looking at the tiny amount of milk I’d collected in the bottom of the bottle, “that cannot be IT??”.
After 3 days of minimal sleep and stress I ended up in the women’s hospital with an infection. Here I continued my 3-hour alarm /pumping regime and my husband ferried tiny amounts of milk between the two hospitals. I did not want to give up. My body was a mess, and my brain was in overdrive. “Why was my body failing me? If I kept pumping would there be more supply? Once we got home surely the routine would easily slip into place.”
Fast forward two weeks and we were home. I continued to pump but it just didn’t get any easier. I could only produce very small amounts of milk which needed to be supplemented with formula. I tried everything…. cookies, medication, a myriad of latching techniques to no avail. Kit had no energy to feed, and I had no supply to give her.
Not being physically able to breastfeed was a huge mental battle for me in what was already the most stressful experience of my life. When I finally made the tough decision to exclusively formula feed it gave me space to heal and see things in a new light. It allowed me to look after myself, physically and mentally, which in turn made me a better mother. After 10 weeks of a high-risk pregnancy followed by a traumatic birth & heart surgery, I could finally bond with this thing called “motherhood”. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to access formula to allow me to do so. Without it myself, my baby and my husband would have been in a much darker place.