I finished 6 years at medical school without a single lecture or tutorial about breast feeding. I then completed 6 years in the hospital system and, from recall, did not see a single breast-feeding mother as a patient. Towards the end of this time I had decided on a career in general practice. Nervous and very aware of my limitations I enrolled in some extra courses (obs&gynae and child health) to try and broaden my knowledge beyond the hospital style of medicine.
So, finally... some sessions on breastfeeding. The practicalities of attachment, the potential barriers to feeding, a practical demonstration of feeding, tips and hints for dealing with breast feeding issues, personal stories of breast feeding successes and failures. Already strongly pro-breast feeding, I left those sessions far more confident about my role to support, educate and encourage women and families about breast feeding. I was also very clear that for some mother/child teams breastfeeding was not going to work and my role in supporting them was also clear.
Then, first week into my new GP career the huge divide between learning and real life hit me right in the face. Questions about bleeding nipples, the right dummies to use to promote breast feeding, how to improve supply.... my lack of practical knowledge fully exposed. Luckily, in the next consulting room was a very experienced GP who had just had her 6th child. This baby accompanied her mum to work each day and was fed in the consulting room, often whilst she was consulting. This lovely lady would sail in and answer their questions, reassure them and leave me wondering if I would ever be really equipped to deal with all of these issues.
I became an avid questioner of new mums. I asked them all about their experiences, their problems. I acquired knowledge by proxy and became a far more useful resource to my patients.
Then my own baby.
I was determined to breast feed.
It felt like my only option.
Luckily I was blessed with a baby that really wanted to, and loved to, breastfeed right from her very first moments. In the next few weeks we practised and refined this new skill together. It wasn't smooth sailing .. there were tears and blocked ducts and its only looking back that I realise just how hard we struggled. The Doc was super supportive but there were many other voices far less so - who suggested bottles and formula...to me they were simply saying I'd failed. We persisted - and then at the 8 week mark it all fell into place...became automatic, like something we were born to do.
I loved it... from very early on it was clear to me that while I was nourishing her little body I was also nourishing us - with skin contact, with cuddles, with time just to be together. I always had plenty of milk, she thrived, I revelled in the fact of being so needed.
Lily fed for about 20 months until one day she just didn't want to any more. Maybe the milk tasted different (as I was pregnant again), maybe it was just her time. I didn't really think about it too much - I was busy with a toddler who slept poorly, getting ready for our next baby and planning our move back to Tassie.
Gracie was next. This time it really was a breeze. I knew what to do, she learned quickly and we never looked back. Almost 3 years later she was still feeding (cue much consternation from family members) until one day I realised we'd missed 2 night feeds and it was over. I was bereft. I missed the closeness, the sense of being needed. I wasn't sure if we would be able to have another child and I felt like I'd missed marking the end of something momentous.
And then Jack. Another easy, super-keen feeder. Having thought I'd never be in that position again I relished it all. Even the night feeds. Especially the night feeds. Day feeds were often squeezed in, fitted around the rest of the family - I'd be listening to readers, answering questions, multi-tasking. At night it was just the two of us - quiet moments of drinking each other in.
It was a really precious and beautiful time in my life. A true everyday miracle.
I know how lucky I was and am incredibly grateful for it.
I'm linking up with Kylie over here for weekly gratefuls (its been a while).