Trigger Warning: This birth story discusses trauma, topics discussed include emergency c-section, haemorrhage and PTSD. If you are triggered by these topics you may wish to skip this blog or read it once you have support available. If you are seeking support for your birth trauma, you may wish to contact our Peer Support Service.
My name is Brittany, my pronouns are she / her, and I am living on unceeded Yorta Yorta country.
World Breastfeeding Week is a time to celebrate, support, and share information about all things breastfeeding, chestfeeding – whether you’ve fed, are still feeding, are exclusively pumping, hoped to feed, and everything in between. I’d like to acknowledge that this week can be difficult for many people – those who were weren’t able to feed for as long as they wanted, for those who couldn’t at all, those who were pressured to feed against their will, or shamed for deciding not to.
My son Toby was born in May 2020, and before the birth, I was pretty determined to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is the norm in my social circle, and I wanted to give my babe the best start that I could. I told myself that I would be happy if I could make it through the first 6 months breastfeeding, but I really hoped that I could make it to the WHO recommended 2 years before weaning.
Unbeknownst to me, a lot of the circumstances surrounding Toby’s birth were not conducive to breastfeeding at all – induction, emergency c-section, haemorrhage, separation at birth, postpartum haemorrhage, and the trauma the followed these experiences. Although necessary, at no point during my induction or c-section was I told that these interventions may have an effect on my ability to breastfeed.
Once he was born, I didn’t realise how much time had passed since Toby was whisked away from me – it simultaneously felt like moments and days that I was laying in OR, no idea what was going on, where my baby was, and feeling like I had no power to ask.
It was an hour after he was born before I got the opportunity to attempt breastfeeding, and I don’t remember much except that he couldn’t latch, and I couldn’t hold him up on my own.
I was taken to the ICU and Toby to the Maternity Ward with his Dad, who brought him down to me for feeds every so often. With the constant monitoring and testing, I already felt powerless, like a piece of meat, and this wasn’t helped by every midwife who felt entitled enough to grab my breasts and express colostrum while “helping” me feed. Toby finally latched when he was 2 days old, and my milk began to come in around day 4.
Something I wasn’t really prepared for, was that breastfeeding can hurt. And it can be hard to learn, for both parent and baby. I thought it would be instant and natural, and the most beautiful shared experience. Instead, I dreaded hearing the cries that meant I had to feed again, and to hear yet another midwife critique my latch, hold, feeding time, feeding routine, or whatever else they could think of, but I was really determined to get this “right”. I felt like I had failed Toby and myself so much with how the birth played out, that I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to continue breastfeeding. I left the hospital after 6 days feeling confused and unsure, but Toby was putting on weight, and that was all that mattered to me.
I have very little memory of the first month at home, except feeling like I was in a daze, horrifically anxious, getting very little sleep, trying to process what had just happened with the birth, and feeding 24/7. While breastfeeding did become easier and less painful, it soon became clear that I was struggling with DMER, and an oversupply caused by postpartum thyroiditis, which then caused Toby his own issues. I was a first time mum, and being in the middle of Covid, we were unable to access a lactation consultant, so I relied heavily on the resources I could find online, and peer support from other mothers I knew who breastfed. I spent hours at night reading ABA articles and scrolling through the ‘milky’ side of Instagram.
Much like my journey in processing my birth trauma, I eventually found the words to describe what I was going through, and slowly figured out how to move forward. I was eventually diagnosed with PND and PTSD, and while it felt incredibly isolating for a long time, the time spent breastfeeding really helped me bond with Toby, especially in those first 6 months.
I’m so grateful to still be breastfeeding Toby, and that I was able to donate my excess breastmilk to several other families in the area. I have endless appreciation for the support and encouragement I had from my friends and family in my breastfeeding journey.
If you would like to connect with a person who has experienced birth-related trauma, please contact our Peer2Peer Support service to connect with one of our Peer Mentors.