I Breastfed Her in Secret

by Claire D

I had my eldest child Ivy, she’s six, I had her in October 2015. It was a planned section. And it was perfect. Everything I wanted to happened. The radio was playing, it was so relaxed that it was lovely. We did skin-on-skin. My husband had skin-on-skin.

Started breastfeeding. And it all just got really, really hard. I didn’t know what I was doing. There wasn’t any support. I seen one midwife, I think it was who told me to try the rugby hold. So I tried that. And then she went, ‘You’ve just got really big boobs, I think you suffocating her’.

And I just was terrified. I didn’t want to feed her again. I thought it was suffocating her. And so we combi-fed for two weeks. And then I gave up. And I was really hard on myself for a long, long time. And I don’t think I’ve ever really forgiven myself for not giving her that start.

The height of lockdown. She was November 2020, so it was the middle of lockdown. There was limited support, she lost loads of weight and we got to five-and-a-half months before finding out she had a tongue-tie. From two weeks till she was about 17 weeks I used shields because it was the only way I could get her to latch. And we topped her up with a bottle just to get her weight back up because she was so tiny. And then at five and a half months, I found out that she had a tongue-tie. And she was too big for them to snip it without being put under a general anesthetic. And they couldn’t guarantee that it would improve her feeding. They couldn’t guarantee it would improve their latch or make it more comfortable for me. So I said ‘Oh, forget it then, we’ve got this far. We’ve got five and a half months. If I have to wean it now at least I’ve done five and a half months’.

I think perseverance took over. The midwife came out and weighed her and she’d put on the tiniest bit of weight. I can’t even remember, it was minuscule. And she was like ‘Well done, that’s you, you’ve done that.’ And she just gave me that umph, that now, it’s hard, but it’s still working. I am doing it, slowly but surely. Then, I just kept saying, ‘Right, I’ll do it till the next weigh-in. I’ll do it till the next weigh-in.’ And the midwife seen her for the first four weeks weighing her regularly. And then once she was happy that there was like… she was gaining every time she signed me off and just said ‘You ring me, if you get concerned ring me.’

It was like Christmas time by then and we just persevered over Christmas. I remember sitting eating my Christmas dinner feeding her and, like, laughing with Liam saying ‘Next year, she won’t want my milk, she’ll be having a Christmas dinner.’

I thought I failed Ivy because I couldn’t do it. And it’s only now I’ve gone on and learnt a lot more that I understand why it wasn’t working. But at the time – and it probably is due to a lack of funding – there was no one there telling me why it wasn’t working and what else to try. And obviously, Ivy was a wonderful surprise. But I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I was getting into. And so I think it was a multitude of things but I just constantly felt like I was failing her.

I wasn’t doing the right thing. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just felt really insecure. No one talks about that side of it do they? I remember sitting with Ivy in my nursing chair and I was given her a bottle and it was dark and it felt like there was only us in the world and crying, like silently crying because I didn’t know what I was doing. And was I doing it right? I had all this responsibility. This human literally relied on me. I think that is part of motherhood that people just don’t talk about. It’s an immense amount of pressure for a person to deal with. And even if you’ve got a fantastic support network, that pressure is still on you because you’re the mum

My community midwife was fantastic. She was lovely. And I think she was more concerned about the pressure I was putting on myself, and the effect it was having on me mentally, that she just said to me I needed to look after myself because I couldn’t look after the baby if I wasn’t looking after myself. We were doing some research recently, Amy and I, and we found out… so, obviously Liverpool’s different boroughs so we live in Sefton and if you have your baby at Liverpool Women’s and you are under the Liverpool area, you get support from Bambi’s. But if you live in Sefton you don’t. If you have your baby at Ormskirk, which is a West Lancashire hospital, they have their own support network, if you’re from Ormskirk or Halsall. But if you’re from Sefton, you can’t access their support. But Sefton as a council lost their breastfeeding funding. So we don’t have a support network within our local area that goes into hospitals.

So nobody knows about our group. They come out of hospital and they don’t know that there’s a Sefton group that they can access for free who’ll come out and do one-to-one consultations and stuff. Our rates in Sefton are good initially, but by six weeks they’ve dropped because people haven’t got the support.

When I attended our local breastfeeding group, because of COVID I didn’t attend till Hazel was six months old, maybe yeah, probably about five or six months old. And I breastfed her in secret. It felt like I breastfed her at home, at my mum’s, sneakily in the car, things like that. And then I attended our breastfeeding group, which is where I met some of the mums who were involved in the project. And I remember sitting there looking around at all these women with their boobs out and being like, ‘It’s alright, we all look the same, really. No one’s that bothered’. And there was like, some who we’re trying to be really discreet like me, there was others who were just whipping their boobs out and feeding their baby. And it was fine. And everyone had a cup of tea and a biscuit at the same time. And I was like, ‘These are my people. These are my people. They’re not bothered. I’ve got my boobs out feeding my baby. And they’ve given me cups of tea and biscuit at the same time.’

There is a coffee shop on Dale Street in Liverpool. It’s called Mousse Coffee. And they are lovely. They pass your a glass of water, they check if you need anything. They make small talk if you’re a bit nervous. They’re really nice. And it’s only tiny, tiny little cafe. But they’re really nice in Mouse Coffee. There’s also a coffee shop in Bootle Strand, which is, like, local to where I live. And it’s the first place I fed in public. Well, one of the first places I fell in public on my own. And I’m walking in saying, ‘Can I breastfeed in here? Is that okay?’ And he’d be like, ‘Of course she can, don’t be daft!’ And she came and sat with me whilst I like got Hazel latched on, and put my shields on and all the rest of it. And she just chatted with me and made sure I was comfortable. And then she was like ‘Can I get you a drink? Would you like anything.’ So, just had a glass of water. And then she brought me a glass of water and a piece of cake over. And she was like, ‘You stay as long as you want.’ And now if I’m out and about, I’ll purposely go there and feed again. Because I’d rather give a small business, my business and know their supporting breastfeeding as well. And I recommend it to other local mums, because they’re so nice and so friendly there.

It sounds big headed, but I’m so proud of myself. With Hazel, I didn’t put as many sort of milestones in place mentally for myself, it was like, ‘I’ll feed her to the next weigh-in, I’ll feed her the next weigh-in’, and its ‘Oh, I’ll feed her till she’s one month.’ And then it’s just continued. I’ve not put the same pressure on myself as I did last time. And then I sort of said, ‘Oh, well, we’ll see if we can get to one now’. And now I’m sort of, ‘She’ll ween when she’s ready. She’ll do it when she’s ready’. I’m working. I’m back at work. My work are really supportive of it. I’ve had a few comments of ‘You still breastfeed her?’ or ‘She’s got a teeth and you still breastfeeding?’ But yeah, because it’s more than just feeding her, it’s her comfort. It’s her safe place. When I’ve done a nine hour shift, and come home and she’s in bed, first thing I do is scoop her up and have a cuddle and feed her. And half the time she’s not even awake. But she smells me and she latches and we have that moment where I feel like I reconnect with her after being away from her all day.

My job now is very stressful, and it’s very emotional. So I know some people go home and have a glass of wine to relax or enjoy some chocolate. But I come home and have a snuggle with Hazel and feed her and that’s me unwinding. That’s my safe place. That’s how I relax. When I come home and have my snuggles. It’s almost like she’s back like attached to me again. So like, obviously you have nine months of growing them. They’re just you’re aren’t they, you can’t share them when you’re pregnant, they are just yours. And then they come into this world and you have to share them with people and hand them round for cuddles and everybody wants a nose and a look. But when you’re feeding, she’s mine again. We’re attached again we’re one again. It’s lovely.

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