Sarah Dowsett emailed her story to Don’t Judge Just Feed, and I’m so very honoured she chose our support network to share her emotional journey. When reading her low moments, it brought me to tears as I could completely relate to those dark periods in motherhood. I was also very saddened that the care she received by some staff in the hospital was of poor quality, the exact staff employed to help, support and care for new mothers and babies during this extremely challenging time; physically and emotionally.
Here’s Sarah’s Story:
“Thanks you for making this campaign. When I found it amidst all of the “tree of life” photos with mothers sharing “the greatest gift” it made me feel like less of an outcast or failure.
I understand breast milk is best, I do, and I would never blame a proud mom for boasting about her abilities to feed her baby with her body that grew and nurtured it. That was my plan too.
My little man, Jax, was born at 36 weeks. And besides being jaundiced, he was perfectly healthy, I had a quick and, what I felt, a spiritual delivery where me and my baby were truly connected as one as he was coming into the world. The best way I can describe it is a spiritual experience – and I went in to it thinking I would need a c-section or drugs or it would be absolutely terrible and traumatizing. So I was very lucky and blessed and overall completely in love and happy to be and new mother.
Then the questions came… and the medical interference… and the feeling as though my baby belonged to the hospital and not myself. They immediately told me I would have to supplement as he wasn’t latching. I was fine with this since I knew it wasn’t easy at first from what I read and I just wanted him fed and healthy. But then I quickly lost the happy feeling and felt despair. And felt like I couldn’t enjoy my baby. Not because I had to supplement, but because of the strict breastfeeding schedule.
I imagine mine was like a lot of other mothers. Reliving it gives me anxiety, fear, and brings tears to my eyes.
My baby was born at the 5th percentile. He was very small and needed help to “catch up”. They had me breast feed for 15 minutes on both sides, and if he unlatched or fell asleep I had to wake him and continue feeding until I made it to 15 minutes each side… which took easily an hour or more. Then I was to supplement with formula or whatever I pumped. Then I was to pump for 15 minutes each side. Then I had to clean the pump and all of its attachments, record the times and progress, change and record what was in the diaper, and instructed to eat and rest until 3 hours started again… which gave me 20 minutes until I had to start the process again (if I started at 12 and it took 2 and a half hours to complete, I would still have to try latching him on at 3).
Sometimes nurses would come in when I had just settled down and I would tell them I need to start in 20 minutes and they would say “we’ll let’s go an head and start now so I can see how you do it”. I felt miserable. And that pump will forever give me nightmares. I felt no sympathy save for two kind nurses who hugged me as I cried and I think fondly of them after the whole ordeal. Apart from these two nurses, it literally felt like the hospital were willing to give me this precious baby and I should be grateful to do all of this and there clearly must be something wrong with me if I complained.
When I got home I followed the same routine. I was scared my baby would get taken away as he still felt like he was only being given to me on the condition that I bring him back every other day to go through the horrible jaundice blood test and I continue to fill out the progress log.
Eventually I was lucky enough to get rid of the pump and exclusively breastfeed. Only my milk was insufficient. I had a lot of it, but it never kept him full. It lacked the “fatty” part. He would feed every 45 minutes to an hour and feed for an hour or two at a time. Literally any time I picked up my baby to cuddle or play with or adore his face, he would only want my milk. I felt like he didn’t want anything to do with me and only wanted my milk. I felt so disconnected from my baby, and the world at that, while doing the thing that should create a “bond like no other”. Eventually, after a 23 hour cluster feed, I felt defeated.
I had fed him 2 or 3 hours at at time with the longest break between feeds being 45 minutes and the shortest being 10. This was exhausting. I never slept. I never relaxed. My son never slept. He never relaxed. I felt like I couldn’t complain. I was a mom now. This was my job. Every time I tried to put him down, he immediately awoke and wanted to be fed. I remember reaching the 23 hour mark, after completing a 2 hour feed, and he had finally dozed off. I placed him in his crib and he immediately awoke, moving his mouth around to latch. I sat down exhausted. The whole time thinking “what is wrong with you?! Your son is crying! Get up! Go to him! You’re a horrible mother! This is your job now! How could you!” It was when my husband put his arm around me when I noticed I was sobbing hysterically.
My husband prepared formula, gave it to my son, who chugged it like he was starving, and he fell asleep for 3 hours.
At his two month appointment he was gaining sufficiently, but had dropped to the third percentile. He was 9lbs from his birth weight of 5lbs 9oz. I was told “good job mom” “keep it up”.
When I saw my doctor next, she told me she was concerned with him dropping percentiles. I timidly admitted that I gave him formula and was considering doing both. And, even though while I was pregnant she had said “it’s good that I decided on breastfeeding as she can’t stand formula”, she said there was nothing wrong with supplementing. I gave him formula that night, and he slept 4 hours in a row. The best sleep either of us had gotten in 3 months.
My guilt and shame told me to breastfeed, even though I knew my milk wasn’t good enough.
My mom finally said “if you’re not sleeping, neither is he”. He would get up every 45 minutes to an hour or so at night, finally getting up for good around 10am, and then would stay wide awake until finally passing out at 11pm. He never napped. And I realized he was never relaxed or content because he was always starving. And no matter how many websites or mom groups had said to keep going and it will get better…. it never did. I was told this is normal… it didn’t feel right.
Eventually I gave more and more formula… breastfeeding twice a day… and something beautiful happened. My son smiled. He was happy. He was content to lay in my arms and be with me. He was relaxed enough to nap. We were happy and finally bonding. And it took formula feeding and throwing away the notion that I’m somehow a bad or lesser mother for not breastfeeding to get that bond.
At around 4 months I ran out of milk. But my son and I were closer than ever. Our bond while playing, cuddling, napping, and yes, bottle feeding, was better than ever.
Fed is truly best. A happy baby who is well rested, well fed (no matter the way), and loved is best. I will no longer feel like I am not an excellent mother because I didn’t breastfeed exclusively. I will not feel like mothers who can breastfeed are better mothers. That is their journey, this has been mine.
Campaigns like this help mothers to realize this. I’m proud of every mother for taking care of their children, whether than means they gave birth to them (naturally or with assistance), they adopted them, or however way.
We’ve got a tough – yet incredibly important – job. We need to encourage each other, not compete or judge.
Again, thank you for this campaign.”
If you are interested in sharing your story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org