There was a time, about 9 years ago, when I was sure I knew pretty much everything.  Especially when it came to breastfeeding.  

A friend and I would often take long walks down Petone Beach with our matching puppy dogs and fantasise about having babies, parenting and just how fun it was going to be.  

I had decided in my infinite wisdom, that I knew exactly how motherhood would pan out for me.  I had decided that pregnancy was going to be easy, I’d have a drug free labour and my child would never have formula.  At this point in my life,  I honestly thought that mothers that didn’t breast feed or who had to stop early, didn’t try hard enough.

I was arrogant and naive.  

And I was in for a VERY big reality check.

You see, I ended up having a complex pregnancy and my twins came 10 weeks early (and by the way twins didn’t feature in my fantasy plan).   The milk that I thought would magically pour out of my boobs didn’t, it came out more like a very slow drip.

My boys had to stay in hospital for a while and their live in nannies AKA nurses and doctors would continually ask me where the milk was.  Their guess was as good as mine.

I was assured that once the boys were latched on, my supply would come quick and fast.  But it didn’t.  You name it, I tried everything to build my supply.  Power pumping, pumping every other hour, months on domperidone, guzzling water and supplements.  Nothing seemed to help.  As I watched my babies get another bottle of formula, I felt defeated. 

I would sit in the expressing room with mums who were able to produce 10 times more milk for one baby than I could for two.  

I felt inadequate.  The guilt set in.

A few weeks after my boys came home,  I.  Lost. The.  Plot.

I had just finished tandem feeding my boys and I was making their top up bottle.  I started sobbing as I realised that the ‘top up’ was more of a full feed.  I became increasingly more hysterical.  My husband tried to comfort me.  He asked if we should go and see a lactation consultant for help and I snapped back at him that I shouldn’t need to and my boobs should just work and that obviously I didn’t quite tick all the boxes for a good mother.

Thankfully my husband knows when to override my ridiculous notions and rang the LC.  Fortunately she had a cancellation the following day.  I had a glimmer of hope. 

When I went to see Cheryl Ganly-Lewis the following day, I was so nervous.  I was sure that she’d tell me in a school principal voice everything I was doing wrong.  But she was quite the opposite.  She welcomed me into the appointment, listened to my struggles and validated my feelings.  She heard me.  She wrapped me in a blanket of love.  I felt less alone.

After explaining the difficulties that we were having, she looked inside my boys mouths to discover they both had grade 4 lip and tongue ties.  She turned to me and said “Alex I am so impressed that you have persevered with breast feeding because your babies can barely move their tongues.  This must have been so uncomfortable for you.”  Suddenly I realised that it wasn’t my fault.  I was a victim of circumstance.  In a strange way, this was so freeing.

Over the next month we had the boys lip and tongue tied corrected and we worked on getting my milk production up.  Unfortunately, my boys were 15 weeks old by the time they could latch properly and I was never able to fully breastfeed.  My boys would have a breast feed and would then be topped up with formula. Though it wasn’t in my fantasy plan, I felt in control and I felt supported.  Cheryl was so positive, always commending me on my efforts and her positive affirmations instilled in me that I was a competent mother.  

I came to the realisation that the formula that I had demonised, actually had many positives.  It was a complete food and it allowed me to feel assured that my babies were getting all the nutrients they needed.  I was able to know exactly how much each baby was drinking.  It also gave me physical freedom as I could happily leave my husband to feed the children if I needed to pop to the shops.  I am now so thankful for the modern miracle that formula is.  

I continued to tandem feed my boys until they were 8 months corrected only because of the help and support Cheryl provided.   I was sad to no longer have her visit and shower me in positivity.  The support she provided me helped me not only with breast feeding, but more importantly my mental health.  I had developed a sense of self confidence in myself as a mother.

I am no longer naive and arrogant about breast feeding.  

It is hard.  

It is a learned skill.

And it takes support.

Recently I was invited to attend a session at Wanaka Well.  Wanaka Well provides help and support for families on their breastfeeding journey whether it is a journey of hours, days or years.  At this session, I observed mothers coming together to support each other and share their experiences over a cuppa and a sweet treat.  The peer supporters effortlessly encourage those around them and I watched as Maggi, a local LC, lovingly guide a new mum to learn how to get a good latch.   The atmosphere of support and care was overwhelming.   It was marvellous.  

I look back at the attitudes I once held about breast-feeding and I mostly laugh but also cringe.  I wonder where those arrogant and naive notions stemmed from?

I have learnt many lessons in my motherhood journey so far, but my breast feeding journey taught me the biggest lesson of all. It has taught me to leave my preconceived notions at the door.  I have learnt that there are times I need to accept support and understand that Im not a perfect parent, but I know in my children’s eyes I am pretty damn close… 

…well until they become teenagers… then I am sure I am in for another rude awakening.