These are the two little faces of my now three year old twins when they were but five weeks young. Two little faces balled up, red as beets and screaming. The two little faces that met me in our darkened bedroom at 1am. Or 3am. Or 6am. Or all of them. Because, babies. Hungry.
And, let me just put it out there… My breastfeeding experience with twins was perhaps not the zen, calm, beautiful bonding opportunity I had pictured in my mind. In an antenatal class I remember being told on questioning the logistics of feeding two babies, not to worry, that boobs are smart and if there are two babies to feed, they will simply make enough milk to feed two babies. I took this on face value.
Boobs are smart. Yep. Boobs could get university degrees if they studied enough and put their minds to it. Because boobs are smart.
Mine however, clearly did not get this memo. Or maybe they just suffer from some kind of learning disability or unwillingness to apply themselves that I was not otherwise aware of.
Maybe my boobs are street smart, not book smart. Who knows? (Maybe I should ask them). P.S. Apologies for the amount of times I’ve said the words “my boobs” in this paragraph thus far. We’ve just met, it’s presumptuous, I know.
The thing is, my breastfeeding experience was, as the French would say, le shithouse. My of average intelligence boobs did not, in fact, produce enough milk to sustain my two babies, as promised. I did everything; I became close personal friends with the breast pump, expressing after every feed, morning noon and night. Lactation consultants. Thirty eight hundred motillium tablets four thousand times a day. Fenugreek. Nursing tea. Lactation cookies (barely edible. Better when mini m and m’s are involved). Oats. Guinness. Crying. Crying some more. Crying even more. Yet more crying. No stone was left unturned. No tissue box was left unemptied. The long and short of it? My milkshake does not bring all the babies to the yard.
It took me months to reconcile the notion that I wasn’t going to be able to exclusively breastfeed. In theory I had exactly nothing against formula, except for the fact that breast milk…free. Formula, expensive. Formula for two babies, even more expensive. Breast is best, said my tin of formula…and that random lady in the park that day (thanks for that by the way!). You just don’t know how guilty and heartbroken you’re going to feel until you’re crying into your you-beaut, green microsuede, state of the art breast feeding pillow. It has a pouch for the TV remote!! This was supposed to be perfect!
And yet, when I accepted that my life as a glorified milk bar had its limitations, and as I saw my babies starting to thrive and grow and move up exponentially on their growth charts, my guilt and despair started to be assuaged. They were settled, they were sleeping. They were happy. I was happy. I was doing all that I could, they were getting as much breast milk as I could produce for them and when it was necessary, which, honestly, was more than half the time, I would top them up with formula so they were full. I started to shrug off the opinions of those who were suggesting I was doing the wrong thing (which happened A LOT, I’m not going to lie) and just took heart in the fact that I knew I wasn’t. I stopped hiding their bottles and all the sterilising equipment when people were coming over. I just stopped being ashamed. And let me tell you, letting going of all of that was so freeing. And low and behold, there is no permanent forehead tattoo on any of my children that says NOT EXCLUSIVELY BREASTFED, separating them from other kids in the playground. Funny that!
I was envious of women who were able to exclusively breast feed though, but consoled myself with the notion that had I one baby to feed rather than two perhaps I might have adequate supply too. As it happens, I went into my breast feeding experience with my now four and a half month old singleton with an open mind and hopeful that this time would be different and I would make enough milk.
But it’s ok! Like my twins, she gets the best that I can give, and she’s happy, thriving and sleeps well. And honestly, combination feeding has its benefits. My husband can be involved in feeding for one, and I don’t have to whip a boob out in public if I don’t want to (which is lucky because I am just about the most self conscious person on the planet).
For me, it’s actually worked out pretty well, despite all the tears and frustration and initial feelings of inadequacy and shame.
In the end, I guess to put it simply, what I learnt was that you can only do your breast…err…best.