When I was asked to write about my story as a mum, I figured there was nothing much to say. I’m fairly normal. My partner and I have two boys (aged 5 and 2) whose birth stories were almost identical. Both of my pregnancies were normal, my labours were quick (about four and a half hours each) and both were born 11 days early and weighing 2.6kg. Nothing much to report there. An important part of my story as a mum happened shortly after my second son was born.
At around the two month mark, I started to really feel drained. Having two kids was tiring. Like, seriously, exhausting. My legs felt heavy to lift, I lost interest in eating, and really just wanted to sleep. Mum was coming over in the afternoons to help me out because it was all just too much.
I went to my GP, embarrassed to say I was exhausted. I had a 2 year old and a newborn. Of course I was exhausted. But I knew that something wasn’t right. Since my GP is amazing, he ordered lots of tests to try and find the cause. At first, there was some concern about a possible post-partum bleed in my brain. I was sent to hospital for an emergency MRI and that’s when we found the issue was actually my kidneys. I was admitted and kept bub with me so I could feed him through the night. My mum slept on a chair, so that she could care for him while I went off for more tests.
I was devastated when they told me I’d have to stay a few more days. It was just too hard having the little guy at the hospital with me, so he visited and breastfed during the day, and went home at night. I would express milk at night and send home for the next night’s feeds. Being separated from my tiny baby was awful. My breasts were confused, and I kept thinking I could hear him crying, even though he wasn’t there. Setting alarms to wake up and express milk during the night was no fun either. I just wanted to go home.
After a week in hospital, x-rays, CT scans, daily blood and urine tests, an MRI and a kidney biopsy, I was diagnosed with Microscopic Polyangiitis, an autoimmune disease that had really taken its toll on my kidneys.
I needed to start treatment of Prednisolone (a steroid) and Cyclophosphamide (a chemotherapy drug). The Dr explained that the treatment may reduce my chances of conceiving more children. And that I would have to stop breastfeeding. That’s when I broke down.
You see, breastfeeding my first baby had been a struggle. In the beginning he was too tired to feed. I was on a two hourly schedule of feeding, expressing, topping up, washing bottles and pumps (and sterilising). We got through all that only to find he was allergic to dairy which was coming through my milk. I completely cut dairy from my diet and continued to feed him for 15 months.
Breastfeeding with baby number two had been much easier. He was hungry. He knew what to do. We were winning at the whole breastfeeding game this time, and I had plans to continue feeding him until he weaned himself (hopefully around two years of age). I loved that my teeny tiny titties were so useful. I loved being depended on to help him grow. Until this happened and it was no longer up to me. My milk was about to become poison.
I started the medication and had to pump and dump my poisonous milk over the next few weeks, to slowly reduce my supply. Bub had no trouble at all switching to formula, but I was grieving. I hated the bottles, the washing, the sterilising, the different less-snuggly way to hold a child who is bottle fed. I felt really disconnected from the whole feeding experience. For the first few days, I couldn’t actually do it. It made me cry to hold him and feed him with a bottle. And it made my breasts ache. Family and friends were happy that they could now help with feeds, and my health improved dramatically, but I was still sad. I felt less needed.
The high doses of steroids I was taking made me gain weight (mostly in my face). I was back to the weight I had been at the end of my pregnancy. It also caused insomnia. The only way I could cope with that was to take sleeping tablets. We had to carefully decide which days I would take a sleeping tablet, and which days I would wake up at 2am. The days I took them, I felt hungover the following day. The days I didn’t, I crashed in the afternoons. It became my partners job to get up for night feeds, because if I did get up, I would never get back to sleep. All of this while juggling a small baby and his very energetic big brother. Lucky we are such a great team.
This is not a story about breast is best. I don’t care if you breast feed or bottle feed your baby. I don’t care if you mix feed or exclusively pump. This story is about accepting the things that we cannot control. As a parent, we make decisions about our children every single day, we try to balance what is best for them and what is right for us. But sometimes life happens, and it doesn’t work out the way we wanted.
Not having a choice about how to feed my baby was really tough. I constantly think about having more children, because I still never got the breastfeeding experience that I wanted. But that’s about me. Both of my boys are happy, healthy, amazing little ninjas. They don’t mind that things didn’t go to plan. They are just happy that I’m here.
So I guess I do have a story to tell. And the moral of the story is this: Life happens. No matter how much research you’ve done, how many baby books you’ve read, or well-intentioned plans you’ve made, it just happens. You have to roll with it. There is no perfect parent. We’re all just doing the best we can as we jump over the hurdles along the way. We just keep on running.