The second time around: Sophie's story

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The second time around: Sophie’s story.

My journey to motherhood has not been easy. But it has been rewarding. Both my children have taught me about myself and that it is so important for women to support other women. That is why I am telling my story. My greatest hope is that by being vulnerable and exposing my joys and struggles, someone else will feel a sense of solidarity. Someone will realise that they are not alone in their feeding struggles. That their doubts and anxieties do not have to isolate them.

The infancy of my first born son was difficult, to say the least. He struggled to breastfeed. My mental and physical well-being suffered. My relationship with my husband suffered. My self-perception suffered. So, when I fell pregnant a second time it was with great joy and a little apprehension. I had a chance to try it all again. This was a fresh start, surely it wouldn’t be as bad this time. For a start, I discovered I was pregnant with our second child on the 23rd. This is our family’s lucky number. Our wedding anniversary, my husband’s birthday, my son’s birthday and my father’s birthday. It was a good day, a lucky day. So, that must mean we were going to have a lucky baby, right?

Then, on Friday the 30th of September, I was admitted into hospital at 35 weeks. My placenta had failed, again. I had failed, again. I was going to have a premature baby, and all the issues which come along with that, again. The hospital prepared a room in the NICU, ready for my new baby. We waited for a delivery suite to become available. While we were waiting, I spent my first ever night alone in hospital. It was foreign and scary. My hospital room neighbour snored. They monitored me closely. I got hardly any sleep.

Once a delivery suite became available, we were ready to go. I am anxious at the best of times and this was far from the best of times. Beloved daughter, before you were even born, I was already worrying I wouldn’t be able to breast-feed you. You were to be earlier than your big brother and smaller.

But, the delivery was smooth and almost painless. One hour of labour, no screaming — nothing. From the moment my beautiful new daughter, Sophie, was placed in my arms, I knew this time would be different. She latched on immediately and was eager to feed. Despite her small size of just two kilograms, 4 pounds 7 ounces, she was healthy. She wasn’t admitted to the NICU. Instead, she was with me, twenty four hours a day. For safety, the hospital gave her a gastric nasal tube to help her put on weight quickly. While this was scary, it still felt easier than the first time. I had been here before, I knew what was happening.

We quickly created a steady routine. Every three hours, I would wake you for a breast feed. Then you would be topped up via the gastric nasal tube with EBM or formula. Finally, I would pump some milk for extra supplies. We happily continued this routine for the next nine days, in hospital. I only ever left her side to get a morning coffee. There were blissful hours of skin-on-skin contact. I treated my hospital stay as my maternity leave. After eight days the tube was removed and we were once again reliant on breastfeeding. This set my nerves on edge, but I was determined to give it a shot.

Once I was released from hospital, we continued our routine. Sophie was gaining 20–25g per day. The midwife said this was ‘textbook style’. I couldn’t have been more pleased. It wasn’t always easy to feed you, you would fall off easily and I was constantly doing breast compressions. But, anything felt easy compared to my first time around. Everything was going along smoothly. Then, Sophie hit 2.5 months old. Her growth slowed. She was feeding for shorter amounts of times and sleeping less. I booked in to see a lactation consultant. Her mouth wasn’t checked but i asked about a possibility of her having about tongue and lip-tie and the consultant said that Sophie had a mild case of lip-tie, but not so much as to make a difference to feeding. Suddenly, this situation felt very familiar. I had been here before. . The constant worry over weight gain. The frustration. The self-loathing. It was all happening again.

Worried, I self referred myself (but said plunket referred me) into an Ear Nose and Throat specialist. The ENT told me that Sophie had severe tongue and lip-tie and that there was a high probability of this condition seriously interfering with feeding. Sophie had her tongue and lip tie cut and for a while everything seemed so much better. So, this is what feeding is supposed to feel like, I thought. For the first time in my life , I could feel the milk transferring and Sophie no longer fell off while feeding. I was optimistic. Maybe, I had overreacted. Maybe, this was all going to get easier.

The very next day, we hit the road for a family holiday. When we arrived at the beach house, I realised my optimism had been false. Sophie wouldn’t latch. After four days of this, we were worried. We called the ENT who told us that everything was fine. Everything did not feel fine! As a premature baby, it was important to keep Sophie in a good weight range. Even four days of not feeding well could put her in serious danger. My husband went and bought formula and a bottle, but Sophie wouldn’t take it. It was mid-summer and extremely hot. We were worried about dehydration so my husband spent hours syringing milk into our baby girl, with no success. I booked an emergency appointment to see a lactation specialist.

As we soon learnt, when tongue-tie gets treated at a later stage of infancy, it is much more difficult. The baby needs to learn how to feed, all over again. This felt like an impossible hurdle to jump. Sophie was struggling and fussing at the breast and was refusing the bottle or supplement line. I was having flash-backs to my first child’s issues with feedings. My stress levels went up. I had been traumatised and heart-broken by my first experience and now it was all happening again. I was starting to forget things; losing my keys and leaving the front door open. I thought I was going insane.

I tried everything I could think of to get her breastfeeding well, and we tried the bottle again which she refused. I was struggling. We went back to the ENT who informed us that Sophie’s tongue had re-attached. This phenomenon happens to 4% of babies — I felt like our lucky baby wasn’t all that lucky anymore. The tongue tie was released again and while feeding got easier, my mental state did not. My anxiety was impacting my day to day life. I couldn’t function. I reached out to a friend who told me to see my GP. My doctor informed me that I was at high risk of developing Post-Natal Depression and I was prescribed anti-depressants.

Slowly, things got better. We settled into a routine. Small weight gains began again. My family life and my mental health returned to normal (well, relatively normal). It was not, and still isn’t, easy. But, fast-forward seven months and the changes are phenomenal. Sophie still refuses the bottle but she feeds regularly and I am not stressed beyond my capacity anymore. Introducing solids into Sophie’s diet has made the world of difference. Her weight has increased, she has a better appetite and she drinks more as well.

Both my children have been an immense blessing in my life and i am so lucky that they picked me to be their Mum. My love for each of them is equally large. As we say in our house, ‘I love you more than all the stars in the sky’. My extreme anxiety and fatigue which was present during the early days of my son’s life, bonded us like nothing else. But, my journey with Sophie has been equally special. From a beautiful healthy baby, she has been through a roller coaster over the past months. Now, she is a blossoming girl who has a bright future ahead of her. My children may have different stories — but, one thing remains the same and that is the absolute pleasure it is to be their mother. Despite our struggles, we have made it through and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mel

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Melanie Rule