Last week we welcomed Marama to the National Breastfeeding Campaign. She joins Lucia as part of the team behind this blog, as well as the Facebook, YouTube and Twitter communities for the campaign. To introduce herself to the campaign, and to you – our Breastfeeding community, Marama (mum to six children) tells her breastfeeding story.
That is how long I managed to breastfeed my firstborn child, the inexperienced young mum that I was. My whānau support was not as available to me as it could’ve been. My own mum lived far away and wouldn’t join me until much later to come and help out – thanks to my baby arriving earlier than expected! My husband was young and clueless himself and had to return straight back to work. Being the eldest there were no big sisters to call on or other immediate people who could just drop everything and camp out with me for the first even few days or so. I struggled to overcome the challenges of breastfeeding often just sitting at home on my own, feeling tired, overwhelmed and with breasts in agony! My experience of giving birth in 1994 was to differ greatly from those of the following tribe additions which now reach six in total. We have three teenage daughters and three under-five year olds. My youngest, daughter Teina, is 18 months old and weaned herself off breastfeeding a few months back. So it isn’t just one story – it is many ‘stories’.
So my firstborn breastfeeding experience went downhill as the pain of sore nipples went uphill. Who knew that if the baby isn’t latched properly, your breasts start resembling shredded coleslaw! Who knew that a human could actually get through this? No one was around to tell me I wasn’t an alien from another planet and that what I was experiencing didn’t class me as an unfit and incapable mother. So one night – after two weeks of sleepless nights and endless hours trying to calm a very hungry baby – I gave up. Boil jug, sterilise bottles, insert formula, shake, bam! Baby gobbles it up and sleeps for a whole eight gorgeous hours!
There was no looking back from there. I submitted to the endless process of sterilising (no microwave sterilisers back then) and washing bottles, cooling boiled water and mixing formula. Expensive and time-consuming. But at that time in my inexperienced and ill-supported mothering – a godsend!
So why, as I got older, did I regret not being able to push through those challenges for that baby? I’m not sure but when it came to giving birth as an older mum (late twenties) something in me said I should really try harder this time. We organised ourselves to have whānau more readily on call. There seemed to be more assistance throughout the antenatal process of supporting me in my decision to breastfeed. There was definitely more support for establishing breastfeeding once baby was born. I was given helpful advice, resources and encouragement. I think most of all though, was that I had committed my heart and mind to making a decision to breastfeed this time – ‘so be it’ I said to the universe.
Same challenges, different response! More cracked nipples, more engorgement, more pain. Maybe being a calmer and older mum made a difference I can’t be sure. But for some reason I had the confidence to reject the notion that I wasn’t capable of breastfeeding a child. And I felt this way for the rest of the babies I gave birth to after the firstborn. Toes curling, tears flowing, sobs abound. Nothing was going to stop me from that unique experience. I didn’t have a knack, or a technique – but I believed.
So I pushed through it. I had heard that some mothers’ babies latched on perfectly from the start, and I definitely wished I had that story instead. But after a few weeks of not giving up things really settled down for me and by a few months on, I wondered what any of my fuss was ever about. It felt so rewarding. And I have always returned to work early with my babies (out of sheer necessity being the main earner of my household) but I managed to continue to feed my three youngest babies until they themselves weaned from me. My babies decided, much to my horror and disappointment, that they had enough of me from about eight months old to 14 months old between the three of them. I am happy that my babies and I were able to benefit from a good period of breastfeeding but I would’ve loved to keep them on the booby for longer . The second shortest period of feeding, my son who lasted 8 months, was I think due to being pregnant from the time he was about four months old. Being pregnant did seem to diminish my milk supply. My oversized tank truck of a baby boy wasn’t at all happy with that – so he got out of there after four more months of me forcing the issue with him. But the giving of milk and the bonding and nurturing process of breastfeeding is so wonderful and I am thankful I got to experience it in my life.
I am so pleased to be joining the Breastfeeding Aotearoa community. I understand the challenges and the successes of mothers who have chosen to breastfeed. I look forward to discussing the many issues around such a unique childrearing experience!”