My second baby was born amidst beeps and wires. A stranger’s hands plucked him from my body and thrust him into the world. A stranger’s hands held him close, and willed him to take a breath. A stranger’s hands were his first experience of human contact, in a cold and sterile operating theatre. His little blue body was taken away to have tubes inserted and his chest massaged. And he did it. He breathed. He turned pink. He screamed!
And all the while, I slept.
And when I awoke, there was this baby. He was wrapped in a blue blanket and though I knew that I was supposed to have a baby, I couldn’t help but wonder who he was. Why were they placing this baby on my chest and telling me to feed him? Why did my arms feel like lead? And why, oh why, did I want to run away and scream into the sky?
My son’s birth was not a happy event. It took months and months before I was able to sleep with the lights off upstairs. Months before I trusted that my son was really here to stay. Months before I was able to look at him and truly know that I loved him.
And I did love him. I do! But the early days that followed his birth were so raw, so emotionally charged and so muddled. I just could not understand what had happened to me, my body, and my baby. He had been taken from me whilst I slept; I’d missed the first hour of his life and I wanted it back. I wanted my pregnancy back. I wanted my baby tucked up in my bump. If I could rewind the clock, I would. To do it all again, and to get it right.
The day we brought my son home from the hospital, I was barely able to walk. I had bruises that snaked from my neck to my knees and my throat was raw and sore from the breathing tube. I couldn’t lift him. I couldn’t carry him. I could just about put one foot in front of the other. And so it began. The one and only thing that I knew I could do for my son, with our emotions lying in tatters around our feet.
And so I held him to my chest. I lowered my head through tears and I breathed him in. That smell. The top of his head, with the palest golden hair and the tiny roundness of it all. I held him for a moment and steadied my breathing, knowing that I couldn’t put it off any longer. I was all he had, in that moment. I would not abandon him again. I kissed his head, lightly, moved him so that he was nuzzled close.
The first feed was hard. Out of the hospital and away from the midwives and their helping hands, it was just me and him. So as the last of the daylight began to ebb from the day, and the world was ready for me to be mother again, my son latched on and took a feed. And I waited. For that instant BANG. The rush of love. The feeling that I was a mother, again, and this was my baby and we were in love. I truly, truly wish it had been that way.
It was a slow burner. But each and every time that I held my son close, I took a moment to breathe him in. To feel the weight of his little body against mine. I took a moment to touch the top of his head, to watch his little fingers paw at me and stroke me gently. I took a moment to listen to the little sigh as the milk began to flow, and the little noises he made as he started to drink. This was one thing that nobody could take away from us. This was special. This was ours.
Breastfeeding saved my son and I. If it were not for those long moments spent watching him, loving him and breathing him in… if it were not for the fact that I was able to hold him to my breast and share something that nobody else could… if it were not for me… I kept him alive, and he returned the favour.
It wasn’t easy, but I am fiercely proud of my breastfeeding journey with my son. I used those nursing sessions to make up for that lost hour, and to make promises to him that I still keep to this day. And though it was almost eight years ago, I still remember the smell of that little head. I still feel his little body on mine, his fingers curled around mine, and his perfect body relaxing into a feed. I still remember how it felt when he paused during a feed one day to look straight up at me to smile. I still remember how special our bond was, and I know that breastfeeding saved us.