A For Achilles, B for Boobies
By Sheril A. Bustaman
When I found out I was pregnant with Achilles, I was equal parts excited and terrified. While I had two girls already, this was my first pregnancy and the first child I would have from Day 0 (although Alethea came quite close at 2 years old). The idea of being pregnant was always terrifying to me, and my one realest fear was having to go through labour. So naturally, my coping mechanism as a producer was to try and plan out my pregnancy, delivery and confinement as much as possible. At the back of my head, I understood that all my plans were going to go out the window anyway because babies are unpredictable and that’s just how it goes. But still, I had to try.
Together, Zan and I had decided several things such as whether to deliver naturally or c-section (naturally), let the baby co-sleep with us (no), to do my confinement at home or at a centre (at home), and whether to breastfeed or formula feed the baby. Growing up, I was always a rather sickly kid. I have asthma and allergies and it’s been the bane of my existence my entire life. When reading up on breastfeeding and its benefits and how it provides the baby with a better immunity system, I decided to commit to breastfeeding the baby for at least the first year before slowly weaning him off it.
I went into labour on the 2nd of October 2019 and 14 hours later (at the beginning of the next day), I had to undergo an emergency c-section because Achilles was in distress and I still wasn’t even halfway dilated. Right after my confinement, Zan had to leave on assignment to Barcelona, so for about two weeks, Achilles slept on my king-sized bed with me. I did manage to do my confinement at home, but because of the c-section, I had to stay upstairs in my bedroom for the first 2 weeks, which stressed out my children. So that was all those plans mostly out the window. Then there was the breastfeeding.
Within the first few hours of delivering Achilles, the nurse had brought him to be breastfed. I was still in pain from the c-section and she was incredibly rough with my boob and nipple, pinching it in different directions trying to get the milk stimulated, telling me this is how it’s done. She then shoved my nipple into Achilles’ mouth, and he proceeded to gum at it really hard. We continued this dance for another 24 hours, alternating between each nipple, until finally he broke through the skin and caused my right nipple to bleed and swell up profusely. Not bad for a kid with absolutely no teeth. This then began my pumping journey, and when Achilles drank from the bottle, he never wanted to return to the breast after that because the let down was too slow for his liking, which personally is fine by me.
There are many different schools of thoughts when it comes to breastfeeding. Some women feel that direct latching is absolutely the only way to go, and that you should only pump if you’re away from your baby or building a supply. Other women feel that pumping is best because it’s convenient as other people can feed the baby, and you can do it as and when it suits you. Some women go with formula milk and save their tits any of the trouble. None of these women are wrong. Having experienced it myself, I think breastfeeding is something incredibly personal, and every mother will experience it differently, which is why it’s important to just encourage the ones that are doing it and not shaming the ones who aren’t.
In the first few months, there were comments from various people about how I shouldn’t bottle feed Achilles, that I should have tried harder to get him to direct latch, and that I just needed to “be patient” and he would get it eventually. In my opinion, none of these people considered the circumstances in which I live. Even though I work from home, I have a full-time job and we had projects on-going throughout my pregnancy that needed completion even as soon as after I delivered my son. I had two school going children, one of which was only 4 years old and was dealing with having a new sibling and no longer being the youngest. I also had freelance writing gigs I was aggressively pitching for. On top of all of that, I was still physically in pain & recovering from being sliced open and also had to ensure this really tiny human was kept alive and provide him with sustenance.
I had no time to “be patient” and continue the direct latching dance with Achilles. He clearly didn’t enjoy it and preferred drinking from the bottle, and to me, as long as he was getting sustenance and growing normally, that was good enough. I didn’t need the additional stress of feeling inadequate because my baby wouldn’t suckle my nipple and was just constantly hungry. While I applaud the women who persevered and managed to get their children to direct latch despite initial resistance, it was just not something I was going to do. That being said, it really isn’t like pumping is such a walk in the park either.
In the initial months, I had to pump every 2 hours or else my boobs would swell up and leak. This meant waking up even in the middle of the night to pump and having to sleep on a towel, just in case. All the pumping also dried up my nipples and made them sore to the touch, so I had to use a lot of nipple cream. There was also the matter of labelling and storing all the breastmilk, washing and sterilising the equipment and bottles as well as charging the pump. There’s also a lot of mental policing when it comes to pumping. You have to plan out your day according to your pump schedule, and if you’re on-the-go, you have to pack enough bottles for pumping and also have an additional cooler bag for the milk. One time, I went on an overnight work trip, miscalculated the amount of bottles I would need, and ended up MacGyvering a pump bag by attaching a plastic bag to my pump and pumping all my milk into it, just so that I could empty my boobs.
Further down the line as my body recovered and my period cycle rebooted itself, my milk supply also suffered a drop, and it happened at a time when Achilles’ appetite increased. It was a literal boob to mouth situation whereby I was only one pump session ahead of him, which was a far cry from the 4-day ahead supply I had once built up. In that time, I had to find many different ways to increase my breast milk – drinking red date water, fenugreek tea (which was a gamble because sometimes it completely stops your milk supply), drinking a lot of water and eating food that was said to increase your breast milk supply. I also had to actively put myself in a healthy mental state, because allegedly your body will also stop producing breast milk if you’re stressed.
It’s been approximately 7 months now and my breast milk supply is more or less at a constant again. I’ve learnt to deal with the drops nearing the time of my period, and Achilles has started eating solid foods so he doesn’t drink as aggressively as he used to. I’m once again several days ahead of him in breast milk supply, and pumping only 5 times a day (once every 4 hours). Even so, it is still a serious mental game. The discipline and dedication required to pump breast milk regularly is intense and the regime can be tiresome, especially when you’re already exhausted and it’s the middle of the night. Pumping requires a lot of intrinsic motivation, and also a strong external support system.
I am very lucky to have had many women support me throughout this journey. Other new mothers who were previously just acquaintances exchange notes with me via social media, and we cheer each other on or lament about the boobs of our past together. Achilles’ godmother Joanna and his yiyi Samara accompany both in person or via text whenever I need to pump. Whenever they are at my house, they help entertain my older children so I can pump in peace, or help me wash and sterilise my equipment and bottles. My mother-in-law also helps take care of Achilles when I need to pump and my mother would provide me with red dates whenever I needed it. My helper is already ready to boil me red dates and longan water and will put it in a flask by my bedside so I don’t forget to drink it. However, the biggest support definitely comes from Zan, who takes all of my frustrations about pumping and tries in every small way to make it easier or better. He indulges my cravings, accompanies me whenever he can while I pump, and bags my middle-of-the-night milk for me when I am too lazy to walk across our small hall to the baby’s room to do it. Again I say, I am very lucky.
The takeaway from this is that having an infant is very difficult in every sense, and oftentimes people focus on what they assume is good for the infant but completely disregard the mother, who is really just doing the best that she can. A woman’s individuality and identity tends to be erased slightly when she becomes someone’s mother, and suddenly her body and every action belongs to someone else and is up for scrutiny by everybody. So while breastfeeding (in whatever form) is great for the baby, stop to give a thought about the woman behind the breast milk and what she might be going through. Moo.
Sheril A. Bustaman is a freelance producer & writer whose full-time job is mothering three children of ages varying from 7 months to 9 years old. While there are no financial benefits to the job, it comes with an ample amount of cuddles, teaching moments and some gratification.
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