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Battling the Breast Crawl

Battling the Breast Crawl-2

“The thing is, you’re only a student.” These words hit me to the core and I was left speechless, angry and disjointed. But those words, they meant something. I am only a student. I can’t change the world right now, but I can make a difference. After all it only takes one person to make another feel better, right? The harsh reality of those words seemed cruel and incorrect and the truth is they probably were. But even experiences like these, where I feel belittled and confused are all a part of my learning, my growth as a midwifery student.

I was quietly reminding a woman that her baby had an innate ability to breast feed, when our gentle conversation was abruptly interrupted by a stare, a tick of the tongue and a muttering of “it’s had enough time to work it out, that baby needs to feed”. I retreated from my bedside position and allowed space for this midwife to exude her wise and experienced hands on the baby and mother. She was a pro, a few open mouthed attempts and the baby’s head was lead to the breast for a feed with ease. Why did I feel so uneasy then? The baby was feeding, the mother was content. Why did I feel a little ill and overwhelmed by this experience? I searched my brain in hope that I could pick up some subtle hint of why I was so anguished from this. Ding! There it was. I remembered fondly the lectures we had participated in about ‘hands off’ breastfeeding, and ‘breast crawl.’

I recall the way I felt empowered to change breastfeeding relationships from the forced and awkward experience to calm and gentle baby guided feeding.

I shudder as I recall the first few days with my own child and how she was repeatedly shoved on my breast – that was held like an object in the hand of another woman, I’m remembering the constant slamming of her mouth against my breast, the pain of incorrect latch, the blisters, the disapproval, the constant battle- that was establishing breastfeeding as a 19year old single teen mum. Sitting in that big room, in that private hospital – believing that this care was the best that I could possibly give myself and my child. Sitting in that room, on that expensive, lavish bed; I felt more alone, alienated and torn than I had ever felt before.

Luckily for me, these early experiences didn’t ruin my feeding relationship with my daughter and I went on to beat the odds as a teenage mum and breastfeed until around 11 months. I might have beat those odds, but I know for others these early days are so precious, and we so often interfere and possibly disturb the outcomes of many women’s experience as a breast feeder.

I close my eyes as I sit drinking my coffee, I reflect on this woman’s birth. She was so powerful and earthy, right down to the tones in her voice as she battled with her mind, playing the labour game – body over mind, trusting in the process, believing in yourself, instinctual guidance. This was one of those births that seemed flawless and perfect – right down to the guttural groans of second stage. This woman had battled the fear, overcome the minds eagerness to quit, the body’s exhaustion and pleads for release from its entrapped and overtaken state. She was pushing, she was listening to her body and pushing. With all her might, the encouragement of all that surrounded, she continued to push. Two hours pass and baby is not in her arms yet. She is disheartened and tired – emotionally, physically drained. She wants her light at the end of the tunnel. She wants her prize at the end of the race. Correctly following protocol she is seen by an obstetrician, who recommends that she has some assistance in getting the baby out. She reluctantly agrees, and cries about being defeated. We reassure her just how amazing she is, and jokingly state that “it must be a boy, only boys cause so much trouble.” She giggles, as this statement reminds her of the unknown sex of the baby and just how close she is to having her reward in her arms.

The baby is delivered easily with forceps, the suturing is completed and the new family spend time together recuperating. They cuddle and blissfully explore each other for the first time on the outside. They are in love and this moment will be the part of her memory that allows this woman to decide to give over her body to another baby in the future, I’m sure of it.

The new soul sniffs out and fondles his mother’s chest. He twitches and wriggles with sensory delight. Comforted by the woman’s instinctual labour, we discuss that he is searching for his food. The woman asks what she should do and I explain that “everything you are doing is more than enough.” Baby attempts to nuzzle the breast, and falls asleep – he repeats this chain of events for an hour or so (these precious first moments fly by so fast). It was at this time that I allowed the experienced and educated midwife to take the floor.

A few hours later my mouth gets the better of me and I ask why this woman needed to feed so desperately. I am educated by answers of blood sugar, settling, stimulation, bonding and contraction of uterus. And I should be happy with this education, because I really hadn’t thought of its significance, whilst I sat embodied by those early minutes and the love and release that saturated that space. However, clumsily I decided to make my first attempt at rebuttal. “But, um, well” eyes turn pointedly at me. I splutter something about baby lead feeding and breast crawl. I sounded like an uneducated goof. I tried to change my sentence structure, but the damage was done. “The thing here is, you’re only a student, these things are only a phase, I have been doing this for—years and I am pretty sure now, I know what I’m doing. “You’re right” I squeak “I’m sorry” I cough. I flush crimson as I retreat as far as I can.

The fact is, I am only a student. I’m a student taught by world class lecturers, groomed by midwives and educators that I would entrust with my life. The fact is I am a mother, a previous teenage mother, a mother of a premature baby, a mother of three gorgeous, delightful children. The fact is I am a woman. A woman that knows her body’s boundaries (much better than her mouth), that knows too well the awkwardness of someone else controlling your body like a puppet. The fact is, I’m just a student, a student with feelings and strength.

I may not have won this battle as my argument was poor and unstructured. I was ill prepared and selfish. My approach was less than diplomatic and I probably fractured egos in my attempts to change the world. I have since learned better ways to approach topics like these and by doing this my growth and voice as a student has been heard and explored. I am just a student, a student that hopes to help one person, and by doing this, change their world. It’s a start, anyway.

I am a 28 year old mother of three, a student midwife (currently in my second year). I am passionate about women, women’s rights, birth, babies and life.

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