A few months ago I wrote an honest account of my experience of breastfeeding my son. For reasons that I explained in that blog post, I never exclusively breastfed him, it was always combination feeding. It wasn’t what I wanted to happen and it wasn’t what I envisaged doing before he was born but it’s what happened.
Eventually my little man decided that he wanted a bottle more than he wanted me, so after a few months (just over three I think) he became exclusively bottle fed. It made sense to me, he was (and still is) a very hungry boy and the milk he got through his bottle was much quicker than what he was getting from me.
I felt that I had come to terms with this and dealt with the situation. I did talk about it, to my husband and my own mum, but then I decided to focus on enjoying being a mum and having a life with my son.
However a couple of weeks ago at his 7-9 month developmental check one question stopped me in my tracks. I was asked if he was still being breastfed to which I obviously said no, that bit was fine. Then came the question “why did you stop?”
I was taken aback, quite surprised that I was being asked such a question.
“He wanted the bottle more than me,” came my immediate honest response to which the nurse then turned a page in his health record and ticked a box. She asked me no more questions. But I asked myself plenty. Everything came flooding back. Did I try hard enough? Could I have tried harder? Maybe I should have tried more when he was in the neonatal unit? Should I have sought more professional help?
The feelings I had felt all those months before – of failure, of regret, of sadness – started to resurface from that one question. But before I allowed myself to be bogged down by it all I took stock and reminded myself of the emergency surgery that I’d had the night he was born (I presume if you’re losing a lot blood and are operated on at 1.30am it’s an emergency?!), the fact that over the next four days I had three blood transfusions and an iron infusion and how initially, when my little man was in the neonatal unit, I could barely stand up from the wheelchair for more than a few seconds to look into his cot because I was so weak. All of this contributed to the difficulties with breastfeeding, after all when you’ve lost a lot of blood the milk flow is much slower and when a baby is in the neonatal unit being bottle fed they become used to it and want the fast flow that a bottle provides. The sensible side of me started to reason why breastfeeding had worked out the way it did for us and once again I began to accept the situation.
But then I thought again about that one question. Why wasn’t it followed by another one? A simple “and how are you feeling?” I thought back to all the postnatal care I had received, both in hospital and out of it, and realised that I could only remember once being asked by a medical professional how I was feeling in an emotional sense. And that was my own GP at my 6 week postnatal check.
I know that steps are being taken to roll out perinatal mental health services in Ireland which I think is really important, but it seems, from what I’ve read and understood so far, that these services can only be accessed through a referral from a GP or psychiatrist. Why is looking after a woman’s perinatal mental health not just a routine part of the service? I really think it should be, after all it is as important as physical health. I know it costs money and many people, mums included, may think that I’m going over the top in suggesting this but, from my own experiences I just think it’s imperative. After all title of Giovanna Fletcher’s wonderful podcasts “Happy Mum, Happy Baby” is so true. A parent’s mental health has a huge effect on that of their child.
I didn’t have postnatal depression but, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I did struggle and believe that if consultation with specially trained midwives, nurses, counsellors or doulas had been a routine part of my care things may have been easier. In my opinion it’s far too early to give a new mum her last check up at 6 weeks post birth (for non-Irish readers I should explain that medical care in Ireland is paid for unless you qualify for a medical card, however when a woman is pregnant her care during pregnancy is free and she gets a free GP check at 6 weeks, anything beyond that has to be paid for). There should be appointments for the new mum for up to at least 6 months after the birth.
This is a subject that I could write and write about but I won’t do that today! Of course these are just my personal feelings and experiences of perinatal mental health care in Ireland – but it’s amazing the thoughts and extra questions one simple question can raise!