When to have, and when to stop having, children is a big decision for any couple. It seems that everyone else has to have an opinion about it before, during, and after the decision-making – when it is nothing to do with them. The judgements, rumours and comments are unbelievable sometimes. I am imagining this is the same for everyone as I know people who have 1 of each sex and say they want more but people expect them to want to stop; large families people expect them to stop, single children – people expect them to have more!
For us the reason to stop at 4 children was largely to do with our youngest son being 5 weeks early. I know now that 5 weeks isn’t THAT early. But I’d only half listened in my Psychology Degree Lectures to what they were actually saying (about premature babies) and only remembered that early babies were small, wires, heart problems, etc, etc. I have friends whose children have been born early (as early as 23 weeks gestation in fact). So although it wasn’t that early for me, at the time, it was very frightening and I was scared at how small my baby would be born and if everything would be okay with him.
My little man was born with just gas and air using wrigleys forceps (my needle phobia is another issue lol) and was a whooping 7lb 1 oz.
I think that because of his size it was just taken I had my dates wrong and he was treated as full term. He was born in the evening, and I was walking around the ward breastfeeding him – so we were sent home the next morning. He was feeding fine but was very sleepy. I remember being torn between loving the ability to have a bath and thinking – this isn’t right breastfed babies feed ALL the time at first. In fact when the midwife came out to check that he hadn’t lost more than 10% of his birth weight on day 3 he’d actually lost 13%.
We were rushed to the hospital and I was told I would have to express my breast milk and then “top him up with formula” – no-one had even looked at him, they just knew he had lost weight. I asked why I’d needed to top up with formula and was told very matter of fact that I would not express enough milk to feed him. It was clear from the start that they were saying (and did say) that the weight loss issue was due to me “not producing enough milk” or that I was the rare exception that had “something wrong with my milk”. Now don’t get me wrong, I am NOT against formula feeding at all. What I’m against is misinformation and not having the choice. The choice I wanted was to exclusively breastfed my premature (or pre-term if that’s what you want to call him) to me tiny to me (now 6lb 3oz: 2lbs 10 lighter than my first born at birth) little boy. Everything I knew had told me that the best thing for an early arrival is breast milk.
Luckily for me I could produce enough milk – and this again was part of the problem on the “professionals” part. I had some important, highly qualified people, not even knowing what tandem feeding was, never mind having ANY knowledge of it – but once I had explained it they suddenly became experts and blamed that for being the reason my son was losing weight, Telling me to stop feeding my older son (who was 18 months old), keep going on and on about giving formula as a top-up even though I was pumping off more than enough milk to give him the amounts they said he had to have. Now don’t get me wrong that was no mean feat either. I did not sleep. I was either pumping or feeding him – first by syringe. I was so tired but my baby seemed so ill and it made me feel empowered – that I could do something to help my sick baby. It really did help with the fact I felt guilty taking the bath when I knew deep down he should be feeding. By the side of the pumping machine was a book all on babies born early and breastfeeding and I read every single page. I was armed with facts from this book when these “professionals” came round. I had been feeding him by syringe and the book had said a cup was the best way – that he would lap it up like a little kitten. This is what he did.
One night I was sooo tired and a midwife offered to help – I thought she meant she would cup feed him – but she meant she’d grab a bottle of formula – I declined. I was beginning to feel that I was actually just a nuisance to them and they didn’t actually care what was best for me and my child just that they wanted him to put on weight and go. I would like to add here that it wasn’t all the midwives and I did have some nice midwives that did feed him by cup for me and I did snatch the odd bit of sleep at these times.
We did get sent home at one point but it wasn’t long before the weight gain wasn’t satisfactory enough we were sent back in. He was put on the Billy bed (UV light) and was treated for jaundice.
His blood sugar levels weren’t right either but they were the opposite way they were checking for so apparently it was ok,
(I later learnt that this was an indication of an infection). But because he was taken out the bed for so long to drink the milk from the cup he wasn’t really getting any better. But all they kept telling me was that there was something wrong with my milk, or that there wasn’t enough. My other son continued to visit me at the hospital and breastfeed (whilst I also expressed for and cup feed the baby) and he was thriving on it so I KNEW there was nothing wrong with my milk. It COULD have been sent off for testing – but really they weren’t about to do this and it would have taken a while.
There was a breast feeding specialist came round – and they even contacted her – but didn’t really say much to her (I spoke to her after I got out of hospital) and I was just told I could e-mail her if it was important. Luckily at the time I had a very supportive breast feeding friend who had been through issues with the hospital herself and her son had had terrible jaundice. I also had the number of my local breast feeding counsellor too. As for there not being enough milk I was so worried I wouldn’t produce the amount they wanted that I produced more when I could and put it in the fridge (also the machine was very good and I was worried about keeping it up without such a good pump when I went home. Soon the whole fridge was full of my milk and it just became ludicrous when the “specialists” told me I wasn’t producing enough. The fridge was also a problem as I had to ask the already overworked midwives for the key to lock up my milk as it was a “live drug” and of course to get it back again – and in the right order as it had to be used within a certain time so oldest had to be used up first.
The weight still didn’t go up and the jaundice was getting really bad. I asked about whether it was a consideration that he could stay in the billy bed and have milk fed to him whilst still in it but that would only happen by tube and that would mean a trip up to SCBU. This thought really scared me and I’m sure that is really annoying for any parent who has had a child there and I do understand now that things weren’t that bad, and really really my heart goes out to anyone that has had to endure that pain but for me, at that time, it was bad and I did have this horrible sense of what if my baby dies. Stupid I know now. My in-laws bought him some newborn clothes up and they seemed so massive and I cried what if he never gets to grow into them. As I say, I do understand he was really only a tiny bit early and it was only a bit of jaundice but again education is a big factor in all this.
Then he had a billy bed with a top so his eyes had to be covered – of course then came the worry incase he pulled it off his eyes. I am also the kind of parent that likes to cuddle their child – I don’t think there is any such thing as a “spolit” baby. I pick them up when they cry, especially if they are hurt and want their mom. But I could only touch him when he was to be fed. Still every 3 hours from a cup. Which also made him feel sleepy and he was just falling asleep in the milk. I was allowed to offer him the breast after the milk but it was of no use as he was too sleepy.
I went upstairs to SCBU and was allowed to speak to the staff about the situation (as the midwives on my ward said it would be my decision). SCBU said it would be the Registrar’s decision but that they felt that tube feeding him in the billy bed would most likely be the best and most likely cause of action for him. Having been worried when he was born about him going to SCBU and the relief he hadn’t and then actually seeing the poorly babies up there and thinking he could be one of them was so heart wrenching. Alone in the hospital, my husband hardly able to come up because of time (with only his nan able to help with the others) and money (parking costs alone were a nightmare) – and this hospital was fairly local so again my heart goes out to those who have had babies so far away. Or like lady on my ward had to have her baby in a separate hospital to her.
But they decided not to send him up. Not to tube feed him but try another bed – as I had the whole ward to myself.
This made progress and eventually he put on a tiny bit of weight and was allowed to move to a normal cot. I missed him so much that a very nice midwife managed to get me a sidecot so he could sleep next to me.
The whole time I was still expressing, cup feeding and feeding my other son when he came to visit. Still having professional after professional telling me the reason was I needed to top up with formula. There was just something in me KNEW there was something wrong and that my milk wasn’t it. I even had one midwife tell me that if I gave him a bottle it would be easier to feed him and I could go out drinking one night!!!! I was told to complain about a lot of this – and probably more I have forgotten. Like the fact that I could not go with him to have his bloods taken (seriously I have a phobia not just scared of needles ask the Dr that delivered him by forceps on gas&air) and this one woman just decided to bring the needles into the room and lecture me about what would I do if my son needed an operation etc. But I had a poorly baby, and then a baby and toddler to look after. And as confident as I may seem or have seemed I wasn’t really. Just knew I was right. Maybe if the book by the machine wasn’t there I would have given up. My husband was very good because at first they convinced him that formula was the best thing for my baby and he thought it was just that I didn’t want to feel a failure rather than me knowing that I was right.
After he moved to the side-cot we were able to go home as his bilirubin were at an acceptable level. I was hung up on cup feeding and had a lot of talks and advice about how to get him on the breast from my friend – but at the same time I knew cup feeding used up less calories and they were threatening to send us back to the hospital if he didn’t put on sufficient weight – and I couldn’t cope with all these people just banging on about formula and telling me I was wrong. I got enough of it when they came to visit me at home. They said the most unprofessional of things.
I am extremely lucky to be a peer supporter too and have the support of a very good breast feeding support group. I went to the group as soon as I got out of hospital and they really were a help.
And then it happened. One day when he was 3 weeks old and I went to change his nappy there was just this awful puss oozing out of his belly!! I can’t even explain how I was feeling or what happened. I just know that I knew there was a clinic across the road where the midwife was – and really you were meant to wait your turn. But I ran over with my baby – so bloody distraught, just wanting to know what the matter was. I was seen straight away and the midwife said to go straight to the hospital. TBH my husband had had enough of hospitals by now and said couldn’t we just take him to the doctors (again sorting out the other 3 children was becoming really unfair on his nan too). But I said no, we had to go straight to the hospital. No-one really said anything to me about it but straight away there was a cannula put into my tiny baby’s arm (my husband went with him for this) and he was pumped up with 3 different types of antibiotics.
We were at a different hospital now and the staff seemed much more supportive over the breastfeeding. But the “specialists” were the same ones travelling from hospital to hospital and even now he was being treated for an infection they were STILL going on about the problem being the tandem feeding and my milk and how I should try “topping up with formula”. Not one of them could give me a good reason as to why. When I questioned this one guy he actually asked me what I did for a living – to which I replied that I was a mom!
Funny was this was the day his cannula no longer worked and if he had put on enough weight then we would be able to go home. The nurse had weighed him and was bringing his naked body back to me when the baby had a wee all over the specialist. Then the nurse was asked how much he weighed and before we were lucky if he had put on 1/2 ounce and they were saying he needed to put on at least 2 ounces – which seemed really unreasonable – I can’t remember how much it was but it was loads and finally he was back at his birth weight. It was screamingly obvious the weight loss was due to the infection and now it was treated all was fine!! The specialist still wasn’t convinced but let us go home. His weight has been fine ever since!!
But that is the reason we decided that we had enough children. We couldn’t go through that again. We knew that this wasn’t that early and that many people go through a lot more. But as each child had been earlier than the last what if next time was really early.
And besides we didn’t think it fair on my husband’s nan if we did need all our children looked after again. As there was no-one else who was able to help us out, especially with our oldest having Asperger’s Sydrome.
We would have liked a girl – and I know someone people will slate me (have) for even thinking that – but no way would I swap any of our boys for one. We were not “obsessed” as some have said about having a girl – hence we decided to stop having children! It was hard for me at the time as my children are my life, I love them so much, and it’s hard to imagine them growing up and me doing something else. But it was time for that new chapter in my life and we were looking forward to new experiences like going to new places that you couldn’t with a baby/small child in toe.
I’m glad we did make that decision, as I found the small age gap hard work. At first I thought that is was what it was – but it is looking more and more like our youngest has Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder – I don’t think it would have been fair on anyone to have had more siblings (see my post on sibling sacrifices).
So what about you? Will you be having more children? What factors did or would make your family complete?