Another thing no one tells you about when you have a child, pregnancy can affect your gallbladder. The exact science of it is beyond me, but it happens, and it has happened to quite a few mums that I know, myself included. Generally gallstones are prone to occur in people with high fat diets that are overweight. I don’t really fit into those categories, so one night when I got chest pain that went from 0-100 within minutes and felt like a literal heart attack and began to affect my breathing, I naturally assumed I was dying. I sat on the edge of my bed, Alee was on the phone to the ambulance and all I could do between gasping for breath and screaming in pain was look up at Oakland in his cot, crying in terror as he watched the scene around him and mentally project my goodbyes to him. I remember telling Alee I was dying and I felt guilty that I wouldn’t be around to see Oakland grow.
Fast forward a hospital visit, several more hospital visits and I had my gallbladder (full of stones and goop) removed. Side note: gallstone pain is equal to, if not greater than childbirth. Actual fact. I was told this surgery was elective (how the hell GCU came to that conclusion is beyond me), however I was fortunate enough that the PA recognised that I couldn’t exactly parent my child with this and couldn’t spend my days surviving on a diet of Endone, which was the only thing I could eat without making the pain flare up, go figure. So without preparation or notice I was admitted for surgery. This was great, but also meant I hadn’t had time to prepare milk. Oakland was 8 months old, he was still breastfeeding regularly. My dad coincidentally was up from Victoria on holidays so he stayed home with Alee and helped care for Oakland thankfully. Dad is an old hand at this parenting gig so he managed to get Oakland to readily accept a bottle of formula while I was up at the hospital for a few days pumping and dumping. I’ve never really been able to pump much milk, and the stress of being away from Oakland and being doped up on Endone in excruciating pain did not exactly make this any easier. I was pumping whenever I was awake and the little amounts of milk I managed to get were radioactive green. That was super gross. Not to mention sharing a room with 3 other patients of varying ages and gender was not the ideal pumping grounds. I actually had a nurse come in at some ungodly hour one night to ask if I could turn my phone off as the vibrating was keeping the other patients awake. She said this, then looked down at my chest mid-pump with an awkward “oh, sorry” and quietly exited stage left. I don’t know if it is all pumps, but mine sounds like a mixture between a starving cow and a car full of subwoofers mid drive-by. Not exactly discreet.
I got home, I took maybe 2 days of rest before I felt ready to try and feed Oakland. I tried putting a pillow between us as he enjoys playing football with my mum tum, which was now full of stitches. He fed for the tiniest moment, then refused my breast. I was heartbroken. I was pumping and getting less and less milk. I had the beginnings of mastitis and was in so much physical pain. My breast (yep, still just the one, people) shrunk down to pre-pregnancy size and I felt defeated. I was told not to lift Oakland for minimum 6 weeks, so Dad stayed on to help. He and my mother said maybe my milk drying up was a good thing? It meant we can transition him from the boob to bottle (I don’t know if this was the thing to do back in the day?). I agreed, though inside was devastated. Not because there is anything wrong with formula, but because I really enjoyed breastfeeding and when our journey ended, I wanted it to be on our terms, not because I didn’t have a choice. So there it was, I stopped breastfeeding at almost 9 months and Oakland transitioned to the bottle (quite happily I will add).
Three weeks later we were going strong on the bottle. It was at this point that I got a phone call from the Ellen Baron clinic saying we had our appointment. Yes, Oakland was still not sleeping properly, was in our bed and we were finally going to get the help we so needed. I packed up our things, drove over an hour to the clinic and got ready to spend five intensive days getting professional help to get Oakland out of my bed and sleeping solidly through the night. As we sat there Oakland needed a feed. I got a bottle out ready to go and I felt so judged. I saw another mother breastfeeding her baby and I was so jealous. Looking at the nurses I could just feel the judgement emanating off them. This was how my friends that bottle feed must feel constantly. I had been on the receiving end of judgemental glares for breastfeeding publicly before, and now I was experiencing the same for bottle feeding. There was no winning! To make a long side story short, Oakland and I were actually sent home that morning as he was beginning to get a cold and he didn’t pass the medical check, which was devastating and I spent the car ride home crying and feeling like a failure as a mother, not only for not being able to get my child to sleep, but for having a sick baby that was bottle fed.
So this is where the story gets interesting! I was so pissed off for not trying harder to breastfeed Oakland after the surgery. Looking back now I tried so bloody hard and was in so much pain, but at that moment I hated myself. My milk was gone so that was the end of it, right? WRONG! I began researching relactation, where mothers re-establish their milk supply after it has dried up, or in some cases adoptive or non-biological lesbian mums get a milk supply without ever even carrying the child. Amazing right? If that sounds intense, I can tell you that it is. I was determined to do this. I had taken so many blows already with infertility, constant breastfeeding dramas, low supply, only one bloody boob, surgery, Oakland’s reflux and shit sleep. If I could survive that crap, I had this. So I began by phoning the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) and spoke with a volunteer who gave me advice. Props to them by the way, these women are hard working mums, taking these calls for nothing but gratitude. She told me to research Dr Jack Newman and take his papers with me to the GP to get some Motilium. The GP would prescribe a much lower dose than Dr Newman suggested but stand my ground and get a higher dosage. So I did this, and she was right, I argued with the GP for the higher dose. I sat at home baking lactation cookies, pumping 15 minutes out of every hour, dosing up on Motilium and massaging myself for three whole weeks. Alee told me to let it go but there was no way this was defeating me. I found an amazing support group for relactating mothers online and we shared stories and tips. Low and behold, my milk came back! It was like magic. It was a slow and painful process but I did it. Man, was I one proud mumma. But then would you believe Oakland flatly refused my boob? I was crushed. All this hard work and this was like a slap in the face! His breast refusal was more hurtful than losing my supply. So back to the relactation group I went. Armed with advice on how to coax a child from bottle to breast, we worked and worked. It involved me sitting around topless quite a lot (sorry neighbours), taking him into the closet where it was dark and holding him close, lots of baby wearing and taking baths together. Every time I held him near my breast he kicked and screamed and got so distressed, which in turn distressed me. Meanwhile I am still pumping away to keep the supply up. He wouldn’t even drink breastmilk from the bottle! I began mixing it with his formula to trick him. The ABA suggested switching him to a newborn teat on the bottle to make him work for it, so I did this. Slowly but surely he began sometimes touching his lips to my breast then pulling away. This was finally getting somewhere! I tried so hard to throw a boob in his face when he was super tired during the night or his first morning feed and then bam! One morning while half asleep he took it and fed. Holy crap! After several weeks he was completely back on the breast and hating bottles. I had done it, despite everyone in my family saying not to bother I had successfully relactated! I literally felt invincible!
This is not to say anything negative against bottle feeding. I’ve been there, done that, not only after surgery but also when Oakland’s reflux was at its worst. If you feed your kid, congrats! You are already a star. For me personally, and also for Oakland, breastfeeding is something we enjoy and is something I intend to continue to do for as long as my body allows or as long as Oakland wants to do. Relactation is not for everyone, but it is also not something every mum is aware of. I thought I would share this for those mums out there in my situation who maybe are not aware of it and who maybe missed their chance to breastfeed for whatever reason and want to give it another shot! Good luck!