If you ask me, I will say Meena Guptha has her heart in place, standing strong and fighting barriers in life! When we asked her to describe herself, she said, “A fun-loving introvert with zero sense of humour. I love to sleep, hang out with my friends and spend quality time with my son.” A commerce graduate and having been trapped in the corporate world for 15 years, Meena Guptha dreams of owning a business some day. She is currently on a mission to strike off items of her to-do list before turning 40.
1. Meena, you seemed to have had a difficult time conceiving. Can you please tell us how Mayank entered your lives?
Difficult is probably an understatement. Both my husband and I are fond of children and post a year of our marriage, we began to try for a baby. We did try for a while with no results till we finally decided to seek medical help. As per the doctor’s advice, we changed our lifestyle – eat healthy, get ample rest, remain as stress free as possible – unfortunately, luck wasn’t kind on us yet. This was followed by a series of tests that we both had to undergo, and they were all positive.
Then began the numerous temple visits and prayers – we were at a point that we would do anything that would help us get a baby. I tortured myself with treatments that ranged from Ayurvedic to Homeopathic to 5 IUIs and 1 IVF. We were blessed with a baby through IVF but unfortunately, we lost it at 3 months due to improper growth.
By then, I was broken physically and mentally and gave up. I stopped all treatments and offering prayers (and temple visits). I started to believe that maybe we weren’t meant to have a baby and I should accept it and move on. Of course, society wasn’t being easy on us and although my husband was supportive, he did get influenced at times to “go through more treatments”.
A few months later, when we least expected, there were two lines on the pregnancy kit. I was ecstatic but held on to my excitement as the previous experience left a bad taste. It only when I finally held Mayank in my arms 9 months later that I could breathe a sigh of relief.
2. The journey was definitely painful and I would be lying if I say I can imagine what you must have gone through. How did your breastfeeding journey begin post-delivery?
I did not read up during my pregnancy, because work dint leave me with enough time for anything else and also because I am not meant for books.
Since it was a delicate pregnancy and I had Gestational Diabetes (GD), the doctor suggested C-section and we went ahead with it without much contemplation. Post-delivery, he was shown to me and my husband (who had come in to cut the cord). I was then stitched up, cleaned and shifted to the recovery room while the baby was being shown to the family members waiting outside.
This delayed skin to skin and he was brought in an hour later. Thankfully, he latched on like a pro and thus began a beautiful journey.
3. The delay was unexpected but nevertheless you did have a good start. So, was it a smooth run thereafter?
The hospital staff was supportive with breastfeeding and they used to come and help me every 2 hours. However, I was not confident that I was doing it right. The severe pain from the stitches was making the experience bitter as I was hardly able to move around. To top it off, the visitors kept passing comments on how sensitive I was to pain. Like, really!!
We did have a few sessions with the Lactation Consultant (LC) but it still did not give me the confidence. I was asked to follow the football hold until the pain subsided but surprisingly they weren’t in favour of nursing while lying down. The suffering was immense to sit for long hours for cluster feeds. I was in two minds to try the lying down position as my sister (who had delivered 5 months earlier) had done so. But a strict no from my LC made it tough.
4. It is unfortunate how the struggles just did not seem to end. Did you have Post-Partum Depression (PPD)?
I did suffer from mild PPD. My husband wasn’t around and my mother was single-handedly managing things. Mayank was a night owl; the long hours at night with even less sleep during the day began to take a toll on me. He used to cry a lot and it used to drive me mad as I could not figure out why.
As a first time mother, I fell prey to a lot of myths which just added to my misery. I have long hair and the pressure to dry it up before feeding the baby (because he would fall sick!) drove me mad. During his first vaccination, the paediatrician asked me not to cluster feed, as it would become a ‘habit’! I still regret believing and following this because he used to cry badly and I still wouldn’t feed him because the doctor said so; and stuck to nursing only every 2 hours. I had to even go through food restrictions as it would affect the baby.
All of this went on for 3 months and I thought I couldn’t go on.
5. I am so sorry for the misinformation and myths you were subjected to. What happened after 3 months?
At around 3 months there was a lot of pressure to start solids. It dint feel or sound right. I took to the internet to find out more and stumbled upon a wonderful group – Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM) on Facebook. I joined, went through their files and posts and felt more confident about my decision to continue exclusive breastfeeding. It helped that my husband was on-board with this decision.
The only problem was that I couldn’t convince my mother to fix my diet. Oh well, you win some battles and you lose some.
6. There was a point during this phase when you were hospitalised. How did you manage breastfeeding?
Yes, another addition to the list of hiccups during our breastfeeding journey. I had to undergo surgery for gallbladder stones. I used to take him along for my hospital visits. Every time I was rushed to the hospital with shooting pains or when I was in the ICU, there was no stopping breastfeeding. It was unfortunate that I did not have a clue about pumps back then. It would have changed a lot of things, if only I knew.
On the day of the surgery, the doctor said I cannot nurse him for 24 hours due to the anaesthesia. Those 24 hours was nothing less than a nightmare. He was asked to be given formula but he refused the bottle. He cried bitterly for a very long time and my mother immediately took him to my sister’s house in the hope that he would breastfeed from her. Even that did not help and he went 8 hours straight without a feed.
I was struggling with engorged breasts in the recovery room. The pain was unbearable and I was shouting at the nurses to remove the milk. They did it with syringes and it was just horrible. It hurt immensely and for the first time I felt time was crawling.
After 10 hours of refusing everything offered, my son finally gulped down a bottle of formula. In the morning, the nurse suggested using a pump. In spite of trying, I couldn’t get the pump to work and the nurses continued removing the milk through syringes. And my baby had another bottle of formula.
“I can’t describe my happiness when I met him in the evening. I am sure a lot of you can relate. That was the first and last time we used formula, or even the pump. We weren’t meant for either of them.”
7. And there couldn’t have been a better decision. You went back to work at almost 6 months. How did that work for both of you?
Initially, we did struggle a bit due to separation anxiety. I was away for just a few hours in the beginning and my in-laws took care of him. I hand expressed milk to give when I was away and continued to breastfeed on demand when together.
My bigger challenge was dealing with office politics. Members of my old team had resigned and I had to deal with a whole new team. The politics led from me being the best performer to a non-performer. Since I was away for 6 months, I was an easy scapegoat. I won’t lie, it really affected me.
Our financial condition did not leave me with an option to quit. The work timings also allowed me time with my son. Everything just went against my situation and I had to gulp down everything and continue working.
The humiliation made me want to wean my son so I could prove myself. But with continuous support from my husband and friends, I realised my son is my priority and everything else can wait.
8. Your work involved travelling for longer periods. How did it affect both of you?
When my son was 18 months I had to travel abroad for 3 weeks. Out of the 3 weeks, Mayank was going to be with me for 2 weeks. But for the 1 week that he was going to be with family, there was so much pressure to wean as they were worried about handling him without breastmilk.
I gave in to the pressure and began to wean him one week before my travel date. I dint believe in going cold turkey and wanted to take it slowly, one day at a time. He dint know any other way but nursing to sleep and cried terribly the first night without feed. I was yelled at for not going cold turkey. I cried and pleaded to give us some space and time. Before we could slowly get into a pattern, I left on my work trip.
Though I missed our breastfeeding sessions, I must admit, it was the first time in a long time that I enjoyed a full night’s sleep. But the joy lasted for just 2 days as I ended up missing my son a lot and would end up in tears most nights. My husband and son joined me in the second week and we continued from where we had left off. It was pure bliss. I did receive a lot of flak for “re-starting” breastfeeding but it dint make a difference to me and I let it fall on deaf ears. Thankfully my husband understood and stood by us.
9. Life just seemed to get tougher at every step for you. But, kudos for standing your ground and fighting through all of it. In spite of all the hurdles, you went on to nurse your son for 2.5 years and that is commendable. How was the journey till the end?
As time passed I used to find breastfeeding very difficult only due to lack of sleep. I never felt comfortable feeding lying down. He used to wake up almost every hour and it was stressful for me with work and broken sleep. My periods would come with severe backache and I would long for a few hours of continuous sleep. Every time I felt I couldn’t go on anymore I would go to the BSIM group. The posts there would inspire and motivate me and it was a new day again.
The weaning pressure reduced after we joined the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) activities by BSIM (in 2016). I involved my in-laws and through the events they learnt more about breastfeeding and became more supportive of my decision. After Mayank turned 2, I limited the nursing to just nights. When he turned 2.5 years, I was assigned to a project that demanded long working hours and a lot of travel. That is when I decided that it was time to wean while my husband didn’t want me too.
10. Did nursing in public (NIP) come easily to you?
I started to get out of home as early as 2 months as I wanted to do all the shopping for my son’s naming ceremony. While I never hesitated to NIP, in the initial months I looked for closed rooms but never did it in a toilet. If I did not find a closed room, I would head to the car. After I joined BSIM, I figured I don’t really need closed rooms for my baby to eat. I loved to wear saris for the ease and comfort to feed in it.
11. Tell us about your weaning process.
I started talking to him a month before we started the process. We spoke about how he is a big boy now and my milk was getting over. As expected, he was in denial. We began by dropping one feed at a time. When he got used to that, one night I nursed him and moved to another room. He cried when he woke up in the middle of the night and did not find me. He settled down when my husband showed him some videos.
We went back to square one the second day. Nothing seemed to pacify him, and I had to nurse him. On the third day, my husband made him sleep and every time he woke up, he was taken out of the room. Finally, I wore a nightwear without zips or openings and showed him how the breasts weren’t coming out as the milk is over. He cried for a while and then slept with his dad.
It was heartbreaking for both of us, but it was important for my physical and mental health.
12. What do you think mothers should do to overcome their breastfeeding struggles?
Find your support group – family, friends or online. Even in my dreams I had not imagined that I would breastfeed for 2.5 years. And this was possible only because of the constant support that I received from my husband, friends and BSIM. Charu, then an admin on their sister group for multiples, conducted meets and events in Bangalore and that for me was a huge motivation.
If you can, have a birth plan that involves no interventions (unless really necessary), delayed clamping, breast crawl and skin to skin. Get help as and when required; you don’t need to do everything. Speak to a Lactation Consultant when you hit roadblocks in breastfeeding. Don’t rely on your gynaecologist and paediatrician for the same.
Most importantly, trust yourself and your instincts! It’s your baby and your choice to breastfeed. Focus on keeping your baby full and don’t worry about world shaming you – inside or outside your home. Standing strong, believing in yourself & fighting barriers is the right way to go about your breastfeeding journey.