Hetal Vasa did her schooling from Convent of Jesus and Mary. She is a commerce graduate and had been a banker for 9 years. Hetal has known her husband Jigesh for 10 years, and is married for 7. She quit her job when she started trying for a baby. Hetal was already suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease and the stress of work, travelling for treatment, the hormone therapies and my RA couldn’t all go hand in hand. She says, “Quitting was the best decision I made and haven’t regretted it since”. She is also an ultimate foodie and an avid reader.
1. Kabir is a precious baby. Would you like to tell us the beginning of your motherhood journey?
Yes! Kabir is a very precious baby. I say so because he came into our lives after 2 cycles of Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and 3 cycles of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). I had read up a lot during pregnancy and I felt I was armed with all the knowledge I had to have. I wanted to breastfeed my baby and that was something, or should I say, the only thing I was sure of since before Kabir was born.
I was part of a group, Chef At Large, when a new mommy had asked about how to store breast milk as she was reluctant to throw it away. Some people mentioned the Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM) Facebook group. I was 6 or 7 months pregnant when I joined the group and the rest, as they say, is history!
In spite of all that I knew, things did not go as planned. When he was born, instead of giving him to me to hold and make him latch, the nurse fed him formula without anyone’s consent. I was still under the effects of anaesthesia and was drowsy and my family was so excited that they didn’t notice either. They thought the nurse was cleaning and wrapping him up. And after that, they kept telling us that as my milk hasn’t come in yet, I won’t be able to feed him.
Our breastfeeding journey, which is still going strong at 2 years, wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. We’ve had our share of struggles, tears and downright heartbreak.
2. It is sad to see how a few doctors and nurses are still misinformed about colostrum being formed during pregnancy itself. And, that is all the baby needs to begin with.
It is heartbreaking to say the least! I kept insisting to the nurses to bring Kabir to me to help him latch. There was little to no help.
The third night when milk came in, I was heavily engorged. I was in excruciating pain. The nurses then told me that the baby wasn’t latching because I am engorged. I was out of words by then and did not know whether to be angry, sad or cry.
A friend had gifted me a manual pump before I had delivered. God bless her! I used that to start pumping. Kabir was on breast milk immediately after that, but drinking with a bowl and spoon. Still wasn’t latching, but at least he was getting his liquid gold. I was pumping almost 18 hours out of 24. Yeah!! All the pumped milk was thick and yellow – colostrum! But the baby could have only as much as it could. What did we do with the rest? Threw it down the sink. I can feel the lump rising in my throat even as I am writing this right now. All that goodness down the drain.
Even now when I think of it, I sincerely regret it. I was so distort at that time that it didn’t strike me that I could read up on storing the milk or even donating it. Lack of sleep, unlatching child who was diagnosed with jaundice, pain and exhaustion had put me in a tizzy. I wasn’t thinking straight. I even thought that since I have an oversupply, I will never be in a position to not feed him. Man, was I wrong and how!
3. All of this breaks my heart. If only they had got Kabir to latch in the start. Did the engorgement and pain reduce with pumping?
Unfortunately, it did not. For engorgement, you are supposed to let out only enough to reduce the pain, and feel relief. But all the long hours of pumping was signing the body to make more milk. And for the fear of keeping up my supply (since he wasn’t latching directly), I kept at it.
The nurses kept coming one after the other and kept hand expressing and giving me hot water bags to give me relief. There were times that I just screamed out of pain. The hospital stay was all about screaming and crying.
4. I am so sorry to hear about your hospital experience. Did things get better once you got home?
Women talk about post-partum pain and how they felt when they first tried to sit or walk. I have no memory of those. I am sure it existed and one of my stitches broke too but the engorgement pain took over everything else. I was discharged seven days later.
I remember the first night home. My fingers were in so much pain from all the pumping and my husband was running from one end of Mumbai to another in search of an electric pump. No one had the one I needed. Finally, we contacted the Mumbai distributor for that particular pump and he arranged for one. My nipples were sore from pumping. One morning I was so exhausted that I could not even manage to keep my eyes open, forget pumping. I was so engorged that my breasts were like stones. I was asked to sit on a chair and my mom and my husband had expressed each breast so that I wouldn’t get an infection.
Kabir was still not latching. Gradually, my supply started going down. My gynaecologist was of no help. In fact, he was quite rude to me when I went to consult him for the engorgement. Now, I was pumping round the clock to keep up the supply. And to top it all off, I had developed post-partum blues as well.
5. Post-partum depression has hit a lot of new mommies. Many talk about them too, in the hope to feel relaxed and help mommies in similar situations. Would you be comfortable talking about it?
I hardly remember holding my baby. When I wasn’t pumping, I was exhausted and sleeping. There were times that I couldn’t even sleep and I used to watch my child and cry. I used to question God as to why He gave me this beautiful little baby if He couldn’t give me enough strength to nourish him.
My husband helped to feed Kabir. He kept switching between the bottle and bowl and spoon. And I kept crying and shouting whenever even a single drop fell. Every drop was precious. And only I knew what it took to pump. Every time I remembered the milk that was thrown at the hospital, my heart would go to pieces again. Back then, my life was all about numbers – his weight, ml pumped, ml consumed, number of minutes pumped on each side and number of hours between pumping.
I was pumping every two hours, irrespective of day or night. And I was sterilizing every part of the pump after every use which took at least 45 minutes. Why was I doing it? Because I didn’t know any better and I didn’t trust anyone else to do it right. When I look back, I think it was part of my post-partum blues (it wasn’t diagnosed till then).
6. Did you not consider seeing his paediatrician or a lactation consultant (LC)?
Kabir kept crying and we thought it was reflux. When we went to consult our paediatrician 7 days after getting discharged, we found out that he had lost 20% of his birth weight, double than what is considered normal, and he wasn’t crying because of reflux, but out of hunger. I broke down completely. I held my child and cried. We both cried.
The doctor warned us about dehydration and even stroke. I remember taking him home, to our room, shutting the door and just holding him. I don’t know what happened to me in that moment. I just held him and started talking to him. I told him that, “I am your momma and there will never come a time ever again when momma will not be able to feed you. You will never go hungry ever again. This is our war and we are going to fight it. Momma is going to fight it for both of us. You just be there for momma.”
After this I started formula along with breast milk. I wanted to desperately exclusively breastfeed him, but not by starving him, which I had been doing unknowingly. Thus, began my desperate search for a LC.
7. How was your experience with the LC?
I was pumping, using nipple shields and had excruciatingly painful nipples. Kabir did not even latch when I met the first LC at her clinic. I was then directed to another LC (also a paediatrician) by Kabir’s doctor. That is how I met my saviour, Dr. Meena Narayan.
She was the one who informed my family about my mental condition at the time. She educated them about postpartum depression and how it was affecting me and how they can help. All the while I was sitting in a corner, holding my baby and crying. My doctor was my friend, philosopher, guide, my shoulder to cry on and my strength to carry on. I will be forever grateful to her.
I used to go to her every second day. It was the monsoon season and in heavy rains, I used to bundle up my 20 days old child and take him. I remember the first time that he latched at her clinic and I told my husband and mom that this was what latching felt like! It is a beautiful feeling and it took so long to get here!!
Slowly and steadily, Kabir started latching and we stopped formula completely. He must have had formula not more than 10 times during this period.
8. It felt like I was living every moment with you. As a breastfeeding mother, I can understand your feeling on the first latch. Was it all good after that?
Even though he started latching, it was a very painful latch. I remember mom asking me why I shook my leg constantly when I nursed him. That’s when I realized that I was doing it subconsciously to distract my mind from the pain.
I was advised by fellow mommies on BSIM that the pain will eventually go. However, at the time the pain was so much that I used to think, quite often, that how can a pain like this ever go away completely? But, as they’d said, it did. 2 months later, gradually, the latch was set and it was no more painful. Infact, I even started feeding him in the lying down position.
9. Through your journey and the most difficult time, your mother and husband stood by you like the strongest pillars ever. Tell us more about your support system.
My husband and my mom were my pillars of strength. My husband has always been a great husband. And now I knew he was an awesome father too. Every night he was up with me either feeding Kabir the expressed milk or changing him, burping him or just holding me while I cried. Pumping and making Kabir latch, with and without, the shield was getting too painful and the postpartum blues just added to it all. Then, every morning, he went to work. How he did it, I still don’t know.
My mom was constantly working it seems during those days. We had Kabir in cloth diapers and you know how newborns pee and poop! She insisted on handwashing all his clothes. There used to be atleast 2 loads of just his clothes every day. Clothes, diapers, sheets, wrappers, blankets and what nots! She also used to cook 3-4 meals a day over and above the normal household chores. After all this, she used to sit next to me and talk to me and tell me to be strong. I feel I used to call out to her atleast a 1000 times in a day!!! Yeah, I was pretty much a bundle of nerves then…! I truly have immense respect for women who go through pregnancy and the first few months after delivery without any help. I think I would’ve lost it without my parents and husband.
My two other shoulders have been my LC and BSIM. The knowledge and information that I got from that group was immense and I can never thank the admins and the members enough for what they have done for me and my child. It’s amazing how sometimes pieces of advice from well-meaning and knowledgeable strangers can change your whole life. I take this opportunity to also let them know what they have meant for us and thank them from the bottom of my heart.
10. You have seen some really dark days in your breastfeeding journey. Not everyone comes out a winner. At any point, did you feel like giving up?
I am extremely proud of what we have achieved and even though breastfeeding is one of the most natural things, it did not come easily to us. However, not once through all the difficult times, did I ever think about or feel like giving up. That was not a choice.
From where we started to get here, it has been full of trials and tribulations. However, anything this good is worth fighting for. I am so proud to be a breastfeeding, co-sleeping, gentle parenting momma. We have no intentions of weaning any time soon. We will be following baby-led weaning and that means he will wean off when he is ready, at his own pace.
11. Now that you passed that test with flying colors, the next was nursing in public (NIP). Were you comfortable?
I think the image used for my interview speaks a thousand words. Do I need to say anything more?
I have fed Kabir in a temple, in cabs, at restaurants, up in the sky and down under the sea as well!! I’ve never bothered covering up or felt embarrassed of it. My child is eating. Someone doesn’t like it? Well, they always have an option not to look.
12. You have seen it the hard way. How do you consider spreading awareness about breastfeeding?
I am huge supporter and promoter of normalizing breastfeeding and NIP. I will tell anyone who will give me their time about how breastfeeding meets 99% of an infant’s needs and how it can help overcome postpartum depression and how it helps the mothers health also in a million ways. I have helped quite a few mothers, friends as well as those who were not known to me, in establishing their breastfeeding journey, handholding them through it and helping them in every way I knew they needed to be helped. Something I did not get in a timely fashion. I am dedicated to the cause.
13. Signing off…
We still feed on demand. We feed when we are bored, scared, nervous, sad, angry, hot, cold, sleepy, cranky, happy, underwhelmed, overwhelmed. Some days we even feed like a new born while we work through our growth spurts. We feed when we feel like. We feed where we feel like. Momma has kept her promise to her baby and the baby and momma have never looked back since.