Alisha - Te Puawaitanga ki Ōtautahi



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Breastfeeding the Fonmoa tribe

My journey of breastfeeding 5 children through the many seasons my life.

I was 18 when I had found out I was pregnant with my first. It was a really hard time for me, mentally & emotionally, feeling unfit and so unprepared for this motherhood life. I didn’t attend any antenatal classes and so I went into this “parenting” thing completely blindsided and having absolutely no idea reality of what reality may bring. My thoughts of labour, birth and breastfeeding was all from what I had seen on TV.

A month after my 19th birthday and 22hours of exhaustion and pain, I gave birth to the most beautiful daughter Azryel. The big moment we had all been waiting for had arrived, everything the past 9 months we had built up for had happened. It felt like she had just been placed in my arms and I thought what do I do next?? My after birth was a traumatic one, I ended up needing four blood transfusions because I had passed out and most of it was a blurr. I do recall a moment of my daughter being placed on me to feed and she managed to feed pretty well.

My parents had gone home to rest after being with me all day and I just slept. I remember my mum coming up in the morning to visit and had a look at the breastfeeding chart to see if I had fed her, she was horrified when she seen that I hadn’t fed her once and called the midwife immediately. I didn’t know when or how often I was meant to feed my baby I just thought when she cries that’s when to feed , but because both of us had slept though the whole night , no one had checked or even asked. The next few days mum stayed with me at the hospital and throughout the night to help me with breastfeeding.

The memories of trying to get her to latch in the hospital after her first few days of life still haunts me now. I can still recall every bit pain felt of her trying to latch and suck on my cracked, bleeding and raw nipples. I would hold my breath and clench my toes through the pain until eventually it eased. Midwife after midwife would come in and show me all the ways I was doing it wrong. I thought it would be easy just like on TV.

No one had told me about the realities of cracked and bleeding nipples, rock melon breasts that were rock hard and felt like they were going to burst even with the slightest knock or blisters. No one mentioned the sleep deprivation and if you had a reflux baby it made things even more harder.

I am grateful for my mum who helped me during this time to keep going and to persevere. Soon after I began to experience the most wonderful side to breastfeeding. It brings me tears of joy now even thinking about the magnificent moments spent breastfeeding my daughter, gazing into her beautiful brown eyes and wishing this moment would last forever. I took my daughter to all my trainings, games and tournaments and breastfed her on the side-lines. Slowly my milk began to run dry as I would be dehydrated and not looking after myself enough (something I now wish I knew) and I stopped feeding her at 6months old.

Just under 3 years later we were blessed with our second child. Or several reasons my first experience of breastfeeding him was in NICU. This came with its own challenges, thankfully it didn’t last long and after day 4/5 we were sent home. I was grateful this time to have the support of church family (our village) and my sister in law. One moment I remember was coming home to our house from the hospital to a clean home, all the housework was were done, and dinner cooked by my father in law, it was the helping hands of our village that helped relieve the stress so I could focus on having a new born. It was only 7 weeks later that my father in law passed away. It was a difficult time for my whānau ,trying to be there for my husband and navigating breastfeeding through all of this. It was our deep connection to God that helped us through this time.

A few months passed by and I decided to start a mums and bubs group to help connect with other young mums, we often shared the struggles and challenges of breastfeeding. Feeding my son felt so much easier I continues to breastfeed him whenever and wherever I went, I loved every moment and the bonding time spent with my big blue-eyed son. The day I stopped was the day I found out I was pregnant again with our 3rd (around 11months) I thought it would be nice to have a break before the next one comes along but had no idea that you could tandem feed and continue feeding while pregnant.

Then there were three.

My expectations around feeding my third was just that I would feed as I had with the other two, it would be easy peasy and no extra thought needed to go towards it. I was so confused, and sleep deprived when I discovered the hard way that every child is different and feeds different too.

I can remember the sleepless nights after having my third vividly. All 5 of us were living in one bedroom at my parents’ house. I couldn’t let my son cry as he would wake up the other two so every time he made a little sound I will pick him up and feed, feed, feed, feed and feed some more. He wouldn’t sleep 3-4 hours like the other two. It felt more like 45 mins to an hour and a half if I was lucky waking 7 times throughout the night.

He just loved to feed and fed all the time. My husband tried many ways to help but nothing else would work. We tried it all just to get some more sleep but to be honest he didn’t want anything else but to feed off me. It showed on the weight scales that’s for sure gaining 350 grams a week.

Those days and nights were so hard and having to keep up with two toddlers at home meant no time for rest!! Even in the hard nights I could find joy and comfort as I fed my smiley son, I would gaze at my precious green-eyed boy and soak in the moments together, the world would stop and it would just be me and him. It was our time together. I was fortunate enough to get back into rugby league when he was weeks old. I had made the Canterbury team and so my husband flew with me to Auckland just to help with Josiah, I remember we stayed at the marae, I would wake all through the night to feed him and then play in the tournament the next day. Whenever he was hungry, I would run to the side line, whip my top up, feed him and hand back to my husband so I could continue to play. I am so fortunate to have a awesome husband who always supported me breastfeeding.

Week after week and month after month went by, after the 6month mark when he began solids things got easier and the hard times became a blurr. I fed breastfed Josiah till around the 10month mark.

My 4th child Abey arrived two and a half years later after Josiah, and he felt like a breeze. We had brought our own home by then, so it all felt so good having our own space and the children having their own rooms.

Once you have had a really difficult time breastfeeding the rest seem just so easy. Majority of the time it went smoothly, we had a few blocked ducks here and there and I noticed how significantly the after pains of childbirth hurt that much more when breastfeeding, the rest just flew by. I continued to feed Abey at church, at the side-lines of rugby league, cafes, malls and wherever else he needed to be fed.

“Life is like a box a chocolate; you never know what you’re going to get”

I could say the same about my children, you never know what you are going to get with labour, birth and breastfeeding, and once you think you have something in control and a handle on things you get one that throws you right out. That was our wee Zaria. After having the most beautiful, perfect labour and home birth I thought that we had experienced it all and that the breastfeeding would be just as magical.

I thought Zaria would be a breeze like her brother until she was about two weeks old I had a blocked duck, I began the usual methods to unblock it by massaging with a hot flannel, in the bath and continue to feed during the pain. I remember one morning not being able to get out of the bed and feeling like I had been hit by a truck. I was shaking so hard but felt so cold. Thankfully my husband randomly had come home to check on us as I couldn’t even respond to babys needs, as I was in so much pain. He managed to contact my midwife form me , I begged not to go to the hospital, instead she gave me some antibiotics which over two days began to work.

I tried to soak in every moment of breastfeeding Zaria as I knew it would be the last. As much as possible I would try to slow down, put the phone away and enjoy the memories with beautiful girl. Unfortunately, it felt like those days flew past and now wishing I held on just a little bit longer.

Throughout the roughly 4 years I have breastfed I feel like I have experienced it all. The vast spectrum of emotions from the very highs, the most magical moments that brought so much joy, when they would stop feeding and smile at me or play with my face as I gazed in their eyes and told them how precious they are. To the lows of exhaustion, tears of emotions, pain, heart ache and loss. My experience has been a journey, but a very rewarding one, A bond I have been blessed to share with all my babies and that I will cherish forever.