When we start talking about children with Katrin, we are both already so deeply mothers. We are both ready to carry babies, we bicker with more or less yellow laughter about who is going to carry the first child, and then one day as a declaration of love I offer to carry our child in her womb. It's an act of love, but it's not at all obvious to me, I'm in no way ready to be the "second mother".
I don't know at first that it is possible to breastfeed without having been pregnant. I'm ashamed to even think about it, I tell myself that it might be shocking, embarrassing, inappropriate. I resign myself to not being able to breastfeed. And in my immense fear of not being able to create a maternal bond with my child who is in my wife's womb, I dream that she decides not to breastfeed either. So that we are equal, so that we are equal mothers. And then of course I don't assume that at all, this very selfish feeling of not wanting my child to receive breast milk so that I can find my place as a mother, it's not right.
So I start talking about induced lactation, out loud. This is very badly received. I get all sorts of humiliating statements that make me cry. It's hard to hear during this phase of my construction as a mother. If this is what it means to be the non-biological mother then I'm not ready, I don't want to. After a lot of discouraging suggestions I stop thinking about it.
Then one day in a childbirth preparation class, I timidly asked about induced lactation. The midwife knows nothing about it, and tells me that of course if I put the baby to the breast, with the natural hormones of love, I would have milk. This is obviously not the way it works, but she makes me feel completely free of guilt, for her it's possible, it's even wonderful, and it would be beneficial for the baby, for my wife and for me. Katrin is very enthusiastic about the idea. So we went for it. We contacted a leading expert on the subject in Berlin and followed a strict protocol drawn up by Jack Newman, a Canadian paediatrician specialising in breastfeeding, combining a non-hormonal drug with a schedule of regular pumping every three hours. I don't follow it to the letter, as I work and decide not to pump at night. In 4 days I have milk, it's incredible, in my heart it's a celebration, I don't feel like a "clandestine" mother anymore, I'm going to be a real mother, I'm going to feed my child, I'm going to have my full place. At this point I think I'm doing this mostly for myself, to create a bond with my baby. I haven't yet realised how beneficial it will be for the whole family.
This is the big day, our baby is coming. Forty-eight interminable hours later, he's here. My breasts are full of milk, I'm ready. Isaïe is in great difficulty, we both try to breastfeed at birth but he is becoming more and more purple, he breathes less and less. He is not able to suckle. He was taken to intensive care, then to the hospital, and I waited in the hallway. Even with my breasts full of milk, I'm still the second mother, I still have no right to the child. And theoretically I have no right to be there, in front of the door of her room, trying to get a glimpse of her little body full of machines, and whispering words of courage and love to her. Katrin has suffered a lot, she survives some postpartum complications, she has only a tiny amount of colostrum. I have milk, I pump every three hours, and I give my bottles of this precious liquid to the nurses to slip into her tube. Until the lactation consultant in the intensive care unit gets involved, and her homophobia in its ugliest form. She tells Katrin that she forbids her child to come into contact with foreign milk, that it is better to switch to formula and that there is no evidence to suggest that he has two mothers.
My whole world falls apart.
Our baby was conceived in the strictest legality, for which we expatriated for three years to Germany, in one of the regions where it is perfectly legal. But even so, there, in front of my baby, who is not yet breathing on his own, and whose vital prognosis is still engaged, with my breasts full of milk, I am nobody, just a sham of love, and I have nothing to do there. You have to play it smart. If I alienate the team, I run the risk of not being able to come back to see him. Neonatal intensive care is reserved for parents, "the real ones". Our midwives at the birthing centre work to make us respect them, they take a blood test to prove that I don't have AIDS and they fight for us internally. In the end, the team on the ward gave in and I was allowed to administer his first dose of milk directly into his tube with a syringe.
The next day, he regained his strength and when I held him in my arms for the first time, he started to breathe. We can hold him, and my wife starts to breastfeed. And it works. He is saved, he has come back from a very serious lung infection and an equally serious sepsis, which could have cost him his life. But he is here, alive, and finally eating.
Now it's my turn. And now for the team it is unthinkable. It was one thing for me to have milk to avoid formula. But to put him to the breast when I'm not his mother, according to their maternity standard, no, impossible, much too stressful for the child, supposedly. "Two mothers really too stressful". So they forbid me to put my baby to the breast and to do skin to skin. He's wired all over, we need medical assistance to hold him, I can't get around this ban. They give him my milk, in bottles. I'm in shock, since the first second of his life, I don't have the strength, to assert my place as a mother, so I say nothing, and keep pumping. I know that this risks compromising the project of co-nursing.
And then he's transferred from intensive care to the children's ward where he'll recover. And I take my chance. I breastfeed him, my son, as a mother. My little baby. And he's doing well, he's the most serene in the world, he heads for hours and falls asleep, he breathes in a calm way. I hide a bit from the nursing staff, but now I'm almost free to be his mother for real. And nobody says anything anymore. From the moment I had my son clinging to my breast, feeding, no one ever questioned that I was his mum again. I have a lot of milk, and he's a long head.
My wife has several complications in the first 6 weeks of our postpartum life. Co-nursing is a vital part of building our family life. She is very weak, I can provide most of the night, she can sleep when she wants and we build our lactation like that, together. We are free to let go of the protocols, we don't pump and we don't calculate anything. We co-breastfeed our child in the most natural way possible. It's up to the one with the fullest breast, the one who is there. Isaïe does not differentiate between one or the other of his mothers. He asks us for milk from one or the other, he has no preference, and feels reassured in all our arms full of milk. This is the most beautiful way for us to become mothers together.
It helps me a lot to find my place, to reassure myself in my role as a mother. It makes our son an extremely satisfied, reassured baby. Isaïe never, ever cries because he wants milk. If there is no more milk for one of us, there is some for the other, and this also allows Katrin to recover from the terrible ordeal of giving birth and the aftermath of childbirth. We continued like this for eight and a half months. Then I have a health problem that requires hospitalization. I lost my lactation, it was very hard and I miss it a lot but Isaïe still asks me from time to time in the sweetest way with the milk sign and his little hand, for a comfort feed, and I find this moment so complicit and calm with my big baby. I am very grateful that I was informed in time to be able to live this extraordinary experience with my child. One thing is for sure, if there is a next baby, there will be plenty of mama's milk again 😊
Mona, mum of Isaïe
Photo credit: @monaetkatrin