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If you have a story you’d like to sell to the national media, get in touch by filling out the no-obligation ‘Story Valuation’ form on this page (or calling the number at the top). Our service is free and you only need to tell us a little bit about the main points of your story. Nothing will ever be printed without your consent. This week, we helped Ronja share her story about a cause close to her heart and her ‘Boob Army’.
As I pushed the trolley around Tesco, looking for something to have for lunch, my three-year-old daughter, Lily Eve, pulled down my top, grabbed hold of my boob and proceeded to have her own lunch, right then and there.
“Thanks, Lily,” I said. “Thanks for that.”
I’d always wanted to breastfeed and it came very naturally to me. It was instinctive to let Lily latch on the minute she was born.
Some mums struggle with it, but Lily was a pro from the start. The problem is, when do you tell them to stop? How do you ween them off the boob? Babies don’t just breastfeed for nourishment, they come to rely on it, like a comfort blanket. They can’t do it forever and after a certain age it gets rather awkward.
Thankfully, Lily decided on her own. On her third birthday, with hands on hips, she declared, ‘I don’t want to breastfeed anymore, mummy. I’m a big girl now.’ I was sad, like any mother would be, losing that closeness with a child, but secretly I was relieved. No longer would my nipples feel like they’d been through a cheese grater. And my boobs would be mine again.
But then I fell pregnant for the second time and I had that same nurturing instinct, and I knew I’d be breastfeeding Rio as soon as he was born.
“Grab a bucket.” I whimpered to my boyfriend, Steven, 31. Three months later and the morning sickness was getting worse. It was now morning, noon, and night sickness, all rolled into one. It was getting so bad I was having trouble keeping fluids down. I didn’t even bother with solids anymore.
The hospital hooked me up to an IV at home to keep me hydrated, and I had a nurse come by every 12 weeks to check on me, but it didn’t make it any easier. Most women put on weight during their pregnancy. When I had Lily I put on over a stone.
But I’d started this pregnancy at nine stone and now I was six, and six pounds of that was Rio! It wasn’t until Rio stopped growing however, that doctors became concerned. “In fact, Ms Wiedenbeck, he’s not just stopped growing, he’s shrinking.”
Unable to keep solids down for more than a few minutes, Rio had become dehydrated and nutrient deficient. At eight months gone they made the decision to induce me. I was apprehensive, but glad to be getting the pregnancy over with.
I gave birth at 9am on the 27th May 2015 at Treliske hospital, Cornwall, and by 12pm the same day I was tucking in to a fry-up. Rio was the picture of health. They were concerned he’d be less than 3lbs and had incubators and doctors at the ready. But he was a hungry 5lbs 5oz and, just like Lily, when I put him to my breast he latched on like a pro and I was allowed home with him the next day.
A year after Lily was born, I had an operation to remove a cyst on my ovary. They’re pretty common but there were a few complications which meant I had to have an operation to remove one of my ovaries and one of my fallopian tubes.
Every now and then they’d flare up again and I’d struggle for a few weeks until the pain died down. But when Rio was about 10 months old, the pain became almost too much to bear. “I can’t stand it, anymore,” I said to Steven, doubled over in agony.
Frustrated that I’d been fobbed off by doctors for months, Steven suggested we call for an ambulance. “They can’t turn you away if you’re in pain,” he said. So he rang 999 and an ambulance was sent to take me to hospital.
I gave Rio to Steven and my mum, Doris, 55. I didn’t want him to see me in pain and they came along later. But once at the hospital, after they’d given me morphine for the pain, Steven handed Rio back to me for a feed.
“Oh, you can’t breastfeed the little one while you’re on morphine, dear,” one of the nurses said as I pulled down my top. Horrified, I looked at Steven. “How am I going to feed him then?”
“We’ll just have to give him solids,” Steven said. But after feeding him some runny porridge it was obvious he was thirsty, so we tried him on some frozen expressed milk that Steven brought from home.
We tried a normal bottle, a sippy cup, and even a syringe to feed Rio but he was having none of it. He wanted mummy’s boob and nothing else. It was then that I decided I needed to seek out a boob.
While I was being prodded, poked, and scanned by doctors to find out what the pain was, I wrote a post to a Facebook group I’ve been a member of for years. They’re called Breastfeeding Yummy Mummies and they’re a local support network for mum’s who think breast is best.
I wrote: “I don’t suppose there is anyone who would come and nurse my son for me a couple of times today please??? I’d be ever so grateful.”
On the ward, I put my phone on the bedside table, and held Rio, hoping someone would respond. Within a couple of minutes my phone started pinging like crazy, and with an hour I had 40 people offering their ‘services’. I was overwhelmed at the level of support that was pouring in.
“It’s like ordering a takeaway,” I whispered to Rio. I scrolled through the messages and tried to figure out which of the lovely ladies were nearby and would be able to get there quickest.
Leigh Anne-Fearn said: “Hey, I’d love to help. I’m only down the road.” She sent me a picture and she looked lovely. “That would be amazing!” I said. And half an hour later she turned up at the hospital.
We chatted for a few minutes to get to know one another. I was a bit nervous at first, but she was really calming and relaxed. “It’s probably best to sit with him for a while,” I said, carefully handing her Rio. But as soon as she had him in her arms, he started tugging at her shirt. “Oh, he can smell my milk,” Leigh Anne said.
She lowered her top and Rio turned his head to look at me, as if asking for approval. “Go for it, little man,” I said, my heart filling with joy. And he started feeding straight away.
It was such a relief to know he was finally getting his fluids, and it all felt so perfectly normal. It seemed instinctive for someone to feed him in a way that he was used to and he’s comfortable with. He fed for around 15 minutes, until he was full, and then he let out a big burp and came back to mummy for a cuddle and a nap. By the next day I’d received over 1,000 messages of support. One lady, Michelle Netherton, a mum-of-three, came to visit us.
Rio knew exactly what the deal was now and didn’t hesitate to start feeding as soon as he was presented with a boob. I knew people were giving me a few strange looks, but I didn’t care. Rio was getting the food, sustenance and nutrition he needed.
Wet nursing is so common in some cultures, but here in the UK it’s considered a bit odd. Jo Statham was next. I knew Jo from a Penzance breastfeeding group. Steven picked her up and brought her down to Truro. Once again Rio knew what he needed to do, and I was starting to feel totally fine about the whole thing.
After Jo, another ‘feeder’, Fiona Tupper, who I’d known from Sling Meets – us mums certainly stick together – said she could help out too. “I can take Rio off your hands for a few hours if you want,” she said. “I’ve got my little girl to feed too. I could feed them together.”
I thought about Steven who, while not Rio’s father, had been looking after him all week, and running errands, and taking care of me. I thought he could use a break. “That would be amazing, thank you so much,” I said, genuinely delighted someone could be so nice.
Meanwhile, doctors had given me a transvaginal scan, an ultrasound, and all kinds of tests. “It doesn’t appear to be a cyst, Ronja,” the nurse said. “There’s a good chance it’s just scar tissue left over from your operation.”
They said they could operate to remove it, but that it could end up just added to the scar tissue already there, causing more pain. “I think I’ll leave it to heal on its own,” I said. By that point, I just wanted to go home with Rio. Although I was well enough to feed him again, there was one more mum who really wanted to help out.
Rachel Richardson came all the way from Plymouth just to bring me and Rio a basket of food. “I read your message and I couldn’t not do anything,” she said. “It’s so lovely of you,” I said. “Now that you’re here, do you want to feed him?” “Oh, I’d love to,” she said. “Only if it’s not a problem.” It wasn’t and Rio had another good feed before dropping off in her arms.
By the time I was able to go home, I was able to feed again, but worried I wouldn’t have enough milk to support him. Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. If the demand drops, the supply dries up. So as soon as I got Rio home, I breastfed as much as I could, and within a couple of days the milk was flowing again and we were back in business.
It is such a loving and selfless act and incredibly heart-warming to see. There are so many negative stories out there about breastfeeding. It is so heart-warming to have witnessed the support I have had.
People might feel it is unusual but wet nurses used to be much more common, and I hope I have shown other women that it is an option.
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If you have been affected by this story, you can find out more about breastfeeding support here.