'I didn't expect breastfeeding to hurt so much' - Jessica Smith, Paralympian's story.
Imagine, a baby in one arm, a pram to get in the car and dropping your car keys – but you can’t simply bend down and grab those keys because you only have one arm.
This is just one of the challenges Jessica Smith faces every day. Jessica was born without a left arm. She says, “when I finally got into my car I was exhausted and just sat in the car and broke down in tears.”
As a teenager Jessica represented Australia for swimming in the 2004 Paralympic Games, and as a young adult she broke free from depression and an eating disorder and now she is an internationally recognised advocate for positive body image, an author & storyteller as well as a loving wife and mum to a toddler, with another baby due soon.
Jessica shares how motherhood has been a huge learning curve, not only because of her physical challenges, but in reaching out and asking for help. She says, “my whole life I have adapted and worked out ways to do things but I thought, I honestly don’t know how I am going to do this –how will I bath a baby? My husband played a big role and at home it wasn’t so difficult but going out was a challenge. If a cover or wrap blew up while I was breastfeeding, I didn't have the luxury of grabbing it with one hand and I didn't have confidence with things like putting the pram together. My self-esteem took a knock as I adjusted. There is so much social pressure on mums to rush back, to get the body, the life and work back, rather than an acceptance that life is different, everything has changed. I had achieved a lot in my life and I felt as though, I have to be able to prove to myself that I can do this.”
Jessica has certainly found her groove now, she is still breastfeeding Ayla, her almost two year old and although she would be happy for Ayla to wean before the new baby arrives, Jessica is no stranger to the concept of tandem nursing . She says, “my own mum had 4 children in 5 years and tandem nursed a toddler and baby. I don’t want to force Ayla to wean and I’m mindful around how to make sure both children’s needs are being met.“
Breastfeeding wasn’t easy for Jessica in the beginning. She says, “I think I was a bit ignorant and arrogant. I thought it would be natural and easy. I attended breastfeeding classes and the nurses there implied it would be natural and easy. I wish there had been more emphasis that it could be painful at first and where to find help. I experienced deep pain for about the first six weeks. I didn't seem to find a health professional who would take me seriously. My obstetrician told me my baby was getting plenty of milk so not to worry, nurses didn't listen to me. I thought I was complaining for no reason. I felt so lost and upset. I was embarrassed to talk to anyone - it was so hard to reach out. I hadn’t been around children and other mums so I didn’t know who to talk to. I felt there was always another level of sympathy because I had one arm but that wasn’t as big an issue as the breastfeeding pain.
Thankfully, at about six weeks it all fell into place. I had learned and my baby had learned and we found our groove. Breastfeeding became so easy and beautiful but I wish there had been more conversation and supportive language around getting used to breastfeeding instead of feeling I must be doing something wrong. As time has gone on, breastfeeding has been a blessing, especially with travelling. At other times it has been frustrating. I tried expressing but that was difficult, then Ayla wouldn't take a bottle anyway. If I have been stuck somewhere and not able to get to her quickly there have been times when I thought it would be easier if she would take expressed breast milk.
At around seven months I was so sleep deprived I brought Ayla into our bed - and had the best night’s sleep! This has been the best decision for us as a family and now we have been gently introducing her to the cot , I can’t do any crying. I find the pressure to sleep train absurd. I have had people tell me she’s manipulating; she’s in control. But I am very mindful how things look from Ayla’s perspective. She needs me and that is my role as a mum.”
One of Australia’s most sought after speakers, Jessica Smith is the founder of 'Join The Revolution', an award winning international social media campaign, encouraging people to use social media as a positive platform of communication to practice positive self-awareness & to celebrate difference. Check out Jessica’s blog at her website HERE.
Jessica Smith is a finalist for Cosmopolitan Woman of the Year (Game Changer Category)