aint nobody got time for that

Friday, 8 November 2013

There are many things that I try not to allow time for. Bitterness. Bitchiness. Self-doubt. Anger. Obviously I'm not superwoman and I frequently forget/purposefully allow myself to dwell on things that I shouldn't.

However, now I've got a baby, there are even more things I just don't have time for (hoovering, for example. Or mopping. In fact, just don't ever look at our floor) and one of those things is excessive Mummy guilt and 'competitive parenting'.

I couldn't continue breastfeeding Baby B. Basically because it was too painful and it became a huge emotional deal for me. Throughout pregnancy, I was determined to breastfeed - determined. Ignoring the fact that family members had tried and failed, I did all the research I could. I knew about the equipment, I knew about letdown, I knew about the latch - oh, the latch, the solution to every painful breastfeeding issue, apparently. The only reason (so I thought) people around me found it so painful is that they didn't have the right support to get the latching on right. Breastfeeding according to official sources 'shouldn't be painful if the baby is latched on correctly.'

I found out from a friend with a baby older than B that actually, the first few feeds can be hellish, and the first few sucks are always a bit toe-curling. I felt not daunted, but even more prepared for how it was going to be. Chris and I had many discussions about the benefits of breastmilk and how natural and beautiful it was. I would ask for help from the midwives. It would be fine.

I didn't feel the first feed, but I was merrily sucking on gas and air at the time, so I didn't really feel much of anything except stunned and overwhelmed. But by the end of my stay in the hospital I'd called five different midwives to come and check us while we fed.

'Can you just check she's latching on properly?' I asked in desperation, Baby B crying and wriggling, every movement on me becoming more and more painful.

They'd check. By the end, I had her latched on properly every single time. 'See?' they'd say. 'Look how wide open her mouth is and how her cheeks are rounded. You're doing really well.'

'But it really really hurts.'

'It's only the first few sucks. It'll calm down in a minute.'

One midwife stayed for a bit longer to look at my charts, check medication, etc. After a few minutes she said chirpily 'Is that better now?'

I think she may have been startled to see me crying and writhing in pain. Toe-curling? Body-curling is more appropriate. When I told her that no, it wasn't better, in fact it was now hurting more, she looked a bit puzzled, shrugged and said 'Well ... she's latched on right.'

I went home and struggled for days, sobbing every time I fed her, dreading when she woke up. I couldn't enjoy her, smell her, snuggle her, kiss her, while she fed. I held her head in a vice grip and stuffed my fist in my mouth to stop myself from screaming at every single feed. I dropped tears on her little head. It wasn't getting better. It was getting worse and worse.

It actually got to the point where B was hungry and I couldn't do it any more. Chris took control and made her the first bottle. We had visitors, so I couldn't cry, but I wanted to. As soon as they left I burst into tears. What had I done? Rather than feeling happy that my baby girl was enjoying an uninterrupted feed (probably the most peaceful feed of her life so far) I became numb with failure. I'd let her down. I was letting her down with every formula feed she had.

All I can say is, if I'd not had the support of a wonderful husband and a very reassuring midwife, I could see how the guilt could have pushed me into postnatal depression. I truly wasn't enjoying my precious baby daughter. As well as recovering from labour and being a little overwhelmed by the influx of visitors, I had to deal with the fact that my baby was now outside of me and no longer being nourished by me. I had to deal with the constant guilt that by not exclusively breastfeeding, I was leaving her vulnerable to all sorts of illnesses and allergies. The worst part was feeling I was missing out on bonding with her. Because wasn't it proven that breastfed babies bonded better with their mothers?

I had to talk myself out of it. I literally did not have time to feel it any more. I got on with expressing milk to the point of not being able to make any more, and she got more and more formula, and gradually, as I was encouraged by my health visitor and I watched B get plumper and plumper, I started to relax. I finally feel now that I'm doing the right thing.

But why was it so hard for me? I don't know. Partly me putting pressure on myself. Partly because of the sheer amount of information on breastfeeding and the lack of information about bottle feeding - I had nothing, in all of my copious amounts of pregnancy paperwork, about bottle feeding, beyond the basic facts of sterilising and making up feeds. How did I know which formula to try? Which kind? How did I deal with the emotions of failing to breastfeed? Where could I get support? The NHS were keeping quiet about that. Which didn't help my feeling that I was failing as a mother.

The other thing I guess that compounded this was that everywhere I went people wanted to know about feeding. I think nearly every person that met Baby B asked that question during the peak of my guilt and worry about it. 'How is she feeding?' 'How's feeding doing?' and the worst 'Are you feeding her yourself?' (I always felt like saying 'Er, no - I let her use the kettle and pour out her own formula'). I really hate that phrase. I am feeding my baby - just in a different way. I know that it's probably a way of getting around the embarrassing use of the word 'breast' but I actually found it pretty insulting during a time when I felt guilty that my body was unable to nourish my child.

I've calmed down now. I've realised that most comments are innocuous. I've gotten over the feeling when I take out a bottle in public that people are staring at me and condemning. I bite my tongue when people tell me that formula fed babies are more colicky and constipated and don't sleep as well and don't you find washing up the bottles to be a pain? Because I realise people really don't mean it that way. Most people are genuinely interested in how we are doing.

I also know that the whole no breastfeeding = no bonding thing is rubbish. I am so in love with my daughter that sometimes I want to bite her a little bit (I won't). She calms down with me in a way she doesn't with other people. Next time I will know that I can say no to other people feeding her if I want to and that's okay. And I also know that, having worked with babies, I honestly can't tell the difference between bottle and breastfed in terms of weight OR general health. The bottle fed babies are no more sickly than the breastfed ones. Similarly, breastfed babies didn't sleep any worse than formula fed ones and weren't any more difficult to settle in. And I know that by the time I get to her first birthday the early emotions will be a distant memory and I will have a whole new heap of things to worry about.

That's the thing. The worry. The guilt. The competitiveness. Whilst doing emergency 3am 'why can't I get breastfeeding right' Google searches, I accidentally uncovered the world of competitive mummyhood. The labels for things are mind boggling. Natural parenting? Attachment parenting? Baby-led weaning? Co-sleeping? My brain hurt looking it all up. I came across mothers that truly believe that if you don't breasfeed/co-sleep/do 'babywearing'/baby-led weaning, then you have failed as a mother. Some people actually consider formula to be poison and according to them, if you can't breastfeed, you just didn't try hard enough.

I'm not going to be a Mummy Martyr. I would die for my daughter in a heartbeat, in a literal throw myself in front of a bullet sort of way. Of course I would. But why should I persevere with something that makes me miserable every single day instead of enjoying my beautiful baby?

Because now, we're peaceful. We're happy. Today we spent the morning playing, talking and reading stories. She is now spread across me asleep, and I know I could put her down, but I don't really want to. I can enjoy staring at her, every eyelash, every hair on her head, knowing I'm doing my best for her.

And that's what all mothers should do. No mothers should have to put up with comments like:

  • You're not breastfeeding? Oh, what a shame, is it too late to try again? (I've had this one said to me a good few times! And yes, it is definitely too late to try again.)
  • You're still breastfeeding? Doesn't he need formula by now? Doesn't your husband/partner feel left out?
  • You don't co-sleep? What about the bonding?
  • You co-sleep? What about SIDS?!
  • You push your baby in a buggy instead of holding them in a sling? Don't you care about their attachment to you?
  • You wear your baby in a sling? Don't you get tired of it?
  • You let your child watch television? Don't you care about their brain development?
  • You don't let your child watch TV? Are you mad?
Etc, etc, etc. It's all a great huge steaming pile of nonsense. I'm sorry, but it is. If you're reading this and you're about to become a parent for the first time, or you're a new parent still struggling with everything - forget everything anyone says about how you should do things. Do what you've got to do for the good of your whole family. Look at the Proverbs 31 woman. She makes decisions for the wellbeing of all of her family. Her children call her blessed. She speaks with wisdom. That can be me - that IS me - the details don't matter.

It all comes down to women tearing each other down in order to overcome their own insecurities. And honestly? It's not good enough. (Especially for Christian women. Competitive parenting in Christian circles is not. good. enough.) Surely we live in an age now where women can just get over this competitive stuff? How much time and headspace would we save if we didn't compare our children? Our parenting methods? Women should NOT be defined by our cutting remarks and judgy attitudes. We should be defined by our caring natures, the way we nurture, the way we connect, the way we provide. 

If I spent less time worrying about what so-and-so chooses to do with their child, what could I be thinking about or praying for instead? Could I be praying for that child to be safe and well? Could I be mentoring them? If I let my guard down and stopped letting my insecurity run rampant, how many people could I connect to, how many mothers could I meet that might just need a new friend?

Whether you are natural parenting, attachment parenting, sit-your-child-in-front-of-the-telly-so-you-can-have-a-cup-of-tea-and-go-for-a-wee-in-peace parenting, or flying by the seat of your pants parenting (I'm the last one!) - you're doing a good job. Mothers - you are doing a good job.

Wow. Thank you for letting me release all that. I hope you got through the waffle. I'm going to go eat toast. :)

2 comments:

  1. Amen!!! I love you and your courageous openness. You are a wonderful woman, an incredible mother and an amazing friend and I am proud of you. Thank you for sharing this journey with us and imparting this wisdom to us future mothers :) xxx

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  2. Ah thank you lovely. I really am learning as I go along and its funny how being a Mum makes me face up to issues that have maybe already been there. I always felt I had to have everything figured out before baby arrived but I quickly realised how wrong I was, lol. Love you xx

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