So, I belong to a group called Irish Parenting Bloggers, and in between minding each other, and constantly reassuring each other that we are NOT bad parents, we get together for causes we feel passionate about. This week, we are blogmarching to share our stories of breastfeeding. The line up is as follows, and I will add links as the posts are published:
August 1st: Wholesome Ireland and The Happy Womb
August 2nd: Office Mum and Awfully Chipper
August 3rd: Wonderful Wagon and It Begins With a Verse
August 4th: Glitter Mama Wishes and Ouch My Fanny Hurts
August 5th: Bumbles Of Rice, Debalicious and Mind the Baby
August 6th: My Internal World, Musings & Chatterings and Mama Courage
August 7th: The Nest, Mama.ie, The Clothesline, My Life As A Mum and Learner Mama
So, let’s talk about boobs, shall we? I am a breastfeeder, and a breastfeeding failure. I didn’t join any breastfeeding groups because I am scared of crowds and was afraid that they would all hate me because I wasn’t Boob Enough. I also committed the ultimate breastfeeding fail, by giving my kids one bottle of formula every night. Strike Me Down!
I breastfed Matthew for six months, and after an excruciatingly difficult start, we found our groove and I bloody loved feeding him. The only thing was, I was afraid to feed him in public. I stayed indoors for most of that six months. Any time I had to go out was carefully timed around his feeds, and I would literally FREAK OUT if I thought that I would have to find myself feeding him somewhere other than my house.
So, because of my self-imposed isolation, I found these months pretty lonely. I loved feeding Matthew. I loved the bonding feeling that burst through the room when he was latched on, I loved looking into his eyes, I loved the contented “mmmmm” as he glugged away. But, there was only so much Masterchef Australia to keep me company, and I was going back to work, and it was time to wean. So I did.
When I got pregnant again there was no question that I would breastfeed. I planned to feed my second child for a longer period, and was all gung ho about getting me baps out for all the lads to see – I didn’t care. I felt, and KNOW that feeding Matthew gave him strength and health, and I was determined to give the same to my second son.
Fast-forward ten months. I am standing in the car park of Crumlin hospital heaving sobs of total failure. We all know that crying, right? The ugly ugly, bottomless pit crying. The “I am killing my kid” crying. Michael had been pretty sick at birth, and after an extremely rocky month, he was home and thriving. Because he couldn’t feed at birth, I worked really hard to pump so that there would be enough breastmilk for him when he could. When he was a week old, the nurses started feeding him my breastmilk through a nasal gastric tube. And he got better. And it was a miracle.
When your child has been in hospital since birth a strange thing happens. You don’t claim ownership of them until they are released. In a way, you defer to the seniority and learned wisdom of the medical staff. Before Michael came home, we worked really hard and established breastfeeding. To say I was ecstatic was an understatement – it meant more than the world to me. To be able to feed your child is a privilege and something I wasn’t sure I was going to get to experience, so to be able to take my son home, and feed him in the same way that his brother had been fed was the perfect kind of normal.
And then, the public health nurse thing happened. I say happened, because it was a cataclysmic event. I was more vulnerable than I had ever been. My child was home, but I was still scared he was going to die any second, and suddenly a PHN arrived to my door. I didn’t know her – she was covering holidays for our regular nurse. Immediately she got down to business, stripping the baby and organising him to be weighed. He had lost two ounces. OH FUCK. It was suggested to me that I should top him up with formula. I didn’t want to. I wanted the sweet pleasure of feeding my child, which I explained to her. It was then intimated that I would be “reported to Crumlin” if I didn’t go along with her suggestion. Long story short, the drama this caused was major. I ended up having to exclusively pump every feed to make sure that Michael was getting enough. I had to report every ounce of milk I produced to the PHN. I was scared. It is so stupid, but I was scared they would take him away from me.
There I was. I had a newborn and a 16 month old. I was pumping every two hours for half an hour and then shoving the bottle into Michael while his poor big brother peacocked for my attention. I lasted six weeks. Those six weeks took more out of me than the whole six months of feeding his older brother. When I finished feeding him, and surrendered to the idea that formula feeding was actually better for us at this stage, because my supply had dwindled so much and I had used up all my frozen supplies, I had a check-up with Michael’s neonatal consultant. And was read the riot act about not feeding him. As though I hadn’t tried. As though I didn’t feel doubled over in grief because I couldn’t. As though I didn’t have another child to think of. And so, I found myself in that carpark, heaving out my failures as a parent. Beating myself with a breast-shaped stick because I was a shite Mum, and I couldn’t do the one thing that he needed most.
This experience has taught me so much about breastfeeding in Ireland and more importantly, about myself. Our attitudes are so extreme and so antiquated that it makes it impossible for anyone to deviate from the norm and feel ok about it. I learned that while I was feeding my first child even though I was in a self-imposed prison, it was a SMUG prison, because I felt quite superior about the fact that I was breastfeeding him. And I was quite the martyr. Oh I LOVED nothing more than screaming at my fella about how LONG AND HARD my day was, because I was stuck to the chair feeding all day. Choosing to stop breastfeeding Michael was as much about me as it was about him. I see that now. It was letting go of my preconceptions to live in the present, and to respond to what my child NEEDED, not what I wanted him to need.
This week has been so enlightening for me. How we feed our babies is such a sensitive issue that sometimes we are afraid to talk about our reasons behind the choices that we make. I hope that sometime soon we will learn to respect that mothers choose what they believe is right for their kids. And that instead of quietly judging, or feeling a tiny bit smug (“My baby will be brainier because he is on the boob.” “Well. Mine slept for twelve hours last night because he is on formula”) we can start to support each other in our choices, and become better Mums as a result.