Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Thanks for the mammeries

I am the devil. Spawn of Satan. The Beelzebub. Why? Because I didn't breast feed of course. Somehow I have failed my son. I'll be lucky if he is ever able to read the back of a cereal packet, tie his laces or get a single grade, because of the choices I made in relation to my breasts. I'll explain - the other day the husband read out to me yet another article, sprouting the importance of breast being best and how when sproglet is older he will only ever be in the remedial class stream as he hasn't had enough omega 3 - having only ever supped from a bottle from 2 weeks of age and not the Mummy cups that runneth over. These articles piss me off in a way that even the Daily Mail can't. I can literally tie myself up into knots of apoplectic rage and ache to burn all maternity bras in way of demonstration.

Let me go back - to the pre-natal classes that the hospital kindly offered. There were 4 - intro to birth, birth in all its bloody glory, feeding and what to expect when you leave hospital. As I don't do birth (another story and no doubt another reason I should be cast into the pit of hell or burned at the stake) I skipped class 2. As I think no one can ever prepare you for what happens post birth (and there was good tv on that night) I missed class 4. But I merrily went to classes 1 and 3. They were pretty sad these classes if I am honest. The midwife who took them obviously delighted in her one moment in the spotlight and was milking it (no pun intended) for all she was worth. She asked us all to stand up and then our partners to hug us. Apart from the fact husband HATES public displays of affection and could hardly get his arms round my enormous frame - I loathed this exercise. All the women who had come alone, for whatever reason, sat there looking like they hadn't been picked for the netball team. Their seated, blooming forms screaming out their apparent single parent status. It made my blood boil. Fine for those who had partners at work or squash or hiding in the garden shed, whatever, but for those who genuinely were bravely going through pregnancy and birth alone - did they need to be singled out so spectacularly? Anyway, I digress. Apart from mention of the jelly substance that is is the cervical mucus plug dropping out (husband nearly threw up) and green coloured water when your waters break being a bad sign - we got through it ok. Class 3:'feeding' was a whole different ball game. The woman who took it - a thin, ironically flat chested spiteful looking sourpuss) announced breast was best and that was all there was to it. She then proceeded to talk about how to breast feed until you were the cow that came home. I know, from friends' experiences that breast feeding is not always possible and the pressure to feed this way was weighing heavily on my mind. I had enough weight weighing on my wrestler-sized ankles and didn't need a heavy mind as well - so I tentatively asked if there was ever a time when you threw in the towel and reverted to the old bottle. I may as well have stood up and said "I eat live children" and then weed on the floor for the look that she gave me. She visibly recoiled and then said in the most patronising voice she could muster 'Well you make it work for you and don't give up.'

Great. Thanks a lot. Gee that was helpful. Then every time she mentioned bottle feeding (kind of the way someone talks about the neighbourhood peeping Tom - hushed voice, disgusted manner) she looked straight at me. When she handed out horrible plastic dolls to demonstrate how to breast feed - guess who got the position wrong in a room full of 20 women? Oh yes - me. And she let me know by marching across the room and showing everyone how NOT to feed the way I had cupped the scraggily one-eyed doll. When she said there was to be a break, and offered sheets on bottle feeding, that those who wanted could collect from the front table, I ducked down. Who would be brave enough to do the walk of shame? Not me. Desperate as I was for the information I felt ashamed to ask about anything other than how to express with a double bra breast pump, so I shirked at the back of the class hiding behind the husband. The class went on, winding up with her gleefully explaining next week would be a full birth on video and a C section for us all to watch. Hurrah! Naturally when she mentioned a section her face fell, as she intimated that of course we would all want to push and shove until our fannies have split up to our eyeballs (and that intercourse from then on would feel like a pork sausage being thrown up Oxford St) rather than ever stoop so low as to have a baby cut out of us. Why, then we'd be failures...

I was incensed. I left distraught and stomped up the hill from the hospital - straight to the lovely new gastropub. I actually cried I was so bothered by this woman's attitude and my own fear that I would not be a 'good enough' mother if I didn't breast feed until a nipple fell off. Husband was mortified and said he couldn't be seen with a weeping pregnant woman as it made him look awful. I told him to bugger off and get me a Pimms and lemonade quickly. He refused to accompany me into a pub - so I went in anyway. Then he decided to be a bit more knight in trainers and bought me said drink. Bliss. Pregnant women and Pimms - go together like burgers and ketchup.

When sproglet came out - blisssssssful section on the NHS (yaye me!)I shoved him at my dilapidated boob and he suckled. Briefly. The next day as 2 breast feeding experts visited my hospital bed before 9AM(!!!!) he clamped on to one nipple and refused to let go. I was in agony. That afternoon while 2 dear friends visited one of the breast army returned, replete with crochet breast, with its very own erect nipple and demonstrated how to position one's nipple for maximum breast use. Exhausted, thirsty, bleeding and without dignity I shoved the dark unrecognisable nipple into sprog's mouth while my friends tried to talk amongst themselves. Every time I took sprog off breast he howled. Have you clamped anything to your nipple for more than two hours - it fecking hurts!! Anyway, a huge domineering midwife called Ida (I loved her) walked in and said 'Mr Grumpy! He is hungry - do you have formulae?' It was as if I had been pardoned by the king of state - I grabbed the Hip Organic, filled a pipette she gave me and lo and behold, child gobbled milk and slept like an angel. The colostrum hadn't filled his hungry wee belly. Husband was able to bond and feed him and I continued to try and persuade sprog that my breast was in fact, best. Sprog rejected one nipple - the right one - no matter what I did. The only man ever to reject my breasts and he did so with a vengeance. The other nipple felt like it had been set on fire and she chewed and nuzzled and sucked for all her was worth. For 9 more days I tried. I put a bottle teat over a nipple (well a midwife did and believe me it was just as graceful as it sounds); I bought tablets to increase my breast milk; I bought a hand pump and pumped until I was a weary teary mess on the floor - nothing came out, husband sent me to bed worried for my sanity; I got nipple guards that covered my bleeding wounded nipples whilst sprog recoiled from the plastic; finally I got an electric pump and watched as a midwife helped me express - my nipple going in and out, in and out as milk - bright yellow - squirted out of many holes like a watering can. Midwife was delighted. "Ok, repeat this six times a day, six minutes on one breast, then the other, then five mins, then four, then three, then two. Easy?" What? I didn't have time to wee six times a day let alone bovine myself on each breast. I shook in horror. She rang me later to excitedly tell me that she has procured for me a breast pump bra - so I could express on both breasts at once - hurrah! I lay on the floor and wept. Sprog only fed from a bottle and refused my breasts completely. 9 days old and he knew what he wanted. My own Mother watched as I chided myself for being a crap Mother and tearily admit ed defeat. I rang my friend and saviour - Hannah. She said 'Are you doing this for you, sprog or because you think you have to?' I remembered scary lady at the classes. 'Because I have to' I replied. 'Then stop NOW!' She gave me the confidence to say - no, feck this, it isn't for me. I hate it. Sprog hates it. My nipples are cut and bleeding. I am exhausted. The pump repulses me. I rang the midwife back and told her politely she could keep her double bra hell. I look back and wonder why I put myself through such a nightmare when I had enough on my plate with early Motherhood? Why I was conditioned to believe that if I didn't breast feed I was indeed Satan? Why I struggled on until I felt I had a midwife's permission to give up? They felt like teachers that I was forever trying to please. Give me the gold star - I am pumping, taking tablets, wearing nipple shields, bleeding and still am determined!

Never again. If I ever decide to have another sprog - what I do or do not do will NOT be up for discussion. I will decide what suits me and my child. As it happened I took a part time job a few months later (I am freelance in TV - if I don't work, I don't eat) and often had to feed sprog on the plane, in a cab, on the tube, in Sainsburies etc. It was a relief not to have to worry about flashing a boob in public, to feel at ease feeding sprog anywhere at any time. He took bottles at room temperature - and other people could feed him too! I got respite, and sleep! And yes, I drank a cocktail again! That should just about send me to hell by Friday eh?

So to that woman at the antenatal class and all women who make other women feel bad for their choices - shame on you. It is our bodies, our babies and our choice. I made mine, I stand by it. Sproglet is healthy (the 91st centile) bright and brilliant. I'll even wager he'll do fine at school. To all those who breast fed - I applaud you. You and your pumps and creams and cold cabbage leaves in the fridge. And to the Mothers that tried and then - I am not going to say failed - decided it was not for them, good for you too. Have a Pimms on me!


Morgan said...

There is a huge emphasis on breastfeeding here in Canada, too. I managed to breast-feed, but it was not an easy task. It literally took my daughter and I over a month to get it figured out and working. Several times I wanted to throw the kid, but I never threw in the towel. I guess I had new-mommy determination. I wanted to BF for me, and for my kid, and not because I felt I had to. Now several of my girlfriends are pregnant, and there are nurses telling them that formula is their last resort. I think it's rediculous. Moms need to do what's best for them and baby, and if it means to feed formula to save their nipples and get enough food into the child, then that's what they should do - And they shouldn't be made to feel like a second rate citizen because breast feeding didn't come naturally.

Crummymummywhodrinks said...

Morgan - I admire your determination and the fact you knew what you wanted to do - and did it. I agree that mothers shouldn't be made to feel second class citizens - but they sadly are - mainly by other women. thanks for posting on my blog.

Best wishes


Anonymous said...

Dearest Crummymummy i am now terrified of my breasts filling with milk and becoming mammary glands rather than tits!

you are a really talented writer

Anonymous said...

Apologies in advance for what is going to be a long, rambling post...

Firstly, I love your work, crummy mummy - great writing and great honesty. But - give us breastfeeders a break! As you say, there is nothing to be gained from this pathetic competitiveness, and it is appalling that other women have made you feel so guilty about the way you chose to feed your son in the first months of his life. Less references to heavily veined mammaries etc - I understand you're letting off steam, but the backlash needn't cause more divisions - we're all just doing what feels right, and the fact we're even worrying and blethering about it means our children are in the point tiny percentage of supreme global winners in life so why are we 'sweating the small stuff'.

I don't know what the answer is for health professionals - they have to promote breastfeeding but seem unable to do this without stigmatising bottle feeding or even - gasp - mixed feeding. I mean, mixed feeding was never mentioned as an option to me - only by friends who were onto their second child by then and able to take the pragmatic view. I reckon decent informationon mixed feeding would result in far more mothers partially breastfeeding for far longer than the current 'breast or you've failed' philosophy. I'm not sure I'd ever have carried on feeding my first baby but for the whispered advice of a midwife who happened to have four (breastfed) children - she slipped me a small bottle of boiled water and a syringe and told me to give the baby a few drops to calm her down and take the edge of her thirst before putting her to the breat - worked a treat, but the lovely midwife was all 'it's more than my job's worth to be telling you this..' in case she was accused of causing nipple confusion or something.

My personal view is that 'whatever works' is what is best for mother and baby, and yes, provide support to make sure any early problems with breastfeeding are overcome, but there's no need to be judgemental about it. Of course breastmilk is better than formula - it's the bleedin prototype, natural ideal, it's what formula is emulating, but the advantage is complicated by so many factors and essentially marginal, and how you feed your child is such a weeny part of how you mother your child - yet the two seem so often to be lumped together.

I think you only realise that the feeding thing is really not that important once your child passes the milk only stage - it's such a major, obsessive focus of the first few, sleep deprived, hormone addled months. And it's a shame as it does create divisions at the time when you most need solidarity.

Talking about it is good. I did warn you at the start of this post it would be a long one...