Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Breastfeeding the beast (or hitting the bottle) Let The Guilt Go

Breastfeeding, I always thought, would be easy peasy lemon squeezy.

After all, how difficult could it possibly be to give sucker to the life you have created, as nature intended? Like Lego pieces fit perfectly together, your child, and your boob, should be perfect companions. Or so you would have thought. Insert tab A into slot B. And hey presto.

The reality can be rather different. You might have no milk, too much milk, not quite enough milk, inverted nipples, small nipples, large nipples, a baby zonked out on the general anaesthetic you were were given for that pesky emergency C section, or, just a western world induced general nervousness about letting a grizzling mini-me suck on your bosoms. After all, they're to look sexy with, right? They were. Oh sister, read on.

You'll find that you get over the embarrassment of letting anyone see them quite quickly. This is largely because you'll be so stressed out figuring it out that your modesty, frankly, goes out of the window. If only you could get some advice on breastfeeding which was the same from 2 people together. In desperation, a friendly health visitor showed me how to get the latch with a cuddly toy as tears streamed down my face.

 I've now stopped crying about it, but the early days were no picnic.

Baby J didn't seem too bothered about feeding in general, and the road to breastfeeding heaven was a rocky one, reached via a Mothercare Innosense breast pump (I normally spend £89 on other things, like Boden boots, a dress, or nice underwear, but needs must), formula, and an eye wateringly painful latch from an angry eyed baby J.

The early days involved me painstakingly sucking colostrum off my breasts with a syringe, only to watch it go shooting across the room, and lots of sighing and passive-aggressive comments from others about how it was my baby so I must do whatever I thought best, regarding feeding. Eventually, when Baby J's birthweight dropped and I put her on formula top ups (bang goes my mother of the year award, eh?) things improved. Probably because she was getting some food.

What followed was a whirlwind of mainly unsuccessful breastfeeding, expressing and much stirring of bottles and rinsing them in hot or cold water in order to reach a temperature which acceptable to a frowning suckling infant. Many hours were spent on the sofa in a bathrobe, attached to the pump, leaning over at a perilous angle as the electric lead attaching the plug to the pump seemed to be made for people who have a lot of electric sockets in their house. I would lunge at items just out of reach on the end of it; trying to draw scalding hot cups of tea or a copy of Closer magazine towards me with one foot. While balancing this tiny scrap of humanity to me, dependent on me for all food, with a very wobbly head.

Then one day I had an Epiphany. I didn't have to do this. If I stopped being riddled with guilt about the fact I wasn't having much joy breast feeding, and stopped winding myself up by going onto breastfeeding support forums, I might just be able, one day, to consider leaving the house. After crying for 12 hours solid (I didn't know that was possible) following the visit of a health visitor who watched me struggling to feed my daughter with little success, as the cat threw up on the floor in her view, I decided it was time to hit the formula bottle, and also use expressed milk.

Once I'd decided I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life glued to my sofa, things improved.
Maybe because I was relaxed, with what little supply I had after my C section, the breastfeeding actually worked, and for 5 months, Baby J was breastfed in the morning, and then had expressed or formula milk throughout the day.

For those mums, who like me, beat themselves with a sharp stick over the head about not being able to feed "naturally" - don't do it.

And for all those mums who are lucky enough to be able to fully breastfeed, who look at mums who formula feed, and maybe are a bit disapproving on the online forums? Hey, guess what, don't do it.

There's a whole sisterhood of mums (and dads!) out there, all trying to do the hardest job in the world in their own way.

All you need to ask yourself is this:

  • Is my child fed?
  • Is my child warm?
  • Is my child clean?
  • Is my child loved?

If you can answer Yes to all four of the above, in my humble opinion, as someone who's only been doing this for 6 months, you're doing a great job.

So - ladies: Let The Guilt Go.

The loneliness of the long distance mother with no money, honey

24 hours after my daughter was born, I was wrapped up in a powerful bubble of profound love, near speechlessness, lashings of endorphins and maybe, just maybe, quite a lot of anaesthetic sloshing around from the emergency c section.

But, ignoring the scar on my belly (easy to do when it's covered with your stomach, and you're dosed up on cocodamol) I uttered the immortal words to any visitor who would care to come and hear them: "I'd have another tomorrow."

Ah, the visitors. Did anyone tell you about the visitors? How popular you'd be? How you'd have that little bundle to yourself for only a few hours before family, friends and maybe even people you wouldn't really class as friends shimmer up to your bedside, to See The Baby. They haven't come to see you, just so you know. They've come to See The Baby.

And for two whole weeks they came. Sometimes four, five a day. And I didn't think to say no, or please could you come next week, or maybe when I've got my feeding sorted, or perhaps next month (when unbeknown to me, no one would come round). No. I was so amazed to be off work, that it didn't occur to me that maybe looking after my baby was a full time job, and I was entitled to selfishly gaze at her and drink her in with as few interruptions as possible. So, with my husband back at work, I inched my way around the house, trying to ignore the stinging in my C section scar, wrapped in a bathrobe, wondering how long I'd have to express my milk before the doorbell rang yet again with 
someone who "just wanted to drop something off" or "just pop in to See The Baby."
The good news is, there's something magical about a baby. It makes people smile, talk to you, and pass the time of day. The bad news is, they all want a piece of it. Until a few months in. 
After about 12 weeks, I started to get out and about again, and quickly discovered that I'd been forgotten by life. With my career on hold, I wondered: What had happened to people? It dawned on me - I was lonely. I had become The Woman Who Pushes The Pram Through Town. I used to envy those women, who, in my then child free world had no ties to the workplace, and a whole day to themselves. Turns out there's another side to the looking glass.
At first, I popped into work every few weeks, but of course, you're going into a place where people are busy. And although they were delighted to see me, they've also got that small thing to be getting on with called a full time job, and although you and the baby are a wonderful distraction , you're just that. They haven't got 2 hours to sit and chat despite the fact you're craving adult company, and are desperate for office gossip. I offered to take on some paid work, desperate to engage my brain and earn some money. 
I discovered the little things hurt a lot. There was no invitation to the office Christmas party, for example. Or a valued colleague's leaving do. I didn't want to ask to be invited, which surprised me. I felt embarrassed to ask. I didn't feel like me. As one friend so succinctly put it: "The feeling of being forgotten is hard. It's like the friendships don't exist unless you're right under someone's nose."  Being on unpaid leave it was also difficult to let people know I can't afford a night out. So, then you run the risk of not being invited to things. People can only ask so much. So you get lonelier. And all your friends who know you inside out, who you don't have to make an effort with are at work. At times, the hands on the clock seemed to move so slowly. But I can't be the only person in this position - can I? 
It's hard to put into words. I felt like my whole being had shifted slightly. Previously envious of stay at home mums, at one time I found myself viewing what was left of my 9 months of maternity leave with dread, not anticipation, of watching my daughter develop. I tried explaining to my husband what every day with what seemed like no goal achieved, felt like. "It's the thousand little things you don't see" I said. "It can seem relentless. I love her, I can't describe how much I love her but it's relentless. If she doesn't settle I have to be with her, I can't leave her." Eight nappies and eight feeds a day become the centre of your universe. I can't count the thousands of steps I've walked between the living room and kitchen, or put the sterilizer on. I swing from feeling wildly organised to lurching from job to job. You can't leave the baby.

But what does get left is the unswept floor, the greasy cooker, the mound of clean washing needing to be put away, the kitchen which needs painting. I've had to learn that just because I'm at home, it doesn't mean I can be a super housewife, or indeed, any kind of a housewife. All I can do is do the best I can, and that means, some days, nothing at all apart from watching my little girl grow,  and trying to door chores (badly) when she naps.

It's difficult being alone somedays, even more so when the rain is lashing at the windows, but the only advice I am give you is to cherish the moments when you get that hesitant smile or quizzical look back, the peal of laughter or the hand which grabs the toy or reaches greedily for the bottle for the first time. All the money in the world can't buy you that, or the surge of love your feel as you inspect those perfect ears and say to yourself "I grew that."