This Christmas, I found myself locked in conversation with a dear friend. Musing about the joys and tribulations of motherhood. Looking back over her daughter’s first year, her one wish was that someone had looked her in the eye and told her just how hard it is to breastfeed.
She needed that honesty upfront. No promises of a sun lit nursery, or prolactin induced euphoria but the facts.
It is hard.
As another friend of mine said at my door step only this week “It is the hardest thing a woman will do” as she left my house in the rain to care for her wonderful five children.
I felt like hugging them both.
I hadn’t heard anyone say this before. I thought it was just me.
Boxing Day this year. I sat holding my five week old daughter. One family member remarked “Are you feeding her yourself?”
“Yes I am this time but I happily bottle fed my son.”
I vehemently felt the need to justify that I fed BOTH my children. Albeit different methods. I looked into my son’s eyes at every feed, I held him close to my chest almost all day, every day, I felt those stands of love grow at each formula feed. I fed BOTH. MYSELF.
So the formula journey. Out of circumstance it came but I loved it. He thrived. He’s now a bright
and rambunctious (almost) three year old.
But the journey didn’t start without judgement. Set the scene at a stuffy post natal class, my son was four weeks old. I felt victorious. I had showered and wore a semblance of make up. I was there to learn, giddy with the prospect of making new friends. Two minutes in a lady told me that it was ‘a shame’ that I was feeding him by the bottle and “What went wrong?” She questioned. I sank. I smiled but never went back.
I wanted to explain my reasons. To regale the tale of a failed induction, two rushes into theatre and a serious haemorrhage. Which left a body exhausted and traumatised and a child who was resuscitated, losing weight and medically failing to thrive. Incidentally I said nothing.
This time, after a calm birth, I happened to get the hang of breastfeeding my daughter. She latched well and put on weight. But I can’t help feeling overwhelmed with the contradictions that face the lactating mother.
In one precious moment, I am proud and triumphant- the feeling that you are offering a life source for your child. But, like a dark cloud, there are moments of loneliness, exhaustion and self doubt. The feeling of sheer individual responsibility. And those cluster feeds are enough the break the strongest of resolves.
So what have I learned from feeding my two children? Well, I’m only at the beginning with my daughter but the messages are clear. We all feed our children. Each mother surely makes her decision based on a set of needs that benefit her and her family.
I have (uncomfortably) over the last twelve weeks felt the warm congratulatory ‘nod’ of the breastfeeding army. I have been smugly smiled at in cafes, family proudly congratulating that I am feeding from my breast and a well meaning friend who remarked “you are doing it right this time”.
I don’t feel comfortable with the elitism that I have faced, nor do I feel worthy of it.
Instead, I see strength in my dear friend who expressed for six months for her beautiful premature son, unable to physically put him on the breast. For another who fed for a few weeks and after clouds of depression floating into her lonely bedroom- introduced formula and they both changed almost immediately. Another mother who still places her son to her breast into toddlerdom.
For ALL these mothers are doing their upmost for their families. Making decisions that ultimately make their broods happier. These are the heroes. They all are. Whether from a bottle or nipple.
So what am I going to do?
Well, those nearest to me promised that breastfeeding does get easier and I have to admit that they are right. It IS getting more pleasurable as each day passes and I feel blessed to be feeding my daughter twelve weeks on. So I am going to continue this journey for as long as I continue to enjoy it. But for those mothers who struggle, my one wish is that you never feel guilty or devalued, that you feel as much a part of this motherhood gang as our breastfeeding friends.
But more importantly, I make the promise to smile at every feeding mum. For we all know the truth- that her life is difficult beyond belief but enriching beyond words.