I have been wanting to post more here about my experiences of motherhood but it’s all too easy to share the cuteness that is my daughter. However, I think the business of becoming Mama Kate is probably something on which I would like to reflect years from now when all the fear and soreness and confusion is forgotten and all I have are the gorgeous pictures and cutesy videos to remind me of these first few weeks.
So to kick things off, I am going to wade straight in with a Big Issue, namely Feeding. Before even getting pregnant, I had already formed an opinion on how I would like to feed my hypothetical children and that is by breastfeeding. My short stint at the Leamington Children’s Centre made me aware of an apparent unwillingness among the younger mothers to breastfeed – reasons seem to centre on ‘it’s icky’ – so I knew that health professionals were motivated to put breastfeeding in the most positive light. Unfortunately, I think that this has led to a rather unsupportive and at times, unrealistic, approach by most of the midwives, nurses, health visitors and breastfeeding counsellors that I have had contact with since having Evelina.
Because despite what you might assume seeing as us humans have been around for a hella long time, breastfeeding does NOT come naturally to everyone. In fact, in my ante-natal group, there are several of us who have struggled in one way or another. Just minutes after Evelina was born, she breastfed from me and it was just amazing how such a new little person could work out what to do. She then slept for 12 hours pretty much and eventually fed again in the hospital with just a little bit of trouble. On coming home, it only got harder Some feeds went like a dream: she would latch on and feed well (see our tiny little Cath Kidston-attired baby above). But a lot of the time, even though she looked like she had latched on properly, I was getting sore and the words of my NCT breastfeeding counsellor rang in my ears near constantly: it shouldn’t hurt if the baby is latched correctly. After a few weeks of trying to get it right, of trying to get help, of soreness that made me cry, of feeling like a total failure, I had a little epiphany… I might know all the theory of breastfeeding but my 3 week old baby doesn’t. She doesn’t know how to open her mouth wide enough or how to position her tongue. Things which I was told time and again would be instinctive just weren’t for her. I felt like I was in the middle of some great conspiracy – no health professional dare tell me that, actually, it is really hard sometimes to breastfeed, and that it hurts until your baby is big enough to latch properly just in case I decided that I couldn’t be bothered to breastfeed anymore.
Instead of making me want to stick at it, though, this unrealistic attitude almost made me quit because I thought that there was something wrong with me. They made it seem so easy that when I struggled, I thought I was the idiot who was making a hash out of The Most Natural Thing in the World. During the most difficult times, we started giving Evelina the occasional bottle of formula and I felt the need to lie about it or at least talk it down when I had check-ups. It was ridiculous. Rich and I had made a decision about our child, and we both still firmly think it is the best decision for her – and yet I felt guilty and ashamed. Not any more. Now Evelina – a hungry little tinker to be sure – is always satisfied with her nightly bottle (my evening milk regularly leads to 2+ hour-long feeds that leave Evelina still hungry and me feeling tired and emotional). It means I don’t have to kill myself to express enough milk in order to be able to leave her for the evening – Rich and I have had two nights out since she was born which is pretty good going I think. I realised that no-one was going to give me a medal for solely breastfeeding my child and having a happy mother and a daily bottle of formula was probably better for her than 100% breast milk and a miserable mother.
However, whilst I seriously resent the sanctimonious attitude we are exposed to ( I don’t really want to hear about your brilliant daughter who has successfully breastfed both children dear Midwife, when I have just told you I have been struggling for weeks – way to make me feel inadequate), the sad thing is that at the hardest moments, it was probably the fear of being seen as a total failure that kept me going. I was too stubborn to give up but I didn’t stick at it because I wanted Evelina to have the best start (which would have been the right, worthy reason) but because I couldn’t face my midwife or my mum or any number of other women who made it seem like breastfeeding was easy and anyone should be able to do it.
Now Evelina is 7 weeks old and I am really glad that I am still breastfeeding her, however I got here. Yesterday, I fed her in Caffe Nero on the Leamington Shopping Park. Twice! And I am sure I will feel more and more confident to feed her in public in the future. Now, all but one or two feeds a day are all me and that time together is special for us. I sometimes get a cheeky little smile from her when she is feeding – she barely pauses to catch my eye and turn up the corner of her mouth but when she does, I feel it has all been worthwhile. And I know that she is getting a lot of mama goodness and I can’t deny that makes me feel good too.