I was showed FC my piece in the Mothering Through the Darkness anthology , and he very wisely pointed out that I have mentioned him (by name) quite a bit in my published work… but Fearlette? Not so much. “She’s gonna be upset, Mom,” he said. “You better write a book about her.”
This got me thinking. I should write something for Fearlette. Not to share with the world, necessarily, but to share with her, when she gets older. How amazing would it be to have letters or essays from your parents about you as a small child; about them as young parents?
That’s why I love Lisa Young’s beautiful letter, which she has so graciously offered to share as this week’s FFF Friday. I hope it inspires some of you to write letters to your own children. They probably won’t ask or care about how they were fed as infants, until they have children of their own – but that might be the perfect time to show them these letters, so that they won’t feel lost with all the muddled, weighty decisions new parents must go through. That’s nice to imagine, isn’t it?
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
Letter to D
By Lisa Young
To my darling D, an explanation of how I fed you as a baby…….
I write this in case you one day want an explanation of your feeding regime as an infant. I also write it for myself and any other women present and future for whom early feeding hasn’t gone smoothly for. Given I doubt you will give a toss how you were fed when old enough to understand, I feel the purpose of this is far more about the latter two things! But anyway….
Before you came along I couldn’t wait to have you with us and was so excited to meet you. I was however petrified of the idea of childbirth. Therefore all my energy went into trying to keep myself relaxed and calm so I could bring you into the world safely. Breastfeeding, so I thought would be a breeze in comparison, it was birth that I needed to focus on. I did no research about how to breastfeed or what could go wrong. I went along to a couple of classes which highlighted how easy it would be where there was no mention of any issues that could occur, or more importantly what could be done about them. I thought it would just happen and gave it no further thought.
Bringing you into the world could not have been more straight forward, after all my worry, you came so easily, on time and without any problems or delays. I was elated, relieved and more than anything, so happy to have you with us safely. I was relaxed on the presumption I would be able to breastfeed you soon, only this changed a little when the midwife spotted you were tongue tied and said it may impair your ability to feed. This stuck in the back of my mind but I proceeded to enjoy our first hours of skin to skin and presumed it would work itself out.
When it came to our first feed it went seemingly well, you latched on and managed to take some milk, I thought we had it sorted. Sadly that was one of the few successful latches we could form and things took a bit of a turn for the worse. Your tongue inhibited you and my breasts got more and more bruised from incorrect latching because I didn’t really know what I was doing or how to feed a baby with a tongue tie. The number of staff who could latch you to me decreased as you became more hungry and frustrated, and aside from a very inundated and infrequently available breastfeeding consultant I didn’t know who else could make this happen for us.
Late in the evening of your first night, you had got hungrier and the breastfeeding consultant was long gone for the day. You cried and I sobbed – I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t latch you to me but I had also been told in one of my classes that formula was indigestible. I didn’t want to cause you indigestion but I couldn’t bare to hear you cry. A staff member who had tried to help us looked quite relieved when in desperation I said I would try formula.
You drank it with such relief and she turned to me softly and told me I was sensible and doing the right thing for you. It helped to hear this but the guilt I felt blocked my ability to believe her fully.
The days that followed saw me express milk relentlessly and use top ups of formula. Many staff were very supportive of this regime, one or two however, less so. It pains me to write out all the negative things we were told about formula but there were a number of them and each time I fed it to you, I cringed and felt like a bad mother. Your tongue was soon snipped but by this point you were so used to bottle feeding that asking you to change was too much. Once again the hospital staff member who performed your snip could not latch you to me. Along with slagging off formula, she gave us advice on how to breastfeed, which on reflection was so unhelpful. We left the hospital stuck and alone. Despite your procedure, I was no closer to breastfeeding you and despite her kindness and efforts, not even our local breastfeeding counselor’s guidance seemed to help us form a latch.
I finally found a nipple shield and thought we’d hit the jackpot. The first day I exclusively fed you with it I felt on cloud nine and got to feel I was making a good choice for you. I continued to feed you exclusively by breast but my feelings of excitement were short lived, as within days the agony the nipple shield caused became unbearable and even more distressing was your dissatisfaction with feeding this way. Your frequent distress unless on my breast implied you weren’t getting enough milk and were feeling continually hungry. I winced in pain each time I fed you and was soon forced to stop when I came down with mastitis and was bed bound. It took all the energy I had to keep expressing milk, the rest of the time, I just slept.
When I recovered I just couldn’t face going back to using the nipple shield that had caused us both so much difficulty, so I expressed around the clock and continued to try latching you. Never did we get there with that elusive latch and the expressing got more and more of a chore. I wanted to do it for you because I didn’t want to give up on my supply and my vision of eventually breastfeeding you, I also wanted you to have breast milk after being told it was better for you. The only thing is, every time I expressed milk it took me away from you; from cuddling you, enjoying you and just watching what a miracle you are. The resentment and tiredness from doing it only increased and when your daddy went back to work, it was clear I wasn’t going to have enough time to continue. My body and heart together decided it was time to let go and put the pump away. My supply decreased and eventually dried and the pump went back in its box.
For a while I mourned the breastfeeding I never got to do but at the same time I got a whole new lease of life. This was the beginning point of a new relationship for us, I hung out with you, watched you, hugged you even more and didn’t need to be anywhere other than right there with you, enjoying you. I really started to delight in this pressure free mummy hood! I think you enjoyed it too, you just seemed to get happier and happier over the weeks and months that followed.
As I’ve recovered from the anxiety and exhaustion I felt in your earlier months, I don’t regret stopping my attempts to give you breast milk, if anything perhaps I should have done it a little sooner. The reason I put all that pressure on myself was because I had listened so hard to the breast is best agenda. For a while I felt failure like I had not felt in years. But with time it became clear that the use of formula to feed you was perfect, because you were and are perfect. Perfectly gaining weight, perfectly developing, perfectly happy, a perfect, content baby. Whereas there are said to be natural benefits to breast milk (for example anti bodies) that formula may not be able to replicate, I now feel assured it is a great alternative choice. It has been very nourishing for you and you’ve demonstrated that it certainly is digestible! I also know too many intelligent, healthy adults who were bottle fed and who prove there isn’t a drastic difference between boob and bottle. I know you are going to be fine!.. More than fine.
What I do regret is being so heavily influenced by the negativity about formula and the hype around breastfeeding. By believing such, I let our feeding regime define my perceived ability as a mother. I have since been learning a very valuable lesson from this; that a mother’s instinct and happiness are far more powerful that the loud voices, opinions and agendas of others. It pays not to be so easily influenced and to listen to ourselves as much as or even more so than others. The day I listened to myself instead of all the hype was the day I put myself back in the driving seat of motherhood and I have been continually gaining confidence since. Feeling upset over not breast feeding you turned out to be a huge waste of valuable time which we will never get back and for this reason I hope that feeding agendas change in support of encouraging the best feeding method for each individual mother – whatever it is. Instead of all the comparisons between breast milk and formula we should just celebrate that we have different ways to feed our babies and the resources to make a choice that is best for our family.
My network of local mummy friends have been amazingly supportive and non judgemental of my feeding journey and I am so grateful to them. I am also so thankful to your daddy and our family who have stuck by all my choices without question. Most of all though, I am so thankful to you, my darling little bundle of joy who loves me, smiles at me and hugs me every day, completely unconditionally and regardless of how I feed you. Every time I watch you explore your world, enjoy your food, learn to crawl and engage so lovingly and positively with everyone around you, it is a reminder that you are not negatively affected by how you were fed and are the most content, happy little boy. If we are ever lucky enough to give you a brother or sister your amazing development and total contentment are plentiful reassurance that they too will be fine – however they are fed.
Love you forever………
Feel like sharing your story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org