Tamara Ecclestone, breastfeeding, and how it feels to see representations of love that you’re unable to give

Last week I was interested to see a picture of celebrity Tamara Ecclestone pop up on my newsfeed.

 

Source: BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/38932320

Source: BBC.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/38932320

Tamara was shocked. Shocked and saddened that her valiant attempt to normalise breastfeeding through a stunning photoshoot had not been received with the blanket adulation that she had expected. More than that though, for Tamara there is nothing but love in the images and it’s such a shame that it brings out anger in some of you it’s sad for you that that’s how you choose to live.  Personally, I think that love may well have been the order of the day, but there were also probably more scatter cushions than there were in the John Lewis Christmas sale this year.

I don’t know why she would expect blanket adulation because my experience of being a woman and having access to the internet has shown me that I could post an image of a packet of crisps with a vagina and somebody would try to concern troll over what birth control it was using.  Post a picture of breastfeeding and you are guaranteed to uncover that very special type of person who is mortally offended by a nipple.  This is annoying and these people deserve to be treated as the newts that they are and I delight in doing so. However, the four of five newts come with legions of likes, shares and messages of support, as I’m sure Tamara’s PR team know well.

The thing is, we’ve seen these images before, Gisele did it, [here]. Body confidence advocate Tess Holliday used the women’s marches two weeks ago to do it [here] and this week, it’s Tamara’s turn [here].  All of these images have striking similarities.  We see beautiful, wealthy, white and glamorous women gazing off into the distance while effortlessly nurturing wide-eyed babies (scatter cushions optional).  These women are professionals at re-packaging our bodies as an ideal and selling them back to us, they have a team of PR execs and agents to help them in their quest for self-promotion and this is exactly what’s happening here. Usually we are allowed to be angry about the lack of realism and unattainability of things like the thigh gap, but here the product is breastmilk and it’s different rules.

In the UK, 81% or women initiate breastfeeding whilst they are in hospital.  Given that figure, it’s hard to keep a straight face when someone tells you that seeing someone breastfeed is some sort of revelation, but they do.  By the time the baby is six weeks old that figure falls to 55% and by six months, it’s at 1%.  Of those women who stop breastfeeding, 80% of them desperately wanted to but could not. These women have internalised the mantra breast is best and they’ve given it everything they’ve got but come away feeling like abject failures when their breastfeeding dreams didn’t come true.

For them, when they see an image like that with the words powerful demonstration of love and nurturing it feels like a kick in the teeth. As I imagine it does for those among the 20% who don’t attempt to breastfeed because they’re transgender or survivors of sexual violence, on certain medications or adoptive parents, or because it simply isn’t the best choice for their family.  For those parents all they can hear is:

A powerful demonstration of love and nurturing THAT YOU CAN’T GIVE.

That you can’t give, written as if by sparkler; bright, hot, fleeting and gas lit. Or worse, that you are too selfish to give. Of course there is anger.

The late John Berger wrote a lot about advertising and how it works.  To skim it, a good advertising campaign creates a tableau that we all recognise subconsciously to some extent, like the Madonna and Child. You foreground a product of lifestyle that is difficult but perhaps not impossible to imagine yourself attaining, this creates envy.  Then you distribute it far and wide. If it’s something that everybody can have it simply won’t sell as either an image or product.  I mean I love my Henry the Hoover, it never lets me down. I’m never going to make it look like Tamara makes breastmilk look because it is so very mundane and attainable.

If you haven’t yet read Berger’s book Ways of Seeing then you should, because he also makes the point that:

“[P]ublicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats […] takes the place of significant political choice. Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. And it also masks what is happening in the rest of the world.” [Berger: Ways of Seeing, p. 149]

 

Tamara and her photographer’s image, and those that came before are the epitome of the genre. Glamorous and unattainable, always just slightly beyond reach.  Why? Because for all of the hashtags and so called ‘normalising’, they do nothing to address the structural inequalities that mean that none of us really gets to choose to live the way we would really like. They are publicity as a mask.

The NHS is struggling and with maternity services, according to the National Health Executive report of January 2017, disturbingly high numbers of women are experiencing so-called ‘red-flag’ events.  What are ‘red-flag events’? They’re events that happen because we simply do not have enough care for women, even to the point that of women not receiving one-to-one care during established labour. If we can’t even ensure that women have that level of care when they’re giving birth can we hope for better during the post natal period and with breastfeeding support? No prizes here for guessing that no, we can’t:

During the post natal period, women were most likely to express disappointment with their experience in the postnatal wards and breastfeeding support. (Source:  National Health Executive report of January 2017)

On occasions where we have actually spoken to women who found themselves unable to breastfeed over dismissing them as bitter and hateful trolls, we find that something like 80% cite pain as a key reason that they were unable to continue. If a mother simply cannot get the help that she needs from a dedicated professional then she cannot continue.

Since 2010 the UK has faced austerity and whether or not you agree with the necessity, in March 2016 the Women’s Budget Group found that women are hit harder than men and households headed by women such as lone parents […] are hit harder. What does this mean for mothers? It means cash in hand, manual labour jobs where you can’t have your children with you. It means no maternity leave because you’re restricted to short-term, temporary contracts. It means not being able to afford the bus fare to get to the doctors when you have mastitis or to pay for the prescription for medicines you might need to treat it. It means choosing between heating and eating. It means that having the time, energy or will to go through the pain of establishing breastfeeding may well not be at the very top of your agenda.

If you do have a job that you are able to go back to, there is unsurprisingly yet more bad news. The House of Commons committee on Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination, tells us that not only is there more discrimination reported now than a decade ago, but also there is no legal duty to provide a place to breastfeed or store milk. So even women who are able to afford the highest levels of childcare may not be able to continue to breastfeed their babies until two years of age.

These images are beautiful and modern reinterpretations of the Madonna and child tableau, chic and classic, but they do nothing to address any of the challenges faced by women today. baby-jesusEven if women in their droves started saying that had they just seen one more photo they could have breastfed on, I don’t know if this one would really help. We already know that wealthy, well-educated and thirty something are more likely to breastfeed, it’s already normal. Most of us could only dream of owning that many scatter cushions in a lifetime and one of her shoes could probably cover at least a month’s rent. As a twenty-two year old, pregnant dropout who just couldn’t get her breasts to co-operate, the only thing that image would have done for me is amplify my failure on every single count.  With the benefit of hindsight, and good research, I now know that I’m not alone.

 

Breastfeeding a new baby is already normal, breastfeeding a two year old has yet to become the norm. When every parent has the luxury of choice over how and for how long they feed their babies, it most likely will. Papering over the cracks with a few Instagram snaps and calling your critics angry and bitter isn’t going to cut it.  We need to meet every obstacle head on. We need to treat our fellow parents with empathy.  Above all, we need to support each other.

#ISupportYou.

Stephanie Maia is a UK-based writer for FearlessFormulaFeeder.com and the #ISupportYou movement.

Infant feeding the second, third or nth time around

by Stephanie Maia

 

In the time that I have been lucky enough to be a Mother, nine years to date, I have learnt two important things:

  1. It doesn’t always go to plan
  2. When you think you know what to do, it all changes

The first one of those I learnt bitterly in August 2008 when my nipples turned to meatballs and my baby wasn’t the only one in tears.  Breastfeeding.

Despite going to all the classes, reading all the books and trying my absolute hardest, my nipples almost immediately disintegrated before my eyes and I felt the burning shame of inadequate motherhood.  Or so I believed, given the amount of lactivist (can I swear?) ‘literature’ I had hungrily consumed during the nine month incubation period.  None of the books told me what to do if you accidentally gave birth to a cute, pink, starving but gummy piranha, they only talked about babies who softly do breast crawl until they bring their Cupid’s bow lips bouncing to a perfectly aligned nipple. Le sigh.

As it turned out, despite horrible treatment from cruel midwives who unceremoniously ditched me at the fist whiff of a bottle (it’s a ‘slippery slope so I may as well as not bother’ apparently). Working my own way through agonising thrush (‘If it hurts you’re doing it wrong’, no, if it hurts something IS wrong and you need support and love), I ended up combo feeding for well over a year.  The hurt and shame from those early weeks stayed with me though and over time they turned to anger and the anger to bona fide keyboard warrior status. No woman will be shamed by a lactivist on my watch.  I found my home as a Fearless Formula Feeder.

Roll on 2013 and I was there again with baby number two, still angry, still ready for the fight.  There was absolutely no way on this earth that I was putting myself, or my baby, through that again.  My beautiful little piranha had turned into an incredible four and a half year old and that was in part thanks to amazing science milk.  I had the bottles and I was not afraid to use them.

What happened this time then?  Well, this is where I got to lesson two, when you think you know what to do, it all changes.  This baby arrived and was that baby that I’d read about. She did the breast crawl and then latched with all of the elegance something that’s just emerged from the unmentionables under a spotlight possibly can.  Within five minutes of birth she became the ‘enthusiastic feeder’, clunky nickname but it’s stuck I’m afraid, that we know and love.  I’m not even going to get into the arrival of number three, but you can guess that we get a very different story again.

So, after an emotionally draining first feeding experience, and knowing that babies are more fickle than even politicians, how can you plan for a smoother ride next time?

Tip #1: Find your tribe

If you’re reading this, you’re online and you’re on a parenting-related forum so this definitely relates to you.  Find your tribe.  There are hundreds and hundreds of social media groups, birth boards and twitter feeds that you can follow out there.

Okay, maybe not THIS tribe, but you get the point…

Find one that speaks to you, like-minded people, people who support you and your parenting style.  Don’t waste your emotional energy worrying about that sanctimom who pops up at 2am to remind everyone of how great she is tandem feeding her kids AND her kittens whilst donating to the local goat bank, running a marathon and making banana bread (organic, for-the-win).  Not worth it.  Maybe you don’t need an echo chamber either, what you DO need though is supportive and helpful advice that fits with your parenting style.

Tip #2: Talk it out

Get to grips with what went on last time. Find a doctor, psychiatrist, counselor, therapist, friendly ear, plant or whatever you need.  Just talk out what happened last time.  You went from being responsible for finding at least one Maccy D a day to maintain life yourself (I’m working on minimums here) to being solely responsible for the nutrition of a temperamental and dangerously teeny tiny and beautiful creature, it was always going to be emotional.  You owe it to yourself to go through that and understand what happened. It’s valid and you’re worth it, and you have to do it all over again so get that emotional spring clean.

Tip #3: Make a Plan

Ask yourself what you want to do and put lines in the sand.  If you have absolutely no desire at all to dip your toe into breastfeeding ever again then proudly write that down.  If you don’t know yet, but you’ll see how you feel on the big day, pop it into your notes.  If you decide that you do want to try again, then absolutely try again but absolutely draw some lines in the sand.  Mine were that if I reached for the pump because it was too painful to feed or I found myself dreading her little eyes opening because it would mean the pain of feeding, formula.  If your plan is that you’re not ready to make a plan yet, go to step numbers one and two and wait until you’re ready.  Get your partner on board and prepare those laser eye daggers for any stray lactivists; you are informed and ready and it’s your body.

Tip #4: Remember your body is not a symbol

This is a really tough one because what we do and how we parent is, or becomes, a marker of our identity in many ways, see point one.  However, you need to remember that what you do with your body is not a political statement of any kind, it’s not a symbol or your moral worth, it is your body.

I am a Fearless Formula Feeder even though I haven’t formula fed in eight years and breastfed two subsequent children. What I do with my breasts is nothing to do with how I feel about a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. You can be an environmentally aware vegan and formula feeder and so on and so forth. The way in which we use our reproductive organs on an individual basis is personal, our bodies are our own, not symbols.

Tip #5: Draw a timeline

Imagine your bump as baby and beyond. Go to thirty two years old if you feel, wild.  Then divide the line into months, then plot on what six months looks like or even four and a half.  Tiny. We don’t sweat the small stuff here at parents HQ, feed the baby with love, that’s it.

Tip #6: Look at what you’ve already achieved

Look at you soon-to-be eldest, look how healthy and happy and loved they are.  Think about all the times you’ve looked down on their sleeping faces and flushed cheeks. You can do this, you don’t need some person on the internet to tell you otherwise.

In case yours aren’t at school age yet, by the way, guess what isn’t number one topic in the playground? Oh yeah, breastfeeding.  Whether you’ve managed to build a nativity themed puppet theatre from a shoebox with ten hours’ notice and made pastéis de nata for thirty-eight plus parents along with Portuguese national dress costume, another matter. 

Tip #7: Repeat the Mantra

My body; my choice.  

My body; my choice.

My body; my choice.

My body; my choice.

Tip #8: Use your experience

You’re about to go from Bambi in the woods to Merida from Brave in the feeding world, very soon you will have aced it with keeping two small and demanding creature nourished. You’re an expert.  Harness the power of the SuperMum by looking out for that first timer struggling on their first outing to a café, a friendly word and knowing look could make the world of difference. There could be some Mum on a forum, somewhere in the world, crying into her dressing gown about something some emotional amoeba has said about infant feeding on the internet.  Be that Mum who says “been there, got that, tear free dressing gown now. You’re a star”.

You might feel like this, but it’s not forever.

Let’s be powerful about this, build each other up and get the message out there.

Tip #9: Enjoy your baby

How not to cliché 101 but….‘it goes quickly/time flies’. There, I did it.  

Whatever happens next, however that baby reaches your arms, savour and treasure those days for yourself. When I look back on those first few confusing days I have one single regret, that’s the names that I called myself and the tears that I cried over feeding.  Don’t go there, especially not twice and especially not over something like feeding.

You’re amazing, you’re informed, you’ve done it before and this is YOUR time, enjoy it.

 

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