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:
- It doesn’t always go to plan
- 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.
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”.
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.