“She called me ‘lazy’…” (guest post)

GUEST POST: ZOE, MARK AND BABY LEXIE’S STORY

I recently celebrated my daughters fifth birthday and another big milestone, starting school. As a mum, I never thought I would make it this far – all the excitement and bursting with pride, because it was all so different when Lexie was born.

I have always wanted children. As one of four siblings and as the youngest in a very close knit family – I wanted to create that for myself. So when I found out I was pregnant I was so happy. Mark and I had been married for two years (together for 10!) and we felt the time was right. I went through all the obvious things prospective mums do, bought everything and ate everything in sight.

As is usual I was bombarded with ‘good advice’ and tips from all quarters, especially around the subject of how I was going to feed my new born baby girl. I wanted to breastfeed, but was slightly apprehensive about it. When I spoke to midwives at the hospital, they assured me that it would be the most natural thing in the world and really easy to do. Breast is best and all that. I started to feel the pressure already.

When Lexie was born by Caesarian Section on 26th September 2007, the surgeon placed her on my chest and she latched on to my breast like she had always been there. I was elated, exhausted and overwhelmed all at the same time.

Back on the ward, I tried to feed her again, but this time it didn’t work. It hurt, it didn’t feel right, Lexie was unsettled and crying. The nurses told me I wasn’t doing it right, but never attempted to help me.

On the first night, on my own with my daughter, I tried and I tried to get it right, but with a sore wound on my stomach and a chest infection it wasn’t working out for me at all.

When I called the nurse and explained that it was painful, again I was told I wasn’t doing it right and to stop moaning about it and get on with it. Apparently, I had a hungry baby, and I wasn’t producing enough milk. So I asked for a bottle to give her some extra feed. I was met with a grunt and a look of disgust and told to keep on trying until I got it right.

I felt like such a complete failure – on day two of being a new mum. By this time I was so tired and cried quite a lot, why couldn’t I do this? Why couldn’t I get this right? My nipples were so sore, each feed was like a new brand of torture, the pain was unbelievable. The thought of doing this for six months to a year terrified me.

When I told the midwife about my problems feeding, she called me ‘lazy’ for asking for a bottle and said that I had ‘given up’ and ‘taken the easy option’. I was a mess. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, as I assured myself it would be fine once I was home. I was wrong.

At home I carried on with breastfeeding with a steely determination but by now I was feeding Lexie all the time just to give her what she needed. It seemed like feeding time never ended, and it was as if I was a cow, albeit a fairly barren cow, but a cow nonetheless!

Lexie by all accounts was a good baby, she slept well, fed well and was really beautiful but I don’t remember any of that. My memories of this time are clouded with dark thoughts of my complete failure to provide my daughter with what I was told she needed most – my milk.

Events finally came to a head one day when I tried to express some milk so Mark could feed Lexie. I expressed for an hour and produced nothing but a dribble. I broke. I gave up. I sat on my kitchen floor and told my sister I was a terrible mum and it would probably be better for everyone if I died. I had cracked and bleeding nipples, I was exhausted and had nothing to show for hours of feeding and expressing. I wasn’t revelling in motherhood, I was spiralling into post natal depression.

My family went out and bought baby milk and bottles. The guilt I felt was unimaginable. It weighed heavy on my shoulders. I had lasted three weeks of breastfeeding my baby and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had let her down. Every advert I saw about babies and feeding talked about giving your baby the best start in life with breast milk. Every newspaper article I read talked about how breastfed children did the best at school and had the best immune systems.

Everything got better after I started feeding Lexie with powdered milk in a bottle. This decision changed everything. It seems silly to say it, but everything got brighter, I was happier, I felt human and Lexie was as happy as ever.

I’m not the perfect mum, Im not a natural but I do my best every day and I can’t ask for more than that. It’s sad to say that the experience I had with breastfeeding and the way I felt about it after has made me decide not to have any more children.

Even five years later, people still ask me if I breastfed Lexie and I get that look when I say I had trouble, I even lie sometimes and say my milk dried up to avoid an awkward situation. It might seem silly to still feel ashamed about it now but I do. I was out having dinner the other day when a child at the next table started to cry. His mum just picked him up, lifted her top and placed him on her breast, all whilst still eating her food! I looked at her in awe, and five years down the line, the voice in my head still said, ‘you couldn’t do that’.

Looking back now, I’m glad I made the change. It was right for me and my baby. She needed a mum who was with it, able to cuddle her, play with her and bond with her. Not some mess crying in the corner and avoiding her.

If I was to give any advice to a new mum it would be to do exactly what they want to do and feel comfortable doing when feeding their baby. Mum knows best.

To write a guest post get in touch – email breastfeedingbattles@gmail.com

The great breastfeeding debate on the telly

Newsnight breastfeeding debate

Newsnight with babies (wonder where Paxman was hiding…) copyright BBC obv.

Two news programmes here in the UK tackled the heady issue of breastfeeding on British telly last night.

Most of Channel 4’s attempt made me pretty mad although Dr Ellie Lee (who also features in my book) was fifty shades of awesome if you can get past the first 4 minutes of breastfeeding eulogy which precedes her.

I love the bit when Dr Lee points out that most people do not have children as an “anti cancer strategy” in response to some unsubstantiated claim about breastfeeding and breast disease.

Also thanks to this programme I discovered that if everybody breastfed then nobody’s baby would need to see doctors. Who knew? Certainly nobody I have ever spoken to – I don’t believe i know a single baby – breastfed or bottle fed – who hasn’t had at least one trip to the GP in their first year. It’s just bullshit.

And then there was Newsnight on BBC2 (programme available on the BBC iPlayer for the next 7 days only – it’s about 25 mins in). The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) banged on about insufficient support for breastfeeding, completely ignoring the fact that it’s actually support for those who can’t or choose not to that is totally missing from the equation.

The last thing I needed was more “support” when it became very obvious that breastfeeding was not going to work. What I needed to know at that point was the best way to sterilise a bottle and which brand of formula was best for my hungry baby.

Breastfeeding news that makes me cross

Breast is best headline/Independent newspaper UK

Impartial report here in today’s i (independent newspaper UK)

So here’s something from today’s news agenda that is bound to make women feel great. Yet more pressure heaped on unwitting new mums to breastfeed because it “could” – note that word, could – when used in news it generally means “we don’t know whether it actually will or not – “make dramatic difference to nation’s health” and if you’re feeling particularly altruistic as well, you COULD “save the NHS £40m a year”!

Hurrah! Let’s all get lactating.

What none of these headlines ever bother to go into is how bloody difficult breastfeeding is, and how much of a villain you’ll end up feeling if you can’t actually do it. I never knew this either, until it happened to me.

I’ve just spent a year writing Birth, Boobs and Bad Advice, a book about mine and other women’s battles with breastfeeding – not the sort of book I ever imagined myself writing, believe me, – but when I found myself in hospital with a hungry newborn and no breast milk worth writing home about, I may as well have put a red cross on the door of my ward and handed myself over to social services.

Within two days of giving birth I’d been told that I’d “ruined” my baby’s stomach lining and was on a “slippery slope” (to what, I’m not sure) purely because I made the seemingly controversial decision to give my son some formula when he returned from a hasty trip to Intensive Care because he hadn’t had enough to eat.

Just recently on Facebook a friend of a friend kindly explained to me that what I had done was the equivalent of giving a child mouldy apples instead of freshly squeezed apple juice. Wow, thanks for clarifying, not that I asked. But not to worry, she assured me after sharing that pearl of wisdom, she wasn’t being judgemental. Well that was a relief.

The book’s coming out in about 3 weeks time so please get in touch if you’d like a cheerful email reminder nearer the time, or you’d like to share your own story of breastfeeding horrors here on this blog. Also I’m happy to debate the issue with those who disagree that breast is not always the only option but if you come across as a complete troll you’ll probably end up in the virtual bin and I might take the piss out of you for good measure. Your call.

Just be clear, I am NOT anti-breastfeeding. If it works for you and your baby, that is awesome. What I am is anti-bullying, anti-ignorance and pro-choice.