“Ungrateful and pathetic” – the bad book review

I’ve had a stinker of a review on Amazon. I am officially on the naughty step for pretty much every aspect of my book (except for the grudging acknowledgement that it is “not terribly badly written” – why, thank you, I think).

I always knew the book wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea, as it were, and yes, as the reviewer points out, it is very sweary (the word fuck makes its debut in the very first paragraph). If you don’t like swearing this is not the book for you. Perhaps it should come with an “explicit lyrics” sticker like you get on CDs. But hey, we’re all adults.

I actually don’t mind criticism. I’m pretty used to it, and when you’re writing about controversial things, you expect to stir up, um, controversy. This lady is as entitled to her views as I am mine – I do respect that. Hell, I wrote a whole book about mine. She managed 12 paragraphs of relentless negativity, which I have to admit is pretty good going. At least I can tell she actually read the book.

So, here are her views. This particular reader thinks I am “ungrateful”, “pathetic” and “damaged”.

Let’s start with the first one. I’m not sure what I am supposed to be “grateful” for – I think it might have been that I was able to stay in a delivery room at the hospital, for six whole days, by myself, while a team of women came into my room every three hours, night and day, to alternately squeeze me, poke me, hook me up to machines and then berate me for not being able to breastfeed. Yes – thanks folks, that was definitely a highlight of early motherhood.

“Pathetic” because I didn’t just shut my mouth and accept that this is something all new mothers have to go through and WE DON’T TALK ABOUT IT. Sorry – not playing that game either. I wish I could show the reviewer the 600+ emails I’ve had from women saying thank you for speaking out, that they also had bad times and hadn’t realised there were others out there. She also seems to think the only reason I got my book published is because of my professional contacts. Erm… it’s a self-published book, love. You don’t need “contacts” to do that. You just need an email address and a pdf.

“Damaged” – well I’ve scratched my head a lot over this one. Am I damaged? Certainly, I would say the experience itself was damaging. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like such a miserable failure, a desperately bad mother, a disappointment to everybody including myself. Maybe I am damaged. Writing the book was definitely cathartic. Talking to other women, and experts, was both heartbreaking and heartening, I suppose, in the sense that I realised I wasn’t alone in wondering what the hell was going on when it comes to the breastfeeding mantra.

I’ve just popped in to look at my sleeping baby, who is now a bouncing toddler (when he’s awake). He doesn’t look damaged. And that makes me feel um, un-damaged by default (the book is better written than this, I promise. What? it’s late).

So I don’t actually think it did any lasting harm (thank you for your concern though). But that’s precisely because I was able to put a bad experience to good use – to unite a fragmented community of unhappy women left outside of the breastfeeding fold. One lady emailed me recently to say she was not allowed to sit in the “feeding circle” at her local new mums group because she was unable to breastfeed. She had to sit on her own, on a stool, in the corner with her baby and bottle. She has emigrated to have her second child because she couldn’t face going through that again here.

Or how about Zoe, who didn’t want to have a second child at all because of her ordeal? She was told the reason she couldn’t breastfeed was because she was lazy.

Now that is damaging. It’s bloody awful. I think it would be far worse NOT to talk about this stuff. Seriously.

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Guest post: Why wasn’t my milk coming in?

BRIDIE’S STORY

It’s almost six years since my daughter was born, but even today I feel angry when I look back at those early days.

Being ten days overdue, my obstetrician told me I had to be induced, despite both myself and my baby being very well. My labour started within five hours of the gel being applied, but after an initial couple of hours of progressing well it slowed down and resulted in my daughter being brought into the world with the aid of forceps.

During the first few minutes of cuddling my beautiful new baby, I distinctly remember the doctor asking the midwife to confirm that the placenta was all present and her reassuring him that it was.

I felt like I had been through hell, little realising that the days ahead would be even worse.

My first attempts at breastfeeding didn’t go so well, but I put that down to us both being tired – after all, it had been a big day for baby too! The following day I was still having problems getting my daughter to latch on and, once she did, nothing seemed to happen. I then spent 20 minutes on each boob trying desperately to express even a single drop of colostrum.

Eventually it came, but it was such a minute amount after such a lot of effort and did little to sate my baby’s appetite. She was given some formula to tide her over until the next time.

Over the next 36 hours various midwives came in, shoved their hands on my breasts and forced them into my baby’s mouth. Every one of them had a different method, there was no consistency, and I was starting to feel confused. In between this I seemed to spend hours on the “milking machine”.

Why wasn’t my milk coming in? Why was breast feeding so hard, when everything I’d seen and read made it appear so easy and natural? After each fruitless attempt to feed, another amount of formula was given and I was left to feel completely useless.

When my husband popped in on his lunch break the following day I burst into tears. I’d had enough.

Breast feeding wasn’t working, I just wanted my baby to have a full tummy and for me to get some rest. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Shocked at my state, he rang for the duty midwife and told her, in no uncertain terms, that from now on it was bottle only (formula, plus what I could express) and that nobody was to mention breast feeding again. It was such a relief, literally like a weight lifting off my shoulders.

The hours that followed were bliss in comparison. My baby slept because she was no longer hungry, and that meant I finally got the rest I needed. Night-time wasn’t so good. At 4am, and after a large feed, my baby wouldn’t settle. She cried and cried, and I was almost at my wit’s end. I rang for the midwife to ask what I should do. Was it trapped wind, or was she still hungry?

I couldn’t believe it when the midwife, far from helping a distressed mum and baby, stood there and lectured me about how it broke her heart that I wasn’t breast feeding! I felt sick.

The next morning I decided I’d had enough and took my baby home. The midwife that checked me out was amazing. She asked what I planned to do about feeding and I told her I was going to formula feed, as well as keep expressing. She looked straight at me and, obviously seeing my heart wasn’t in it, told me to make a decision to do one or the other and not to feel bad if I didn’t want to express. It was a breath of fresh air. Where had she been all those days?

So I took my baby home, and for six weeks I enjoyed being a new mum. Formula feeding worked really well, as it allowed my husband to feel included and meant I could at least get some sleep at night. Then I experienced heavy blood loss. It happened twice, and scared the life out of me. After the second time, I rang the health line and was told to present to the Emergency Department.

A referral for an ultrasound was made, and they discovered a piece of the placenta that had broken off and was still sitting in my womb. I was devastated, not least because the conversation between the doctor and midwife was so clearly etched in my memory. A D&C followed, which thankfully solved the problem.

It’s only in recent months that I’ve learned that that little piece of placenta would have prevented my milk coming in. That one error by the delivering midwife turned out to be the cause of so much distress that I ended up with PND and look back on the first few days of my daughter’s life with dread, rather than happiness.

Second time around, I told the midwife while I was in labour that it would be bottle feeding from the start (I took my own formula as I’d heard that the hospital refused to stock it). Once you’ve been there, done that, you can make your voice head, but it breaks my heart how many other first time mums go through distress during what should be the happiest days of their life.

Bridie Jenner moved from the UK to Western Australia in 2005, where she now lives with her husband and two little Aussies.

To get in touch email breastfeedingbattles.gmail.com.

You can buy the book Birth Boobs and Bad Advice here.

When did Mothers Day get so ridiculous?

Mothers day card

Just another typical week in the office

Okay, I admit I’m going off on a slight tangent here.

My excuse for the artistic licence is that I go on a lot about mums being belittled over bottle feeding… and this is just belittling, full stop.

Here in the UK it’s Mothers Day on Sunday. This traditionally means a huge sales boost for chocolates, flowers, Sunday lunches – and cards.

I’m not sure whether I’ve sleepwalked through the 35 mothers’ days I’ve been alive for so far but it struck me today  like a sledgehammer – the cards are, almost without exception, sexist, stereotypical and utterly irrelevant to modern life.

EXHIBIT A:

“Dear mum, thanks for doing all the washing/cooking/ironing, I love you” (however, the only thing I can think of to celebrate about you is the fact that you do household chores)

EXHIBIT B:

“Dear mum, your washing/cooking/ironing is completely crap… but I love you anyway” (one card, which no doubt thought itself hilarious, was emboldened with the gag: How do we know when dinner is ready? when mum’s in the kitchen and we hear the fire brigade coming. What dazzling wit)

EXHIBIT C:

“Dear mum, I know you spend most of the year living like a Victorian scullery maid but hey, have a day off!” (see picture)

The picture, taken in a well-known stationery shop, made me so cross I actually had to walk out. I mean, seriously. In 21st century Britain, is there a mother among us for whom Thursday (or indeed any day) is “washing day”? Sandwiched as it is between “shopping” on a Wednesday and “baking” on Friday. Even in Downton Abbey they didn’t live like that. Either above or below stairs.

Am I just being pissy? Surely, whether you’re a stay-at-home mum or a working mum, this piece of mind-blowing tedium is not how you would wish to describe your week?

And is it really still funny to mock a woman for her domestic abilities? Maybe your mum is a bit tardy with the vacuuming because she’s… I don’t know… juggling two jobs and looking after her own aged parents. So instead of trashing her for her failings on the day that is supposed to belong to her in the first place, as the card companies seem to be suggesting, why not put your money where your mouth is and dig out the marigolds yourself?

I ended up buying my own mum – a formidable lady who trekked to the base camp of Everest in her late 50s despite having arthritis – a card featuring a cartoon from the New Yorker. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Mothers Day but it sure as hell doesn’t  pass any judgement on her sodding ironing skills. She would never forgive me.

Breastfeeding: “A netherworld of drivel”

And that’s from a lactation consultant.

I’ve  just watched a lecture which Dr Joan Wolf, author of a book called “Is Breast Best?”, gave at Kent University last month.

She summoned the haters en masse when she challenged the “breast is best” doctrine but she said that even the professional BF brigade tell her that breastfeeding is being given credit for all sorts of things that it cannot possibly live up to.

For example some research has claimed breastfeeding decreases the likelihood of bedwetting teenagers, she said, it also apparently increases “social mobility” (whatever that is) and reduces the risk of parental child abuse. Oh – and makes you more likely to win the lottery*

Let’s just think about that for a second. How on earth does that work?

Dr Wolf argues – and this actually blew my mind – that none of the research that is done into the effects of infant feeding includes randomised trials, for ethical reasons. So while in other clinical trials you have a group, half of whom get, say, real paracetamol, and half of whom get the sugar pill and neither knows which – breastfeeding/formula feeding trials are always carried out by a self-selected group.

You can understand why – but in most other areas of science, this seriously fucks with the credibility of the research itself. To go back to the paracetamol analogy, if you have someone who swears by Lemsip and they are having, um, Lemsip, they are of course more likely to report its benefits.

“Selection bias is a serious problem,” said Dr Wolf.

“If you have one study that’s seriously flawed having 10 or 100 similar studies doesn’t make that go away. Bias times 12 is still bias.”

She claims it’s an “open secret” among scientists that they are unable to “control variables” in these cases and this work is always flawed as a result – it’s hidden away in the “discussion” sections of research papers that nobody ever bothers reading, though.

It’s quite a job, she argues, to separate the actual act of breastfeeding from other behaviour by the parents as the single factor in a particular outcome.

So for example, breastfeeding mothers are perhaps more likely to be at home, and therefore not exposing themselves and their infants to as many bacteria… they may also be going to the supermarket in the day when it is quieter and not packed with the after-work crowd and all their coughs and splutters… how do we know it’s not that which is keeping their babies healthy?

Her argument is that perhaps women who *choose* to breastfeed (and remember they are the self-selecting research group) generally tend to be more conscious of health issues. A study carried out of high school students found that those who brushed their teeth regularly were less likely to be obese. Not because of the actual tooth brushing itself, but because it tended to symbolise more dedication to other health choices.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I would like to think I’m a pretty health conscious person – obviously I would say that. Then again, I did also choose to breastfeed – it just turned out that breastfeeding did not choose me.

By the way, she also said the pressure put on women to breastfeed can have catastrophic effects on their physical and mental health especially if they either struggle or end up being unable to do it – and there are other studies out there which indicate that infants cared for by parents who are depressed or stressed are more prone to develop a whole range of disorders as a result.

So forgive the pun but is there a chance we’re pouring the baby out of the bathwater here? Forcing some mothers down a path that may well actually cause further harm?

Food for thought, isn’t it.

*I may have made that bit up