This experience resonates with us so strongly, we totally understand the feeling of being a young Mum and so judged before you’ve even begun. It really is time that we paid more attention to the fact that we have our families at different points in our life and with completely different priorities, that’s why we have got to support each other. No new Mum should feel cast out or alone, especially when we have no idea of the challenges that they face.
There is no place for judgement where feeding our babies is concerned, only kindness and empathy. Jess glows with both and we’re so grateful that she has allowed us to share her journey.
When my son was born I was determined to show the world that I could be a good mum. I was young and in a very new relationship when I fell pregnant and knew full well I would have judging eyes upon me. The biggest reason for wanting to be a good Mum was so my son would grow up knowing he was loved and so I could give him the best foundations possible. Part of being this ‘good mum’ was breast feeding. Of course. I was told time and time again that he was an ‘easy baby’ and a polite feeder. He slept fairly well, and put on weight nicely in the first few months. Breast feeding wasn’t easy – I still remember clearly having a midwife grab my breast just hours after I had given birth and declaring in a condescending tone, ‘it doesn’t look like you know what you’re doing’. Strangely, having never practiced breast feeding pre children, I didn’t!
I went to breastfeeding cafes and listened to the advice, but for some reason after the first few months, my son’s weight troughed. I couldn’t seem to get it back on target. From what I remember from all those years ago, breast feeding was very bitter sweet. It was lovely, but lonely. This feeling would wash over me when I breast fed him despite it supposedly being a time of love and bonding. I loved him more than I had ever loved anyone in my life before but I felt isolated. I remember friends coming to visit and thinking it was lovely. How could I possibly tell them otherwise? I got the delights of cracked nipples, and an infection in the first few weeks, but didn’t get further than that. When the weight began to drop, I went to extra appointments with the health visitor until eventually it was suggested/recommended that I give my boy follow on milk. Hearing this was a strange combination of relief, but also sadness. I did kind of feel that from this point we were kind of just left. It felt like I had been told ‘well done, you tried, hard but didn’t quite cut it.’ I was out of the club.
I didn’t want to ask for help and advice with the bottles. I felt ashamed. I was no longer worthy of support. As so far as informative literature on bottle feeding went I remember it being scarce. I ended up underfeeding my boy. I gave him less bottles than he should have been having because he was more sick with the formula than with my milk and started to wean him early thinking it would compensate. It didn’t. Due to huge anxieties I had stopped taking him to the clinic to get weighed. Fortunately, a health visitor whose child went to the same nursery as my son picked up on there being something wrong and the situation was rectified quickly. This could have been avoided if I hadn’t felt the shame, if I hadn’t felt unable to ask for help. I was still just as vulnerable and just as worthy of support. No matter how I was feeding my child. And there was certainly no less love.
Nine years on and pregnant with my second child you would think I would be ready for any outcome. I don’t think I had acknowledged the extent of emotions that I had experienced on the feeding journey of my first child until I was about to have my second. My partner and I were buying some baby bits and bobs and when we came across the bottles and feeding equipment I went into a slight trance. I knew I wanted to try breast feeding again but I was afraid of the failing bit. It dawned on me how much it meant to me to ‘succeed’. We bought the bottles just in case but I hoped I wouldn’t need them; they were merely a precaution.
The second time around was worse. I had to breastfeed, because that was best for my baby. I had to breast feed because it was MY job. This is what my body was designed for. Those judging eyes were on me again. If everything else I did was wrong, at least I would be breast feeding. I was having a child with a disabled man (whom I loved, and do to this day, who has supported me emotionally, mentally and physically in a way that I didn’t know I was worthy of. I didn’t think anyone COULD love me like that.) I owed it to my partner, to my baby, to my nine year old son to take to breastfeeding swimmingly. It didn’t work out. My daughter was born cross and hungry and my milk still hadn’t come in properly by the third day. I was exhausted; she was, according to a support worker,’too cross to latch’. My child was not okay, and I couldn’t fix her. That is how it felt. I was SUPPOSED to fix her, but couldn’t. She had already lost the weight – nearly the ‘10%, let’s go into a blind panic’ amount. I was failing her. So we made the decision to top her up with formula. From her very first bottle, I saw my tiny, precious little girl go from, cross, hungry and desperate, to attentive, bright and happy. Settled. It was like the bottle fixed her.
I went on to combo feed for the next three to four months. My daughter was getting all her goodness from bottles and came to me for comfort. I could feed her anything from twenty minutes to two hours (plus) but she would always need that bottle. I tried one day (a couple of weeks in?) to get back to exclusive breast feeding. I spent a good ten hours in bed trying to just let her cluster feed to encourage my milk to come in. When friends came to visit, I felt hideous. I gave her a bottle. I went to my local maternity unit where they offered breastfeeding support, but they were understaffed. I sat for hours in floods of tears, every time I thought I must have fed her enough I would try to put her in her pram and she would cry. I was afraid to walk past the midwives’ office with my daughter crying because to me it was the FAILURE alarm. After hours, and at the point where I had to leave in order to collect my son from school. I gave her a bottle.
I was horrid to myself in those months. I was lucky in that my partner and some family members picked up on how incredibly, excruciatingly low I was. I loved my baby but I was in the worst place I had ever been emotionally. This is from someone who had had run-ins with depression before and who had been accompanied by anxiety often. I was frightened, to face another day or night. I was trapped. And the guilt – my goodness, the guilt!
I think a huge part of this was down to my inability to breast feed. I desperately wanted to recover. I wanted to enjoy my daughter more fully. I knew that making peace with my feeding situation was paramount in order for me to recover. I began to ask all the mums I could about their experience with breast or formula feeding. I realized that I would never in a million years judge another mother nearly as harshly as I was and had been judging myself. I had respect for every single mum I spoke to/contacted. This helped me tremendously. I came to realize that there were endless reasons for people’s feeding choices and what it comes down to is what works for you and your family. There is no right or wrong way and the most important ingredient ever is always, ALWAYS love