Before you read on, I guess I should mention that this article is littered with swears. Sorry mum. I should also say that I can only really comment on my own experiences. The journey differs from mama to mama but if you’re interested, here’s a bit of mine!
Picture the scene. It’s May 2018. I’m 7 months pregnant.
I’m sat in the searing heat outside Bushy’s tent. On the receiving end of some scathing, judgemental glances from leather clad passers-by due to the beer like contents of the plastic pint glass gripped by my porky mitt, blissfully penning a bit for my old pal Gef. Relax Suzuki Steve. It’s non-alcoholic. I’m determined not to miss out on all the fun before I launch my very own crotch rocket into the island’s stratosphere within the coming weeks. In the meantime…
Try not to piss yourself
Fast forward to September 2019. I am the proud mama of a marvellous little boy. I imagine I’ll refer to him a lot throughout my latest ramblings so as I am incognito, I won’t be using his name. Therefore, hence forth when I refer to him I shall use the name of an action movie hero. Little Apollo Creed would want it kept this way.
Labour of Love
Much like the buttons on my best pre-baby jeans, my year on maternity leave has whizzed by.
When I left you, I spoke of (amongst other things) my fear of childbirth. Specifically, the fear of having my vajayjay mangled and stretched into some hideous hippo’s yawn of a thing after birthing a bowling ball sized cranium. I was frightened. What would I be left with? Would it ever function the same? Would it look like something hanging in a butcher’s shop window? Like washing blowing in the wind? And the question I dreaded the most, would I actually feel my delicate fairy being torn? How would I cope with the pain!? R.I.P to the notorious V.A.G.
Well here’s the T on my post birth V. Our bodies are quite something. They’re seemingly capable of experiencing what I would describe as a trauma and bouncing back relatively unscathed. Ok, yes there was a tear. Did I feel it? Absolutely not. The worst part about having a tear for me wasn’t even the stitches (which again, I did not feel), it was having the poor midwife in super close proximity to my battered Pete Burns-like fadge while she delicately and expertly sutured me back together. I was trying to make awkward conversation with this heroic woman to distract us both from the fact she had to stick her pinky finger up my arse to check for third degree tears. ‘Buy a girl a drink first!’ *laughs awkwardly*.
But here’s the best part. Despite the loss of my dignity, it was a POSITIVE experience. Like, I could actually go through it again. From the second I arrived at the Jane, all the midwives were on it like a well-executed bank robbery. I was the ultimate cliché birther; peacefully bobbing around the tub like Gemma Collins in a private pool in Marbs. Sucking on Entonox like a ravenous Stormy Daniels. Listening to Enya, feeling embarrassed about listening to Enya and then promptly requesting something less shit.
Until it was time to push. I wanted the drugs and if there’s something we’ve all learnt from Michael Barrymore’s exploits it’s that drugs and swimming pools do not mix. I was assisted out of the pool and, as my other half helped me change, he told me I looked nice in my new night dress – I knew this was an attempt to make me feel less like of a bedraggled hell beast because it was most definitely bullshit. Ralph Lauren once said ‘Fashion is about something that comes from within you.’ Well, Ralphy, this pound shop nighty says a human is about to come from within me and I am binning it swiftly after said human has made its entrance.
Childbirth sure ain’t pretty but it is beautiful.
Baby Rocky Balboa arrived safe and healthy, two weeks earlier than planned (already taking after his mother, who is one of those weirdoes that arrives at the airport unnecessarily early).
There are probably thousands of words to describe childbirth. Empowering, painful, liberating, terrifying, relieving, exhausting, spiritual, natural, messy, exhilarating… I’ve even heard women referring to birth as orgasmic. I imagine they’re the kind of women that secretly pop in a love egg for their trip to Tesco.
But if I had to summarise birth in one word – doable. And prior to having a baby, that’s all I really needed to know. Importantly, however which way your baby makes it into this realm, with assistance or not, there is no one way that makes you weaker or stronger than anyone else. It takes guts, full stop. And a robust pelvic floor.
Battle of the Boob
Before I’d even given birth, I was asked many times how I planned to feed my baby.
‘What an odd question?’, I thought. Imagine if this question formed a part of normal every day conversation.
“What are you having for your tea tonight, Barry?”
“Sandra’s making her specialty, spagbol.”
“Nice Baz. So will you be eating that with your hands, with cutlery or will she attach a nose bag to your mush? Will all the ingredients be organic? Because you know shop bought fusilli is basically poison, right?”
Feeding is such a contentious subject so I should’t read carefully. However, what’s the point in a good old pseudonym if you can’t be honest?
I saw an Instagram post by Paloma Faith, not so long ago, the crux of which was that she had tried to breastfeed her baby and due to contracting painful mastitis she made the decision not to continue. She boldly stated that she hated her experience of breastfeeding. An opinion she is entitled to form and to voice if she so wishes. Well, not according to the gaggle of militant breastfeeding mum trolls on social media she’s not!
Let’s refer to them as the mili-tits. The mili-tits tore this poor woman a new arsehole for having the audacity to share her personal experience. They accused her of feeding into the British public’s often negative perception of breastfeeding. They attacked this exhausted new mother, accusing her of abdicating some sort of fabricated responsibility they’d thrust upon her as a female celebrity and public figure. There was zero acknowledgement of the fact that she had given it a bloody good go.
No, they utterly relished the opportunity to attack someone with a degree of gravitas. Top job ‘raising each other up’ girls, I thought. You know they’re the same women preaching feminism and sisterhood in the form of annoying, saccharin inspirational quotes on social media. Urgh – hypocrisy at its finest. Back you go to your chia seed smoothies, hemp knickers and bragging to anyone who will listen about how little Persephone can already play Beethoven’s Symphony number 5 in C minor on her ELC xylophone and ‘eats kale like it’s Haribo’. Lies, Karen, Persephone can’t wipe her own arse yet and she eats the f*cking plasticine.
Why did it matter to people how I fed my baby? Surely it really only mattered that he or she was fed? My answer was always that I hadn’t decided.
I did not wish discuss it because frankly it was nobody’s biz but mine. But as with most things relating to parenting, people would always offer an opinion anyway. I was told by a male relative he felt it was selfish of women to breastfeed as he had enjoyed bottle feeding his own children. I was also told by a friend that it would be selfish of me not to at least give it a try. Actual minefield.
Before I had finally made my decision, there were several factors initially pushing me into camp Cow & Gate.
Reason one: Apologies but breastfeeding quite honestly grossed me out. Not anyone else doing it, just me. I could not process the thought of having a small human sucking on my nipple, regardless of the benefits. The thought made me squirm. I had never known any women who breastfed and some of my family actually appeared to take real umbrage with breastfeeding women, particularly those who dared practice it in public. Not a strong start.
In my mind I struggled to now consider breasts as these wondrous natural tools for sustaining life and providing comfort and nourishment to a baby, from what they had always been before (real talk) sexy fun bags. I completely understood that biologically I had been granted a pair of milkers for the purpose of feeding one day. However, I had also been granted a pair of legs that I could use for running marathons but I’m lazy and I prefer sitting on my arse with a large gin. Choices.
If I chose to have a bash at the boob, I would have to reprogram my thinking about their role. Feeding or fun? Business or party? Could they be both? Like a nurse who strips on the weekends.
Reason two: I was worried about being tied to the house. I was not prepared to feed in public. I just did not have the courage I felt it required.
Reason three: I just didn’t want to be told what to do. I’m stubborn and the thought of medical professionals and social media militits telling me it’s ‘breastfeed or bust’ made me cross my arms, stamp my feet and pout ‘you can’t make me’.
Words like ‘selfish’ and referring to formula as ‘poison’ just made me even more determined to sack off breastfeeding just to spite these faceless people. But who was I really trying to prove a point to? And what would my baby miss out on if I didn’t try breastfeeding just to prove my rather absurd point.
I attended a Parentcraft day at Nobles Hospital a few weeks before the launch party (due date). Part of this included a talk about breastfeeding. I was quite honestly ready for a debate and I went in with my heckles already up, prepared to be told how I must feed my baby. Well I sat and I listened to the midwife. I listened to her very informative explanations of the real benefits of breastfeeding. I realised how little I actually knew. She graciously and extensively answered any questions without a sniff of judgement, expectation or demand in her tone. Game changer. I’ll admit I felt like a bit of a knob. But a well-informed knob. This midwife completely converted my thinking about the boob. I left feeling empowered, educated and ready to open the double D dairy for business.
When baby John McClane arrived, he was handed to me by the midwife wrapped up like a little pink fajita. I was asked if I would like to try feeding him and I didn’t really have the wherewithal to blurt out anything other than ‘yeth’ as I was too exhausted and off my barnet on pain relief to form coherent sentences. The midwife, who not 60 seconds ago was wearing me like a human glove puppet, was now carefully manoeuvring my boob into position. He latched after a few enticing drops of the good stuff dribbled onto his tiny, rosy red lips.
Gasp! It was a revelation; it did not disgust me! In fact, I felt rather proud.
I was lucky. He fed without any major issues other than a bit of reflux. However, breastfeeding was bloody hard graft. He wanted milk frequently. Not an issue as that’s the beauty of having a supply on draught at all times. Not an issue of course unless you cannot muster the courage to feed in the presence of others. I just didn’t have the guts to do it, even discreetly and, in the beginning, expressing was just not producing the goods.
If I left the house for any length of time, my bangers would ache and burn, swelling with milk. They felt similar to bags of frozen sprouts. I found myself staying close to home in case he needed feeding, so I could make a hasty escape to familiarity and privacy. Even then, my grandparents would often barge through my front door unannounced and I would have to wrestle my massive burger like nipple out from Ethan Hunt’s mouth and safely under cover. I once locked myself in the backseat of my own car in my haste to find a place to breastfeed with a degree of privacy. It was an exhausting, anxious time for me.
Despite all of that, in those peaceful, uninterrupted moments I shared with him softly feeding, even with my eyes itching and burning from exhaustion, it was sweet bliss.
I managed two months before deciding to switch to formula. I had my reasons. Not long enough, some would say but two months longer than I thought I would manage. So yay for me.
Worth a mention, I noticed one morning that my infant son was sporting what looked like a terrible boob job. Like those too-far-apart, smarties on an ironing board, Svetlana from Babestation, budget boobs. I immediately contacted the health visitor to find out why he’d developed a decent B cup and find out if I’d have to take him to Mary at M&S to get measured for his first balconette bra. She informed me that this is totally normal. As a result of the hormones he was receiving from my milk, he had indeed started to grow breasts. They could also leak, I learned! To my relief they were only a temporary feature and they disappeared soon after. I’ll make sure he knows all about his temp tits when he’s a bit older. Maybe when he gives me cheek in front of his mates. Every day as a parent is an education.
I have had the pleasure of meeting some fantastic mums and babies since having my own. Some chose breast and some chose bottle. Guess what? All their babies are happy, healthy and bloody gorgeous. No difference whatsoever that I can see. All of them thriving, growing and lapping up all the little things we take for granted day to day. It’s nobody else’s biz how you feed your baby as far as I’m concerned.
Being a new mum is no walk in the park. You do you and the rest of us (if our parents raised us right) will support you. It takes a
village an island.