I learnt something today. Having a baby means that you don’t get to be ill anymore. Babies, quite simply, couldn’t care less about your wellbeing. So long as you are on hand with an endless supply of milk, they don’t notice the health status of the giver. Having a baby means giving up all of the luxuries of being ill. Hot baths? Gone. Lying in bed all day watching Netflix? Cancelled. Having two free hands in order to drink a Lemsip? Absolutely not. So I recommend that you don’t get ill for at least the first twelve years after having a child… basically, long enough that they’ve learnt how to make their own breakfast and hopefully yours too.
So, breastfeeding. This might be a short post as I have one thing to say on breastfeeding: AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
No body mentions – prior to having a baby – that breastfeeding hurts like hell. Sure, once you’ve had the baby everyone is all like ‘Oh yeah I basically lost my nipples to my third’. It’s too late now, Debra.. I needed to know that nine goddamn months ago! (since Whoopsy wasn’t planned, knowing this wouldn’t have changed the course of history in any way… however, maybe all women everywhere would be even more cautious with contraceptives if they knew that that having a baby meant sacrificing every nerve ending in their nipples. Start school sex ed with THAT piece of information and watch teen pregnancy numbers plummet.) The midwives in the hospital are very eager to get things off to a good start with feeding so before you can recover from the most physically traumatic event of your life thus far, someone comes round to squeeze your boob into a pancake shape and shove it into a sleeping baby’s mouth. Whoopsy has his mama’s appetite, so he was delighted to have found a new food source. Less delighted, however, to realise that the milk jugs were empty and all that he could have on tap on his first day was a clear liquid that is excreted in teeny tiny drops. Justifiably, he proceeded to cry. And cry. And cry. Has anyone ever told you that newborn babies sleep for the first twenty four as they themselves recover from birth? Well they don’t when they’re hungry.
I begged the midwives for formula. I begged, and pleaded, and offered to trade them for some of my fancy chocolate gifts. They declined saying that the hospital didn’t stock it. I now know this to be a lie peddled by midwives who want you to suffer for the sins of the human race. Actually, I am led to believe by new mummy gossip that the hospital’s funding is connected to the number of women who leave the labour ward having only breastfed. As a result, the midwives’ solution to any issue is to send over the breastfeeding specialist. The woman who attended to me under this hopeful title went through the same steps as previous midwives, squeezing my boob whilst talking to be about burgers and then rubbing the nipple against my baby’s nose until it was dripping in milk and he looked like he’d been hammering lines of cocaine whilst I was out showering. ‘Ouch!’ I told her, ‘It really hurts!’ ‘Just a little, it passes quickly’ she replied. It didn’t. In fact, it proceeded to get worse and worse until I would shriek and clench my teeth in agony each time Whoopsy latched. I have an NCT girls WhatsApp group chat that suggests that this level of pain is normal for most women. The excruciating experience of having a small rabid baby chew on your boobs for forty minutes out of each hour of the day was enough to leave us feeling like battered women. We each worked our way through the solutions: nipple creams, nipple shields, expressing, various different feeding positions, before agreeing that it was completely hopeless.
On day four of Whoopsy’s short life, I was readmitted to hospital with what was later discovered to be sepsis. I was given a private room (Oh, the luxury in comparison to my first experience of the postnatal ward!) which had a cot for the baby so it could stay close to its mama. I didn’t have to think for a long time to decide that baby would be far better off staying at home with T so that he wasn’t at risk of catching any hospital bugs (or, you know, so mama could sleep!) I was offered a gigantic pumping machine for my stay which would drain my breasts of all their milk so that daddy could continue to feed Whoopsy via bottle and top him up with formula if necessary. I think this is where it all started to go a bit wrong. The separation between baby and I gave me the chance to remember what it had felt like when my nipples weren’t being used as a chew toy by the human equivalent of a terrier puppy. I also really, really enjoyed sleeping through the nights (as much as you can when you’re being woken for four hourly observations). And as a result, expressing became less, formula became more.
Even after the hospital visit, breast feeding continued to decline. Out and about, I wasn’t embarrassed to breast feed, but I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about whipping my nips out in minus temperatures. At this point my milk production had become low enough that every feed required a top up using formula, so I often reasoned that I might as well cut the boob out for the sake of efficiency and move straight on to the baby milkshake. But oh, the guilt. The guilt! Regardless of how many articles I found about how there are inconclusive results as to what health benefits breast feeding offers, nothing could quieten the voice inside me that insisted I was a terrible mother for not trying harder, not sacrificing my only nipples to this milk hungry child. I desperately looked for information about how much breast milk baby needed each day to get the benefits. I also looked for advice on how long one should breast feed at an absolute minimum. The advice on offer was so varied that it became quite clear that no one knows a damn thing about breast feeding and its health benefits. When we took Whoopsy for his eight week check up, the GP asked me how he was being fed. ‘Baby junk food’ I responded, gloomily. ‘That’s okay’ he chirped, ‘so long as you breast fed for one, or two, or three weeks’. One OR two OR three weeks? Now, that doesn’t strike me as hard evidence based advice.
In my heart of hearts,I believe that breast milk is far superior to formula. I base this only on having seen what my body is able to produce in comparison to what my brain can conjure up. Case in point: my body made a human being. A whole living human being! The best my brain can do is remember the Fresh Prince of Belair theme tune. And that’s on a good day. Mother Nature was also unimpressed with my efforts and she made sure to hammer the point home by making my boobs throb every couple of hours so much so that I would cry out and grab my chest. It was as if she was saying ‘you think you can avoid the pain by giving up feeding your child? We’ll see about that..!’ Eventually the guilt wore me down and I decided to try and up my milk production in order to breast feed for at least a couple of meals a day. I committed to lots of feeding, plus lots of expressing, mixed with huge quantities of fennel tea and a couple of fenugreek tablets a day. And it worked! It worked to the point that my boobs started leaking out of my T shirts and down my tummy again. It was as if the rains had come.
There was one slight problem. Whoopsy. Poor Whoopsy, at this point, had grown accustomed to a nice warm bottle that would be administered easily and quickly and had almost endless contents. The boobs could offer some warm milk, but it was harder work and ran out far more quickly. So as I continued to agonise over breastfeeding, whether my baby would be dumber or fatter as a result of having baby milkshake, or whether I had opened him up to a lifetime of horrific diseases, the decision was made for me. Whoopsy had a favourite. I don’t know whether you’ve ever tried to insert your nipple into the mouth of a crying man, but nothing makes you feel less wanted or less helpful than the face of a baby who desperately doesn’t want your boob anywhere near them. It’s a real hit for the self-esteem, let me tell you. So the boobs were put away. The bottles and steriliser were given prime position on the kitchen countertop. Whoopsy almost claps his hands with glee every time he sees that plastic teat headed his way. And me? well, I’ve got to bear the punishment from Mother Nature who, with a chuckle, granted me my period for the first time since March this morning. Ta babes.