… but still no worse than I feel myself.
I am very envious of women who seemingly effortlessly breastfeed and this is one parenting guilt I do suffer from. I have been politely asked why I do not breastfeed. I have also been attacked for not breastfeeding.
Here is my story.
I didn’t breastfeed with the first four through choice. When it came to my fifth pregnancy I was determined this would change. I read up, asked questions, sought advice, invested in a pump, bags for freezing breastmilk, nipple cream – everything! I was determined. Eddie was born and I was shown what to do, how to hold him, how to latch correctly. I did it, but I was in pain from the off. I carried on seeking advice, trying to feed him despite the pain and despite him not settling. I carried on, and on, determined that I was going to do this but I was getting more and more upset that what came so naturally to other mums was so hard for me to do. What was wrong with me?
My nipples were red raw, bleeding so much that the milk was pink. I tried using shields but they didn’t work either. Finally, it came to the point I was resenting my baby. I didn’t want him near me. I didn’t want to feed him. I resented him. I hated being in so much pain, I hated that I was letting him down and I felt like a complete failure as a mother. Then I got mastitis too. But what hurt the most was the sheer contempt I was developing towards my baby. This was not right.
This was the final straw. I called a friend – a midwife – and told her how I felt. I was in tears. Why couldn’t I do this? Why was I getting it so wrong? What else could I try?
And she told me what I needed to hear.
She told me it was ok not to breastfeed.
She pointed out that the four children I had chosen not to breastfeed had not suffered at all. Nobody had any ailments, illnesses or problems were are told are linked with formula feeding. They were healthy, thriving babies who had grown into healthy, thriving children.
She told me that I didn’t need to worry and most of all, that I didn’t need to feel guilty and should stop that guilt.
That was the reassurance I’d been needing and it hadn’t been forthcoming. I had been wrestling with the guilt and the feeling of failure for something that I had been told came naturally. I was coming under fire from other women who, instead of supporting me, were telling me that I must have been doing something wrong and that I obviously hadn’t gone to the right places for help or advice. I would meet up with other mums who would happily sit and chat while feeding their baby and I’d sit and smile resenting myself for not doing the same. The negativity met by others was rife, but it was still nowhere near how I made myself feel.
That negativity and sometimes even outright vitriol is still common. Only a couple of days ago I received a comment stating, “You should be ashamed of yourself not getting valuable breastmilk into those twins. And now you help sell the idea to others influenced by your mythical ‘super mum’ opinion. Ready made formula from the outset without colostrum is neglect at best”. I didn’t let the comment through under the post it was submitted (a competition to win baby bottles) but did want to address it. Comments and insults like this are not rare. (Oh, and for the record, I’ve never claimed Super Mum status – but thanks for offering to put me on the pedestal just so you can knock me off it). I looked up the blog of the person who took the time to email to me. She was attempting to become a surrogate for two gay men. I was so tempted to ask how they were planning to breastfeed. Clearly, the irony of what she was doing compared to what she was berating me for was lost on her.
No, they are not rare. Being accused of neglect, of abuse and of being a terrible, unworthy mother is par for the course if you admit to formula feeding.
Nowadays, I still feel uncomfortable when the subject of feeding baby comes up. I still feel like I should defend myself or excuse myself to others.
And this is the one mothering conversation topic that has me quietly but swiftly backing out of a (virtual) room.