Tuesday, 1 October 2013


     I’ve made a bit of a spectacular twat of myself in the last few days, with special grovelling apologies to one person in particular. You know who you are. But there is one argument I got into, where I really wasn’t as harsh as I could have been, and I wish I’d been slightly more direct with that person.

     When I was pregnant with The Boy, I had, as do most mothers to be, plans of the type of mother I’d be. I’d written my birthing plan (ideally, waterbirth, minimal medical intervention etc, but I knew this was a wishlist, not a given) and knew that I was going to breastfeed. I didn’t consider there to be an alternative. It was natural, it was best for baby, good for me, free, always on tap. Why wouldn’t you breastfeed?

     So it was a bit of a slap in the face when, three days after The Boy was born, we were back in hospital because he’d lost 10% of his birth weight, and needed to be monitored until he was back on track. And I was hooked up to some kind of Heath Robinson nightmarish vision of a machine that latched onto my nipples and sucked colostrum out of them. Except it didn’t. I spent an hour sitting on a hospital bed with my norks out and managed to produce about 10ml of milk. Not a problem, the midwives assured me. We’ll just give him formula.

     No, no, no. Formula is the work of the devil and wants to kill my child. But if he doesn’t get something into him, he will die. Shit. Ok, Formula it is. I was ridiculously tearful about it. Not in an outwardly sobbing, wailing fashion, more that my eyes were permanently full of tears that poured down my face with no effort on my part. I felt that at the very first hurdle of motherhood, I hadn’t just clipped it with my trailing leg, I’d run headlong into it. With a chainsaw. 

     Eventually, I did manage to start producing enough milk to sustain The Boy. But not without significant effort. He needed feeding 80ml every three hours, via a cup (I resisted bottles, hoping I could go back to breastfeeding once we were home). It took me at least an hour and a half to produce that much. And another hour to feed him. Which left 30 minutes every three hours for me to tend to all our other needs. Eating, sleeping, washing, nappy changing, burping him, all in those 30 minutes. And of course, being a baby, he frequently puked up my precious liquid gold breastmilk, which was dispiriting.

     But we did get to go home after five days, and I was told I could go back to breastfeeding. Except that I couldn’t. The Boy wouldn’t latch on. Not even slightly. I’d hold him and silently plead with him to just do what was instinctive, please, we’ve been through this, just bloody feed will you? And for whatever reason, he couldn’t. Second hurdle of motherhood is now ablaze and lighting up the night sky. Alistair, seeing how distressed I was getting, sent me to bed, went to Boots, bought formula, a breast pump and bottles. And took over feeding times, because I just couldn’t do it. I felt like this ten day old baby was rejecting me, that I wasn’t good enough, that I had failed. I hated seeing him devouring milk from a bottle.

     Blah blah blah… post natal depression…

      With The Girl, I made the conscious decision to not even attempt breastfeeding. I didn’t want to try, because I didn’t want to fail, and then have to cope with feeling inadequate. Ha. Still got bloody post natal depression, even worse second time around. Third hurdle of motherhood now being destroyed in a controlled explosion.

     I used to be very touchy about not breastfeeding, imagining that everyone was judging me for it, deciding that I obviously wasn’t a good mother, even though in all other respects I adhered scrupulously to the lentil weaving, sandal wearing Guardianista stereotype. Then, when The Boy started school, something occurred to me.

     It really doesn’t matter. Standing amongst 30 four year olds, I couldn’t tell who’d been breastfed, and who hadn’t, which of them had grown up on sma, and those who were still partial to boobs when they were two.  Yes, I know the science, I know breast is best. But bottle isn’t bad either. And my tetchiness about it evaporated. I saw a lot of other mothers on Mumsnet have a similar experience to my early days of being shit at breastfeeding, and how upsetting it was for them, and how a simple unthinking sentence from a stranger (usually something along the lines of ‘I decided to breastfeed because I believe in doing what’s best for my children’) could really sting and open up all sorts of old wounds.

     Then a few months ago, someone added me to a group on facebook called Yummy Mummies Something Or Other (yes, I know. Boakity boak boak. Trust me, I hoiked my judgeypants over my ears when I saw the Yummy Mummy part). It wasn’t really relevant to me, it was more about mums with young babies/toddlers and had a definite tendency towards ‘u ok hun lol x’ comments. Most questions on there could have been resolved with a quick trip to Let MeGoogle That For You (oh, how my fingers itched to type that so many times). But one morning, someone wrote something like ‘Lil Man has a cold at the moment and nursing him seems to really help. Breastfeeding is so great, can’t understand why more people don’t do it.’ I didn’t judge (that much). I told myself that she was probably tired, she didn’t mean to sound quite so smug or unaware that it’s not always a question of choosing not to. Then a few more people joined in with ‘Yep, me too, breastfeeding is great, Daddy’s Lil Princess is never having formula!’. I bit my lip. And sat on my hands. And moved onto other pages. But for some reason, facebook decided to notify me of every single bastarding comment (and trust me there were about thirty, all from the same four people), no matter how times I stabbed inelegantly at my phone to change settings. And so when someone reached a crescendo of selfcongratulatory wanking with ‘BOOBIES ARE FOR WINNERS LOL!’ I am afraid I bit. Not hard, certainly not enough to draw blood, more of a nibble.

     This is exactly what I wrote: ‘I’m really pleased you’ve managed to breastfeed successfully, I know a lot of women struggle with it. But it might be better to remember that quite a few mothers on here haven’t managed it, and it could be quite upsetting for them to see what you’ve said. If breastfeeding is for winners, one can only infer that formula is for losers. I don’t mean to be rude, by the way, just remember that not everyone has the same experience as you.’

     So not all that bad. Perhaps I could have worded it better, but there was Other Stuff going on that required my more urgent attention. And I had a flurry of private messages from some other members of the group, to say thanks, they had been hurt by what was being said, but didn’t feel able to say anything. And the lady with the victorious baps? How did she respond?

     ‘OMG I can’t believe you’ve said that that is just spiteful and you’ve really upset me and hurt my feelings what bisness is it of yours what I do who are you to judge me and my babies just because I love my children and do wots best for them.’

     Then she obviously sat back and reflected if there was any merit in what I was saying.

     ‘I’m actually sitting here crying now bcos of u I hope ur happy’

     Ah. Ok. I’d better not reply, she’s clearly upset, I don’t want to make things worse. Good job she’s got supportive friends.

‘omg u slag (that’s me by the way, not the lady with the gold medal chesticles) ur obvs jelus bcos u r a shit mum’


     ‘I no all about u, no wonder ur not married’

     Yes, by my own choice.

     ‘u failed ur children’

     In a million ways, sweetie, in a million ways.

     ‘i feel sorry for ur kids.’

     Sorry, was that supposed to hurt my feelings? I feel sorry for my kids too, the poor bastards. Oh, hang on, they’re off again…

     ‘ignore her hun, shes not worth it. Fucking bitch.’

     A perfect pen portrait of yours truly. Thank you. Click. ‘Are you sure you want to leave this group?’


Dawnie Brown said...

Great post :) my 2 were formula fed after failed breast feeding attempts and I used to beat myself up about it. But you know what I was happier and so were my kids. Well done to anybody who does breast feed, I just hate the BF bandwagon x

Lucy Benedict said...

Thank you! That's actually a point I intended to make, but got distracted! It matters more that your children are loved and cared for than where the milk comes from.

I've seen so many women on Mumsnet feel terrible that they didn't manage to breastfeed, and that they really struggled to get over it. It's such a tiny part of parenting, but it seems to be such an emotional topic that assumes a disproportionate importance in motherhood.

Anonymous said...

This is really good. I'm one of those Mumsnet mums. You've managed to articulate what I've been feeling but struggled to say.

Lucy Benedict said...

Thank you, that means a lot. Hope I've helped, if only a little.

Meeshie said...

I breast feed. I'm about as pro boobie as you can get while being a straight woman. I'm going back to college just to become a lactation consultant because I think most women that try and "fail" end up being unable to breast feed due to a lack of support and services.

However, to think that any woman is obligated to breast feed or she's some sort of monster is just the kind of stupidity you can expect from mommy groups these days. Ughs.

Making sure your child is fed and healthy is SO MUCH more important than whether it's boob or bottle or formula or unicorn pee.

I did a post on the judgmental mommy crap lately. Nice to see I'm not the only one that wants to thwap them all. (and yes, that was totally my shameless attempt to lure you to my blog. Come to the dark side! We have cookies!)

Lucy Benedict said...

Meeshie, I don't have a dark side. I AM the dark side!

Really interesting to hear what you think in light of your plans to become a lactation consultant. Seems crazy, but for the five days I was in hospital with The Boy, not one of the midwives attempted to see if there was a problem with how I fed him. Their immediate reaction was just to shove formula at us, and get me expressing. To be fair, that was nine years ago, I don't know if things have changed since then. But there was a definite lack of support and advice, which would have helped me a lot.

Really look forward to hearing how you get on (and your superbaby is ace. My toes curled when I read about the Baby's First Vomit incident. Remember that so well. Very different to the normal milk dribbles!).

Samantha Parke said...

Wow. The people on that FB group are clearly devoid of an intellectual, emotionally intelligent brain between them! I had a similar experience of breastfeeding my first child through a veil of tears and choosing to go down the formula road early on with no.2 and wrote this blog post: http://andthenthefunbegan.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/yet-another-breastfeeding-v-formula-feeding-post/ on the subject. By the way I found your blog through the lovely Lottie Lomas over at thesecretdivorcee.blogspot.co.uk

Lucy Benedict said...

Samantha, I've just read your blogpost, and it is so perfectly written, countering so many arguments. There are so many of us out there, why did/do we feel so ashamed?

And yes, Lottie Lomas is wonderful! I love all of her posts, but my favourite is her learning to fly post - I felt like I was in the plane with her (and got a massive Foo Fighters earworm too).

Sarah Wheeler said...

Great post. My little one had a combination of (expressed) breast milk and formula. I could never keep up even with the pitiful amounts he was taking, after a month in SCBU and hospital recovering from operation, he wasn't keen on doing anything that required work (and I was with him on that, my body gave up).

Love the exchange between yourself and the BF group, seems to me Jeremy Kyle is missing an opportunity. I am actually starting to feel bad that I didn't feel bad.

Lucy Benedict said...

I think I felt worse because my highly competitive (and utter bitch) sister in law had a baby the same age as The Boy and she breastfed. She never missed a chance to point this out.

I'm almost regretting leaving the group now. Think of the fun I could have with them!