I’ve been asked this a lot. I find the whole subject of breastfeeding very hard, not least as it is so knotted up with so many heartfelt emotional issues. I know many women who carry feelings of guilt, worry, resentment about breastfeeding or being unable to do it as they might have hoped. Me? I feel quite ‘meh’ about the entire enterprise.
I had a relatively easy time, actually. I fed Spider-boy exclusively for months and months. I even managed to keep him exclusively breastfed on demand through insane expressing when I was back at work. With Newborn we’re still going great guns, even though he is weaning fast.
Breastfeeding appealed, or rather suited me, partly because I am quite lazy (it was convenient) and partly, I suspect, because I am competitive. The competition was with myself, not other women. A complex dare to myself to get something right after Spider-boy’s horrible entrance, and now , inevitably, I find my attitude to breastfeeding is lost in a muddled up sensation that for as long as possible I must do the same for his brother. I love all the benefits, and think that for lots of women there are many pitfalls and disappointments which could have been avoided with help and support and a bit of good fortune.
Like almost all parenting issues, from the expense of children’s shoes to the guilt associated with uncontrolled or ‘failure’ births, we think our generation invented it. But my 90 year old Grandmother talks with real sadness (immediate and only just not raw) about not being able to feed her children in the 1950s.
Often people have remarked on how impressive my feeding Spider-boy was, both when I had post-natal depression and when I had a month of hospital admissions because my body had stubbornly refused to get rid of his placenta. They congratulate me, and are enthused. I still feel slightly blank. I kept feeding him, mostly because it never occurred to me to stop. Even when I had mastitis and other problems. I’m lucky, even when I was pretty ill – I couldn’t lift him up when I was readmitted – I still found it instinctive to bumble on, breastfeeding was just a part of our lives like getting dressed or brushing my teeth. I’d do things like stroke his feet, tickle his toes, allow him to push against me as he scrambled at the tit without knowing why. And feed him every couple of hours because, well, that is how he ate and what he seemed to want.
More luckily, both my lads were instinctive too. As they were placed on my deflating belly, so perfect and incredible having transformed the labour room by the neat trick of being born and forever changing the universe with their presence, they both snortled onto my boobs, lifted them and adjusted their latch. Tinkering like aged mechanics, as if they had been breastfeeding for all time rather than just seen a nipple for the first time in their life, they both started up on their own terms within minutes of birth. I just let them move around, entranced as each son fiddled with his position and latch and then sucked like crazy until he stopped. Whether to drift into a drunken milky snooze, pull off and look around or resume reedy screaming.
After Spider-boy and I stopped feeding, at 14 months, and because he simply smiled, went to go in for a suck then grinned and clambered off me, I began to wonder how someone as anxious as me, could have been so laid back? For example, I never worried about whether he was getting enough milk. I just kept feeding when he was grumpy or hungry. I fed him when ever he cried or complained, and soon he had his own cues (like Newborn after him he lacked subtlety, their main cue for a feed is lifting my top and making to open my bra).
I never even felt they loved it, or enjoyed it themselves especially. Not for us the NCT catalogue, Madonna and child tableaux, all still baby sucking half asleep as mother looks wistfully down. They both adopted a different tack -indignation and fury when they weren’t being fed, frenzy when being fed, always treating it like it was their last chance for food ever in the world. They both concentrate hard and go for quick massive feeds. They scratch and hit and grab and squeeze. They don’t look all peaceful and sweet, they don’t lie still on my lap – they buck and writhe and suck and suck and suck, barely stopping even to be sick!
And yet I am often asked if I like it, and people assume I love it. I don’t like the sensation of breastfeeding much, and though I appreciate the weight loss (and occasionally consider a life of expressing twice a day to undermine my chocolate habit) and feel mildly content that I’ve fed them so long, I can’t quite say I like it at all. I appreciate my luck and circumstance in feeding both of them. And from a distance I can even see I ploughed through tough moments (most recently, for example, Newborn’s razor incisors slicing a bit off one of my nips. No, really). But the feeling is still neutral (ish).
I feel a bit invaded and wish I could wear dresses. I hate the complexity of showing my tits in public, especially as the only way to conquer that one is to just do it and people assume you are so brazen and self-confident that you don’t care that you have no mystique left at all. I can’t talk about my dislike of showing off other surrounding flesh, especially my crepe paper tummy, and I fucking despise breastfeeding bras having never found one which makes me look human, let alone womanly.
I am not even sure at all about the positive spin on being the ultimate final point of contact, the place where the buck rests, whenever they are upset. I can see why some enjoy that centre of the world position, always the last one to turn to, the woman with the magic, but I find I am cowed and occasionally resentful of the responsibility.
I sound so passive, in this post, and perhaps that is my real lucky strike, breastfeeding being something which I didn’t find it too hard to work at; even though it was a bit like a chore it was something I seemed to be able to just do. Mostly though, I’m neutral. Happy to do it, pleased for the benefits (for them, for me, for society as it is so green and good in terms of public health), and aware many women I know were not lucky enough to have good role models or advice or a bit of early luck with their latch or sense of supply. But I am still struggling with whether I ‘enjoy’ it.
As I wrote this post though, Newborn demolishing a TV remote control, his brother trying to enjoy Mr Tumble I did think of something I liked about breastfeeding. Something which was palpable and gooey and the stuff my new mum days will always be touched by, and that’s the view. The aerial view of my lads, their concentrating face and perfectly soft round heads. I love what I see when they are latched, squirming on my lap, snarling slightly and feeding like I may never offer it again. Perhaps they are greedy, or aware, deep down, of my ambivalence as they go into battle with my tits? But mainly, even in the frenzy, they are beautiful. Peachy featured, perfect and intense. And captured forever in time as their face from this over-boob vantage point has hardly changed from their firstborn moments when, all sticky and brand new they were handed to me and pushed through my flesh to find ‘their’ place.
Here’s looking at you, kids.