Today, I hate breastfeeding

There are times I hate the fact I’m breastfeeding. Times like just now, when I’ve just stuck my hand into my handbag and found that my stored, expressed, precious, breastmilk has leaked all over my make up bag. Times like earlier, when I was in a meeting and had forgotten my cardigan and so was convinced that I was leaking through my dress but couldn’t check (I wasn’t). Times like ten minutes after that meeting, when I finally got a chance to express and hung my dress on the door so it wouldn’t get milk on it and then it fell in some sort of toilet-floor puddle. Times like last night, when I was once again tasked with dealing with a can’t-sleep-won’t-sleep baby because “she only wants milk”. Times like last night when baby didn’t in fact want milk, but instead wanted to bite things. Hard.

And there’s the rest of it. The humility of having your baby slap you in the chest when you’re trying to talk to someone or pointing at your nipple and saying “that” over and over. Being drawn into discussions on how long I intend to breastfeed for (no idea, probably not much longer if today is anything to go by); also see discussions on why “breast is best” (yes I’m breastfeeding but that doesn’t mean I necessarily hold an opinion on what other mothers do or don’t do! Live and let live, people!!)

And, also, if we are on the subject of breastfeeding. I also really hate all those ‘normalise breastfeeding’ posts. I love what they stand for - I mean essentially if you need to feed your baby, you should feed your baby, that’s basically where that dialogue should begin and end - but I hate the fact they are all of women breastfeeding beautifully and successfully and not of the 'real’ side of it. Of a bleary faced new mum trying unsuccessfully to get her baby to latch, or of a close up of a chaffed, bleeding sore nipple. Of a mum wincing as the newborn latches and goes for its life, of a breast pad hanging out of a sick-milk stained (repulsive, by the way) bra and t shirt. Of mastitis. Of that purple tube of balm that you rub on yourself about seventeen thousand times a day. Of a chair with no arms and the despair that entails. Of all the hunched and sore backs and dead arms and of all the failed “rugby ball” positions. Of sitting in a restaurant, stripped to the waist and feeding. These images would normalise breastfeeding, seeing Giselle feeding in a ball gown with her lovely flat stomach and placid, non-flailing, baby does not.

I do think that along with all these positive affirmations of breastfeeding people should be more honest about the fact that sometimes it’s a bit shit.
For me, expressing is hands down a really shit experience. I hate it. I hate how it makes me feel, I hate how little I produce, I hate all the bloody sterilising and storing and labelling and hiding and the boredom. I wish I didn’t have to do it.

And the thing is, I know there are women who wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t and I know there are women who could and decided not to and I know, or at least think I know, that these women could interpret this moan as ungrateful/silly old cow syndrome. And I’m sorry, but sometimes I just hate breastfeeding and today is one of those days. I’m not even going to write something like “oh but it’s so good for my baby” blah blah blah, because frankly we’ve been hit over the head with that message time and again and this is exactly why women put themselves through the mill trying to do something even if their body is screaming “NO! I DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS”. Anyway, I’m off to clean my make up brushes for the first time in ever.

Chill. Just breathe.

Has anyone else noticed that there are certain topics amongst mothers that are like conversation dynamite? Conversations that illicit high emotions, opinions and heart rate?!
If, for example, you’d told me ten months ago that I’d get my knickers in a twist over someone telling me how I should be (or, more to the point, should not be) sleeping with my baby, I’d think you were mad. That’s more because I thought the baby would just sleep in its cot and eventually move to a bed and in between there might be a bit of crying and rocking and lullabying, but it’s not like it would be a thing or anything. It’s not like it would be me rocking and crying and the teddy lullabying and nobody would ever sleep, ever. It’s not like that at all.

Anyway, I digress. Turns out baby sleeps amazing (more than three hours) when she’s in bed with me. Sometimes. Sometimes she just wants her own bed and sleeps amazing there that’s happened about three times.) And it turns out that co-sleeping is not that unusual and weird and actually loads of people do it and babies hardly ever get squashed. You see, that’s what I was worried about: squashing the baby. I wasn’t worried about making a rod for my own back, setting unclear boundaries (seriously, what the fuck), being manipulated by my baby, or any of the other things, which is just as well as it turns out there are lots of people around who are worried enough about this to tell me I’m wrong. Or worse, tell my husband who then tells me and I tell him to fuck off and then it’s a thing and I have to tell myself off in my head because I am trying to be GENTLE and telling my husband to fuck off is probably a bit not-gentle.

As I live in Brighton I am lucky that most mums I meet are pretty like-minded and accepting and so I haven’t had too many ‘dynamite’ conversations but sometimes I’ll come across someone who doesn’t think it’s ok to just sort of make it up as you go along and then it’s just a bit… Awkward. Where do you go after someone essentially says you’re doing it all wrong?

Feeding is another one. I literally have no opinions when it comes to how you feed your baby. As long as you’re feeding him or her, that is. Bottle or boob I will support you because you have your reasons for doing what you’re doing and your kid looks great and oh my god is anyone else’s baby doing that weird tongue lolling thing? Seriously, it’s nobody’s business how I am feeding my baby, it’s nobody’s business how long I will continue to feed my baby in this way and frankly, why do you even care? I don’t ask you what you ate for every meal and where you sat when you did it so leave me the fuck alone. Also, I’m breastfeeding and my baby likes to yank whatever cover I try to wear right up, so I don’t use one of those either. I expect you’ll want to know more about *that* too.

What else? Routines. No, my baby is not in a routine. I have a vague idea how the day goes and she goes to bed at the same time each night, but she pretty much does what she likes. I feed her when she is hungry and she naps when she is tired. That’s it. That’s not to say being in a routine is wrong, or worse or better or good. It’s just… This is what we do and our child hasn’t burst into flames or started doing coke along with her milk at lunchtime.

There’s so many of these minefields: paid work vs SAHM; immunisations; TV/screen time; whether I use my phone while feeding (?!); baptisms; whether you put your child in pink/blue (seriously. This is a thing too); naughty step. I can’t, I just can’t. Live and let live, yeah?

Thing is, parenting is hard. I mean, it’s massively rewarding and fulfilling and lovely too, of course. It’s amazing and wonderful and funny and mad. But it’s tough to know if you’re doing the right thing sometimes. And if you can’t sound out close friends and relatives without being judged and branded as a TERRIBLE parent, then it sort of adds to it, doesn’t it? So let’s all chill the fuck out and try to make 2016 the year we just support each other and judge less, ok? Good.

Loss

This week’s been difficult. I say that because a lot has happened and it’s also been quite stressful. But emotionally, I think it’s been difficult for me because I’ve had to face things that I had shut off. I mean things I had shut myself off from. I’m taking about my miscarriage. I’m talking about the loss of my baby.

If it’s not easy to read that, trust me, it’s been harder to write it.

I’ve had this post in me for a long time. I’ve thought about moving on and not talking about this and not making it public for two reasons. Firstly, my experience of loss compared to others seemed inadequate. I suffered a miscarriage, or what the doctors called a ‘natural abortion’ when by my count I was ten weeks pregnant. But my baby didn’t grow from five weeks. I didn’t need an operation, I didn’t have to give birth to a baby. I know people who have gone through this and next to that experience what I went through feels minimal. Inadequate. Silly.

Secondly, I write about love on this blog, I do. I write about my love for my husband, for my friends, my family. Sometimes I am accused of over-sharing, of writing 'drivel’ even. I don’t care, I write because I always have. You just need to look under my bed at the stacks and stacks of old diaries to see that. But when it’s something this close to my heart, I almost don’t want to share it. It’s part stiff upperlip-ness, part fear. It’s hard to let people see the real you.

And that is what I wanted to address today I suppose. I wanted to say that yes, I had a miscarriage. And no, I haven’t grieved for that baby.

I love my baby, my Nives, more than I can ever come close to expressing with mere words, but not a day goes by when I don’t think about my other baby.

My loss came up this week during a massage, of all places, and it stopped me in my tracks. My masseuse, a talented, amazing, woman asked me if I had suffered a loss. And once I started to tell her, I felt I couldn’t stop. I saw her a few days later and she told me: your face has changed. And she said: you never showed anything before. And she’s right.

Since having Nives I’ve been like those bloody ducks: still on the surface, paddling madly below. I think it’s common to give an air of coping to the world but inside be screaming. I know that’s what I have done.

The day I started to lose my baby I went to hospital on my lunch break, waited to be scanned to see what was wrong and then, when they couldn’t fit me in, I walked back to work and went into a meeting with HR and sacked someone.

I knew I had that meeting and I put that above my own experience. The next day, when I was cramping and bleeding, I welcomed a friend who came to visit and went to a BBQ. I didn’t stay long because I was in so much pain. But I insisted Danny stay and I walked home. Then I got home, went to the bathroom and lay on the floor sobbing.

Why did I go to the BBQ? Why did I go back to work? Why did I walk home? Why didn’t I just shut myself and Danny in my house and go through the miscarriage in a human way? I don’t know, but I think it’s the duck theory. I feel like maybe it was more important to be coping than to be grieving.

My baby wasn’t a baby yet, not really. But in my mind I had held him, I had pictured us together, I had our future as a trio mapped out. So when I lost him, although the physical side was brutal, the emotional side was a million times worse.

And again, of course I am grateful and in love with my beautiful, clever and charming baby girl. My grief for my lost baby doesn’t change that at all. But I am allowed it.

And I suppose this week has taught me that I don’t need to look like I’m coping all the time. That it’s ok to let your guard down and it makes you softer and more likeable even. Maybe.

Don't pity me

Writing this note makes me sad. It makes me sad because there’s no reason why I should feel like I need to write this. This, what I am about to write, should be implicitly understood and respected. But it is not. And so here I write - here I scream from the bloody rafters, if you will: being a mother is the best bloody thing I have ever done.
Do not pity me, do not think your life is better than mine because you can still fit into your size ten jeans and you go to sleep each night without mashed banana in your hair. It is not.
Do not assume I want to go on girlie holidays and now am sad I cannot. I can, by the way, but I do not want to. I want to go on holidays with my girl. I want to hold her hands while she feels the sea run over her chubby feet. I want to blow soft raspberries on her pudgy belly under a sun umbrella, hold her close to me in a swimming pool as she flaps with delight. I want to fall asleep in the middle of the day next to her and wake to her beautiful face next to mine, babbling. I’ll take the nappies, the shrieks, the lack of sleep. I’ll take it all fifty times over to have these moments with my girl.
I do not want to go to clubbing. I am 35 and clubbing makes me feel old. Although it’s not an age thing. I haven’t wanted to go clubbing for years. I want to lie in the still night and listen to my girl breathe and snort. I want to feed her in the half light of the moon. You like clubbing, I do not. But it is not as a consequence of being a mother.
Do not assume that my life is easy, do not assume it is hard. It is both. Loving her is easy and, luckily for me, natural. Parenting is hard, harder than anything I have ever done and infinitely more rewarding.
Do ask after her. She exists. Do ask how she is, what is she doing. You’ll see a light come on behind my eyes as I tell you. If you love me, you must love her.
Do continue to ask me out for drinks, meals, plays. Our friendship has not altered and I want to know what is going on in your life. I love you, but don’t pity me.

Friends

People always, always, ask me how my nights are now that I am a new mum. They ask me if my daughter is a ‘good baby’. “Does she sleep through?” They ask, to which the answer is yes, she is a good baby, because all babies are good babies you moron. No baby is bad. And no, of course she doesn’t sleep through. Because she’s a baby for Christ’s sake.
Anyway, in the still early hours, in the half light of our shared room - this room which for now holds my whole new family - I get to thinking. And I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships and love and counting the ways I am grateful for my friends and how different each of my friends are and feeling generally blessed to have all this love in my life to share with this little person.
And this is especially important because the majority of the people I am thinking about and feeling grateful about are women. And I have to say that if I respected the women in my life and the way our friendships formed and were part of my life before, then motherhood has sort of injected a gazillion love hearts into that sentiment, because now I think of my friends and I as a tribe powered by love for each other.
There are friendships that have lain dormant for years but now there is something wonderful which binds us again. These women who send a text or a random bobbly t shirt in the post for no reason other than to be helpful and kind. friendships that have stood the test of years - of former lives and loves and times - and which have had to change form, but have done so.
There are new friends, new mothers like me, who listen past the tears of frustration when my baby’s dictatorial sleep regime grinds me down to a pulp. Who don’t judge but say things like “we’re all in the trenches together”. God, if it wasn’t for these friends my journey so far would be very different indeed.
I want more than anything for my daughter to have these strong friendships too. I want her to be part of a tribe, want her to realise the importance of other women and of caring. This is undoubtedly one of the important lessons I can teach her. I hope.
Teaching her anything of substance however seems a long way off. I’ve taught her how to stroke the cat GENTLY, I think. And to giggle when the teddybear stops walking around the garden and tickles her (why is he walking around the garden?! Why should we walk around the garden LIKE a teddybear? They don’t walk!). She knows she is loved and she trusts me. And it is this, I think, which will be the starting point for all else.

Motherhood

My baby is over two months old. I feel that only now am I emerging from what has been the most physically and emotionally testing time of my life.
I fell in love with her straightaway. As soon as she emerged, pulled out of her safe haven by cold forceps into the harsh hospital light covered in shit and screaming, I loved her. That moment was the most beautiful and defining moment of my life. Each day since I have loved her more as she has developed and swollen her personality, rewarding me at the darkest of times with an impromptu smile or gurgle.
I’ve suffered sore, cracked and blistered nipples. Raw, stretched and burst weeping stitches. Piles. Anal fissures. Sleep deprivation and utter exhaustion. My marriage has also been tested. As much as my world has changed and I have become this scarred and tired - but loving - being, my husband’s life has continued more or less as normal. It’s difficult not to throw an icy glance in his direction when he complains of tiredness when he’s had a nine hour sleep. Or, yell with frustration when he arrives late home because he “deserved” a beer after work on a day when the baby has just Not. Stopped. Crying.
But you learn to see things from his point of view. And you learn that neither marriage not parenthood lend themselves to point scoring.
Support, for me, has come from the emotionally and physically tested mothers I have met along the way. Women who I previously did not know are my lifeline. We text each other our questions, our fears and frustrations and reveal our inadequacies at all times of day. We visit each other and receive visitors dressed in our oversized Tshirt nighties. We breastfeed in front of each other and, later, we learn to do this in front of everyone. These women have helped insurmountably in shaping my confidence as a mother.
Life for me won’t return to how it was pre-baby. I shan’t ever work a 14 hour day to put a magazine to press and then drink two bottles of prosecco and get the last tube home. Mainly, because I now live on Brighton and there is no tube here and ten months of no alcohol means this would kill me. But, also, there is nothing that will keep me from my baby for that amount of time. And, I’m now pretty shit hot at time management.

If I could reach younger me.

If I had to write a letter to my younger self I would tell her that everything was going to be ok. That all the people in your life that make you feel crap will be replaced by people who love you, who make the effort for you. Who want you in their lives so freakin much they travel across oceans to see you.

I would say that you can now look in a mirror and see something that is beautiful, and growing. Something that maybe isn’t perfect, but beauty never is. It’s something that is clever, and hard working and yeah, pretty.

I would say ‘don’t worry about your mum’.

I would say – guess what! You have two cats! And you will work for a magazine! When you speak, people will listen! Someone wants to marry you! And you’ve travelled to so many countries that people come to you for travel advice.

I’d give her a massive hug. I’d give that poor, broken, girl a massive hug. And I would say “you know what, kid, it doesn’t get easier to cope with the shit people throw at you. It’s always going to be really really rubbish when someone you love lets you down, or goes out of their way to dig their claws deep into you and rip out your heart, but you will be stronger and you will be able to cope with it.”

I would tell her that it’s ok to cry yourself to sleep, but it’s better to find a shoulder to lean on – those people are out there, and they do love you!

And I would say, kid, the best thing that’s happened to you is that you haven’t let this blackness shut your heart out. When you grow up you let people in. And yeah, sometimes they stamp on your heart. And yeah, it does hurt. But most of the time it feels amazing to have these people in your life. And the rest of them? You walk away from.

I would say, I love you kid.

pencil drawing by Morgan Ann LaRue