It starts with a feeling, a rising from the pit of my stomach. I don’t like it. It tastes wrong. It’s a guilty secret, the kind I could never ever share. Yet the more I think it, the more unruly it becomes…
I don’t like breastfeeding.
It’s 3am. Emily is six weeks old. I’m sitting up in bed with one of those farcical nursing pillows draped across my lap. It feels like a concrete pillar, pinning me against the headboard. I’m shattered. My back aches. I’ve been stuck in this position for most of the night.
Emily’s dozing. She’s fallen off my breast again and I don’t have the energy to wake her. But I must. My Health Visitor told me to. Emily’s not following her centile line again. She’s not feeding properly and it’s all my fault. I’m to wake her every three hours for a feed. But by the time I’ve fed, winded and changed her there’s no time left for me. The vicious cycle of sleep deprivation starts all over again.
I’m sore. Every feed feels like a thousand knives shooting through my chest. The oral thrush will be spotted soon enough but right now it’s undiagnosed. I’ve yet to discover the wonders of Lansinoh. The darkness is stifling me. My mind is racing.
I can’t do this anymore.
I push the thought away. It feels dirty. It’s not what nice mother’s think. It certainly isn’t something my NCT teacher would approve of. I’m being selfish. I need to do what’s best for my baby, and only my body can provide it. I’ve been force-fed the horror stories like everyone else. Formula causes reflux and constipation. I won’t be able to comfort her in the night. Not like this.
But who’s comforting me?
Certainly not my Health Visitor. She’s firmly in the Breastfeeding Camp. Besides, it would mean publically acknowledging my failing. I tried a Breastfeeding Group but I spent most of my time rocking a crying baby to sleep. Everyone knew each other. They all seemed to find breastfeeding easy. I felt intimidated. I made myself an outsider by my own feelings of inadequacy.
My husband wants to help but exhaustion has twisted everything again. I don’t remember him gently suggesting a bottle of formula yesterday. Mother’s Guilt has erased his words from my mind. I’m the mother. The weight of society’s expectation is my burden. In the darkness I feel like a solo parent, even though this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Panic. All I feel is panic.
Mother’s Guilt has a way of bringing out the stubborn streak in people. I’ll continue to breastfeed for another four months despite latch problems, oral thrush and PND. And why? Because by some half-cocked, bird-brained reasoning I want to prove to others and myself that I’m a ‘proper mother’.
Looking back, I want to shake myself awake. By refusing to accept formula, I chose to accept society’s ideals over my own sanity. And what happened when I eventually caved?
Emily flourished of course. And so did I.