I was and still am, a breastfeeding advocate. That is, I believe breast is the first choice, and more importantly, I support campaigns that educate women in poorer countries on the benefits of staying away from the local water for babies formula.
However, as any regular reader knows, I'm not an extremist, and I believe in, 'each to their own'. It wasn't until I started participating in mothering forums that I discovered the breastapo.
These are the women who go beyond advocacy into downright fascism - If you don't breastfeed you're obviously a bad mother and bottle feeding is tantamount to child abuse. And I'm not exaggerating either. There's an ugly phrase that's banded about by this group - withholding mother's milk. Like we don't give the baby an alternative, we just starve it.
During a time when I was not only recovering from my c-section surgery, dealing with my first newborn baby, that was a restless sleeper, and going through a terrible breastfeeding experience, I was devastated by such talk. I was offguard - not in my usual I'm-unaffected-by-what-others-think mindset. I was exhausted, sore, hormonal, and just good old-fashioned upset at not being able to get this right with my baby.
These women range from mildly prejudiced and socially blind, to tyrannical bitches. There is no room with them for individual experiences and even just for the right to choose for whatever reason. No, unless you've left both your breasts at the hospital for repairs, you have no excuse to not breastfeed.
So, my story was that I wanted the health-giving and bonding aspects of breastfeeding. And when my little Wildflower arrived, the desire to breastfeed was a physical and emotional ache. It felt like the most primeval urge. It felt right. It felt my responsibility. It felt like nothing was more vital in the mother-baby relationship - the giving of nourishment.
And then she would barely open her mouth.
Then her sucking was so weak.
The nurses were Victorian in their methods and only had one method and no equipment for serious problems.
And I didn't speak the language.
And baby was hungry and getting hungrier.
So I pumped to ensure she got the colostrum.
And to keep her nourished we had to go back and forth from boob to bottle.
I remember calling DIY Dad from the hospital in tears when she just wasn't latching on. After a c-section I had never wanted, now I couldn't seem to breastfeed. I felt like a total failure.
And then one day whilst pumping I thought my milk looked watery. I found internet sources and realised that my milk resembled cloudy water rather than the normal boobjuice. No wonder she was asking for more milk only 20 minutes after a feed. No wonder she cried so much. Poor baby was hungry.
Oh dear, I'm shedding a few tears now, recalling how distressed she was.
After 7 weeks of this torture, for both of us, I threw in the towel and decided to call it quits. That night, I backtracked as it seemed my milk improved. During the night she fed wonderfully. The ache in my heart from the hope that it was going to be alright afterall was unbelievable.
The next day, my milk was water again. The little Wildflower had had enough. This time, she rejected the boob.
My baby made things easier for me! She knew what she wanted and she wanted to be fed. Ah, my little Aries girl. The bottle it was. She thrived and her true happy nature had the chance to shine. Despite the occassional nostalgia about it all, I've never looked back.
I never wanted to give up. Breastfeeding is easier in my mind - all these bottles I have to make now! It was a traumatic time because I wanted it so desperately and because my hormones were doing the post-natal rumba. To have any woman class me as inferior, a bad mother, or selfish (which they do, trust me) is a sad state for sisterhood. One mother told me I needed to try harder - afterall, she had bleeding nipples and was in excruciating pain for months just to feed her son. This is good mothering?
I've left most of the mothering forums I first joined - the breastapo is in full force on the very popular ones. It's the intuitive and gentle parenting groups that understand, whatever their own choices. And this is the thing. If I remained in tune to my intuition, like I normally do, I would have let go of the breastfeeding sooner, or at the same time but without the guilt.
The unnecessary guilt I felt was partly because of the innate need to nourish baby, and partly because I read too much prior to her arrival. Too many - 'breast is best', and 'breast is the only choice by a good mother', type articles, forum posts, and books. One book I bought, to try to work through the problems, allowed one small sentence that admitted that there are a tiny percentage of mothers who don't have enough milk. That was it. No other options for using the bottle.
The bottle can be a serious health risk to babies in poorer countries because the water required to make up the formula is often contaminated. But formula itself isn't toxic. To hear some of these mothers you'd think the choices were boob or poison.
And sometimes formula even seems better for health. Of course it doesn't have the same mysterious antibody properties as breastmilk. But I've heard countless stories of babies with colic, spitting up, and skin conditions because of the mother's diet. And if, like my baby, yours is traumatised and hungry, and mother is incredibly stressed, then it's a no brainer.
Adopted children, sick children, non-breastfeeding mothers, and fathers through the ages have managed to create wonderful bonds and produce healthy, thriving children. It's an insult to them that their situation is in any way inferior to a mother who breastfeeds her child for years.
Yes, boob is generally best. But it's not a truism that it's always best.
As I've said on other occassions, mother's intuition is always best, not militant belief systems.
Let's remember the real enemies; the financially motivated formula pushers, the mother-unfriendly legislation and working conditions, and public prejudices against breasftfeeding.
Other mother's feeding choices should be kept where they belong - between mother and child.