Wednesday, 18 February 2015

You deserve cake, you're breastfeeding

cake, food illustration, cheesecake, mother diaries, parenting blog, funny parenting blog, breastfeeding, formula feeding, you deserve cake.

You deserve cake, you're breastfeeding

...said the lady at the baby group as I smuggled my newborn under my top and pretended I was feeding him. He wasn't really feeding: he'd fallen asleep, which is the better of the two options he does during feeding times (the other being screaming). I didn't feel very deserving, but I smiled an 'earth mother' smile and took the cake and ran (I didn't really run either, nursing bras are not that supportive).

I have to admit, I felt a bit of a phoney. I had planned to formula feed from day one because of my first baby's inability to feed without causing me to wince, but the fact that this baby took to feeding like suckling pig I figured that I may as well continue. I even quite liked having an excuse to sit in a chair and do absolutely nothing else, other than watch Friends on repeat. Apart from the distinct lack of waiter service, I even started to enjoy it. 

Until week four.

The feeding process started to take between one and two hours, and there's only so much Friends you can take. At night this meant I was getting four 40 minute naps a night – that's less than three hour's sleep. But I needed cake more than anything, so I pressed on.

I went to see a lady at a breastfeeding support centre (aka, a lady in a run-down school building full of ladies doing baby yoga). I walked in and she said "are you the lady with sore nipples?" In front of Geoff, the caretaker. I sheepishly nodded and followed her to a cornered off area which was covered in a display of children's handprints. Then she offered me cake like it was code for get your jugs out"Right, let's have a look," she said. I started to feed my baby for her to inspect but she decided that the problem may have been with my anatomy, so she called for a second opinion. In walked, no not Geoff, but a lady who was wearing a Burka and I'm sat there with both my boobs out. Imagine how ironic that scene is. It's amazing the things you do for cake.

It turned out my baby had a tongue tie, so I managed to get an appointment at the hospital to get it snipped. After a two week wait, an afternoon in an overheated waiting room and a hairy moment with a doctor and a pair of scissors, the deed was done. I went home and did some cutting of my own –  one big fat slice of chocolate cake, well deserved. 

The problem was, although there was no pain during feeding times, my baby's fussiness reached an all time high. I was exhausted at the thought of spending hours feeding and winding him. It felt like every time he fed from me he would cry, which didn't do wonders for my already sleep-deprived outlook on life. I was drained, trying to breastfeed at the same time as entertaining my four year old. My feeding chair had formed a bottom-shaped dent in it and it seemed to be getting larger by the day. I was starting to act like a bit of a martyr, something I promised myself I would not become. I wasn't enjoying being a mum, | resented it. And the trouble with deserving cake is that I could barely even cut myself a slice with only one hand free.  

So I stopped breastfeeding. 

And I no longer deserved cake. 

A week later and I'm stood in the shower and a bit of that remaining liquid gold cascades down my body. I don't expect to feel how I do; to shed a tear; to feel a sense of sadness that those nursing days are over. But I'm not allowed to grieve it, I'm no longer deserving of tea and cake and sympathy. Before children I thought that all formula feeding mothers gave up out of feminist defiance, but I'm just a mother who, like perhaps every earth mother and formula feeder who has gone before her, still grieves when she tells her body to stop a function. I'm human. 

I spoke to two mothers this week who 'confessed' to me that they gave up breastfeeding earlier than six months, as though it was a dirty secret. They only told me after I'd given them permission by my own honesty. They reeled off their medical reasons; their 'legitimate' excuses, as though looking after their mental health wasn't a valid option. They both called themselves failures – what a label. It made me feel a little sad that these women make up the majority of mothers, yet still they feel a sense of shame that they couldn't have their cake and eat it.

Apparently, 83% of women in the UK aren't exclusively breastfeeding their babies at three months (99% at six months, in case you were wondering). That's a hell of a lot of ladies who don't deserve cake. And of the cake-eating 17%, maybe some will find their experience blissful, others dutiful. Some show understanding to the 83% and some look on in disapproval. And they're not the only judgemental ones. They're shortly followed by the formula feeders who feel pressured by government targets, or bitter that they could not breastfeed and wanted to. They speak of earth mothers with cynicism, as though nature isn't lovely. 

And it makes me feel a little sad. Can't we all eat cake together?

And so I would like to tell you from one mother to another that, yes, you deserve cake. Yes, you deserve cake for breastfeeding your baby. Yes, you deserve cake for choosing to formula feed and looking after your sanity. Yes, you deserve cake for making it through another day. You deserve cake for birthing these beautiful little creatures (well frigging done, you absolute legend!). You deserve cake, you're a parent.

Now excuse me while I go cut myself a slice of lemon drizzle*.

*Still one-handed.

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