Just wait for me to adopt a defensive foetal posture before I say this.
Ok, I’m ready.
I really dislike breastfeeding.
Bear with me a minute. I know the benefits. I believe in them. That’s why I keep plugging (nippling?) on. But I am not a glorious earth mother overflowing with milk and honey. I have little babies and what I give them doesn’t make them larger. Oh, I dream of thigh rolls, chubby hands and wrists and endless double chins. They never arrive. If you graded my milk on a McDonald’s menu scale, it’d be one crappy lettuce leaf from one of those salads that nobody gets because nobody goes to McDonald’s for salad, do they?
Me and breastfeeding, we have a history, and it’s less of a misty Mills and Boon romance and more a War of the Roses. A couple of years ago I arrived at a doctor’s office with a tiny, jaundiced seven-week-old, and sobbed all over a doctor I’d never met. She was so, so kind. She sent me off to hospital knowing that it would terrify me further – which it did – but did so as gently as possible. They were all lovely, the doctors and midwives and nurses, but they all had to tell me that the only thing wrong with him was that he was hungry. Ravenously hungry. That was why he was ill.
He’d been hungry all this time. I was horrified.
It felt like a stinging failure, then, and so did the remedy they suggested to fatten him up quickly (topping up with formula milk). But despite feeling like I’d fallen at the first fence of motherhood, I started to love the certainty of that bottleful he downed after every feed. BAM, there’s another five ounces. I could see it turning into chub before my eyes. He was full, and happy, and he slept. After a while, I started to wonder why it felt like a failure at all. Why was it a badge of honour, exclusive breastfeeding? If I wasn’t making enough – and clearly I wasn’t – and we were lucky enough to live in a situation where extra food was just hanging around on supermarket shelves, then why on earth was I being advised to sit at home week after week, trying pointlessly to make more while Henry went hungry? Why was it that I told other mothers about his formula as though I were apologising, when secretly I only rejoiced in that double chin?
Two years on, we are back in the Wars of the [boob]Roses. If you gathered together a hundred babies in order of size then Teds, bless his skinny chicken legs, would be second-smallest. I have spent these four weeks feeding him every time he squeaks, on sofas, on beds, hour after midnight hour. I am sore and exhausted and anxious for him. There is something about sitting in mess, wearing half a t-shirt and trying to fill a ravenous boy, that makes me feel like I’ll be tidying and refereeing tantrums and endlessly breastfeeding for the rest of my natural life. He’s holding onto his weight gain for now. For now. I am keeping a steely eye on him, and me.
Because, this time, I know that the reason every health visitor gives me different advice is because every baby is different. I think about that poor girl sobbing in a doctor’s office, and part of me is angry that I ever allowed it to get that far. I do not want to feel like I need to apologise, because there are no tests to pass or fences to leap, with newborns. It’s only important that your baby is fat and happy, and you are sane and happy, and there are more ways than one to make it so. This time I am more inclined to listen to my gut. My gut says, do everything you can to fill that baby up.
I will, because I think we should throw away the badges of honour. I don’t want one. I just want a double chin.