When Theo was born via caesarean, I felt like a failure. The terminology thrown around whilst I tried to “push” didn’t help. I was told I’d “failed to progress” in labour, and that I’d “failed” to push the half a centimetre of cervix back to allow Theo to be born (after almost twenty hours of labour, I’d dilated to nine and a half centimetres – so close yet so far from the birthing experience I’d envisioned). So, the distinct feeling of failure was instilled in me before I was even taken to theatre.
Then came breastfeeding. Two hours after Theo was born, he was finally placed on my bare chest for the very first time. I’d researched the magical bonding benefits of skin-to-skin contact, and was keen to get those tender snuggles in as quickly as possible. As I cuddled my son, breathing in that gorgeous newborn scent that I’d give the earth to bottle, I lowered him to my boob where he nuzzled in and – painfully – latched onto me for his very first feed. With the help of the incredible student midwife who remained by my side throughout labour and whilst I was in recovery, I managed to successfully breastfeed my beautiful boy for the very first time. I remember weeping tears of delirious joy. I felt like I had redeemed myself as a mother. And even then, in my delirious state, I knew there was no other option for me. I HAD to breastfeed Theo. I might not have given birth to him naturally, but nothing could stop me from giving him the very best start in life.
I am an enormous advocate for breastfeeding and all its glorious benefits for both mummy and baby. And in the early days, weeks and even months of Theo’s life, it seemed that everybody in my life was in favour of it too. I was praised by everyone, and told I should be so proud of myself for sticking at something which can undeniably be an exhausting, all-consuming experience for mums. When I reached my one-year breastfeeding milestone, it felt like one of the greatest achievements of my life – and it was. Now, as I’m days away from hitting my 18-month breastfeeding milestone, I’m not blind to the shift in opinion. Now that Theo is eating three square meals every day and snacking in-between, it’s as though everyone expects breastfeeding to be a thing of the past. When I tell people that Theo still wakes at night, sometimes twice, for a feed, I can sense the judgement. I’m hearing comments such as “he must be using you for comfort” and “surely you should be past that by now” more and more often. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt. But am I going to stop before I feel me and Theo are both ready? Absolutely not.
Then, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and spotted a post from one of my favourite breastfeeding brands – the wonderful, refreshingly authentic @thelittlemilkbar_. The brand’s owner was posing in the most brilliant t-shirt which boldly read: Mind Your Own Tits. Theo was fast asleep in my arms at the time, but I whisper-shouted: “FUCK YES!”
It was such a cheeky but empowering sentiment. A big part of me wanted to screenshot and send to every single person who had (unintentionally, I’m sure) made me feel as though I should be putting the brakes on breastfeeding. What a lot of people don’t realise is that breastfeeding is about so much more than simply feeding your baby. It isn’t just a means to an end. The comfort of breastfeeding, contact-napping and co-sleeping got me through a pandemic. The ability to cuddle my son because I want to whilst also fulfilling his each and every need – not just hunger – brings me an enormous sense of joy and fulfilment as his mummy. I never imagined that I’d breastfeed for this long. I told myself a year would be ideal, but took one day at a time. Now that we’re almost 18 months in, I don’t feel ready to stop. And if Theo is using breastfeeding for comfort, is that really such a problem? If breastfeeding for comfort helps to make him feel safe again after a bad dream, or if he’s feeling a little under-the-weather and needs his mummy close to feel better, then I’ll be there, every time. I wouldn’t leave a friend in a dark room, alone, crying. So I’m never going to expose my sweet baby to that, either.
The next time I feel judged by my ongoing breastfeeding journey, I will bear the Mind Your Own Tits campaign in mind. If you’re reading this and can relate to the way I’ve been feeling lately, remind yourself of all the INCREDIBLE benefits of breastfeeding your baby by visiting the NHS website here.
Until next time!