Updated: May 4
This is my story. I deserve to be heard. My voice matters, too.
Breastfeeding Week is here once again and placing aside the tide of argument that it shouldn't exist is hard, particularly as someone who struggled with feeding and someone who supports others on their journeys, too.
My suggestion for anyone who finds this week triggering, would be to get a proper debrief from a breastfeeding counsellor or lactation consultant: these gifted individuals will support a range of feeding experiences and are qualified and experienced enough to hear your story and help you find some peace with it, if you are struggling to. I know this, because I have done this.
'Oh but it was easy for you' I hear when talking about feeding my two smallest. No, no it wasn't and for many reasons, not just one clear cut - but I was so stubborn and bloody minded (there's really no other way to say it) partly because I had struggled once before many years previous and partly because baby formula is a LOT of effort. And money.
First time around my journey was tricky. I was in a truly chaotic place in life, a place where most don't imagine they'll ever be in and a place I wouldn't wish on others. I was met with a lot of resistance and criticism when I said I would be breastfeeding, I heard what I now know to be all of the phrases and quips which can have a negative impact on a journey and they burrowed deep in my mind and took residence, so I can remember them word for word today, years later. Thankfully, I was stubborn enough to ignore them and power on with my decision to feed. In one sense the rebel in me found it quite amusing to tell people that I'd intend to feed beyond toddlerhood, just to see their appalled faces.
My life was in a very different place to where it is now and to say that I didn't value myself much is an understatement: I didn't place myself very highly on my list of priorities and neither did anyone else, and so growing a baby gave me a sense of purpose all of a sudden. Being told that once the baby was born, others would take them away to 'bond' with them (or less kindly, I would have the baby taken away from me) was very uncomfortable and it really highlighted this fear and unkind attitude towards me as no more than an incubator. It became clear that the anti-breastfeeding feelings were deeper rooted than just having a preference: it ensured that I was surplus to requirements once more.
I had always felt that my baby would be an extension of me and so breastfeeding seemed like an obvious choice, plus it kept us together. Me and him. Just us two. And so, when my son was born, I started breastfeeding. On day three when the milk traditionally comes in, the undermining started, with brands of formula being given as a fix to my (quite normal for day three) problems. This continued, becoming less and less subtle and my confidence began to grow enough to bat these issues away as soon as they were served to me.
Suddenly, breastfeeding gave me a purpose. It gave me a reason to re-prioritise myself, to look after myself and to actually exist. I am quietly confident that this not only stopped me from getting postnatal depression but it actually improved my mental state overall.
I fought for some time against the pressure of formula: I never expected that such a thing existed but how wrong I was! Even to the point of being told to just give formula 'like a normal person' as if breastfeeding was somehow abnormal! But feeding my child empowered me and gave me strength and a newfound love for my body and that (to others) must have been pretty scary, to see me slipping from their grips.
So to add balance to the stories we hear - breastfeeding saved me. It gave me a purpose, a reason, a sense to be proud of my body and the feeling (finally) that I was important and integral to my raising a family.
I encountered quite a few issues with breastfeeding, not surprisingly as there was no support and so my journey was cut shorter than I'd like, but I am so proud that in spite of everyone's best attempts to sabotage it, I gave my baby everything I had and that matters to me.
I know not all stories are the same, but this is my story. I deserve to be heard. My voice matters, too.