Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Biggest Myth of Early Motherhood

When you are pregnant and preparing to have a baby, it's quite hard to see past Labour.  Yes, I did capitalise that word on purpose and no, I do not mean the centre-left political party that are the current Opposition in New Zealand government.  It's Labour with a capital L because it's so momentous.  In fact it really should be Labour with a capital L A B O U R but that's too fiddly to type repeatedly, so just the L will suffice today.  You are struck with the idea that you will never attempt anything more momentous or challenging in your entire existence.  Life will continue to provide you with other challenges, some which you will prepare for and work towards, others out of the blue that you just have to stump up and manage, but nothing, nothing will be as big as the physical act of bringing a new life into the world.  While you are also trying to prepare yourself for life after Labour, you know you actually can't comprehend what this will be so there's only so much time you can dedicate to this aim.

I am someone who is pretty realistic and philosophical about the big stuff.  I don't tend to sweat things out or worry about infinite possibilities of 'What Might Go Wrong'.  I just don't see the point when so much of it is out of your control.  When I was pregnant, my sister, sister-in-law, and bestie had all recently had children plus a few others in my circle of friends and acquaintances so I knew a wee bit about expecting the unexpected.  I had those 'spin out' moments that everyone gets where it suddenly hits you that 'Woah, there's going to be a baby in that room soon', or 'This could be the last time I go to the movies for quite some time' but they didn't worry me, nor did I kid myself that I was in anyway prepared for what having a little person relying on me would be like.
On the flip side, I'm hardly a 'head in the sand' kinda gal either.  I like to be informed, I like to make educated choices.  I made sure I had the information I felt I needed to make the best decisions for Phil, Edie & I regarding Labour and early days.  I cannot express just how lucky I was to have the most amazing midwife who is the master of informing and educating without judging - a true and rare skill in the medical world.
In summary, I was relaxed about Labour, and impending motherhood, but not without some vague idea of what I was getting myself into.

One of the things I had made a definite decision about for life post Labour was that I wanted to give breast feeding a go.  I understood that some people weren't able to breast feed for a whole host of reasons.  I also felt that some people copped out of it for a whole host of reasons.  Controversial, I know, but it's undeniable that some people have different tolerances for difficult situations.  Some people endure despite huge odds, and others get off the bus at the first stop in Tricky Town.  Let me be clear, in no way did I, or do I think, that people who don't breastfeed their babies are flakes.  I do think that human nature creates differing abilities in each of us to cope with adversity.  Both extremes on this scale are as flawed as each other.

And so we (finally) come to my point.  Breastfeeding is widely known to be the optimal source of nutrition for your baby for a long list of reasons.  It is heavily promoted and people encouraged to try breastfeeding as the first response when they have their babies.  It is portrayed as the most beautiful, natural, and wonderful thing that can happen between a mother and child.
But here's what they neglect to tell you:
Breast feeding is FUCKING.  HARD.  WORK.
All you ladies out there who are up the duff, heed my words.  FUCKING.  HARD.  WORK.

Now I know why when people promote breast feeding they don't tell you this.  There is a lot of negative (some of it frankly ridiculous) press about breast feeding and the people who support breast feeding.  Women who breast feed in public have been decried as perverts who need to keep their norks to themselves.  The people who are pro-breast feeding have been labelled militant hippies who turn their noses up at those who don't breast feed.
So when you are trying to show people that breast feeding is good, having the tag line "Breast Feeding: It's Fucking Hard Work" probably isn't going to be a winner.
But as a woman who was (and still firmly is) pro-breast feeding, I would have appreciated some more realistic information before I hit the wall.  I don't think that trawling the internet for horror stories is a valid source of said information either.  I simply wish that someone with a brain, who was neither a militant breastfeeder, nor a wounded anti-breastfeeder, had sat me down and shared their point of view. Someone who wanted to support me in my desire to breastfeed, but who had an appreciation for the fact that my choice may be a difficult one.  Maybe they tried and I didn't listen.  There are so many people giving you tips and advice it can be hard to see the wood for the trees.  But I wish I'd had or had listened to a person like that.

I hope I might be that person for someone out there reading this post.  So if you are pregnant or ever plan to be, or if you are or plan to be the partner of someone who has a baby let me give you a heads up (I have mentioned the "hard work" part but let me elaborate):
- Most women struggle with some part of breast feeding.  Why no one tells you this until you are having problems is beyond me.  I mean it, nearly every woman has some issue they have to overcome.  The ones who say "Oh it's so wonderful" are probably the most concerning of all.  And need a good slap with a cold fish.  So...
- If you find it challenging, stressful, or overwhelming, this is more than OK, this is normal.
- It turns out you have to learn how to feed, but so does your baby, and oddly enough you can't sit down with them over a cup of tea and talk it out then sit a wee exam together and share your test scores at the end.
- It may take weeks or months to sort it out.  It's like Pantene, it won't happen overnight but it will happen.  Don't kid yourself into thinking that it's all the first week that's terrible and then it'll be fine.  It may work like that, but it might not.  Don't think you are a freak because at 10 weeks you still feel unsure about feeding in public because of the rigmarole required to get you and your baby settled in for a feed (hello 5 pillows at specific angles).
- It seems so crazy that after millions of years of evolution, we can find something so primal so difficult.  I don't pretend to know why we are so inefficient, I just want to tell you that it's not you that's inefficient, it's us as a species!  It's not personal, you are fine, you are fabulous, but humanity is flawed.

So, when you see those lovely photos of women and babies feeding and you look on with wonder and awe thinking "that will be me!", remember that it will be you, but there is possibly a lot of fucking. hard. work that has to happen first.  Those women you see in the cafe or at the park just feeding while supervising 2 other kids, drinking a coffee, and holding a conversation all at the same time?  They probably put in a lot of fucking. hard. work.

It really is a wonderful and natural thing, I promise.  If you can do it, you won't regret it.  But go in prepared to have some lows before the highs.
Edie's first feed.  See?  Lovely!  It all turned pear shaped after this but surprisingly I didn't take a lot of photos of that...


  1. On the money Charlotte, again!

  2. completely agree. i did actually have the heads up from a mate but like motherhood itself you have no idea how hard it is until you are doing it!

  3. I agree! It is hard work but totally worth it for the close bond it creates with your child. Great blog by the way :-)

  4. Lovely post. I'm staunchly 'pro' but have never found a way to say it without sounding like I'm dissing my bottle-feeding friends!

  5. Perfectly said!! Well done. I persevered for 3 months thru cracked nipples, mastitis etc. Not because I'm a hero, just bloody stubborn (and couldn't be bothered with the hassle of sterilizing bottles lol). I did try and get information about bottle feeding but due to some "law", noone is allowed to give bottle feeding advice! Apparently, the law said that bottle feeding was not to be promoted. Even Plunket couldn't help me. I don't believe that is fair for mothers who choose, for one reason or another, not to breastfeed. Anyway, that's my bitch for the day lol.

  6. Hardest and most frustrating thing I have ever done, without a doubt.

  7. Christine Sternegard30 July 2012 at 21:37

    What I'd like to know is why no-one tells you about the whole "milk-coming-in" process. Breast feeding in itself is hard enough but the "milk-coming-in" is painful and uncomfortable.....or at least it was for me. PAIN.FULL.