Wednesday, 29 August 2012

When breastfeeding isn't an automatic bond...

I talk to a lot of women about their pregnancies, their births, their babies and their breastfeeding experiences

They all say so many different things.  I was particularly struck by a conversation that I had with one mum recently that made me stop and think about things that others have said and things that I have felt myself.
"I have read a lot of books about breastfeeding and I don't get that bonding experience that everyone talks about..."
That stopped me in my tracks a little because it's not a comment that is commonly heard.  I wasn't shocked by it, but I was very definitely struck by how few women seem to articulate it.  There are women who are quick to jump up accuse other women of not being loving enough if they say anything less than, "This is the most wonderful experience of my life".  Now that statement is not an excuse for people to say, "Yeah, I agree, breastfeeding Nazis, etc, etc".  No.  Watch your language, please.  There are ways and ways of saying things.  Honesty is good, BUT, it is not an excuse to beat others up for whatever they believe.  Neither do I believe that it is an excuse for others to jump on board and 'attack' mum for facing her feelings honestly. 

So… What DO we say to these women?

I think that the starting point is HEARING what they say.  Some women will tell you that they hate or intensely dislike breastfeeding.  Have they then gone on to say that they are NOT breastfeeding?  The answer to that is often no.  They are trying to reconcile what they feel with what they have been told that they OUGHT to feel.  A wrong response from us could potentially see the end of this period of breastfeeding. 
Once we have heard what they have said, then we need to PAUSE.  Take a step back and think about the response that might automatically flow from you.  Is that a good response?  How much effect do you think your words will have?  Will it be the effect that you want?  Will your words give her what she needs?
One of my ladies breastfed her son for a year.  All along the way she told me that she didn't like it.  When other people challenged her decision to breastfeed:
  • "What about Dad?"
  • "What about me?"
  • "Don't you think he's too old for that now?"
She always replied that she knew the milk that she produced for him was made for him, so why use anything else? When he turned one she moved over to cows milk, because she was happier with its content than the content of artificial milk.
Think of it this way.  Some women don't enjoy being pregnant.  Some love it, some hate it, some just trundle along.  What would you say to her?  What are her choices?  Will your opinion on how she OUGHT to feel, change anything?  What about the ones who are now mothers, but don't enjoy it (at the moment, or at all)?  What would you say to them?
On a personal note, I did NOT enjoy my last pregnancy.  It was my twin pregnancy, but that wasn't why I didn't enjoy it.  I was sick.  I couldn't even keep water down very well.  Some twin mums are NEVER sick.  I shall hide my jealousy...  I had a horrible condition - ptyalism.  Mine was acute, so you can imagine the joy that that brought me(!)  It left me a couple of hours after the twins were born.  I was pretty much convinced that I had it for life.  I hated people continually telling me that all I had to do was swallow.  Swallowing made me throw up.  Not a good look.
I have talked to mothers who loved pregnancy, but hated giving birth and vice versa.  I have a friend who found that she wasn't hugely keen on her baby.  She knew that she ought to be, but she was never convinced that she loved her.  Then one day, six months in, her daughter wasn't well.  And, like THAT, it occurred to her that she loved her baby.  What would you say to a mother like that?  Would you tell her that she was unnatural?  That she was wrong to feel the way that she did?  Or would you walk alongside her and wait?
We can't always help the way that we feel.  Sometimes it's not all that it was cracked up to be, but that doesn't mean we don't just get on with the job in hand.  Who knows, maybe once it's done we'll miss it.  I know I miss the babies kicking inside me and the sickness is practically a long gone memory.

(Originally shared on Acorn Pack July 2011)

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