What’s so hard about breastfeeding?

When I was pregnant, I remember filling in a form for my midwife. ‘Do you plan to breastfeed?’ she asked. ‘I’m going to try,’ was my answer. I’d been warned by people: Breastfeeding is actually quite hard. You’d think it comes naturally but it’s actually harder than you think. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out. And so I thought it best to be (what I thought was) realistic. It was like planning to cook a fancy dinner for friends but hey, if it was a flop, I could always hit Woolworths. I’ll give it a go, I thought, but I wasn’t too bothered either way.

Then I birthed a baby. Hello, hormones. If you think that hormonal stuff is hard during pregnancy, wait till Day 3 postpartum when your milk comes in. (All the emotions. All of them.) Birth changes you, in numerous and nuanced ways, and motherhood, it turns out, is a mindfuck.

Things that didn’t seem that important pre-baby were now everything. One of these things for me was breastfeeding.

With the right advice and support, breastfeeding is possible for most women, but I’m not going to downplay how hard breastfeeding was for me at first. It was hard. There was lots of crying (from both Reid and me).Thankfully, I didn’t suffer from cracked and bleeding nipples (a common horror), though I did experience nipple blanching due to vasospasm, which I don’t wish on anyone.

I did hate breastfeeding actually. I hated it – everything about it – for three full months, until one day, something changed and I started to feel it: that bonding experience everyone had been telling me about. I was battling with postnatal anxiety and initially, I’d actually thought breastfeeding was making bonding with my baby harder, because breastfeeding itself was so hard and frustrating. But after three months?

Breastfeeding was the best.

So yes, the early days were tough, physically and emotionally, and ‘giving it a go’ with breastfeeding turned out to involve a lot more perseverance than my pregnant self thought would be necessary.

But as it turned out, that wasn’t the only difficult thing about breastfeeding.

One of the hardest things about breastfeeding for me – and not one person warned me about this part when I was pregnant – was other people.

The judgy, uptight, unsupportive people who think that breastfeeding in public has more to do with them than it does a hungry baby who just happens to be hungry right here, right now. Motherhood is really hard enough without having to worry about offending strangers (who, hey, can just look away) when your starving baby is screaming.

The misinformed people who tell you your baby will sleep through if you stop breastfeeding. (Some quick research will tell you that this theory has been debunked.)

The misguided people who ask you when you’re going to stop being a cow. (Um, I have never been a cow. I am a mammal; a cow is also a mammal.)

The nosy people (strangers, sometimes!*) who ask you if you’re breastfeeding your newborn, like it’s any of their business, and nod approvingly when you say yes; often the same people who, a few months later, will note again and again that you are still breastfeeding, not in a ‘You go, Mama!’ kinda way, but like this is new information to you, like you hadn’t realised, and now that they’ve pointed it out to you, you will surely start weaning.

[*When Reid was a few weeks old, a complete stranger in the pharmacy not only asked me if I was breastfeeding, but if I’d had a natural birth. I was too sleep-deprived to point out her rudeness, but as I walked back to the car, I did wonder in amazement what she would have said if I’d said no. Why do people think it’s okay to be so intrusive?]

This week is World Breastfeeding Week. We need World Breastfeeding Week because breastfeeding is not easy.

When I was breastfeeding, I was lucky to get good advice and a lot of support. I attended a breastfeeding support group every single Wednesday for three full months. One Saturday, with stinging nipples and a screaming infant, I was really ready to give up. I emailed my lactation consultant, who responded (on a weekend! What a lovely woman) with encouragement and a sign-off that still sticks with me: ‘Lactationally yours, Laura’. It implied: ‘I’m here to help you breastfeed your baby. You’ve got this.’ I went on to breastfeed for another year because of that email.

Sometimes all we need is a little support. And that’s why we need World Breastfeeding Week.

But while World Breastfeeding Week does a lot to educate moms about breastfeeding and offers valuable support, World Breastfeeding Week is not just for moms. Oh no, it’s for everyone.

It’s about normalising breastfeeding. It’s about showing dads and grandparents and siblings and even strangers not only how to be supportive, but why it’s important to be supportive. (And yes, sometimes ‘being supportive’ means not imposing personal opinions but letting moms develop their own personal breastfeeding relationships with their babies.)

I’m no longer breastfeeding, but the breastfeeding relationship I had with Reid remains one of the most special experiences of my life. I’m grateful that I received encouragement when I needed it. I’m also glad I was able to (mostly) ignore the unsolicited ‘advice’ and unhelpful opinions, although it wasn’t always easy.

So mom friends, wherever you want to breastfeed, whenever you want to breastfeed and for however long you want to breastfeed, you won’t hear a peep from me. Reach out if you need to, but remember, breastfeeding is about you and your baby. You’ve got this.

Breastfeeding

I am not a fridge

During the week, Reid spends most of his days with a wonderful nanny named Leah. Finding someone you trust to look after your child is not easy, and we were very lucky to find Leah. She not only has years and years of experience working with babies and small children, but she is, undoubtedly, one of the most patient, loving people I have ever met.

Along with making sure that Reid’s physical and emotional needs are met while Mom and Dad are working, Leah does a lot to develop Reid’s understanding of the world. She taught Reid how to clap. She taught Reid how to use a straw cup. Recently, she showed him how to blow onto a hot beverage to cool it down.

Leah and Reid love to sing together, and her repertoire of nursery rhymes is impressively extensive – even if she doesn’t always know all the words. Her mondegreens cause much chuckling from my home-office, where I overhear lyrics like:

If you happy and you know it, clap your hands! If you happy and you know it, clap your hands! If you happy and you know it and dodadodumdo show it, if you happy and you know it turn around!

Boom boom black sheep! Any any wool? Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Three bags full. One for the master, one for the dame, one for the little boy who lives down the road!

Sometimes I wonder if I should be more concerned that Reid may be learning the wrong words to well-known songs. But I’ve reassured myself that once he reaches pre-school, he’ll pick this up from his teachers and peers. And of course, I sing the correct rhymes to him when I can (although truthfully, I prefer to sing Mary Poppins songs than boring ol’ nursery rhymes).

But what was much more concerning to me than Reid learning incorrect lyrics, was Reid learning that ‘mommy’ = the fridge.

On our refrigerator, we keep a few literature- and music-related magnets, as well as magnets from places Ryan and I have travelled to together (Europe, India, Mauritius …), plus a few pics. There are two or three wedding pictures, a photograph of the two of us outside the Red Fort in Delhi, and some photobooth snaps from friends’ weddings and end-of-year office parties.

Leah, with the best of intentions, used these photographs of me to try to teach Reid the word ‘mommy’. She’d say, ‘Where’s Mommy?’ and then point to a picture of me on the fridge. Soon Reid was pointing too, saying, ‘Der!’ in reply to her question. It was all very cute, until I was standing on the other side of the kitchen and when Leah asked Reid, ‘Where’s Mommy?’ he pointed to the fridge and not to me. (Queue mom-sob.) I told Leah she’d better cut the fridge from her curriculum.

And then this week, I was making tea and Leah said to Reid, ‘Where’s Mommy?’ Smiling shyly, he lifted his fat little hand and sent that adorable index finger in my direction. ‘I’m not the fridge any more!’ I burst out.

Leah and I were busting with laughter (because haha, Mom’s a person and not an appliance now!). But as I took my tea back to my desk, I was bursting with joy – because this was one of those parenting moments. You know the ones? The moments when your child starts smiling, starts sitting unsupported (yay, we can give you solids now!), starts crawling, starts walking, starts acknowledging who you are. As incidental as they may seem to some, these moments are significant. They are moments to be soaked up and celebrated.

 

On parenting pooches

I wrote this piece back in 2013 for another blog. I’m re-publishing it here, as I think it’s an important part of my parenting journey and a good introduction to my happy hounds, Jack and Meg.


For someone who’s not a parent, I find myself reading mommy blogs quite often. Perhaps it’s some instinctual need to garner important information before I (one day) enter that world of Babygros, birth, maternity wear and mastitis. Perhaps it’s simply that there are a fair number of mommy blogs out there, and, y’know, they’re pretty well written. Whatever the reason, I recently found myself relating to those moms when I brought two hooligans home.

When my husband and I moved into our house – and when (most of) the boxes were unpacked – I went in pursuit of pets. We’d lived years without pets, impeded by our one-bedroom flat, and I did not want to wait any longer. My husband is highly allergic to cats, so we decided on dogs. After much research and trawling of animal websites, I came into contact with the Labrador Retriever Kennel Club, who work to rehome labs in need.

One day, I saw a message on their Facebook page: ‘We are awaiting information on 10 young Labradors rejected / dismissed from the police force. Who will be looking for homes – Gauteng area. Any preliminary interests can email us …’

Jack and Meg
Jack and Meg

Convinced that ex-police dogs would be perfect (they would have received basic training, right?), we headed off to the Vereeniging SPCA, picked out two pooches and brought them home the next week. I naively believed they would love our big garden, would go for swims in our pool, would play with all the toys I got them, would keep me company as I worked, would sleep soundly on their comfy bed … They would love their new lives.

They did. But I did not. We named them Meg and Jack – after The White Stripes, because they looked like white stripes as they dashed down the road whenever the gate opened. Having never lived in a domestic environment before, they were not housetrained. In fact, Jack had spent so long in the confines of a kennel that he sometimes peed while lying down! We were continually cleaning and we couldn’t leave them unattended lest they destroy something.

Everything was new to them, so they didn’t know what they were not allowed to chew. They chewed everything. They jumped up on my car and took off my back windscreen wiper. They ran off with the HTH bottle. They found a bag of coal near the braai and littered it all over the garden. They ripped a pipe off the outside of our house. One morning, they chewed through the wire for the freezer. They had pulled the plug out the wall first, and I joked that they were obviously taught to be safety conscious when they worked at the police.

But the situation did not feel funny at all. Whatever training they’d received at the police force was more harmful than helpful. An animal behaviouralist I spoke to explained that the police often train dogs using force, trying to ‘beat the aggression into them’. The fact is that Labradors are simply not aggressive dogs and we now had two troubled, troublesome pooches.

Of course, I knew that things would get better but at the time I felt overwhelmed, doubting whether I was cut out for this, wondering whether we’d made the right choice. I thought about what new mothers must feel like and I started to question whether I could ever handle children if I couldn’t even cope with canines.

Thankfully, things did improve. Meg and Jack are no longer tornadoes of destruction – partly because they’ve calmed down, partly because we’ve now learnt how to puppy-proof the house and garden. They’re also no longer skittish and scared. They’ve learnt not to run away when the gate opens and, after many treats, they’ve finally learnt to sit on command.

Most importantly, they’re now part of the family. They make us laugh every day and they display endless devotion to their new parents. We recently went away on a short holiday and we missed them terribly. I simply cannot imagine my home without these happy hounds.

As for human babies … Well, that’ll be a while. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading those mommy blogs.

 

Getting my house in order

My dad was a hoarder. Now, I know you hear ‘hoarder’ and you think, Ah, we all hold on to stuff we don’t need, don’t we? Most of us have a bit of a hoarding problem. But no. No. My dad was a real hoarder. He kept everything.

Once, I was on my way to the rubbish bin to throw out a badly chipped glass – so badly chipped, it was unusable … or so most people would think. But I was intercepted.

‘How could you think about throwing that away?’ His voice reached a higher pitch. He was astonished and anxious. After all, what would have happened if we’d lost the opportunity to repurpose that glass, to use it to store something?

My mom once tackled his cupboard and found 13 (thirteeeeeen) pairs of jeans that no longer fitted him. This included three pairs of bellbottoms from the 1970s. Even if they did eventually come back into fashion, my dad hadn’t been that size since before I was born.

And that’s what this really comes down to for me. Those jeans, and genes.

I, too, battle to throw things away but – ever aware of my inherited idiosyncrasies – I try to keep this in check. Although my instinct is to hold on to things in case I need them later, I have a system: I ask myself if this item is something my dad would have kept in his cupboard for 20 years. If it is, it gets tossed.

A week before I went into labour, I was struck by the nesting instinct. Feeling like a pregnancy cliche, but driven by a hormonal force beyond my control, I cleared up cupboards and decluttered drawers in a tidying frenzy. My theory about the nesting instinct is that the pregnant mother naturally understands that there will be zero time to tidy up once there’s a burbling, babbling, bawling baby in the house, so she tackles the task beforehand … and then collapses in an achy, sweaty heap on the bed, because, y’know, pregnancy means being hot and sore.

This theory is certainly how things panned out in the N-Y household. Nine months: the age of our child, and also the time it has been since we tidied properly. Don’t misunderstand – our house has been kept clean and liveable, but it is astounding how much stuff a small family can stockpile in such a short time. The kipple has reproduced itself.

And so we are addressing the mess. I’m finding it both a conflicting and liberating process. Using the Dad’s Jeans Test, I have managed to ignore my instincts and cast away a whole range of potentially useful but ultimately useless items. It feels like a detox for my house.

What I’m really feeling at the moment, though, is like I’m going through a process of clearing out the mind; a casting-aside of thought patterns that don’t serve me. A centering. In new-parent survival mode, it was hard not to hoard up information, not to hold on to advice and expectations and anxiety. It’s felt frenetic and unsettling.

Now, as we slow down and saunter towards the end of an eventful year, I’m making space … for family, for friends, for good foundations – stuff that never goes out of fashion and doesn’t clutter up the cupboards.

Despite himself, I think my dad would have been proud.

 

Photo by Viktor Hanacek via Picjumbo.com