A person on my street has just had a baby. We know this because a bassinette suddenly appeared in their front living room and then I saw the dad cradling a tiny new born in the crook of his elbow with a TV remote in the other hand. I was instantly transported back eight years and remembered LSB doing the same, looking quite at ease, despite never having held a baby before his own came along. I have to confess that I stared in a bit. I’m a bit of a starer and it’s not one of my better qualities because I’m not even subtle about it. I keep meaning to address the issue but haven’t managed it yet.
Anyway, when I saw the bloke with the baby I was almost overcome with emotion, and then last night I dreamt I had a baby which LSB had to deliver himself as we were in a café at the time and not a hospital. (I think I was eating a peanut butter ball: it was a vivid sort of a dream). Even though she presented as breech, the baby emerged with tremendous ease and beaming a beatific smile. As I said, it was a dream. I had to have a word with myself about babies after this, because I had woken with quite a strong inclination to have another.
This would be a very bad ideas for a myriad of reasons, not least of which would be the environmental impact, although this time I would be much more diligent and try not to use Pampers and about a billion wipes. Even I manage to recycle every item I ever owned, I’ll never make up for the landfill I created by using bloody disposable nappies.
The other reason that I shouldn’t have any more babies is that during much of the time my children were infants I was quite, quite mad. Looking back, I was almost certifiable. There was just too much new stuff to comprehend and my head all but exploded. I am also, as you may have picked up on, a person who is prone to feeling very bad about things and when you have a baby you have a lot of things over which you can beat yourself up.
The main thing at which I failed spectacularly was the breast feeding. To put it bluntly, it was a fucking agonising experience for three miserable months, and looking back with a rational and well-slept eye, I should have given up at the 3 week mark when my daughter ended up in the Ulster hospital jaundiced and dangerously underweight. The nurse unfortunately couldn’t even offer any advice. She was able to tell me that my baby was starving, and desperately indeed of a decent feed, but she could not, under any circumstances, advise me to offer a bottle. So stringent were the NHS ‘guidelines’ that she actually said, ‘I can’t tell you what to do.’
Now when a first-time mother is sitting in front of you, deranged from lack of sleep and recovering from a caesarean section, it’s probably best not to rely on a ‘join the dots’ form of communication, since subtlety and nuance can by-pass a new mum altogether. Clearly my baby lacked nourishment and my attempts to provide it weren’t doing the job. However, I had picked up the notion that formula was akin to the devil’s own vomit and the nurse didn’t disabuse me of the notion.
My husband tried to tell me. My mother-in-law tried to tell me, but in my state of confusion and downright stupidity I ignored them, until a visiting midwife saw the state of us both and suggested that I get a bottle into the baby fast.
Between cracked bleeding nipples and my baby vomiting up bloody milk that had me frantically ringing the out-of-hours doctor; the first month of feeding was nightmarish. There wasn’t enough support or information. I didn’t give a shit about feeding in public and in fact DARED anyone to approach me in a café and tell me to feed my new born elsewhere. They could get to fuck. What I worried about was the fact that I couldn’t get the latch right and my milk-production had all but dried up. I needed a nurse on-site or at least on the end of the phone for that first month to establish the feeding routine. Obviously the NHS don’t provide that and new mums are left in a state of bafflement with a terrible side order of guilt.
I did have a wonderfully straight-talking health visitor who sought to reassure me, and helped me feel a bit better, but I only met her when my baby was about a month old and I already felt I had given her a dreadful start in life.
I wish back then I had known Jennifer Hanratty. Jennifer runs the ‘Breastival Festival’ which encourages and supports women on the breast-feeding journey, and equally, if the experience has gone totally tits up for them (excuse the pun) they’ll help you cope with that too. It’s about creating a community where breast feeding is discussed openly, advice is given and myths are firmly dispelled.
Jennifer will be in conversation with Dr Lesley Dornan as part of the NI Science Festival on Saturday 22nd February. I have no doubt she will be fabulous, and I very much hope there’ll be more such discussions, as this is a subject which, for sake of the mental health of all new mums and their babies out there, needs much more attention.
Incase this resonates with anyone out there, Jennifer has kindly set on these details about groups currently offering support in NI at the moment. I wish you all good luck on your journeys.