Saturday, 20 August 2011

She's Off Her T*ts!

My top three fears when pregnant with my first child were:

1) That there’d be something wrong with my baby

2) That labour would be so painful that I’d need an epidural, which would go wrong and I’d permanently lose the use of my legs

3) That I might accidently poo, while pushing the baby out

My top three fears when I was pregnant with my second child were:

1) Breastfeeding

2) Breastfeeding

3) Breastfeeding

Yes. There was only one thing on my mind while I was packing a fresh tube of nipple cream into my labour bag. Was I going to be able to breastfeed this time around, or was I about to re-live the trauma of my failed attempt with my first child?

There had been no doubt in my mind, when I was pregnant with my firstborn, that I was going to breastfeed. The government’s ‘Breast is Best’ campaign had done its job and I was well and truly educated in the undisputable health benefits of breast milk and the evil of formula milk.

Having attended a talk by the hospital’s breastfeeding councillor, where milk powder had been likened to feeding a child KFC, I’d spent my savings on all the necessary equipment, from a £400 feeding chair, to the best electric breast pump on the market and the obligatory range of peep-hole tops.

However, once my son had torn his way into the world and the consultant had screamed at the midwives for their incompetence, we were hurriedly moved to the postnatal ward and abandoned. Several hours later, still in discomfort from the birth and exhausted after a long labour, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t fed my baby. In a panic, I rang the bell, but no one came. So I undid some buttons, introduced my son to his first pair and he latched on. Eventually a midwife popped her head round the curtain, said the baby looked like he was feeding properly, ticked a box that I was breastfeeding and disappeared.

Within hours, we were home and my baby started crying, so I happily disappeared upstairs to the feeding chair. Two weeks later, we were still there. Only by this time, both of us were crying - me in agony and he in hunger…

Our difficulties, did not spring from a lack of support. From the day following my son’s birth, I was visited on a daily basis by midwives, who would take the time to check that I was breastfeeding correctly and tell me what a wonderful job I was doing.

They listened, as I told them how my son would suck indefinitely, never wanting to let go. That when I couldn’t take any more of the pain and frustration of sitting for an hour and a half, with a baby at my breast, I would pass the inconsolable infant to my husband, just so I could go for a pee. Then he would hand my screaming son back and I would begin the process all over again.

I told them how neither my son nor I, ever slept for longer than an hour and the only place he would settle was in my arms. And how I’d given up attempting to get dressed, my appetite had disappeared and I was so exhausted, that I couldn’t speak without crying. But they just told me to keep on breastfeeding – it was best for my baby.

A few days later, when I decided I couldn’t take any more of my son’s wailing and the pain, I got into the car in my pyjamas, with my screaming baby in the back and was driven off to a breastfeeding support group at the hospital. Once there, I fed my baby, was told by the councillor that I needed bigger bras and was sent home again. By 04:00 the following morning I was so desperate for help, I phoned La Leche League, a support group for breastfeeding women and was counselled down the phone for 40 minutes, while my son yelled in the background. It made no difference.

By now, I was answering the door to the midwives in my knickers with my son attached to my boob. Dignity had gone out the window with my sanity. I was starting to have visions of laying my son down on the floor and walking out of the door - just walking and walking until I could collapse in peace. The cards were flooding through the letter box, ‘Congratulations! What wonderful news!’ and all I could think was, ‘why are they congratulating me? Why did no one tell me that having a baby is horrific?’

Female friends and relatives were directed upstairs to the feeding chair and greeted by a half-naked, teary eyed wreck and a hysterical baby.

And still the midwives came, with their “keep going!” and their “breast is best.” And they’d watch as I’d stamp my feet in agony as I attached my son to my breast, as his suck sent stabbing pains through my chest. To then be told, "he’s not on properly if it’s hurting, take him off and try again!”

Still no one would weigh my now skinny, jaundiced baby, frightened it would discourage me from breastfeeding, if he’d lost a bit of weight.

Then a week in, as I was sitting, listening to nursery rhymes in my feeding chair, I found myself gripped by the lyrics of Mary Had A Little Lamb and before I knew it, I was in floods of tears over the beauty of the relationship between Mary and her baby sheep.

That was when I knew that I had completely lost the plot. I don’t even like animals! Something had to change. I phoned my husband, who by now was starting to suspect I had post natal depression. He told me to do what felt right and speak to the midwives.

But when you’re exhausted, hormonal and scared, you don’t trust your own judgements, so when I said to the midwife that I’d had enough of breastfeeding, they suggested I express milk after a feed and give that to my son in a bottle.

So after each 90 minute stint with a baby on my boob, I attached a pump to it. Now there wasn’t even time to pee, let alone sleep. And I sat and I sat and it pumped away and to my dismay, after an hour, all that was in the pump bottle, was a dollop of yellow puss and a spot of blood. But I persevered and sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, an ounce or two of milk would come out. And so desperate was I to feed my baby, that I fed him the contents of the bottle, regardless of what was mixed in with that milk from my bleeding boobs.

I knew it wasn’t right. But I was so indoctrinated against formula milk, that somewhere in my disturbed mind I thought it was better to have a hungry baby than a formula fed one. And the midwives, the supposed experts backed this up. After all, what did I, a first time mum know?

Then I had a brainwave. Maybe I could get breast milk from another woman! It was better to use some poor cow’s over-active milk supply than feed my baby powdered milk from..well, some poor cows. So I googled ‘milk banks’ and found that any donated milk goes to premature and sick babies, not sick mothers with hungry babies.

So there I was, two weeks on, still in that feeding chair and the doorbell rang, for my daily midwife visit. It was a male midwife, in his late 50s. I was suspicious.

He produced a pair of scales, for my son’s first weigh-in. I was excited to see how much weight he’d put on after all my efforts.

But I could see in the midwife’s face that all was not well.

“Have you got a bottle and some formula milk?” said the midwife.

“I don’t want to give my baby formula milk,” I said.

“If you don’t give your son a drink of formula milk now,” he replied, “I'll have no choice but to admit him to hospital.”

I felt numb. My two week old baby had lost over 10 per cent of his body weight. He was dehydrated and desperate for food.

“What will they do to him in hospital?” I asked.

“They’ll give him formula milk.”

So, terrified that my baby was going to be taken away from me, I watched, as this stranger, poured formula milk into the lid of a bottle and slowly trickled it into my son’s mouth.

Then, for the first time since his birth, my son slept. And all I could do was cry.

I had failed my son. Not only had I unintentionally starved my poor, precious baby for two long weeks, but now some guy had fed him this disgusting, powdered milk concoction. He’d clearly drugged my son with this poison - why else would a feed send him to sleep? It didn’t occur to me that babies always sleep when their tummies are full, because my baby had never had a full tummy.

Sensing my distress, that wonderful, sensible, caring midwife, suggested I continued breastfeeding, but then after each feed, I ‘top up’ with a little formula.

So I did. And it quickly became obvious, as my son hungrily sucked at the bottle of formula milk, that despite all my efforts, I had virtually no breast milk.

But still I couldn’t accept it. It’s like the breastfeeding campaigners had rewired my brain. I was completely indoctrinated. But having put my son through so much distress, I no longer trusted myself to make a decision. So I phoned my friend who had given up breastfeeding after six weeks.

“I need you to tell me to stop breastfeeding,” I said.

“Stop breastfeeding,” she said.

So I stopped. And my son started to put on weight for the first time. Then he began to sleep – not brilliantly, but enough to get by. And the crying became less frequent. And when his nappies became heavy and wet, it suddenly dawned on me, he had been so dehydrated that he hadn’t been weeing. And even when I’d told the midwives that I couldn’t tell if there was any urine in the nappy, they’d just fobbed me off, saying it was hard to tell these days, as nappies are so absorbent.

Now the only place I wanted to walk, was out in the sunshine, with my baby in his pram.

The next day, one of the original midwives came. I told her I had stopped breastfeeding.

“Oh well,” she said, “I suppose it doesn’t suit everybody’s lifestyle.”

I said nothing. What I wanted to say was, ‘no sorry, it doesn’t suit my lifestyle to starve my baby to death, while my mental health deteriorates. Yes, that really gets in the way of long lunches and manicures, you judgemental b****.’ But I didn’t, because I felt ashamed.

That was my last midwife visit. Once the breastfeeding box is unticked, you’re no longer a concern. But she wasn’t the only one to judge.

“Shame on you,” was the response to my bottle feeding, from a relative and retired paediatrician.

It doesn’t help the guilt, that when you decide to bottle feed a baby, you immediately become part of an underground movement. In order to know which milk to choose, which brand of bottle, how to sterilise and all the other questions an anxious mother has, you must seek out another member of this tribe. Why? Because midwives, antenatal teachers and even advertisers are banned from promoting formula milk, just in case a mother falsely starts to believe that Aptamil or SMA or Cow & Gate is better for her baby than mummy’s own milk. As a result, buying a tub of formula milk, feels like purchasing something illegal and dangerous. It’s the aptly named ‘nanny state’ gone mad and it’s having a damaging effect on mothers and babies, at a time which should be the most special of their lives.

Even formula milk websites are forced by law, to show visitors a warning about the content of the site, before they enter a page with information on its products! It seems formula feeding has become something that everyone knows goes on, but no one is allowed to mention.

Despite everything, when I fell pregnant with my daughter, I knew that I wanted to give breastfeeding another shot. During my first labour I’d consumed every method of pain relief possible and would have raided the supply cupboard for more, if the epidural had allowed me to escape from the bed. Concerned that one or more of the drugs may have affected my milk supply, I decided that second time around I was going to go cold turkey. After all, how much could it hurt?

Haha! What an idiot. Let’s just say it stung, quite a lot. But anyway, I managed to push out 7lb15oz worth of child with no toxins in my bloodstream. The baby was then led straight to my breast and all was well.

36 hours later, it had become obvious to me that my daughter was starving, so I made her a bottle. I shed a few tears (mainly because I could have had an effing epidural!) and put the episode behind me.

Or tried to. Everywhere new mothers turn is another ‘Breast is Best’ poster. Every week in the press, there’s another report that breastfed children have a higher IQ, a stronger immune system, more chance of having magic sodding powers. But I know that breast milk is better for my children, I’m aware that I’ve ruined their lives, now leave me and my boobs alone!

Midwives shouldn’t be under pressure to push mothers to breastfeed. They should be trained to recognise that the health of the mother and baby is paramount. The definition of good health, does not mean the use of breast milk - it means a thriving baby and a sane mother, whether this is achieved by a breast or a bottle.

If 80 per cent of women give up breastfeeding in the first six months, I can’t be the only one to feel that breast isn’t always best, can I?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Kids Are Revolting

The little girl was hungry. She was sure she hadn’t eaten for days and there was no sign of a loved-one offering nourishment. She heard a familiar creaking sound and turned. In the distance, the lid of the dustbin had been lifted. Confident she could see something glistening inside, the toddler padded towards the bin as fast as she could, hoisted herself up on her tip-toes and reached into the depths below. As she withdrew her miniature hand, she was rewarded with a crust of bread sprinkled with a delicious layer of strawberry jam. She shovelled it into her mouth as fast as she could. Heaven.

“Ergh! That’s disgusting!” cried my husband, “Did you see what your daughter just did?”

“She’s just being resourceful,” I reassured, “luckily, I emptied the bin after I poured in the contents of the hoover.”

So there you have it. My 16 month old daughter eats out of the kitchen bin. It’s probably not the most hygienic source of food, but in her defence, she’s just copying her mother. Not that I feed myself out of the bin, what do you take me for?! No, that’s just how I’ve been known to feed my children.

Before you call Social Services, let me explain.

My children fall into the rather irritating category of ‘fussy eaters.’ They reject food with the same disdain that Simon Cowell rejects X Factor candidates (only the deflated teenagers pick themselves up off the floor). Despite asking my three year old son six times before I make his breakfast, that he definitely, without doubt, 100 per cent wants jam on toast, it’s not unusual for him to turn his nose up at the toast before I’ve even finished spreading the jam. “Toast?!” he’ll wail, “But I wanted jam sandwiches!”

My daughter, upon seeing the toast, may think about eating it, but should she see a punnet of grapes lying on the side, she will hurl the toast at the nearest kitchen appliance and scream for fruit.

So that is why, after only eating grapes for breakfast, half an hour later, my daughter will beg me for toast. Which is when I realise I used the last of the bread, making jam sandwiches.

But there’s toast in the bin! How bad can it be? After all, this is the child that will drop a raison on the pavement and put it straight back in her mouth – whether it is actually the raison or not; the girl who after eating Play Doh by mistake, will return for another mouthful, the toddler who won’t eat a potato but will quite happily chew on shoes. So bin food, in comparison, is relatively clean, right?

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

Three years ago, when I discovered that I wasn’t able to breastfeed my son, I promised myself I would try and make up for my incompetent milk supply, by only giving him homemade, organic, nutritious food. Forget five-a-day - my son would eat ten a day, never dream of snacking between meals and his only reference to McDonalds would be a song about an old man with a noisy farm.

I had it all worked out. I had my baby food cookbook, 75 varieties of feeding spoon and enough ice cube trays to freeze all the puree in North London. When it was time to wean, I threw the contents of Sainsbury’s organic fruit and veg department into my car and set off home to cook. And cook. And cook.

I’m not surprised jar baby food is a multi-million pound industry. I had no idea how mind-numbingly, boringly long it would take to peel, de-stone, chop and steam, blend, distribute and label. And in order to introduce my son to every food type under the sun, I found myself making new batches of slop on a nightly basis. The irony is, that after I’d spent two hours, trying and failing to de-skin a tomato, the last thing I’d feel like doing was cooking me and my husband dinner. So I didn’t. Our local Chinese/Indian/Italian supplied that.

So it’s mildly frustrating, when the next day you warm up your lovingly made ‘broccoli trio’, sit opposite your little darling in his highchair and gently guide the first spoonful into his mouth, only for him to spit it in your face, burst into tears and chuck the entire pot on the floor.

By the time my son turned one, the legendary baby food wizard that is Annabel Karmel, began to take on a familiar, bearded rival - Captain Birds Eye. I was starting to ask myself why I was dipping a cod fillet in crushed cornflakes, only to then be forced to chase my son around the kitchen with a forkful, when I could just pop a couple of fish fingers in the oven and be done with it? So I did. And he liked them. And there was a lot less washing up.

When my daughter came along, I would have loved to have followed the baby guru’s advice of making one gorgeous family meal, liquidising it for the baby, chopping it up for the toddler and eating the rest ourselves. But, if all your son eats is fish fingers, boiled eggs and pasta, you’re going to be serving up some very odd baby mush. Equally, I didn’t feel right pureeing two onion bhajis, a chicken dhansak and a garlic naan.

I’ve tried all the tricks with my son – removing the food and letting him go hungry (he’s not bothered), putting things on my plate so he’ll get curious (he doesn’t), bribing him with a treat (no treat is worth eating greens for), but all to no avail. His sister actually thinks his name is ‘EAT!’ as she hears me yell this at him so frequently.

I’d think there was something medically wrong with my little boy, seeing as how he manages to survive on so little food, but having seen him at birthday parties, I know there is nothing abnormal about this child’s appetite. The quantity of cake my son can consume is astonishing. You know when people say, they can always fit in a pudding after a meal because they have a separate dessert stomach? I’ve finally concluded that my son only has a dessert stomach.

My daughter, has not yet been introduced to cake. Grapes are to her, what chocolate fudge cake is to her brother. I treasure this time, because I know that when she discovers that the bad stuff, is the good stuff, there won’t be anyone rifling through the bin for toast, when there’s cake in the cupboard…