What we need is difference. And acknowledgement of that difference. But what the world needs most is acceptance. Acceptance that my journey as a mother may be different to yours and that even my own journeys for each child can be different too.
The #fedisbest is going viral. I love this. I love the passion women feel about such an important aspect of being a mother and the rights and respect that entitles us. I know there are endless stories of women being made uncomfortable and ostracised for breastfeeding. And more silent stories of women who bottle feed in a shameful silence. And in a society that has come so far in many ways, I feel we are also stuck in the past. We are trading acceptance for the belief that just because we are entitled to hold our own opinion, it means we can use that opinion to belittle or shame someone. That has never been anyone’s right to do so, and it never will be.
The calling for breastfeeding to be accepted has been sung so beautifully by many mothers out there. The powerful images of women breastfeeding their babes, women feeding in protest after being banned from establishments or having feeding photos banned on social media. We are singing that song of freedom of choice so proudly and I take my hat off to every woman involved in that crusade. But there is one element of this crusade that I feel is lost. It the mums who bottle feed. The mums who face many other challenges, guilt and judgement. When I hear fed is best that means exactly what it sounds like - any way you nourish and love your baby is best. #fedisbest is total acceptance of our right and privilege to make a choice. Our babies need our love first and foremost. But somewhere along the line loving them and how we went about it became up for discussion and judgement.
This may stir up passion and controversy and you know what, so what if I ruffle some feathers?! Bring it on if it means more women will hear these words. Because I’m determined to help each individual mother see that no matter how she feeds her babe she is amazing. I know from my own personal journey, decisions, guilt trips, stress and magical moments that mums really need to be cut some slack. We dish out the guilt and judgement onto ourselves far more than we could ever possibly deserve... and the last thing mums need is that same pressure from others being placed on them. And it’s taken me birthing all three of my babies to finally step into the realisation that it really is as simple as acceptance.
Feeding and nurturing our children is so deeply ingrained into us as mothers. It’s our natural instinct beyond what we can consciously conceive… our bodies just know we need to nurture them. For anyone who has breastfed you will never forget the burning let down of a baby who is crying in another room… when you can’t even hear them! That’s how deep that mother’s instinct is. And whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, that instinct is still within you. Changing your source of nourishment does not take your motherly instinct away.
Now this isn’t an argument about what is better what is more natural, more recommended by doctors, more convenient, more suitable… this is simply about acceptance. Learning to accept others that their path is theirs alone to walk. To accept ourselves for walking that path.
Personally I have had the pleasure of experiencing breastfeeding and formula feeding. Both as equally special bonding time for me and my babies. But it wasn’t easy. I was that mum that held onto her guilt and let it eat away at my core. I wanted to breastfeed so much that I put enormous stress and pressure on myself. I couldn’t stop thinking about why it wasn’t working, I couldn’t stop analysing every feed and what bub was doing, what I was doing. It’s crippling when your judgement is clouded by a thick cloud of guilt. It’s so hard to move forward when guilt is dragging you back. I know my journey isn’t everyone elses, and there may be many women reading this not understanding much of what I am talking about. But for those of you who have experienced guilt, pressure or shame surrounding your feeding choices... you know it is real. There isn’t an easy way to say it except let it fucking go. You need to, we all need to. Let go of the idea that anyone else is entitled to make your life and decisions their business. Let it go and stop judging others and most importantly, stop judging yourself.
Which formula is best? Maybe I should try breastfeeding again? Is everyone thinking I’m less of a mum? Why can’t my body just produce enough milk? Why doesn’t anyone understand why this is so hard for me to let go? Why doesn’t the nurse understand how exhausted I am? Does everyone struggle like this? Why don’t I feel like I’m bonding? Is it normal to cry during feeding time? Is it meant to be this painful, this awful? What should I do? What is best for my baby?
Breastfeeding is beautiful and I’m sure many women start their journey hoping that it’s an option for their family. But no one really, truthfully tells you how goddamn hard it is. For the majority of women it isn't as blissful and perfect as it is made out to be. Midwives tell you it can be tough, but you can do it, your body was made to do this. They dont tell you that you will cry from pain, or sadness or sheer exhaustion. They don't tell you how you choose to feed your baby and how well you do it will make you question your very worth as a mother. They don't tell you that for some women it is easier than others. They don't tell you that a stressed, anxious and exhausted mother is much worse than the alternative to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding my children is one of the most difficult things in my parenting life I have ever experienced. I struggled to feed our babies while battling depression and let, what in reality is such a small element of their life, determine my worthiness as a mother.
I know there are two sides to every story, and every story has many unique elements. Some mums and babes are an awesome team and do well with breast feeding. Other mums have to work incredibly hard to make it work. Some mummas no matter how hard they try just cannot breastfeed their babes. Other mums make the choice to never breastfeed at all. So many different stories, but for me, that was my story. A mother to three beautiful children, all healthy and happy. A mother who desperately wanted to breastfeed but it didn’t turn out that way. A mother who felt shame in bottle feeding, who felt less than because of that decision. A mother who now, finally after 5 years of babies accepts that it never really mattered how they were fed. She loved them, that mattered.