A little under two years ago, I sat in the waiting room of the doctors, waiting for my postnatal check, practically in tears.
The cause of this? The huge corkboard on the wall, promoting the benefits of breastfeeding. I told myself I could cope with a poster or two. I could handle a leaflet display. But this is a permanent reminder of the superiority of breastmilk – and, in my frazzled little postnatal brain, a reminder of how I’d failed.
Going in to see the doctor and being told that SB was absolutely perfect and completey adorable didn’t soothe my worries. All I could think about was the posters. The picture of “the breastfed baby”; possibly the most guilt-inducing poster in any doctors’ surgery. This smiling, cooing baby in the picture is far better than yours could ever be, because this baby had breastmilk.
Every positive I’d managed to extract out of formula feeding was countered by a poster. “How dads can bond without needing to use bottles!”, one said. “It’s possible to return to work whilst breastfeeding!” another cheerfully proclaimed. My desperately-grasped positives faded and wilted.
For months afterwards I couldn’t sit in the waiting room without that tight feeling in my stomach; the guilt gripping at me every time. The picture of “The Breastfed Baby” taunted me; the description of breastfeeding as easy and convenient made a mockery of my struggle.
Today, as I write this, I’m there again – not for anything serious, just to make sure there is actually some iron in my blood, before I get any panicked phone calls from my mum! – and I looked at the information board, waiting for the discomfort to take hold again.
But there’s nothing. I look at it and think “Oh, that’ll be nice for new breastfeeding mums to read. I hope it doesn’t make formula feeding mums feel bad”. It’s not even a blip on my radar anymore, let alone the massive thing it used to feel like.
I don’t know what’s brought about this change in me. Is it just time? It’s been a year since we stopped giving formula; a year since either side of the argument really applied to me.
Is it a steady acceptance of the facts combined with my own experience? You’ll never find me denying the benefits of breastmilk, but you’ll also never find me agreeing that breastfeeding is best for every family, or that you can see the negative impact of formula on an individual level. When you can walk into a classroom and point out the breastfed kids, I may change my stance. Until then, I promote the facts and ignore the supposition.
Maybe it’s just tiredness. I’ve fought my fair share of battles with both the self-titled lactivists and the anti-breastfeeders. I’ve gone from being fervently anti-lactivist, to taking up a comfortable position on the fence – reminding anti-breastfeeders of the scientific facts, and calling lactivists out when they get personal or insinuate things they can’t back up. After two years of that, I’m tired. The debate just doesn’t register with me anymore. I’m more concerned with when the heck do I start trusting my child to tell me she needs the potty, and how do I take her dummy away without giving her a complex about kleptomaniac dummy fairies?
Maybe it’s just the realisation that those concerns I have now are the same concerns that all toddler parents have (excluding the masochistic ones who didn’t give their child a dummy*), regardless of how they fed their child. Breastfeeding a baby doesn’t magically imbibe them with the power to sit on the loo from 18 months old. Formula feeding doesn’t mean they’re more likely to start re-enacting a demonic possession when you take their “nummy” away.
Our concerns change throughout our childrens’ lives. I doubt my mum concerns herself with the “breastfed baby” poster in the doctors surgery these days.
It’s nice to say that the poster didn’t make me feel sad this morning – it actually made me happy. Why?
Two years ago, that board was filled with facts about breastfeeding, and happy breastfed baby pictures, and what some will label “propaganda” – but nothing in the way of support.
Today, there’s details of the support offered by the NHS. There’s adverts for local support groups and breastfeeding cafes scattered across the region. There’s information about obstacles to breastfeeding, and tips to overcome them.
This makes me happy, because it means support is finally being offered. I won’t know the quality of it until I have another baby, but it’s a big step in the right direction. If it means that another mum like me can sit in the doctors waiting room over the next two years without that constricting guilt in her chest, that’s reason enough for me to smile.
(*just kidding, non-dummy mums. I’m in awe and frankly, a little bit afraid of you BAMFs).