Series: WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW AND WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT... MOTHERHOOD AND FINDING YOUR FEET
by Amy Tyndall
I had such a distorted view of modern motherhood before the big event actually happened. I’d been lucky enough to enjoy a really easy pregnancy (no complications, no morning sickness, no real aches or pains), that I’d naively assumed motherhood would be just the same. I could carry on with normal life, right? Just with a baby tagging along for the ride (what are baby slings for, after all?) I had visions of an Instagram-worthy new life of avocado-toast-and-flat-white breakfasts at all the cute little cafes near my home in North London, wafting around art galleries with a sleeping babe in tow and idyllic sunny walks in the park.
How wrong I was. I mean, to be honest I’d not lived that kind of life before, so goodness knows why I thought I’d suddenly turn into a model mama. But once my daughter arrived I was so anxious to portray the image of ‘everything being ok’ that I failed to get the fundamentals right.
So on day three of new motherhood - and despite me knowing deep down that things weren’t quite right - I never confessed to the midwife visiting my home for my first post-natal check-up that breastfeeding was just not working. My daughter was barely awake long enough to latch on let alone fill herself up on milk. And besides, I wasn’t totally sure if I was producing enough milk to sustain her anyway.
In my uneducated, probably a bit naive, but hopeful state, I just wanted everything to be alright. I assumed things would ‘sort themselves out in the end’ the way nature intended. Breastfeeding should be the most natural thing in the world, right? Of course, the facts could not be disguised, and on day five my tiny (and, quite literally, shrinking) and jaundiced daughter was readmitted to hospital because she’d lost too much weight.
Cue a long, hot weekend back on the maternity ward, where the first thing the neonatal nurses asked was “what brand of formula would you like your daughter to have?” My heart sank and the tears welled up. “No! She was not meant to be going near the stuff, it’s poison!”, said the little voice in my head. Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth. She clearly wasn’t getting sufficient nourishment from the dribbles of milk I was expressing, so in this instance, the formula (and the hard work and care of the hospital’s neonatal staff, of course) was literally a lifesaver.
After a weekend of pumping, constant feeding and sunbed sessions for my daughter (technically known as phototherapy beds used to help treat jaundice, but in her paper ‘glasses’ she looked like she was getting some serious tanning in), we were discharged on the Monday morning. I have never felt such relief to go home. But even those dramatic few days didn’t prompt me to reach out for more help and advice. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course, and only now do I realise that I should have pushed harder for more help with breastfeeding. As it was, I struggled on for weeks, pretending to myself that it would probably get better soon, that the physical pain of feeding my daughter would ease up, that I’d get over the dread I felt when she woke up because it meant the whole painful process would start all over again.
The mum guilt begins
I eventually found a rhythm of my own when it came to feeding - a combination of some attractive nipple shields to help with the pain of breastfeeding and formula feeds meant my daughter started to gain weight at a healthy rate. But the bottle feeding didn’t come without its own problems. Deep down, I was ashamed that I wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding my daughter. I bottle fed in secret until she reached six months, when it was more socially acceptable to whip out the formula. Only my nearest family and friends knew I was doing it - I just couldn’t bring myself to admit it to all the other new mums around me.
One of my strongest memories of that shame was of a Friday afternoon (I remember it that vividly!) when my daughter was about three months old. I was so desperate to get to a baby yoga class and so determined to get through it without drama that I hid in the public bathroom of my local leisure centre and forced a bottle down her throat. For some reason, I was much more concerned about saving face than the germs in that toilet. Needless to say, the class was full by the time we were done with the whole charade and we ended up heading straight home.
Looking back on these events from three years ago, I think I can say with certainty that I would do things differently. Despite reading all the recommended books and attending antenatal courses, I’m not sure anything really prepared me for the avalanche of emotions and new expectations I faced when I became a parent.
I regret not asking for more help; I regret rushing around in those first few weeks trying to pretend my life hadn’t changed. So I went on those coffee dates and baby cinema trips when all I should have been focusing on was nurturing my baby. At the time I thought being busy meant I was coping ok, but it was just a cover-up for my own fears.
So if you’re embarking on the crazy new journey that is motherhood, please don’t be as afraid as I was of opening up about things you might be struggling with - whether that’s feeding or post-natal depression or just general anxiety about what being a new mum involves. Be open with people. There are plenty of people out there who want to help new parents find their feet, from midwives, GPs and health visitors to lactation consultants and sleep trainers, not to mention friends and family. But they can only help if you open up and let them, not if you’re rushing from playgroup to playdate pretending everything is fine.
And seriously, don’t worry about the baby yoga, it can wait….
If you find yourself in a similar position and are not sure who to turn to, then please check out some of these resources. I wish I had...:
- Your first port of call should always be your local healthcare professionals. Make sure you look up your local, free breastfeeding support team, who are there to help even after the midwife visits have stopped.
- Specialist groups, such as La Leche League, are experts at getting you on the right track with feeding. Check out their website and helpline for support and to find out about your nearest support group meetings.
- If you really need one-on-one help, then hit google to find your nearest lactation consultant. I’d never heard of such a thing before I was pregnant, but it turns out there’s a large network of lactation consultants across the UK who will come to your home (for a fee, of course) and help you sort out breastfeeding problems.
- A Mother Place run antenatal classes in southwest London, but also provide free online classes if you’re not in the area. Founded by a retired consultant gynaecologist and his daughter, they are passionate about giving honest, reliable, up-to-date and evidence-based advice on all things pregnancy, birth and baby related. Their Facebook and Instagram accounts are particularly good at the honesty bit - their #NobodyTellsYou feature is great - and will be particularly reassuring for first-time mums.
Amy is an editor, writer and friend of NINE+QUARTER. Originally from the UK, she is currently living on the sunny island of Bermuda. She has finally plucked up the courage to have her second child and is due to give birth in August 2019.