Friday, 29 April 2016


OK, so this one is from the heart.

Before you brace yourself to defend or challenge what I've shared here, please take a breathe.  Then, read on.  Read about my experience of breastfeeding and understand that that's all this is; my experience.  Please be kind with me.

I have no motive in sharing this.  None at all.  I'm not advocating for or against bottle or breast .  I just need to share.  I need to share because my breastfeeding journey was rough.  Really rough.  I'm trying to process what happened and what that meant for Dope and me and our relationship with each other.  Problem is, I'm stuck.  I'm going over and over the same thoughts and it's gnawing away at me.  So I'm writing it out.  I'm sharing it with you.

I exclusively breastfed Dopey until she was 13 months old.  But I don't think I should have done.

For me, I didn't decide to breastfeed.  It was a given.  Everyone knows that 'breast is best' and I don't mean that flippantly.  The nutritional benefits are huge, it boosts the immune system and is sterile, it's free and requires no faffing around with bottles.  Win, win, win.

Then there are the purported emotional benefits of breastfeeding.  That it helps mums and babies to bond and I so looked forward to this.  I couldn't wait to nurse Dope, knowing I was the only one who ever would or could.  Turns out it was this fact that undid me.  Almost undid us.

I found breastfeeding incredibly difficult.  It was painful, stressful and relentless.  Our feeding schedule was 40 minutes on, 40 minutes off.  Horrendous.  I had support worker after support worker come in to help me.  They watched her feed and all said we were doing 'really well'.  The most advice I was given was to try to stretch her top lip up and over the nipple more.  I couldn't do that.

I cried in agony through every feed for the first 4 months.  Every. Single. Feed.  Without exception.  As soon as the feed stopped, so did the pain.  I now realise that what I experienced wasn't the 'let down' pain experienced by most.  Cold cabbage leaves would do nothing.  Dope wasn't happy when feeding either.  She would bob on and off, arch her back, gag, splutter and choke.  She never seemed sated and was continuously rooting.

The GP, health visitor and community nurse shared my concerns when they saw how distressed Dope would get.  They each sent me to A&E to get her checked over after seeing her.  She was admitted to hospital and eventually referred to a consultant.  He felt it was silent reflux and she was medicated.  He told me to cut out dairy in case it was a dairy intolerance causing all of this.  Neither the medication nor dairy free diet made any difference, but we persevered.

(I'd like to point out that this meant me battling through all of this without chocolate.  I know, right???  On top of all of the pain I was denied the staple food group of a new mum).

I desperately wanted to give her one bottle of formula a night.  Actually, I wanted her dad to give her the formula so that I could sleep and give my nipples a break.  I was sore and exhausted and so was she.

But I knew that formula was 'bad'.  It had been drummed into me that only a nipple and breast milk should go in Dope's mouth.  In my sleep deprived, brain addled state this really stuck.

I felt that I was doing everything wrong.  Dope wasn't sleeping, growing or enjoying life very much.  Buda and I were ratty with each other and on the brink of collapse.  The only thing I was doing 'right' for this kid was the breastmilk.  I couldn't decide to withhold that.  It would mean I had totally bummed on this motherhood gig.

So I needed someone else to tell me it was OK, it wouldn't be too bad to introduce one bottle feed a day.  But nobody did.  The breastfeeding support service kept insisting that Dope was getting all that she needed from me and that there was no reason to expose her to the risks associated with bottle feeding.  Even when I sat in tears with a worker telling her that I was so exhausted that I kept falling asleep on Dope while feeding her.  I told her I needed one feed 'off'.  That I was scared that if I kept on with this schedule that I would fall asleep on Dope and smother her, kill her.  The worker didn't budge.  She told me to keep on breastfeeding.  That things would get easier.

They didn't.  Each time Dopey stirred I would panic.  Really, seriously panic.  My heart would race, my palms would sweat and I would start to cry.  I would then battle to get her latched on and cry some more.  My legs would twitch with the pain of feeding.  I would clutch Buda's hand to get through it.  Then she would bob off to scream, root again and we would go through it all over again.  And again, and again and again.

I was broken.  So very, very broken.  I needed a rest.  I needed someone else to do just one feed.  To let me sleep for more than one hour.

But I didn't get this and mine and Dope's relationship suffered immeasurably.  I was scared of her.  I didn't hold her because whenever I went anywhere near her she would root and I couldn't bear the thought of an extra feed.  When I fed her I couldn't wait for it to end and as soon as it did I would thrust her upon whoever was nearest to me.

My fear of smothering her during a feed has morphed into a fear of her dying from anything and everything.  I'm so convinced that she will die very soon that my life with her feels bitter sweet.  I love her so much that I ache.  I spend hours just watching her, soaking her all in.  When I'm watching her I hear a voice telling me to make the most of this because it will end.  I hate buying her clothes and gifts and get angry when other people do.  Not because I don't want her clothed or treated, but because all I can think of is how much it will hurt to clear them out after she has gone.  It's horrendous.

When Dope was around 11 months old we noticed she had a thick piece of skin joining her top gum to her lip.  She had a lip tie.  This would have been why she couldn't get her top lip up and over to latch on properly.  She would have been unable to create a seal around the nipple resulting in air being gulped in.  The reflux and wind were caused or exacerbated by this.  She would have been unable to draw down more than foremilk.  This explained her slow weight gain despite having an insatiable appetite.

When I read all of this I cried.  I cried because my difficulties were real.  What's more, had the lip tie been identified sooner we could have dealt with it.  I cried for the lost months in our relationship.  I could have expressed and bottle fed and she would have grown and I would have rested and we would have bonded. I could have cuddled her.  I cried in frustration that nobody, not a single health professional or breastfeeding support worker ever once considered this or checked in Dope's mouth.  I cried in anger at myself for not finding out about it sooner.  I cried for the discomfort and pain I'd put Dope through.  For the medicine I had put in her unnecessarily.  I cried because I'd known it was real and been left feeling like it was just in my mind.  I just cried and cried and cried for 2 days.

And now she is fully weaned.  I have a more than a little sadness that Dope and I didn't get what I'd hoped from breastfeeding.  I'm sad that she weaned so much earlier than I'd expected her too.  I'm sad that I can't give you any happy ending to this post.  The only thing I'm glad about is that I can now keep my nipples tucked safely away in my bra.

So that's our story.  If you feel moved to comment, do so.  But remember, please be gentle.  I don't exaggerate when I say that breastfeeding was traumatic for me.  I'm on the other side now but there may be women reading this who are still in the thick of it.  Again, be gentle.

Till next time,

PS - Another gripe I have with breastfeeding is that it did not shed my babyweight quickly or at all.  This breastfeeding fact was brandished around all over the place yet somehow passed me by.  17 months on from Dope's birth I'm regularly asked if baby number two is on the way.  No, it's not.  I just never lost the baby bump shape from the first one.  That said, this bump may be more of a biscuit bump.  I eat a lot of them.


Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Open Day

OK, listen up.  I've had an idea - and it's a bit of a gem.  It's not very original, but it is most definitely effective and that's all that counts.

You know those days, weeks, periods when you feel really 'bleurgh'.  When you're stuck at home with nothing to do and no one to do it with.  When you're staring dolefully at your facebook feed as it goads you with status after photo after update of everyone else in the world having fun?  It feels pretty hopeless doesn't it?  Like you've been forgotten.  And it makes you mad because you can't understand why no one scoops you up and includes you.  Well, I have two things to say to you...

The first is a bit of tough love.  Yes, you probably have been forgotten.  Not because you're bad or boring, unloved or unwanted, but because you're off radar.  The people in your facebook feed don't know you're sat at home in your pjs, sobbing at the screen.  They don't know you want to hangout with them.  They don't know that you're not with someone else.  Now, yes, we could argue that some of them should pay more attention.  But then we would have to, too.  We would have to stop looking at all of the updates and scroll through our feeds looking for the people who aren't posting.  Who are most likely sat at home, like you, waiting for an invite.

This leads nicely onto my second point...

Extend an open invite to everyone you know to join you in some activity.

Sounds ridiculous, right?  And a little bit hard?  I hear you.

For the first 15 months of Dope's life I was the one at home.  I was alone and lonely and mad at the world for leaving me there.  As the fug of baby days left me I realised that actually, I had withdrawn.  No one was calling because I made out like everything was fine.  That's what I said when people asked me, 'I'm fine'.  But I wasn't.  Every bit of my heart and soul was crying out for them to see past this veneer.  They didn't.

I got so low,  I gave up hoping for any invite and resolved to make the most of my little family, screw the rest of them.  Then I started thinking about all of the other people like me out there.  All of the other isolated people being ignored by the 'in' crowd.  And this tugged on my heart a bit.  I changed tack.  Yes, it seemed too late for me, but it may not be too late for someone else.  I may be able to step in and BE their invite.

So that's what I did.  I thought and prayed on this for a little while, unsure what form this plan would take and who it would involve.  I settled on a single mum at church who I never saw included in anything either.  I reached out to her and made a play date.  Now, because I'm a bit socially awkward and felt like after the invite there was so little I could give, I panicked when she accepted.  I asked her if she would mind if we opened the invite up a bit and I posted on facebook that I would host a Valentine's afternoon for anyone who wanted to join.

What a result.  Two other women joined us.  First of all, this took the pressure off me conversation-wise and for that I will be eternally grateful to them.  They rescued my guest from an afternoon of being babbled at by me.  It also meant that I had pulled two more people in from the cold.  I felt pretty smug.  I had 'rescued' these women from their loneliness and, I felt, won a victory over my facebook feed by hosting an event rather than just gawping at one from afar.

But then something else happened.  A few people joked that they wished they didn't have husbands to spend Valentine's with because my idea seemed better.  They followed up with a suggestion that we arrange another day when we can hangout.  And those days happened.  Reaching out to one woman put me slap bang back on the social radar.  I now have plans and invites and feel included in life again.  I'm building relationships, connections and true friendships.  It's fab.

And you know what else?  All of those women, without exception - yes, even the thin, pretty, smart ones - tell me how they look at social media and feel left out.  That they feel worn out and left out, too.  I've learned that we're all struggling here, it's not just me.  Or you.  It's all of us.

There's a good lesson in here about loving others as you do yourself.  I love this commandment and it's one I live by.  But now, for the first time I realise that we weren't told to do this simply to make life nice for those around us.  This is God's way of ensuring that we stay connected to each other, it benefits the givers as much as the receivers.  By following his command we are forced to open up our own lives and that allows him to pour even more blessings in.  He's got this all figured out, hasn't He?

Tonight Buda is out at Kung Fu, Dopey's in bed and I'm relishing the solitude.  Tonight it doesn't feel lonely or imposed, it feels precious.  Time to relax, own my own space and reflect on all of the gifts I've been given.

So what are you waiting for?  Do it.  Do it now.  Post an invite, open up your world.  You may just be amazed at who comes in.

Till next time,


Friday, 15 April 2016

Life is puzzling

See that puzzle above? That's what my life feels like, friends.  The gap is my 'now', the moment I'm currently in.  All of the other pieces, all jumbled up, that's the rest of my life.  All of those pieces represent a person, a task, a responsibility that I have.  Each and everyone of them is jostling and demanding to get into my now.  Prioritising is impossible.  Each is as important as the next because they are all integral to the whole.  There is no sense of achievement or accomplishment in this puzzle because even when I finally get a piece in the right place, it soon gets slid aside so that another can pass. It's all very complicated.  And like a toddler attempting this puzzle, I feel completely overwhelmed and powerless to sort it all out.

Right now it is 8.23am.  I'm sitting at my desk with a pot of tea and writing to you.  Dopey stayed at her Gran's last night and so I'm well rested and ready to face the day.  All manner of chaos is waiting for me post 10am, but for now I don't need to worry about those other puzzle pieces.  I can breathe in the empty space.  It is the first time in such a long time that there is nothing else that I should be doing.  So I'm writing to you.

Believe or not friends I write to you more than you know.  Every day, in fact, I compose one, two or more posts.. Some are funny anecdotes, some are reflections on life and some are just plain rants.  The problem is, they are all composed in my head and never get poured out onto a page.  I'm talking to you as I'm driving my 60 minute commute to work, showering, settling Dopey for a sleep.  You get me?  You're in my mind constantly and I feel a crushing guilt that I don't talk to you more often.  You're very much a piece in my puzzle.  Unfortunately you're so often wedged behind work, child rearing and husband managing that try as I might, I just can't get to you.

I wish that this was a more encouraging, entertaining post and I'm sorry that it's not.  But I feel it is an important one.  I want you to know that I am committed to this blog, to you.  I love seeing how many of you read this.  After each and every post I spend a few days checking back, looking at the page view count on Blogger, delighting as it goes up.  I feel held by you a little bit.  Listened to.  Thank you.

I'd love to connect with you all more personally.  So if you're reading this and relate to my jumbled up life, please leave a comment and comment on each others comments.  I can't be the only one feeling like this so let's reach out to each other.  Say, 'yes, I hear you'.  Give advice, support, solidarity or a virtual hug.  It's what blogs are all about.  Let's use ours well.

Till next time,

Diary of an imperfect mum