Stop judging breastfeeding mums. Stop judging them for feeding their babies in public. Stop judging them for whipping their boob out on the train. Stop judging them for giving their baby the best start in life.
As I sit behind the screen of my laptop, feeding my baby with formula out of a bottle, I can't help but feel inadequate. I read article after article about how fantastic breastfeeding is for your child, and I feel like I've failed before I've even begun. My child is going to have a low IQ. My child will get more ear infections. My child will fail, and it's all my fault. With so much coverage of breastfeeding mothers' right to feed in public circulating, my feelings of failure are heightened. And I feel silently judged. No, not judged, excluded completely from the perfect mother's gang. Unequal. Failure.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I knew from the start what kind of mother I wanted to be. Like many others, I was going to give my child the best I possibly could and of course, that included breastfeeding from birth until at least 6 months, longer if I could. I read all the material I was given on breastfeeding by my midwife and eagerly awaited the arrival of my first born. So adamant I was that I was going to breastfeed, I didn't even buy a bottle. Heck, I had no idea how to put one together let alone sterilise one! But it didn't matter, because I was going to breastfeed.
The birth didn't go to plan. The hospital was understaffed and I ended up in a maternity corridor for most of my active labour, waiting for a room to become available. When it did, I was already 10cm dilated and ready to push. My daughter arrive cold and blue. Nurses rushed around to get her breathing, which thank goodness she did after an entire agonising minute had creeped by. She was handed to me. I looked at her, and she looked at me. And I can honestly say, I've never felt a rush of panic quite like I did at that moment. Wasn't I suppose to feel love right now? That unconditional, I-would-die-for-you kind of love? The love that was supposed to overpower me and make me burst into tears of happiness? Instead I was filled with panic, and most of all, nothingness. Just, a void. A big gaping whole where the love was supposed to be. I cried, but it was not out of happiness. It was out of fear and regret. What had I done?
I needed stitches after the birth and I felt exhausted and in pain. But still no overwhelming love. As she lay next to me in the hospital cot, a midwife asked me if I was ready to feed her? I nodded. Maybe this was it, where that amazing bond would take hold of me, unleashing my Earth mother within? But as I drew her nearer to me, I just couldn't do it. The idea of this baby latching on to my breast was completely alien to me. It didn't feel natural, not one bit. I had never held a newborn before and I still couldn't believe she was mine. And I don't mean in that, "I can't believe she's mine because she's so amazing" kind of way. I mean in a "I can't actually believe she is mine. Are you sure I wasn't just fat?" way.
So I asked for a bottle. And I fed her. And although this goes against everything we are told, everything the NHS are trying to promote, it did feel natural. And I felt that bond with her almost immediately as she began to drink. It was as if the path in front of me, which only moments ago had been foggy and filled with self doubt and fear had cleared. I felt empowered, and strong, and confident. Well, as confident as a new mother could feel!
I don't judge breastfeeding mums. But it doesn't make you a better mum, and it doesn't mean your children will be better than mine. No one can tell you exactly how you will feel when you give birth and hold your child for the first time. Nothing can prepare you for that, not really. What makes you a good mum, is making the best decision you can for your child. You won't always make the right one, and people won't always agree with the one you do make. And that's ok. it really is. Because being a mother is hard. And you are doing the best you can.