I never thought I would breastfeed. In fact, I never thought I would have children at all. After a chaotic and ‘adventurous’ early adulthood, I felt that having children looked too much like hard work.
The hormones kicked in at about 33. A combination of my ticking body clock, finally being settled and in love with a wonderful man and searching for a bit more meaning in life than my career offered.
I had a good job. In a big, blue-chip insurance company. When I got pregnant, I planned to follow Gina Ford, so I could project-manage this baby effectively, and get back to work after my maternity leave.
I had a very serious breast injury in my early 20’s. I had a fit on top of a halogen hob during an egg boiling session. I was very lucky that I didn’t burn my face. But I was left with full thickness burns to my breast, underarm, wrist and trunk. I had to have skin grafts, a partial mastectomy and the nipple repaired. I was in the specialist burns and plastics unit in East Grinstead for weeks.
So when the breastfeeding lady approached me at a midwife check during my pregnancy, I was angry and defensive. I was planning to try, but not to beat myself up if I couldn’t feed my baby myself. I didn’t want to have that conversation with a stranger and felt that it was no-one’s business but my own
When my beautiful B was born, I changed. Completely and utterly. Gina Ford was not for me. I would never leave my baby to cry, unwrapped in my arms. I carried her everywhere. Neither of us had eyes for anyone else. We were deeply and completely bonded and in love. Of course I fed her my own milk, and did so for over a year until it became painful and my milk ran dry during the eighth week of my second pregnancy.
My nipple and damaged right boob were surprisingly absolutely fine. It had a lesser supply and we both had a left-breast preference, but I think a variance/preference is true for everyone. Feeding, whilst extremely painful to start with, became easier with time. I could feed in a sling, in the street or at a café. My breasts were all over Brighton! In meetings with my boss, discussing my extended maternity leave and added parental leave. He got the lot. Boob, scar, everything.
I remember my first experience of feeding in public. We were on the prom in Hove and it felt bizarre and alien to have my boob out for all to see, in the sea-breeze. I had a few false starts, but a crying, new-born, teeny baby is a good motivator and soon, I was completely comfortable whipping them out on demand.
I fed my second daughter until she was a little over two years old. She would shout ‘booby’ at me and claw away my top in restaurants, on buses, in libraries. You name it. I always fed on demand and everywhere.
Throughout my entire breastfeeding term, which spanned around four years, I gave thanks for living in Brighton. I know people who were asked to cover up, but I wasn’t . And believe me, I wasn’t particularly discrete.
The shops, restaurants and cafes of Brighton, Hove and Portslade were amazing actually. Waiters bought me unasked for glasses of water and checked that I was comfortable. People congratulated me on feeding in a sling in the street and patted me on the back for feeding a toddler. It was altogether brilliant and I couldn’t have felt better supported.
I know that mine is not everyone’s experience, and certainly that outside enlightened Brighton, public boobage is not always celebrated so positively. But I also know that in general, we are lucky and that breastfeeding is very positively supported and encouraged locally. I also have an inkling of the pressure someone feels, when they are unable (for whatever reason), or choose not to feed, and how personal a decision or situation that is.
So I say ‘Yay’ for breastfeeding, ‘Yay’ to everyone actively supporting it, and ‘No pressure – don’t let it define you – do whatever you need/want/can’ to those who find they can’t or decide not to.