Initially breastfeeding was hard work – I was amazed at the size of some of the blisters but by the eighth week we were well and truly settled into demand feeding and I loved it. I loved the physical, the emotional and the practical sides of it. I was fulfilling a lifetime desire to breastfeed.
I had to knock all that on the head. There was no decision to make: I would be either no mother at all as a crazy and delusional patient or I would forego breastfeeding and ensure a stable and settled environment to raise a newborn.
Indeed, as I said in an earlier blog the decision wasn’t made by me, it happened to me.
If only I had considered the potential problems around breastfeeding as I had considered having a safe space for me and my child if I did become unwell. Maybe if I researched and provided a plan that others could follow when I was unable to do so there would have been a way to breastfeed.
Since I’ve learnt that some mothers donate their breastmilk to those unable to breastfeed so that the child benefits from the liquid gold. But in my fragile state at the time I think that would have only served to alienate me further from my child. Could the perinatal community unit I had been linked in with given me some greater information and support around this to prepare me?
I loathe the term ‘breast is best’. As if I haven’t done the best for my child! In order to have a child, I arranged with my psychiatrist and perinatal workers to change my medications that were “safe” for baby but obviously didn’t help my mental state when my relationship hit rocky ground.
I read a lot at the time about pregnancy and mental illness and came across those vile eugenic arguments that believe people like me shouldn’t have children. At my worst, I believe them and think I will never be good enough for Gracie. Maybe she’d be better off without me. Maybe I’m a weight on her wings. Too easily I can fall into depths of self-loathing.
Ruth Cotton sent me an article about a 14-year-old girl, Kira Dart, who’s mum – a single mum – committed suicide. Kira set up a Facebook page, Beyond the Dark, to help those suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts. To read the girl’s own words of her grief and loss makes me think that although I mightn’t believe it, Gracie may have another view to me. Although I may still have that overwhelming feeling of being a complete failure and waste of space, I see how Gracie runs to me for a hug, shows me her drawings, puts on plays and dancing demonstrations for me, comes to me for comfort – as well as enjoying her friends, family and life. She is more important than a judgemental person I don’t even know.
Gracie is thriving despite my illness. Despite being bottle-fed. She is not less than best and neither am I. Parenthood. Motherhood is no one thing. Sure I would have loved to breastfeed Gracie. I continue to support women’s right to breastfeed publicly as a natural and wonderful part of life.
But breast is not best. Love is best. Fed is best. Mummy cuddle is best. Happy home is best. Stable is best. Safe is best. Feeling ok about yourself and your family’s future is best.
We don’t need to set up competitions for who’s the best mummy. We need to nurture ourselves and each other as we wish to nurture our children. I love that Facebook meme that goes something along the lines of ‘I’m not in competition with anyone – I want everyone to make it’.
To read Kira Dart’s story go to ‘My Whole World Shattered’: 14-year-old sets up Facebook support page for other families after mother’s suicide by Elizabeth Jackson, AM News, ABC.
Georgia James’ article ‘Why the Breast Isn’t Always Best’ demonstrates mothers may find difficulty breastfeeding for reasons other than mental health issues. She argues that the pressure to breastfeed despite debilitating difficulties is harmful to mother and baby.