Boob Club

The first rule of Boob Club is that nobody talks about Boob Club…
As an expectant first-time mum, I always intended to breastfeed. It was just a given for me. I mean, my mum had breastfed us all, the NCT class leaders did nothing but extol the benefits for both mother and baby and, as everyone knows, breast is best. It’s the most natural thing in the world so I assumed, therefore, that it would be as simple as that. I was wrong.
My gorgeous baby boy arrived 10 days before his due date, after a 44 hour labour and an emergency c-section. I know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that we never established a latch in hospital, largely due to a very severe tongue tie rectified shortly after birth. 
To cut a very long story short, we found ourselves rehospitalised six days later. My perfect baby boy had lost 16.5% of his birth weight and the shame was unbearable. It still is, as I write this now. I had been literally starving my baby.
A series of wonderful, friendly and compassionate breastfeeding councillors swooped in and queued up to help, hold, cheer and guide me, but not one of them could get my baby to latch on. I was hooked to a pump almost permanently in order to produce expressed milk for the requisite 3 hourly feeds to get his sodium levels back up. 
Then, after an ocean of tears which, together with the pump, had left me a fragile husk, some kind soul suggested “nipple shields”. Desperate for any solution, these were duly purchased and, at 9 days old, my son had his first “feed” from me. Emotional doesn’t even begin to cover it…
Breastfeeding broke me. It broke my heart and it almost broke my mind. Nothing compares you for the guilt you feel as a mother and, I truly felt that I had failed my child in every possible sense. How could something so natural be so beyond me? 
It wasn’t until this happened that I realised how common it is to have problems. Especially in the early days. I confided in a close friend about my experience and she readily admitted that she too had never been able to feed and had solely expressed for 6 months. What??! This was news to me! I spoke to another, who had experienced problems as well. And another. And another. 
It seems that for every one mum who latches her baby on perfectly first time, there are at least 10 who struggle to establish or maintain a breastfeeding relationship. But I had absolutely no idea that this was the case for so many new mums. The best kept secret in the world.
If I had known then what I know now, those first few weeks wouldn’t have felt so lonely, so desperate. I wouldn’t have felt like such a failure. This conspiracy of silence denied me support when I needed it most, yet is borne out of the same feelings of shame and inadequacy that I had felt.
I am proud to say that we got there in the end and had a long and happy breastfeeding journey but it could just as easily have ended for me before it even started. I felt defeated by my own body and became anxious for some time afterwards. Once we did get the hang of it properly, by which I mean being able to leave the house without planning for each feed, I was then constantly being asked when I was going to stop. Why did these people, who had shown no interest in how I had struggled to feed my newborn, suddenly feel the need to involve themselves in the process three months down the line? 
As mums & women, we judge each other the most harshly. Breastfed, bottle fed, as long as our babies are being fed. It’s not a competition. There is no grand prize, other than the joy of watching our children grow into happy, well-balanced adults. We are all doing our very best, even if we do miss the mark sometimes. Let’s just be brave and honest with each other about our parenting choices and the challenges we face. Let’s learn from each other so that we never feel completely alone. Let’s be kind to each other and, ultimately, to ourselves because even on the worst of days, there is always tomorrow. And let’s not keep secrets. Knowledge is power. 

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