A little over seven years ago, whilst we were still living in the UK, I gave birth to the sweetest bundle of love I had ever laid my eyes on. This new and perfectly formed little person of gorgeous squidgy-ness was named Lola Elizabeth. As I reminisce on that time, I still have clear memories of her birth and our time in the hospital. From all that went along with that experience, I took with me one moment in particular, albeit small moment that has never quite left my thoughts about our time in there. It happened when Lola and I were taken from the labor ward up to the maternity unit after her birth. Thankfully, we were only on this unit for one night but whilst there we had the pleasure of sharing the long, cubicle sectioned room with seven other Mums and babies. The new Mum next to me was very chatty and liked asking a lot of questions about anything and everything. After a fair few questions about the birth and so on, she asked me which formula I was using to feed Lola, I replied to her that wasn’t using any formula as I was breastfeeding. Then came the words which have stayed with me ever since that day, “Oh, you’re brave!”
At that moment I didn’t really feel much towards her reply. I was much more preoccupied with my post birth aches and pains and how my baby was doing. I remember looking at this young woman with her tiny pre-maid formula bottle and saw nothing more than a means to feed her baby. I looked around the room and all the Mums bar myself and one other Mum were formula feeding their children. I definitely didn’t feel brave or any different to them, I didn’t look at the other breastfeeding Mum and think oh you’re brave like me. I simply saw a Mum feeding her new baby.
It was only later on, in fact, a couple of years on that I really put much thought into her comment. I realised something about that situation and felt rather lucky to have grown up in an environment where breastfeeding was never deemed as difficult or disgusting or a brave thing to do. My own Mum had been extremely positive about breastfeeding growing up. Most of the women who had children in my family had their own experience of breastfeeding, I remember seeing Aunts and other relatives breastfeeding as a child, it was normalised for me, so it was really quite a natural thing for myself to do when my time came to having my own baby.
When I really thought about her comment those few years later I remember being a little offended by it. I mean, why is it brave to do something that the body is designed to do? It was only really as I got a bit older, then had my second baby that I got a bit of understanding into where her thought processes came from.
In retrospect breastfeeding my first baby was difficult and painful, then breastfeeding my second baby again came with challenges at the start which I was determined to overcome with preparing myself with as much knowledge on the subject as I could. Perhaps this young woman’s family hadn’t normalised breastfeeding for her as she grew up due to simply not having the knowledge or network of support around them. Maybe it was extremely painful and uncomfortable for the women in her family to openly breastfeed as they could have possibly of been mocked by other family members? If it’s easier to avoid pain or that feeling of being too shy or even the thought of not being able to get your own body back after 9 months of pregnancy, then formula feeding certainly has its appeal.
A fair while after the birth of Lola, I remember talking to a new Dad who told me his girlfriend didn’t want to breastfeed as he quoted her saying “boobs are for men”. With all these commonly accepted thoughts and ideas on breastfeeding, then, of course, I can very much understand why she may have thought that I was “brave” to breastfeed! It is absolutely apparent that the decision to breastfeed requires support from immediate family, those that will see you every day in your own home. If you don’t have that support from within the home or a wider network of experienced family and friends, then yes, it probably is a pretty brave and difficult thing to do for a new Mum!
Luckily, I had every ounce of support from my family, husband, and circle of friends. It was definitely not a brave thing to do for me, rather just the way to feed the baby that was part and parcel of having a child, with that being said, I realise that formula does give women a choice. I am fully aware that there are plenty of women that may have that support but still opt to formula feed for personal or medical reasons and that is also absolutely ok!
What has struck me in my own motherhood journey is we do things the best way that we can with the best bits of knowledge and experience that’s given to us. I hope to normalise breastfeeding for my own daughters so they have a clear and informed choice if and when they decide to have their own babies and how they decide to feed them, breast or formula, either of which is no more a brave thing to do than the other!