The Booby Trap

Listen, can we just stop? Can we, please? Can we please stop pitting women against each other? It’s sad, it’s upsetting, and it achieves absolutely nothing.

Women are fabulous at supporting each other, at sharing good times and bad (and cake!). They are wonderful at encouraging each other, and listening to each other, and caring for each other. They think nothing of dropping what they are doing and going to be with another woman or family who needs them. Women are brilliant.

But they can also be complete fucking bitches. No one can tear a woman down quite as viciously as another woman. No one can hurt a woman quite as deeply as another woman. No one can shame and victim-blame a woman quite as effectively as another woman.

And do you know who knows this really well? Those clever folk who run advertising and PR agencies. They know this from their own lives, from a little bit of research, from focus groups and from watching what happens when you pit one group of woman against another. They have put this knowledge to good use by creating an arena where breastfeeding mothers and artificially-feeding mothers are conflated as adversaries. They are sitting back and watching the show while they and their clients (the formula companies) are making a fortune. Those who are baited by the arguments are falling into this specially-constructed booby trap. I won’t bang on about it here, but if you are interested in learning more about the business of breastfeeding, I recommend this book.

Ireland has the lowest rates of breastfeeding and – by inference – the highest rates of artificial feeding in the world. There are billions of dollars to be made from formula feeding; not just the dairy (or other) milk that is used in making the formula, but the bottles and teats and sterilisers etc.  By comparison, there is very little money to be made from breastfeeding – a few breast-pads if you need them, maybe a consultation or three with a lactation consultant, a family-sized bar of chocolate every night and a number of feeding bras in different sizes. That’s pretty much it – unless you want a pump and some bottles to store that milk in. Chances are you’ll save on menstrual products as well, because your periods won’t return for months after the birth (if you’re lucky).

But look, everyone knows that breast is best. This is not a blog post banging on about how I think other women should feed their babies. For the record, I breastfed both of mine. Except my eldest had no suck because she was born at 30 weeks so I expressed for her and fed her from a bottle. When she was ten months old, my ex-husband put pressure on me to stop breastfeeding (I was already supplementing with formula because I didn’t know then what I know now). I gave up, but re-lactated when I left him a few months later. She gave up breastfeeding at 19 months, when I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second. My younger daughter was breastfed from the day she was born until she was five and a half years old. Primarily because I’m lazy and this suited me best. Also, it was effortless (I was lucky) and free.

But that’s me – those were my choices based on the information I had, what suited me best, and what best suited my family at that time. I don’t want to try and convert other women and judge them and tell them that they are doing wrong by not breastfeeding. Women who want to breastfeed, for the most part, will breastfeed. Women who don’t, won’t.  Sadly, there will always be a small minority of women who want to breastfeed but will be unable to, for a variety of reasons. I’d hazard a guess that, for most of those women, those reasons include a lack of information, a lack of support, and pressure from family to give up at the first sign of trouble.

So, this latest stick to beat breastfeeding women with – the backlash against ‘brelfies’ – is annoying me. For a start, if looking at a woman feeding her child bothers you, look away. When a woman breastfeeds her baby, you can’t see much breast at all – you’ll generally only see the back of the baby’s head – unless and until the baby unlatches. As it happens, all of the women I have discussed breastfeeding with are more worried about people seeing their wobbly bellies, than they are about people seeing their breasts being used for the primary purpose.

How's this for a 'brelfie'?  (Kashmira's first feed, aged about 5 minutes.)
How’s this for a ‘brelfie’?
(Kashmira’s first feed, aged about 5 minutes.)

Most women see breastfeeding their babies in public as something they have to do in order to ensure their babies don’t die of hunger and dehydration, they’re not doing it to be provocative or feminist or defiant. The same as mothers who bottlefeed their babies, really. People who think otherwise need to check where their prejudice and discomfort comes from and confront them rather than women who are busy feeding their children.

How I feed my babies is my business. How you feed your babies is your business. I do believe that with more support, more information and more easily accessible help, more women would choose to breastfeed – because choice, after all, is only really a choice when it’s fully informed and all options are presented honestly and in their entirety. In the meantime, though, let’s get busy supporting all mothers because all of us need support, no matter how we’re feeding our babies.

10 Lies Women Hear in Irish Maternity Hospitals

Women in Ireland are, finally, realising that they have – for the longest time – been sold a pup when it comes to how they are treated with regard to maternity care in this country.

For as long as I can remember, I have had an interest in mothering, maternity, babies and birth. Before I’d even turned 18, I was sure I would not give birth in a hospital. By the time I was 20 and trying to conceive a baby with my first husband, I was doing more and more research on the subject and learning more and more about ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and what they should look like.

Years later, after the birth of my second daughter, I became a doula and my outrage at the lies women were told increased to the point that I needed to watch my blood pressure.

I operate from a belief that birth and pregnancy are normal, everyday occurrences. In more than 80% of cases, there is no need for intervention and women can safely birth their babies without interference from outside forces. The problem is that birth has become medicalised.

Doctors are wonderful people.  They do tough jobs in difficult circumstances. The problem with doctors being involved in birth, though, is that they are trained in the abnormal. They come to your bedside believing that there is something wrong with you – and then they set about finding that problem. If there is no problem, they need to invent one.

Hospitals are designed around the medical model. They are set up to save the health and lives of people whose health and lives need saving. They are not set up to watch and wait – which is what normal birth requires. And normal birth is what most women will experience if they and their bodies are trusted.

In order to coerce women to submit to unnecessary medical intervention, they are routinely lied to. Here is a selection of those lies:

1. Your baby is too big to be born vaginally. (Women grow babies big enough for their own pelvises. A small woman can birth a big baby no problem).

2. Your baby is breech, so you must have a C-section. (Breech is just a variation of normal – there is no reason why you can’t have a vaginal birth).

3. Your waters have broken. You must give birth within 48 hours, or you will have a dry birth and that’s more painful & dangerous for you and the baby. (Amniotic fluid, like saliva, does not just ‘dry up’).

4. We have to ‘check’ you – i.e. perform (often painful) vaginal examinations – to see how you’re progressing. (A VE is not necessary and does not indicate how dilated a woman’s cervix is. The cervix – like the anus – is a sphincter muscle. It will contract involuntarily when touched.)

5. Once you go ‘over’, we’ll have to induce you. (Babies come when they’re ready. The ‘rule’ about pregnancy lasting 40 weeks is a load of nonsense. Women have different cycles and pregnancy length is affected by a number of variables. A normal pregnancy can last anywhere from 37-44 weeks if dated from the last menstrual period).

6. Normal progression is one centimetre an hour. You have 12 hours to produce this baby, or we’ll have to induce you. (Women are different. Babies are different. Many things affect the rate at which labour progresses. This 1cm per hour rule – known as the ‘Dublin Rule’ because it was invented in Holles Street – is a load of nonsense and does more harm than good).

7. If you don’t submit to X your baby will die! (women are routinely told that their babies will die if they are ‘careless’ enough to ignore doctors’ wishes.)

8. Your last baby was born by Caesarean section. Therefore, it is too dangerous for you to have a homebirth. (A previous c-section does not automatically preclude a homebirth or vaginal birth of any sort.)

9. Push when we tell you. (This practice – known as ‘purple pushing’ – is actually bad for you and your baby. It increases the likelihood of you bursting blood vessels in various parts of your body – including your eyes. It also affects oxygen getting to your baby and works against your body.)

10. You are lucky I did a Caesarean section. The cord was around the baby’s neck and it would have died if you’d tried to have it vaginally. (About 50% of babies – my own included – are born with their cords wrapped once or twice around their necks. This is not dangerous because an umbilical cord is not like a rope, but soft and squidgy like a full garden hose).

There are many, many more lies that women are told. Please feel free to add yours in the comments section below.

Our collective outrage is being collated under the hashtag #maternityire on Twitter and you can join in the conversation.

Let Sleeping Babies Wake

The other day, I was really saddened to hear the mother of a baby giving thanks for the fact that her child had slept for ten hours straight. She was delighted that – with a little bit of ‘professional’ help from a soi-disant sleep nanny – her baby hadn’t disturbed her all night. This woman was bemoaning that her life was different since her baby had arrived.

 

Well, newsflash! Babies are supposed to change your life. If they don’t, you’re doing it wrong.

 

I am fed up of hearing people talk about their babies as if they (the babies) were evil little demons trying to rob them of sleep or peace or ‘me’ time. If you have made the decision to have a baby, it is up to you to change your life to fit in with the baby – not the other way around. And that isn’t as hard as it might sound; most babies are extremely accommodating and won’t put too much of a stop to your gallop. I’ve brought mine to work; I’ve taken them for trips in trains,  planes and boats; taken them to the cinema, the doctor, the dentist, lunches, brunches, dinners, launches  and anywhere else I might have to go. They’re very portable, I find.

 

But let me get back to the sleeping thing because I actually meant this post more as a public service announcement than a rant. (No, really!). It’s actually dangerous to have your babies sleeping away from you. The fad for having babies sleep away from their mothers is a fairly recent – and a fairly Western – one.

 

With this separation of baby from parent/s, began the rise of SIDS.  In Africa and Asia, children sleep with their parent/s for at least the first two years (in some places, even the first five years) of life. Cot-death is unheard of.  There is more on that here and in Meredith Small’s book ‘Our Babies Ourselves’ .

 

But, quite apart from the science and the evidence – let’s be practical about this.  I am a great proponent of lazy parenting. I am far too lazy to get out of my bed in the middle of the night and wander around a dark house into another room to pluck a crying baby from her cot before feeding her (or comforting her if she doesn’t need a feed), putting her back in her cot and stumbling, bleary-eyed, back to my own bed. I love my sleep too much. So my babies slept with me and found the breast as and when they needed it. (That didn’t work so well with my eldest, who was early born and unable to suck.  I expressed and fed her every hour for the first few months, then every two hours. I kept her in the bed with me, though.  It was still easier to feed her that way.)

 

Apart from when they were sick, I never had a broken night’s sleep when my children were babies. I expect they’ll come – along with the ten-hour sleeps  – when they’re teenagers.