I’m one of those women who felt uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. There was no particular reason. I’d never been shamed, and I firmly believe women should feel empowered to breastfeed wherever and whenever they see fit.
But there was something about it though that made me feel nervous. To counteract this, I’d express milk just before I would head out. When it was feeding time, I’d reach for the bottle in my bag. But first, I’d quickly scan the room, terrified, to see who was watching.
“What if they think I’m giving him formula,” I’d worry, before reassuring myself,
“If anyone gives me a look I’ll quickly tell them it’s just expressed breast milk.”
Sure enough, no one looked. No one cared. Everyone around me was getting on with their lives. But I didn’t notice that. I was just relieved I’d made it through another public feed unscathed.
You see, from the moment I found out I was pregnant, stories started trickling through about this Perfect Parent Posse.
They haunted my dreams. Clouded my judgement. Forced me to second-guess myself.
They were like Big Brother. I didn’t know where they were, who was a member, or when they might appear. But if the stories on Facebook, forums and fellow mums were anything to go by, they existed. They were ruthless. And they were there to govern the mums of Australia.
They abided by the belief that formula was evil.
Co-sleeping is the devil.
You better not spend too much time away from the baby, that makes you a bad mum.
Absolutely don’t let them near a screen of any description.
What else are you doing if not pureeing your own organic baby food?
What do you mean he sometimes has sleepovers at Nanna’s house?
And my goodness if for one second you even dare suggest you miss your job, well then you shouldn’t have had a baby in the first place.
So, you can imagine my fear when my milk supply started to drop and my expressed milk reserves ran out.
“We can just top him up with formula,” my (then) fiancee would tell me as I sobbed uncontrollably.
When he brought home a tin one night, I was equally insulted and terrified.
“I’ve failed my baby, I’m supposed to be breastfeeding him,” I’d wail. He was confused. Oliver was crying. I was a mess.
I wanted to be able to tell everyone I was solely breastfeeding my son. After all, I’d heard the stories. Mums who formula feed are ostracised. I needed to impress the Perfect Parent Posse with my perfect parenting skills. A formula fed baby doesn’t fit in with that picture-perfect image. Therefore, following this logic, I was a bad mum.
Eventually, five months later, my milk supply ceased, and there was no option but to switch to formula. I never told anyone, but in all honesty it was liberating. I could finally have too many glasses of wine, resume eating the spicy food that used to upset Oliver’s tummy, and go out for more than a few hours without feeling like my boobs were about to explode. I was scared to tell my mum, my friends, my mother-in-law. Not that any of them had ever expressed much interest in my feeding methods, but I was sure they’d quietly judge me.
When I casually mentioned I’d stopped breastfeeding, no one cared. I was confused. Why wasn’t everyone as terrified for the consequences as I was? Hadn’t I just committed the cardinal sin?
During this time, I’d also worked out I’d get an extra two hours sleep in the morning if I brought my son into bed with me when he started to stir. I didn’t dare tell a soul. That was perfect fodder for judgement, I’d think. Better to keep quiet.
As time went on, I grew more comfortable in my skill-set as a mother. I’d still scan the room before mixing up a bottle, and feel the same relief I’d managed another feed without a passing disapproving glance.
But it wasn’t until he turned one when I realised something. No one actually cares. As long as your baby is happy, healthy, and thriving, no one has the time to worry about whether your breasts still produce milk or not. How your child sleeps, or when, or for how long. What he wears. Or whether or not he sometimes sleeps at his Nanna’s house so you can have a well-deserved night out with the girls.
My son is now 16 months old. I’ve never once had someone pass judgement on my mothering skills or my choices as a parent. Of course, there are exceptions, and I’ve heard the same stories you have about judgemental maternal health nurses, mothers-in-law or your friend of a friend of a friend of a friend’s midwife who made a snide remark about nipple shields 48 hours after their baby was born. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen. But the point is, it’s rare.
What was I scared of this entire time? Because the fact of the matter is, this Perfect Parent Posse doesn’t exist. It’s like a scary story parents fabricate to keep their kids away from strangers.
As new, impressionable mothers, we eat it up. We let an imaginary committee in our heads rule our actions and thoughts because we’re so scared of putting a foot wrong.
Reality check: you will mess up. You’ll probably give your child formula. Feed him supermarket food from a pouch. Yell at him out of pure exhaustion. Wonder whether you should have given him Panadol because perhaps he isn’t sick, just sooky.
If there’s one thing I could tell myself when my son was born last year, it would be to trust your intuition. You are a beautiful mother. You are the best mother for your son. He is just as lucky to have you as you are to have him. He doesn’t care which milk it is, as long as he’s fed. He doesn’t care where he sleeps, as long as he can rest. He is imperfectly perfect. Just like you. And let me tell you one thing, mumma, you’ve got this. You know exactly what your son needs. You just need to trust yourself more.
This is a guest blog from the beautiful Elizabeth Anile, who is a single mum to a beautiful bubbly baby boy and an amazing blogger. On her blog, she shares her very real story on becoming an unexpected single mum and her motherhood journey. To get more of Elizabeth follow her blog here or on Instagram @bambiandbaby_ here.