Hi – sorry for the ‘long time, no write’ situation but life has been incredibly busy; my older set of twins have just completed their first year at school, my younger set have been growing (they’re 7 months already, how time flies!) and my partner has had to pack in his dreams of being fully self employed and get a ‘real’ job which in turn has meant we’ve had to move cities for the second time in a year. It’s been hard work but not as hard as it could have been – the kids have responded admirably to all the changes and the babies haven’t been as much hard work as I was expecting – but it’s still been a tough and challenging time financially, socially, and mentally. We’re at the point now where things will still be quite tight for a while but we can all breathe a bit of a sigh of relief, sit back a little and just chill. Which is really nice :)
One of the things that has struck me is that having the babies has not been as full on and hectic as I was expecting it to be. I suspect part of that is because we’re not first time parents now (once you’ve been there once you know that there is actually little to stress over, it’s amazing how things will just happen in their own time and space) but I also think a huge part of it is that this time around breastfeeding is working, and working well.
I wasn’t expecting that. I live in New Zealand and we have a midwife-led maternity system which strongly encourages breastfeeding. It can be a bit of a mixed blessing at times if you come across someone who is particularly dogmatic but it does mean that there are a lot of different pathways for breastfeeding help and many are fairly pragmatic about feeding, an attitude which I (personally) think helps encourage women to give breastfeeding a go. I was quite lucky with my first set of twins; I had issues with my milk from the beginning and they ended up with jaundice and a two week stay in hospital. But while they were in there I was given amazing help and support to get breastfeeding established (thanks to Margaret from the Palmerston North neonatal unit!) I still had supply issues though and by the time they were 6 months old they were fully formula fed. I didn’t mind so much – I don’t have an emotional attachment to breastfeeding – but formula feeding twins can be a right hassle, and it’s expensive too.
For some reason I was expecting the same issues this time around, especially as I ended up needing a c-section. But it didn’t happen. That night after the surgery my partner stayed in hospital with me. It was lovely – each time a baby cried he’d pick her up and give her to me for a feed, then he’d take them away again, have a little cuddle himself, change her nappies and pop her back into the cot. And I remember lying there watching him with them and thinking “I wonder how it’ll go this time?” I’d even bought bottles and a tin of formula just in case. But I didn’t need them. I seemed to have enough milk and even when one of my wee girls ended up in hospital at 11 days old with a chest infection I was still able to feed because I was able to board at the hospital and have my other baby with me too, so I could continue to feed both (as I said, New Zealand hospitals are set up to support breastfeeding). I even got to say a proper thank you to Margaret for teaching me to breastfeed the first time around :)
But the breastfeeding success has brought an with it an issue I didn’t need to face the first time around; breastfeeding in public. With the older two by the time they were old enough to get out and about with me to places other than family and friend’s houses they were mainly formula fed. I had breastfed them in other people’s homes but never *really* in public. With this set I found that we were going out and about much earlier. Expressing has never really worked for me, and I was terrified that if I gave them the occasional bottle of formula I might set off a chain reaction that would lead to my milk supply decreasing, or worse, cause mastitis through ‘overfilling’. And going home after a couple of hours or so was not only a pain in the rear end it also curtailed everyone’s fun, mine included.
I was going to have to learn to feed in public. I wasn’t worried about the feeding per se – some people object but I was fairly confident that most wouldn’t. No, what really worried me was how people would react to seeing *my fat* as I fed. Silly, I know, but… that was my issue. I’d heard so many (thinner) women discuss ways they arranged their clothes not to hide their breast or nipple but to hide their bellies. Well, my belly and my breasts have something in common: they’re all very large :) And I’m not sure if ‘discretion’ goes with ‘fleshy’. I’ve heard so many comments over the years – and I’m sure you have too – about how fat flesh is gross, etc. I was expecting shame.
But you have to bite the bullet sometimes, and when I do I prefer to do it with a certain amount of style, or in-your-face-ness. So for my breastfeeding in public debut I picked a very public place indeed: a playground on one of the busiest pieces of waterfront in our capital city! I sat in the shade of a lovely tree and fed them one after the other. Yep, I showed belly flab – I was wearing a t shirt, it was a hot day and they don’t make the specialised breastfeeding tops in my size – but no-one seemed to bat an eye. A few weeks later I did it again, this time twin feeding in the back seat of our new car while parked at a popular picnicking spot. I got one double-take from an older gentleman who walked past and saw me (he came back for another look with a lady of a similar age!) but again the earth did not crumple into dust as I exposed my flab to the gaze of passersby.
I can’t get over how much of a sense of freedom it has given me to be able to do this. In some ways it’s a hassle to feed in public but that’s more a physical thing, because I use the football hold (the cradle hold would be more comfortable and easily done without pillows but I can’t do it for the life of me, no matter how much I try!) But being able to bundle the babies into the car and think “Ok, I’ll just feed ‘em when they get hungry” is amazing. And yet it’s one more thing I could have missed out on, if I let the whole sense of shame surrounding being fat get to me.
And talking of breastfeeding… it’s from August but it is a very interesting article and made me think http://wellroundedmama.blogspot.com/2010/08/breastfeeding-in-women-of-size.html
Apparently large women have lower rates of breastfeeding than thinner ones. Whereas I don’t doubt the figures – actually, I have no opinion on whether they’re real or not – I suspect the difference is probably due to a number of factors and I’ll bet that many of those factors come out of fat phobia. For one, breastfeeding takes an incredible amount of energy and calories to maintain. Considering obese women are often told to lose weight during *pregnancy* I can just imagine what they’re told about eating and calorific requirements once the baby is born. And larger women are more likely to have interventionist births – many for no good reason – and interventions can sometimes intefere with the establishment of feeding. And then there’s the lack of information on, and pictures of, the football hold which is particularly good/comfortable for women with large breasts (as opposed to the almost universal cradle hold). And I think we can’t underestimate the amount of influence that years fat and body shaming have on a woman. Hell, it did for me. Add all those together and I’m surprised any of us breastfeed at all :)
But it can be done, as you can see!