Something horrible happened to me the other day. Not horrible like need to contact my next of kin but horrible all the same.
I have always prided myself on being a good parent. Not a perfect parent, but a good, will try my hardest, whatever gets you through the days, kind of parent. My eldest daughter often says please and thank you and only rarely throws food at people. She is fairly well adjusted (so I say anyway) and is so healthy that she thinks a doctor is just another character in her storybook, next to the butcher and baker.
I had trouble breastfeeding her. I tried my hardest. I did all the tricks. I tried herbal remedies. I tried prescription drugs. It just didn’t work. Upon medical advice she was compensated with formula from day two and after just six weeks she became a sole formula fed baby. I had no choice. I was, despite by best efforts, a ‘bad cow’.
During my pregnancy with my second daughter, I studied and prepared for breastfeeding. I did everything in my power to let go of the personal failings that I felt associated with breastfeeding. I tried to wipe the slate clean. This time would be different.
At the beginning of December 2012 we welcomed our new little lady into the world. She was 9 pound 6 ounces and two weeks overdue. She was robust and strong from day one. Again, I struggled to produce milk. I managed to feed her for three days before she lost too much weight and once again the formula compensation began.
I was put on a medication to encourage my body to create milk. This medicine gave me headaches and nausea but I continued taking it. I wanted to breastfeed this time. I wanted to prove to everyone (especially myself) that I could do it.
So for four long months I persevered. I remained on the medication. I expressed every three hours. I was awake when my baby slept expressing more milk to encourage my supply. Feeding took an hour to complete. 20 minute breastfeed. 20 minutes bottlefeed. 20 minute express. This was repeated every three hours or so. I didn’t sleep much. But I told myself I was doing what was best for my baby.
It was during one of my first trips shopping alone with my new baby that it happened. I was half way through the groceries when my little one began to cry. She was hungry. She needed to eat. I left my half full trolley with the service counter and went to a café just across the centre. I ordered a hot chocolate and sat down.
I breastfed my daughter for approximately 20 minutes and then started preparing her bottle. As I poured the formula into the bottle I noticed a woman in a red scarf watching me. Not a particularly noticeable woman. But I did notice her. We made eye contact. I smiled and continued to prepare my daughter’s bottle.
I began feeding my daughter and disappeared into that mother-daughter nurturing space. Minutes later, not-particularly-noticeable-lady-in-red-scarf leaned over my right shoulder and muttered “You know you are poisoning your baby”. WHAT?!. “Formula kills babies. If you were a good mum you would be breastfeeding” WHAT?! What just happened?
I remember being so surprised. I remember not really understanding her words. I was so stunned. I was so angry. I was so taken aback.
Then she was gone. I didn’t have a chance to retaliate. I didn’t have a chance to tell her that I had just finished breastfeeding. Or to mention the medication that makes me sick but I still take so I can feed her. That it isn’t my fault. That I am trying my hardest.
In that one moment she crumbled my self-esteem. In that one moment this stranger stole my power. I knew I should ignore her. I knew I was doing my best. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to let it go.
Her words ate me up. It is all I could think of. I went back to shopping. I cried in the deli. I cried in the Asian food section. I cried in the frozen food section.
I went home and every time I fed my daughter I heard her whispering in my ear. I cried at home. I cried in the shower. I cried making the bed. Her words played over and over in my head.
Three months later I no longer cry. I do however scan every face I see near my local café. I do often find myself hiding under a table to prepare my baby’s formula. I do get angry when I catch myself hiding.
Then I tell myself that I might be a bad cow but I am a good mum. That is enough. It has to be enough. Now I cuddle my healthy, happy, robust eight month old and while I will never forget what she said, it will no longer rule me.
Whoever you are, remember that you never really know another person’s story. You can never really see the back story. Be supportive, not judgmental. Be helpful, not critical. Show kindness, not aggression. Above all, remember we are all doing our best.