(1 to 7 August is observed as the World Breastfeeding Week. We know that breast is best, it’s the baby’s ‘first vaccine’ – but it’s ridiculously hard for a new mother. It’s easy to force the burden of nurturing a baby on women alone, but breastfeeding is as much a mother’s responsibility as it is society’s.)
My daughter often tells me I am not “mother” material. She may be right. That is what I surmised from the frowns of the paediatricians when she was born.
I had defiantly pranced around at work, continuing my long hours and overnighters when she was getting made in the baby-making parts of my belly. She clearly did not appreciate the dizzying roller coaster, and popped out premature and very, very tiny.
Then came the big 90-day Feed or Fail Challenge.
The paediatrician said that baby must be breastfed such that she hits Survival Weight soon.
Easier dictated than lactated.
The Preterm Prima Donna refused to suckle. She seemed to have no appetite for anything other than sleep. And it was ALL my fault – said the docs, said the nurse, said the nanny, said even the dhobi who came with the nappy piles.
The baby not feeding, not gaining weight, refusing the breast was ALL MY FAULT.
If all the “real” mommies in the world could selflessly feed their babies, with psychedelic haloes droning above, why couldn’t I?
Of Breastfeeding Failures and a Bruised Self-Esteem
Why was I failing by the B-O-B (Bliss-Of-Breastfeeding) laws?
The never-say-die Paed called in a nurse who specialised in getting brats to the breast. Preterm Prima suckled like an angel at the clinic with the nurse gloating over.
Was it that simple then? NO!
Other than this magical milky moment at the paediatric clinic, the brat never suckled again.
I lost all self-esteem, cried long hours, teetered on the verge of a nervous breakdown and thought of giving up the baby for adoption to a more worthy mother. The doc had handed me a breast pump and I found penance in expressing milk like a maniac. Preterm Prima would take an hour to consume 30 ml of this expressed breast milk off the forbidden bottle.
I had absolutely failed the motherhood test.
The docs tut-tutted at me, extolling the health virtues of breastfeeding – for the baby’s immunity, her appropriate weight gain, brain development, meeting of milestones,bonding with the mother. Bonding with the mother? The stifling pressure to breastfeed and the absolute sense of failure had done everything to kill the bonding between baby and lesser mother – me.
But bond we did as little Preterm Prima rolled up into happier weight, her cheeks and elbows dimpling up – all on (horror of horrors!) powder milk out of a tin.
And, of course, the brat discovered “appetite” as soon as her palate discovered pizza!!
‘Nuskhas’ to Survive a Second Round – be a Sucker for Lactation!
I bounce back from failures pretty well, and 6 years later I was back in the labour torture chamber, staring at distorted faces through my strapped up legs. I huffed and puffed and blew Baby 2 out! A hungry, happy baby boy who took to suckling at Hello!
Unbeknownst to me, the scars from the self-esteem blow from Preterm Prima were not all healed. The fear of failing as a mom on the B-O-B yardstick lurked – even as Baby 2 suckled away. I wanted to be the most successful breastfeeding mom in the world. I employed every possible homegrown nuskha to increase lactation. The doc would tell me to express the surplus milk to avoid any problems, but I would refuse to let any go waste, hoarding it for Baby 2. I also would not tell the docs/ grandmoms about any painful bumps or cracks, worried that the revelation might dent my breastfeeding scores.
The result – I developed an infection, which festered into an abscess and I was wheeled away from my 6 week old for a surgery. The stress of the 6 years’ battle with making-it-on-the-motherhood charts fading away with the anaesthesia. I would finally sleep – even if through a surgery and NEVER BREASTFEED again. The evil docs gave me meds to dry up the milk as I recovered at the hospital. While a dear friend (who had just had a baby) breastfed Baby 2, and grandmoms nudged him despondently towards the bottle.
I had failed again in the B-O-B (Bliss of Breastfeeding) metric.
OR HAD I?
My poor, deprived un-breastfed babies (now 22 and 16 years respectively) have grown up just fine.
Height and weight okay? – CHECK
Health and immunity levels? (they fight the viral infections as well as the next breastfed kid) – CHECK
School performance? (very important Indian Child Assessment Metric) – CHECK
Adolescent angst? – CHECK
Pimple count? – CHECK
Heartbreak rate? – CHECK
So here is my advice to all new mommies crumbling under the laws of B-O-B. Breastfeeding is good and worth striving for. But if it doesn’t quite work out – you’re still a good mommy!
Breast milk is the best. But milk from a tin will do just fine.
(We all love to express ourselves, but how often do we do it in our mother tongue? Here's your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL at firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)