Oh dear, Jamie. You seem to have got yourself in the middle of a right old shit storm. Brave is the man who makes any kind of public comment on breastfeeding and if that man should use the adjective “easy” in said context then he probably deserves what he’s got coming.
Having said that, I have to sympathise with poor old Jamie. I admit I’ve sniggered along with all of the comments about mothers being as happy to accept breastfeeding wisdom from Jamie as they would be to find Greg Wallace spouting about the virtues (or not) of co-sleeping but I do tend to think that he has his heart in the right place.
The thing is, whether we like it or not, the research does tend to show that breastfeeding is good for both babies and for mothers. And so Jamie has picked up on this research and said, well duh, everyone should be doing that then surely?
And maybe, in a perfect world, we all should. But sadly, the world of babies and breastfeeding is not a perfect one, far from it in fact. It’s a world in which so many of us enter the whole thing with the absolute best of intentions and then emerge from it, bleeding and emotionally exhausted, haunted by a sense of failure which imbues every syllable we have to utter on the subject with an intense and wearied emotion.
I’ve had 2 babies myself and I breastfed the first until he was 11 months and the second until she was 8 months, pretty much exclusively. On the face of it I look like the picture of breastfeeding success and, I’ll be honest, I do look back on that time and feel glad of the experience.
However. I also look back on that time and remember the time when I was crying so much about being unable to feed my son that I couldn’t come downstairs to meet very well-intentioned visitors hoping for a glimpse of a blissed out mother and baby. When every feed would start with excruciating pain and end with blood around the mouth of my beloved child so it felt like I was somehow punching him in the mouth with my good intentions. And that terrible isolating feeling that I absolutely couldn’t quit no matter how much it was costing me emotionally because I just couldn’t cope with the sense of failure.
Far from easy it was probably the hardest thing I ever did in my life.
I got there in the end partly because I wanted it so badly and partly because I had some great people around me that helped, including sisters of course and a really good breastfeeding clinic where it felt ok to be in a terrible bloody (literally) state.
When I had my second, it all came much easier. Maybe it was because I’d been there before, maybe it was because the birth was somewhat less awful (although still not exactly idyllic) or because she wasn’t tongue-tied like my first but I think mostly it was because I had just decided that whatever happened I wasn’t going to put myself through that again. It just really wasn’t worth sacrificing my sanity for. And so, of course, she latched immediately and we never had an issue.
But I remember very clearly being on a ward full of women, all first time mothers except me, all terrified that they had no idea how to feed their baby but very much wanting to and being offered very little help. One said to me desperately, “how are you getting her to do it??” I wanted to run her through a quick slideshow of my own crappy breastfeeding experiences but I could only explain that this wasn’t my first time and that it does get easier. The words felt insufficient.
And so I do think that Jamie is right in some respects. We should be doing more to help women breastfeed, it’s a good thing, it is, and when it goes right it’s a pretty beautiful experience. But this is about helping the women who want to and who are struggling to do so to breastfeed, not judging those who don’t want to, or cannot with words like “easy” because, believe me Jamie, we are already judging ourselves harshly enough without anyone else getting in on the act.