Once upon a time there were men and women. The women had babies and the men hunted for food whilst the women looked after the babies and fed them, by milk, from the breast.
This was all man-kind ever knew and it worked, it was natural, just as nature intended, there was no other way.
Fast forward several tens of thousands of years. What would our ancestors think should they be able to view today’s society and see how it has evolved? Would they be able comprehend that this most basic and natural of human acts is now looked upon as if it is the product of some alien race, introduced to us by an alien order who force us to feed our children in a fashion that would seem totally foreign and incomprehensible to them?
Man-kind has developed far beyond the imagination and comprehension of what any human could have dreamt of only 100 years ago, never mind a thousand or 10, 000 years ago. We fly in metal birds at supersonic speed, can destroy each other in the blink of an eye with weapons that were once the realm of science fiction and have developed computers and the internet and can view and send information at the speed of light. Yet for all our advances, we have regressed from feeding our infants from the way nature intended and in its place we have introduced another of mans inventions as a substitute to breast milk, formula milk!
Where did it all go wrong? Why did we allow this to happen? The truth is, I don’t really know. I could make a guess that it was purely a product of commercialism, something dreamt up for financial gain in a world that now revolves around money instead of the sun?! Whether it started out more innocently than this I don’t know? Was it as an alternative feed for orphans or for the third world, if it’s even politically correct to use this term anymore? Either way, one thing’s for sure, it is the staple food for new-borns across western society and we are immorally forcing it upon the rest of the world too!
Rewind 25 years, back to my first marriage. My first son was only a few months old, but was already by this time totally reliant on formula, fed by bottle. I feel almost ashamed to admit this now, but I have to confess that back then, I didn’t know any different, I didn’t know any better, I, along with my first wife had been indoctrinated by society. We accepted that feeding our son formula was the norm, it’s how we and many others fed our new-borns. Was I conscious of this? No! I was totally immersed in helping my wife feed our son. I would sterilise the bottles and prep for the nights feeding and when the night came I would dutifully bottle feed my son whilst my wife slept, proud to help and let her sleep, fulfilling my husband and fatherly duties.
Now, I need to be open and transparent when I say this. My first wife did attempt to breastfeed my son, but she didn’t find it easy at all. We bought creams, nipple guards and she even attempted to express, but she found it hard, her nipples were extremely sore and blistered and within a matter of a few short weeks we succumbed to formula.
It would be fair to say that at that time I do not remember us receiving any advice or assistance from health professionals. There was no help in assisting us to try to continue with breastfeeding and it was all too easy to give up. This said, it was also all too easy to do what it seemed at the time like everyone else was doing and formula fed. I’m sure there were plenty of women out there who were breastfeeding, but these women/families seemed the minority and not the majority and so we, like so many other parents formula fed our son and we played our part in life’s big game of parenting like so many others, spending most weekends shopping at Mothercare or many places like this, buying our baby products, clothes and yes, formula like it was the most natural thing in the world. We conformed like so many to what seemed like the norm, the only way you could or for that matter should, bottle feeding with formula.
Now, I do need to qualify this point by saying that I do understand that for some, breastfeeding is not an option, whether this be on medical grounds or because the baby is unable to latch or for many other reasons. However, for the vast majority of people, I believe it’s just seen as the easiest option and is all too easy an option to fall in to.
Twenty one years and another son later, I was re-married to Ali and we were expecting our first child together. Ali had been stating for some time by now that she intended to breast feed and I, of course supported her in this stance, although I must admit, I thought this would be doomed. I was of course only looking at this situation from my previous experience. This is the first time I have admitted this and I take no pride now in confessing this.
The thing is, it was my pre-conceived idea that was doomed because there was one factor I had not considered in all this breastfeeding talk and that factor was, of course Ali.
Gradually, she did what she always does, she read, she surfed the internet, she studied articles, she joined forums and she educated herself in all things breast. So that when the day came and Jessica entered the world she (Jessica) was already, to her father’s ignorance, in a position where she would be fed by breast, morning, noon and night, through sickness, both to Ali and Jessica, in the house, out of the house, on the bus, in the car, on the park bench, in the café, in the supermarket and, to much embarrassment, at the homes of our parents and families. Now, I say embarrassment because, unfortunately, this is how it was for most of them. In their defence, they were only guilty of perceiving breast-feeding as strange and almost weird where a woman is almost demonised for feeding her child in this way. This, I know wasn’t their thoughts, but it was how most of us have been educated, educated by a society of avarice, a society which cannot stop for a minute to think, unless that is to stop to make a formula feed. This is of course nobody’s fault, or at least I don’t think it is? We’re all the product of a society that tells us what is right and wrong. A society that allows product placement of formula beside the crib of the infant Jesus on a daytime TV show, a society that shows bottle-feeding in almost every TV soap as if there is no other option!
My education started on 17th December 2013 when Jessica entered this world and it continues to this day. It wasn’t all straight forward though and to suggest it was would be a lie. We had our good days and our bad days, but through it all there was the unswaying belief of Ali that this was the right and only way to proceed. That breast is best, or to put it correctly, that breast is the norm!
This is where I tell it as it is. I never truly could connect at first, I felt awkward at times, sorry Ali, but I did. I saw the stares, I heard the hushed comments from people who saw her feeding and looked at us as if we had just breathed cigarette smoke all over them. And in truth, initially I found it hard to deal with because people can be so hostile to this, actually down right hostile and offended. The same people who feed their kids processed crap, who set their kids up for a possible lifetime of health related conditions and don’t even bat an eyelid for a second that they are doing anything other than the norm and what’s right.
Gradually, over the following few weeks and months I became more and more accustomed to the breastfeeding until after a while it was as if it was the only thing that had ever been. My concept of right and wrong had been irreversibly changed by Ali in her unswerving quest to ensure Jessica was giving the best possible start in her life, by her mum.
I will claim some credit in helping Ali to achieve this goal though. I had initially taken two weeks paternity leave when Jessica was born. During this time I looked after Jessica during periods of the day when Ali was tired and needed to sleep. It was during these early days that we had a Health Visitor visit. When she called Ali was asleep upstairs and I was downstairs with Jess. She asked to see Ali immediately upon arrival and I replied quite innocently “she’s upstairs, in bed asleep”. She asked to go upstairs straight away. I felt terrible, I knew the reason why, safeguarding etc. but it didn’t make me feel any better, nothing personal, but she could have dealt with the situation better in my humble opinion. This knock back didn’t hinder us though. We continued on our breastfeeding journey.
I returned to work after two weeks, but would make Ali a packed lunch before I went, I knew this way she would be at least have something to eat during the day. In the evenings when getting home from work I would invariably cook tea, it was the last thing Ali wanted to do after looking after an infant all day. Sometimes she might make tea if Jessica had given her a good day, it also broke the routine, but generally it would be me and I had no problem with this. I would then take Jessica and have an hour or so with her to bond, but also to give Ali a rest. Sometimes Ali would take the opportunity to go for a bath, have a bit of time to herself. This might seem unfair on me, but actually it was fine, the payback for me was that as Ali was breast-feeding, I got to sleep all night and was ready for work the next day, generally refreshed and ready go. This was in stark contrast to those days many years ago when I helped bottle-feed and could be up for an hour or more every night.
During these early days I also attended a baby massage course and I would implement my new trained skills a couple of nights a week much to Jessica’s surprising pleasure, she seemed to like having oil rubbed into her skin and the massage that would follow, but who wouldn’t?!
So, we had a routine and it seemed the most natural thing in the world and the weeks passed by and Jessica grew and I could stay awake at work and Ali was coping during the day and everything was going ok? However, we still faced challenges, particularly when we went out and were faced with the snares and comments, but I was becoming stronger and accepting and I stood up for my family and for Ali in particularly until I reached a point where I was ready for them, I was ready for anyone who cared to look and offer the most innocuous of looks or remarks, because I had been converted and I was now prepared to face down anyone who dared to challenge us. I was being protective, sometimes overly, but it was now natural and I thought to myself, how dare they, who do they think they are to look at us like we’re offending them, the absolute fucking cheek of these ignorant, servile idiots who dance to the tune of the multi-nationals. And there it was, I had come full circle.
I was educated by an intelligent woman who is self-read, who by instinct does not comply with society’s norms. She is someone who researches her subject and makes decisions based on sound knowledge rather than by mere TV and newspaper advertising and by virtue of this also educates me. I too am now a boycotter of Nestle. I will not buy their products because of their unethical methods in which they sell their product to poorer nations and use financial incentive to bribe doctors into the bargain.
I am and happy for Ali to administrate her breastfeeding support group along with her co-administrators and although I do find it a little time consuming and I hope she won’t mind me saying, sometimes all-consuming, I accept this because it is a role she takes very seriously and I know she is very dedicated in helping other women overcome the issues that many encounter from time to time.
I wish everyone who is or is hoping to breastfeed their baby every success. I hope you are successful in achieving this goal. If like me you come from a background of ignorance, please know there is support and ultimately great satisfaction in choosing to breastfeed your infant.
I dedicate this post to my wife, Ali Thomas, mother of my daughter Jessica, breastfeeding advocate, Mother Supporter and breastfeeding champion. She introduced me to the wonder that is breastfeeding in breastfeeding Jessica, something she still continues to do today, albeit only now in limited circumstances, mainly at night, in the morning or when Jessica is ill or upset. I have had my eyes opened by a woman who knew right from the start of her pregnancy that this was the only way she wanted to feed our daughter in those early years, supplemented of course and in time by food and now in ever increasing portions by chocolate too!
I am a convert to breast, I have been converted by witnessing this most natural of acts and have defended my wife in many situations where people young an old have looked on in what seemed like utter disgust at my daughter feeding.
I salute all you breastfeeding women in continuing to do what is so simple, yet so right and so mutually beneficial for everyone. Keep up the good fight (Ali, Jenny, Catherine, Paula, Rachel and all) and long live breast, I hope you continue to advocate, educate and support any woman who wishes to feed their child in this most basic yet normal of ways. Who knows, you might be the instigators of turning the tide of formula feeding and we may well be talking of breastfeeding being the norm again rather than the opposite in years to come.
Happy Mothers Day.
Written by Mark Thomas