Last night I was absent-mindedly unloading my groceries onto the conveyor belt just before closing time in Asda, vaguely aware of snippets of conversation between the checkout girl and the lady in front of me.
“Like baby powder?”
“No no, like baby”
“Smells of baby”.
I was tired and I was done and I was going home for supper. When it came to my turn I tried to battle through the small talk with a smile on my face, disappointed the checkout girl was not as surly and quiet as she had looked when I picked this aisle. I’m getting through when suddenly I realise she is holding a box from my groceries and screeching “I knew it! I knew it!”.
“I thought I was losing my mind, I knew I smelt baby, I just said to that lady I smell baby and she said like baby powder, and I said no like BABY. I knew I smelt baby.”
I am pretty sure the whole supermarket can hear but her excitement is all directed at me. I have no idea what we are talking about, and then I see. She is holding it like she has won a prize. My box of breastpads.
I smell, it would appear, of baby.
It’s not that I was offended. Not that I was embarrassed, as such… just a little speechless, a little unprepared for the whole drawing of attention to my breastfeeding, what with the waving of my pads and the public announcement that I smell of baby. What to say?
So it’s breastfeeding week and there are a few of us around, smelling of baby.
I have a friend who feeds anyplace, anytime. She feeds calm and she feeds discreet and if people do notice they come and say affirming things to her, how it’s beautiful, how it’s natural. And she repeats these things. And she is these things. She is earth mummy.
I have a friend who is part of a Social Media WAP THEM OUT group. They wap them (the boobies) out (to feed) anyplace, anytime and they are Proud and they have No Shame. I am so not this mummy.
I am neither discreet, nor comfortable with wapping. I am the girl who feeds her baby before going to Breastfeeding Group, so she doesn’t have to breastfeed, at Breastfeeding Group! And also, I don’t usually like talking about it (especially at the checkout)… I don’t want you to feel that I think you should be, or should have, or should someday breastfeed. There are alternatives, it is not for everyone, mummies and babies and boobies and families are all different. I know. It is not the fast pass to brains or health or bonding. It is not the quintessential mothering experience. There are good reasons to give it a go, and good reasons why it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work out.
My story is just that, for me, breastfeeding was hard, with both my babies. It began with blood, sweat and tears. One feed at a time. A lot of almost giving up. A lot of encouragement. A lot of this too will pass. Or sometimes, just f***it. And even when it got physically fine, even when they were feeding like pros, sometimes it was just hard. Tiring, constant, restrictive.
But my story is also that, for me, this daily, repetitive practice became something I loved. That part of me that needs a bit of time to get used to each new wee person in my arms… well it turns out that part of me needed the quiet and the steady and the time and again of nursing. A ritual to start and end the day, a habit that calmed us both. Providing peace for myself as well as this wee soul, eventually.
It’s just that for me, these days, this is my favourite place. This old green nursing chair. This corner of the sofa. This pile of pillows in bed.
It’s just that, as it turned out, in the early days of babies, this is my favourite thing. And it might not be yours, not at all. But it might be that you think it’s just for the activists and the lactivists, for the flash-mobs and the nurse-ins and the earth mums. And good on them all. Truthfully, I wish I was a bit more like them. Certainly, I wish I could go for coffee without forever surveying the lay of the land to see where we could huddle for a feed. But also? So what. It’s still worth it to me. It’s still my favourite, albeit slightly clumsy, less than perfect, thing.
I told my health visitor I was hoping to feed out and about a bit more this time round, for the Cause. But here I am, having hibernated my way through another baby’s nursing days. This brilliant, portable thing that I should have taken to the park bench and the restaurant table and the church pew. But then I think… so what. In my experience, there are also corners and changing rooms and upstairs, there’s your friend’s study and your parents’ sunroom. There’s wherever you’re comfortable. And it’s still worth it, to me.
At 5 months old she is all joy and delight when nursing during the day. Noisy and tactile, those blue eyes flitting about, catching mine as she gulps it all in.
Then other times she’s just serious, all business and concentration, until a private joke breaks her latch and she’s suddenly grinning as she guzzles.
And tonight, she will curl in, heavy-eyed and warm, forehead leaning on my arm and she will nurse and nurse, a little longer than is strictly necessary, until I decide we must both go to bed.
[Related post: We do this, because we do this ]