I am well and truly, utterly SICK of being postpartum: Breastfeeding and other things
I am well and truly, utterly SICK of being postpartum
I’m sick of the belly, I’m sick of being physically weaker, I’m sick of the weird hormonal changes, I’m sick of the mummy wars and I’m sick of the ridiculous information that’s out there.
I’ll give you an example…
I recently stopped breastfeeding around 3 months, partly due to circumstance, partly due to deciding it’s what was right for me. Breastfeeding was wonderful, a beautiful time with my boy, I loved it (apart from the first two weeks of sore nipples, engorged breasts, never knowing if I was doing it right and getting guilt-tripped for “topping up”). But I was done. I decided that it was the right time for me, for us, to “start stopping” - I knew I wanted to get back to work, I needed to get out of the house more (in order to not go insane) AND, perhaps rather selfishly, I wanted to get back to ME - feel normal in my body again, which include all kinds of weird breastfeeding symptoms like a weird pelvic floor, dryness, physically being weaker, body fat - whatever. I was done feeling so postpartum and was excited to start feeling like “me” again.
Well, in some cruel twist of fate it seems that Mother Nature, that little bitch, is not done with me yet. She’s not satisfied with the struggles and changes of pregnancy, with the pain of childbirth, the overwhelm of postpartum - she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve for when you stop breastfeeding too! Her particular flavour of ironic cruelty right now is increased appetite and weight gain. Fuck you! She says… you thought you’d get back to normal now you stopped breastfeeding? HA! You’re fed up with the belly fat, well have some more!
And then there's the mum-splaining. Oh the mum-splaining! The shaming and guilt-tripping and flame-wars! The echo chambers and the berating and belittling. I'm so over it. Is it possible to be a mum and circumvent all this bullshit?
It is literally IMPOSSIBLE to find anything even remotely useful on the internet. It seems there is not ONE sane, balanced, evidence-based, research-backed blog about pregnancy and postpartum. While there are some fairly level-headed voices about other areas of our health, during pregnancy and after is when aaaaaall the herbal remedies, witch doctors and old-wives tales run a mock. And people gobble up every. Damn. Word. No questions asked
There is not ONE reputable source that I trust. It’s all hocus-pocus and propaganda. EVERYONE is spinning some agenda. It seems that no-one really cares about helping a mama find what’s right for HER. How about balancing out the pros and cons of an issue with as little bias as possible? I appreciate that some bias is inevitable, but there does not seem to be ONE voice that genuinely is able to look at two sides of an issue, weigh it up and have a balanced, thoughtful discussion.
The echo chambers and the flame wars are rife.
For example - I would like to find out WHY my appetite has increased since stopping breastfeeding. It doesn’t make any logical sense to me, my metabolic rate will have dropped, and I fully expected my appetite to drop too. It is due to hormonal changes? Have other women experienced the same?
Every “mummy blog” tells me some variation of “weight gain is common after you stop breastfeeding as many women don’t realise that their metabolisms are increased by 300-500 calories while breastfeeding. When breastfeeding stops, women often don’t adjust their caloric intake”... well, duh. I’m sick of being taught to suck eggs. I’m sick of being mum-splained the most basic, obvious premise that I NEEDED TO KNOW in order to be able to ask my damn question. I know that. THAT is why I would like to know why I am HUNGRIER now that I have stopped breastfeeding. Like, wake up in the middle of the night hunger with a growling tummy. Like, never feel full no matter what I eat. Yes, I am eating healthily and not binging on junk, yes I am fully aware of my hunger cues and yes I know exactly how much I am eating (I count calories because I am as curious AF about what is going on and I’m all about data and observation. It literally takes 10 minutes a day).
And there is literally NOTHING for non-breastfeeding mums. Like postpartum = breastfeeding. Well not always. I could never breastfeed exclusively, and I got endless shit about it. Lots of mums are never able to breastfeed at all. Why isn't there information for them? I think it is very important that we support breastfeeding mums, but we also need to support mums who can't or choose not to breastfeed. They are important too, and there is literally no information to help them.
But most of all I am SICK to death of being told how I should breastfeed until my child is seven, like, literally. I’m sick of being told that he will have a lower IQ, be less emotionally stable and probably die of cancer because I stopped breastfeeding before he starts primary school. I mean, for fuck’s sake - what about all the women who can’t breastfeed? - do people really think that there are a bunch of sickly idiots running around because their mothers didn’t have any milk, or had flat nipples? (You know those kids would have died in nature). How do THOSE women feel hearing this stuff?
I have a particular soft spot for this topic because I really struggled with breastfeeding in the beginning and due to birth complications and medication I could only feed him half the time. I felt SO MUCH pressure to stop topping up and exclusively breastfeed, even though every time I tried he would be attached for 20 hours a day, wouldn’t sleep and cried constantly. I was exhausted and could feel myself sinking into a hazy, sleepless depression.
I do not care what ANYBODY says, or what your damn studies say, or what La Leche League professionals say - THAT SITUATION IS NOT GOOD FOR ANYBODY. My boy was suffering, and I was suffering. When I finally gave him formula, both of our lives transformed overnight. He slept, I slept, I started being able to enjoy him rather than wondering how I can run away in the middle of the night without my husband noticing.
It turned out that trying to breastfeed exclusively when it was clearly not possible was causing depression, and difficulty bonding. Topping up with formula allowed us to both enjoy each other more.
At that time, I reached out to friends who had struggled for months, beside themselves with that horrendous sense of guilt that I was going through. So scared that they were going to fuck their child up royally if they didn’t somehow magically breastfeed. They hired all the professionals, had the best pump schedule and were taking all the herbs - and yet to no avail. Every time I see these posts about the importance of extended breastfeeding, my heart goes out to women who just can’t, at all. I dread to think what they must be feeling.
I’m sick of being told that I will get depressed if I don’t exclusively breastfeed - that hasn’t happened - I’ve actually been in the best mood of my life, and that hasn’t changed since I stopped completely.
I’m sick of being told that I won’t be able to bond with my child if I don’t breastfeed. I have a beautiful, smiley, happy, chilled baby who sleeps well, almost never cries and who squeals with delight every time he sees me or hears my voice. He’s hitting all his developmental milestones like a boss, gets lots of love, cuddles and stimulation and most importantly, he has a mum who is happy in herself, in love with him, a dad who is infatuated and a large family network that support his parents and adore him.
And I’m sick of being told that I should breastfeed until he’s 5-7. I mean, I’d like to have another couple of kids in that time - should I be breastfeeding a newborn, a three year old and a 7 year old all at the same time? Forgive me, but that is just silly.
Don’t get me wrong, if that’s your thing, go ahead. I don’t understand it, but I also have anything against it. But I, Jen Curtis, do not want to live my life that way. I want to go to work, get out of the house, see friends.
Modernity is good to us, we have the ability to do things that our grandmothers could not. Our husbands are often willing to share the burden of childcare and household chores with us, and share the burden of providing financially. Technology allows us to do that (formula, disposable nappies, washing machines, refrigeration, birth control). It has afforded us the unique privilege of self-actualization. Why can’t we just enjoy the fruits of modernity rather than always finding problems with it and complaining about how it has ruined our lives? I’d much prefer to live in today’s world rather than the world my grandmother lived in. I think my son will like it too.
I work in fitness, and one of the things I hear a lot is about how we have these unrealistic expectations on women to look a certain way. That there are impossible standards of beauty imposed on women by evil men.
Well, so many impose these impossible standards of motherhood on us - and it is WOMEN that are imposing these standards. Women are so cruel and thoughtless towards one another sometimes. The shaming and guilt tripping and judging is just deplorable.
Why do these women care so damn much how I feed my baby?
It does occur to me that women who wax lyrical about the importance of extended breastfeeding ALSO feel judged about their choices, that is often why they harp on about it, because they feel they need to defend their decision to continue past a certain age. Why do women who stop earlier feed the need to judge them? But all of us, in defending our own choices need to be careful that implied in our language there aren't any hidden messages of "my choices are superior to yours" - there are many ways to skin a cat, and there is much variety among humans. But in cherry-picking biased studies that don't take into account compounding factors like social and economic class, you are at once giving in to a blatant confirmation bias and perhaps unintentionally putting so much pressure on women to continue breastfeeding when they just don't have it in them, for whatever reason.
Those women I can at understand where they are coming from, and I appreciate their insecurities (just like mine), but the ones that troll other women on forums who want advice about weaning, just need to get a life.
Breastfeeding is good for your baby, I get it. We ALL get it. But one does not live in a vacuum. There are competing demands on our time and energy and every woman is different. I have no issue with women wanting to breastfeed for as long as they want to - some women will feel like it’s important to them and they want to dedicate themselves exclusively to motherhood.
For me, I love being a mum. I was scared that my identity would change beyond recognition and that I’d never feel myself again. But you know what? I still feel a strong sense of self. I still feel like me, and things that were important to me before pregnancy: my work, my fitness, my sporting pursuits, my family and friends - it’s all still important to me now. For me to be me, I need balance. I need more than just motherhood.
My mother gave up everything to have me and my brother. She had nothing else - no career, no hobbies, no friends, no life. By the time I was in my teens she was totally lost - she didn’t know how to be anything other than a mother to young children, and now we were teenagers and she was trapped in our home - resentful of her role, but not knowing how to do or be anything else. I watched her demise over almost two decades - depression, drinking, and a bit of mania. She died 10 years ago at the age of 47, never having found a different role for herself after motherhood.
I do not want to go that way. Sometimes the all-giving mother gives so much of herself she has nothing left, and if she is empty, she has nothing to give others.
Now, I am NOT saying for one moment that this is the fate of all women who breastfeed exclusively for a long time! Just that I fear that I would. Again, we do not live in a vacuum. Everything has consequences and repercussions. It’s complicated. It’s never simple. Each individual has to weigh up a huge array of social, personal, professional and ethical concerns. Each woman has her own sense of identity, her own set of values, her own priorities and preferences, her own demands, past experiences and her own personal history. She has to weigh up every choice she makes. There are so many complicated decisions to make, and EVERYTHING has pros and cons. But one thing's for sure: there is no right way to live this life. There is no right way to be a mother.
There is certainly a wrong way - beating, abusing or neglecting your child is obviously immoral. But the range of what’s right, what’s good, what is kind and loving, is actually pretty big and varied. There are lots of factors that contribute to creating a stable, happy adult - breastfeeding may be one of those factors, but it certainly isn’t the only one. I hate to burst your bubble, but even if you breastfeed until your child is seven, there are plenty of other colourful ways you can fuck him or her up. It certainly isn’t a guarantee that he or she will turn out alright. And it almost definitely does not mean that he or she will end up happier, healthier or more balanced than my son, who was partially breastfed until the age of 3 months.
There is so much nuance to life. It’s just like with health and fitness - everyone is looking for the ONE thing, the quick fix, the panacea. Well, when it comes to raising a fully functioning human being, like most other things, there isn’t one.
And let’s not tar everything with the same brush. Stopping breastfeeding at a young age is not “abuse” and it is not on par with physical assault or beating a child. Even a seven year old (who is EBF) can tell that there is a lot of nuance here. Lots of people nowadays decide that X is good, therefore, everything that is not X is bad. The world doesn’t work like this. We must be able to distinguish intellectually and emotionally between varying levels of morality just like stealing might be wrong if you break into someones home and take everything they have, but stealing a loaf of bread to feed your family might not be quite the same.
Can we please, as women, do more listening, supporting and understanding? Can we let people make their own decisions about what is best for them and their families? Can we stop guilt-tripping and judging? Can we just focus on our own shit and let other people be?
If you want to learn more about what to expect from your body during those first postpartum weeks, download my free ebook 'The First 6 Weeks'.