We are at an indoor play centre, at our first family outing since the arrival of B. Well, if you discount the trip to Asda, that is. Although don’t under-estimate the excitement I felt on that momentous outing, the first trip I had made since the C Section, practically the first time I had left the house. It was all I could do not to whip out the video camera to record the occasion, but even I recognised that twenty minutes of footage of us stockpiling cotton wall balls and tiny nappies would soon lose its appeal.
I am feeding B, propping him up on my bag which I have on my lap. I don’t know how mothers breastfeed with dignity. I have seen it with my own eyes – the casual popping on of the baby, who quietly and quickly goes about its business, a cloth draped neatly over mummy’s shoulder to hide all hints of breast flesh and drippy nipples. Me, I have several attempts at getting B to lie in the right place on the bag, using one hand to prevent him sliding to the floor, whilst the other holds my boob and tries to make his mouth and my nipple meet. There then often follows a brief arm wrestle with my son as I try and extricate his hand from his mouth, or from on top of the nipple or from under my boob, all of which prevent him from latching on. For some, getting a baby to latch on is like the mutual attraction of two magnets, yet for me… sometimes, I find it is more like trying to push together two magnets with the same polarity; I get close, then the two parties inexplicably swerve away at the last minute. Fortunately this time, B latches on with only a couple of false starts, which leaves me to awkwardly try and get the mussie over my shoulder and down my front to cover the inordinate amount of breast that I inadvertently have on show. Did my mussie shrink in the bloody wash or something? However I position it, it seems to leave something on display. I sigh, and give up. Fuck it. What do I care? I have no dignity left after giving birth to two children, the last shreds of it seem to have been extracted during the last C Section. The surgery team should not only have measured the amount of blood I lost:
“Okay, so that’s 600 millilteres of blood lost.”
“And two litres of dignity.”
“Yup. It was going okay, then we all got a look at her half-shaved pubes, and that was it, the floodgates opened. Look, it’s all over the bloody floor.”
“Should we do a transfusion to replenish? I can cross match a litre of dignity no problem.”
“Nah, fuck it, she’s going to breastfeed in public, she has no use for dignity now.”
I get B settled on my breast and have assembled my features into a strained look of nonchalance. There is no way I can avoid the truth; I am just not cut out for breastfeeding. Mind you, it was worse the first time round. E and I made a rubbish attempt at it and never really improved. E was the baby for whom the phrase ‘titting about’ was truly invented – he was off and on my boob during a feed more times than a tourist on a sight-seeing bus with a day pass. It took him so long to feed that it was time to start the next one by the time he had had his fill.
At least B tackles the job with a bit more gusto, and as my agonising nipples will testify, that boy has a suck to rival a Dyson. Jesus, when he latches on it is all I can do not to throw him out the window in an attempt to quell the agony.
But I fear that my obviously inadequate breasts are just not up to the job. B wants the breast milk convenience store to be open 24/7, whilst my boobs are more like the corner shop, open for a short time five days a week, manned by an unfriendly idiot and liable to shut for a couple of hours without any prior notice or sign on the door.
I am already sneaking in the odd bottle feed and what a joy it is. I was on the verge of giving up on the breastfeeding completely, but the lovely health visitor did persuade me to persevere. I was in two minds, but she did refer to those health professionals who bully mothers into breastfeeding as The Breastapo, which suddenly made me warm to her even more and listen to her advice. The bottle feeds I give B are tinged with guilt that I am not doing my proper, motherly duty. But then I touch my sore boobs, and look at the delightful lactation stains on my top, and think about the hassle of breastfeeding in public and the way B smacks his lips continually after he has drained my boobs as if to say ‘right, that was a lovely amuse bouche, mummy, but where’s the bloody main course?’ and I soon feel better.
And anyone who dares say any different better watch out, as I will happily squirt them in the eye with a jet of milk frommy left nipple. This mother is armed and dangerous. My boobs don’t even have the safety catch on, you know.