Dear Jamie Oliver

I can’t let the week pass without writing a post about the Jamie Oliver breastfeeding debacle (article here)*. Obviously I have something to say about it. Not least that Jamie Oliver isn’t, in fact, a mother – or even a woman, come to that – and so has absolutely no right to comment on how easy breastfeeding is and how baffling he finds it that more mothers aren’t doing it. But that’s not why I simply have to write about this. It has nothing to do with feminism and I have no agenda; I just want to tell the truth.

Oh, I want this to be flippant. I want it to follow the same path of DGAF as the majority of my posts… But that’s not how I feel about it, and it never will be. And I promised to be honest. I breastfed both of my children. O was exclusively – and easily – breastfed for 12 weeks. After that, I wasn’t making a huge amount of milk (we bought a new house when I was heavily pregnant and I spent the final weeks of my pregnancy and the first two months of O’s life trying to sort the place out and make it habitable) and, although it broke my heart, I had to introduce some formula. I still breastfed him every day until my milk finally dried up when he was five months old. It was a very sad day, but I knew I had done my best for him and I managed to find peace with it.

I had the best intentions when F was born. I was going to breastfeed him for at least six months, I was going to be braver about feeding in public, it was all going to be perfect. But it wasn’t. He latched and he fed… for a week. After that he latched and fed on one side, then screamed and screamed with hunger (and, I later found out, pain) until I gave up and offered him expressed milk instead. Night feeds took hours. In the corner of our bedroom, we kept a cool bag of expressed milk, two sterilised bottles and a bottle warmer. When F woke for a feed, I tried to latch him on as quickly as possible before he got too fussy and wouldn’t feed at all, then I warmed a bottle and fed him expressed milk while I faffed with the breast pump.

This went on for nine weeks. I can’t tell you how many times I cried over my repeated failures in those nine weeks. I went to some dark, dark places during those night feeds. And every-fucking-where I looked were the posters and the adverts and the leaflets: BREAST IS BEST. And so I kept trying. I kept trying because I loved my baby and because I felt like those words were directed at me, telling me not to give up. That if I did, I would be letting my baby down. I kept trying because I couldn’t bear the idea that someone might tell me that I hadn’t tried hard enough.

The last actual breastfeed I ever had with F was lovely and I will remember it forever. He was dozing in my lap and I thought “why not try just one more time?” He latched perfectly, fed peacefully and then fell asleep. I cried. I’m crying now as I write this. Because it was a wonderful end to a terrible journey, but it was also a snapshot of what we could have had. What we should have had. What I have felt robbed of ever since.

A feed from the early days with F

Tell me it doesn’t matter. Tell me my youngest son is obviously fine and healthy and not fundamentally damaged by it. Tell me that sometimes, even with the best will in the world, things just don’t work out. Tell me all of those things and know that I know you are right. But it won’t change how desperately I wish things could have been different for us. I didn’t mind waking up in a puddle of milk in the middle of the night or feeling like my nipple was being put through a meat grinder or the disapproving tutting of old men who wanted to tell me that “women in my day never fed the baby outside of the house”. None of it mattered; I just wanted to feed my baby.

I couldn’t.

Don’t ever, ever let anyone tell you that breastfeeding is “easy” or make you feel like you failed because you couldn’t do it or just didn’t fucking want to.

If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

*I do not read The Daily Mail; this was the easiest article to find.

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