Wednesday, 31 July 2013

You can only breastfeed in public if you're pretty

Me and my husband like to wind each other up.  He likes to say things about breastfeeding that he knows will make me rant.  I make ignorant statements about computers to give the same effect.  We thrive on irritating each other.

This morning's exchange began innocuously enough.
He said. 'My mate Matt went to (well known high street department store) the other day.  He said he saw a woman breastfeeding outside the men's toilets.'
'Oh yeah?  Cool' I replied
'He said he doesn't like it when it's in your face.'
'What? She got up and waved her boobs in his face?  That's a disgrace!'  I grinned.
'Haha, that's what I said.  I said that it was probably the only chair in the whole shop'.  I was feeling proud.  How well trained my husband has become. Defender of the breastfeeder.  'He said there were loads of chairs though.'
I replied archly 'I bet he really hates all those billboards with scantily clad models too.'
Husband gets that cheeky grin where I know he's trying to annoy me. 'Course not.  But they're pretty.'
'So it's alright to breastfeed in public, but only if you're pretty?

Now, I need to point out here that he does not believe any of this.  Or at least he'd better not. It was designed solely to get my goat.  Please don't get wound up (that would only make him happy :) )  But it did make me think.  There are two points here.  Firstly, I get a bit complacent sometimes about public breastfeeding, even though I blog about it.  I've been getting my boobs out in public for nearly three years.  I'm pretty brazen about it.  I don't look around to see who's staring, I get on with my life.  I probably wouldn't even notice 'a look' anymore.  So I actually am surprised when I hear that it bothers people.  I expect Matt just did an inward British tut and pretended not to look.  But what a shame, not that it bothered him, but that he even noticed.  Do you see a teenager playing with their phone and take any notice? No, because you see it everyday.  A woman sat in a shop quietly feeding her baby shouldn't actually even arouse interest in an ideal world.  In my opinion anyway.  To me that's the ideal - normalised.  Breastfeeding no longer interesting, just something that happens.  Something that passes into our subconscious for when we need the skills ourselves.  Something that gets talked about in everyday boring conversation, not in headlines. Something that we see so much that when a woman has her first baby we can all offer her support.  Something that is so uninteresting that we don't even care about the breast v bottle thing anymore and we just let mums get on with it.

Secondly, there is a lot of publicity about the issue of acceptable nudity, including the 'no more page three' campaign.  I wonder if there is some basis in this idea of attractiveness making it OK?  Whether my husband thinks I'm pretty or not, when I am sloping about town with no makeup, sleep deprived and drawn faced I don't think I'm an oil painting.  With puke, spit, snot, paint, glue and god knows what else on my clothes.  Do people look and think 'eugh, I don't want to see her boobs.'  If there any truth in this, it is appalling.  If there is anyone out there who truly looks at a woman breastfeeding, even if she looks like a foot, and doesn't think they are seeing something beautiful they need a slap.  Anyway, attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder, some people think I'm pretty and some don't.  Some people don't think Kate Moss is pretty.  What does it even matter.  Nine times out of ten you won't even see any of her flesh - it is just that knowledge that that naked female flesh is under there, and a baby is feeding - oh my god we can imagine it!! Help, help!!  Women have nipples!! Are we not aware that everyone is naked under their clothes?  In houses and in toilets up and down the country there are pretty and ugly women baring their breasts and feeding their babies with them. Do you look at a toilet and shiver in horror at the thought of what aesthetically displeasing act is going on in there (and I'm talking about breastfeeding).  No? Well if you can't see it, if you can't actually see a baby latched onto a nipple (and you'd have to get creepily close to see that) then who cares! If the image you see displeases you then don't look.  Get over it, it's only a bit of skin.  

Ah, seems the rant my husband wanted just happened.  Darn, he wins again. Good job I broke my laptop last night so I can think up some particularly thick comments about it.

Sisters, shall we put on some lippy, some heels and a nice dress before we breastfeed our babies?  No, I thought not.  Let's just raise our unplucked (because we haven't slept in 5 years and have no time to even do a wee let alone pay any attention to our appearances) eyebrows and do a good British tut at the idiots that don't support us.  Or any mother.  What business is it of anybody else's whether I feed my baby with my breast or a bottle?  As long as we are happy, healthy, informed, supported and confident that what we are doing is right for us?  You know what I do?  I see a cute baby and smile at the poor tired mum.  That's it.  If I can see a breast it matters not (except the little inner lactivist that thinks 'hooray, a bit more normalisation').

It's world breastfeeding week and the theme is 'Breastfeeding support, close to mothers'.  Lets support the hell out of each other.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Ring out the bells, a baby is born

3 years ago (in 2 weeks) I gave birth to my son and heir.  I'm not going to go into the details, but it was flipping traumatic.  Sure, it was amazing, miraculous, yadda yadda.... but there is stuff that I am still angry about.  My daughter's birth on the other hand was like Bambi, where my son's was more like Alien.

I felt like the first person to have a baby.  Only one of my friends had given birth previously and she had moved to Africa.  I felt alone and unsure.  I felt like nobody really understood what I had just been through.  Sure there were people who gave birth ages ago, but what do they know hey? They've been all healed by time.  I know that's not entirely true, but it's how it felt at the time.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law's waters broke.  Lets call her Rose.  Stuff the Royal baby (and that comes from a monarchy geek), this was the birth of the century.  I was mildly concerned but figured things would take a while and so shrugged it off.  Yesterday evening Rose went to hospital.  I was so excited!  I went to bed and closed my eyes.  I had visions of her in the same situation as me.  Going through the pain and fear of labour.  I had flashbacks of my experiences.  Of how horrible the labour is and then how crazy the aftermath is when this whole new little person appears and is wholly, entirely yours.  

Needless to say I got little sleep.  It didn't help that my baby still wakes a few times in the night.  By morning I was a wreck.  Hubby ran downstairs and got my phone - no news.  We spent the morning in a state of anxiety.  I realised Rose was having a long labour like mine.  I hoped to God that, even though it was long, it wasn't negative in any way.  I wanted to help her, to tell her it was OK.  I wanted somebody to tell me that she was alright and it was over for her

Her gorgeous baby eventually made his appearance, as babies are wont to do in their own sweet time.  The relief I felt, I am sure, was only a fraction of what they felt.  I didn't realise I would feel like this - reliving my experiences and worrying so much about hers.  What made it even weirder was walking past the room where my son was born on the way to visit her.  There are some demons wrapped up in that room and I tried to put those aside when I saw that Rose's room was an exact replica of mine.  I felt this urge to protect her from my demons.  If it would have been in any way appropriate or possible I would have become her personal bodyguard and supporter until she had recovered - but that may have been a bit much.  Although I could have made a special hat.

However Rose feeds her baby I hope it's not a struggle, physically or emotionally.  I want that for everyone, but I want it the most for those who I hold dear.  I want everybody else to get the Bambi experience.  I probably seem like a meddler, but it's just a bit of a mission of mine to prevent anybody having unnecessary bad experiences.  That's my point really.  It is such a shame that we don't all get that empowering, beautiful experience with an absence of maternal guilt.   

Congratulations to all the new parents today xxx

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Not a lot about breastfeeding and a lot about patriotism.

What glorious weather we are having here in beautiful Britain.  At long last I am worrying about whether the kids have had enough to drink or whether they have got enough sun lotion on rather than if they are wearing enough layers.  Sunday's summer sun made the perfect setting for the 'Deal Bandstand Memorial Concert' which commemorates the tragic death of 11 Royal Marine musicians as a result of an IRA attack on the Royal Marines School of Music building in 1989.  The roads close, the locals swarm Walmer green and are beautifully entertained for the afternoon.  The culmination is a performance by HM Royal Marines Collingwood band themselves.

The music was wonderful, not least because I am a big fan of the whole marching drummers moustache sticks thing. Towards the end a priest mounted the steps of the bandstand.  Prayers were said.  Then a lone brass player stood and played that eerie tune 'The last Post'.  As the sound system clicked off we all continued to stand there.  Thousands of us gazing at that monument, the Deal bandstand, in complete silence.  So very, very powerful.  After a few minutes the gentle music began again and the atmosphere was stunning.

Things like this cannot fail to bring a lump to my throat.  Why?  Is it because I am a sap?  No, it's because I am a military girl.  I wasn't in the military myself, but I come from a military family, its something that runs in my veins.  My father served for 15 years in the Royal Navy.  I was raised on stories about naval life and speaking fluent Naval slang (something about nets over the funnels was talked about a lot).  In fact most men from my dad's family seem to have served, except my generation.  I flirted with the idea myself but never took the plunge.  It seemed like too big a commitment and there was of course the chance that a bullet somewhere might have had my name on it.

I think every family has it's legends, but mine, by default of being mine, are special.  My great, great, granddad, George Henry Wright, must be the subject of my favourite family story. In fact the story of his ships on that fateful morning became the subject of a book called 'Three before Breakfast'. Early one morning, in September 1914 he was aboard a ship, HMS Aboukir.  At 6.20 in the morning the ship was hit by a torpedo, fired by a German U-boat, U-9.  Tragically, the ship was sunk and 527 of her crew drowned.  Not my great, great, granddad.  No, he was fortunate and was picked up by the HMS Hogue. The HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy had come to help the crew of the Aboukir as they believed that she had struck a mine.   I suppose there was a great sense of relief for my great, great grandfather to be out of the water and safely back on board a native ship.  Seeing his crewmates dead or dying and his ship stricken, while he had been saved, is not a feeling one can easily understand, but there must have been some joy and relief.  Until 6.55 when the same U-boat torpedoed HMS Hogue.  Again he was in the water, and again many lives were lost.  Again, George was lucky enough to be picked up.  This time it was the HMS Cressy that rescued him.  I can only imagine how thankful he must have felt to still be alive.  Perhaps until U-9 torpedoed HMS Cressy at 7.20.  I think that when he found himself decidedly damp for a third time he must have felt that it was not his lucky day.  But in truth he was extroadinarily lucky, since he was picked up by a Dutch fishing boat.  The story goes that he forgot his identity for a period when he was taken back to Holland.  Now in those days the crew of  a ship would generally come from one locality.  Obviously, in George's neck of the woods there had been horrendous loss of life.  Over 1500 men had lost their lives in that one morning.  A mass funeral was held for the local young menfolk.  My great grandmother Floss, then a young girl, was left at home.  There was a knock at the door.  She answered to find a strange beardey looking fella...that's right, her daddy, George.  Flossie ran all the way to the church to find her mother.  She flung the doors wide but could only see a sea of black clad persons.  So, she shouted from the door 'Mum!! Dad's come 'ome!!'  The widows turned to see a little girl, overjoyed that her dad was no longer the subject of this particular mourning.

I love that story.  How happy my relatives must have been that their dear George wasn't dead.  How happy George himself must have been to not be dead.  His son, Charlie, was not so lucky.  He died in the trenches at Anzio beachhead, Italy, in 1944, aged just 22.  A photograph portrait of him in uniform hung in his sister Floss' house and now on the wall of her daughter, my grandmother, his niece. Surrounded by ship's crests, a newspaper clipping about the sinking of the Aboukir, and faded pictures of men in uniform it has a single poppy placed on top of the frame.  He died 69 years ago, but we haven't forgotten.

My paternal grandfather, Charles Henry 'Harry' Sartain did his stint in the Navy. He was a real stereotype matelow, I remember him smoking his pipe with anchor tattoos on his forearms.  His best tattoo read 'Homward Bound'.  Despite his appearance, he only served for around 2 or 3 years.

These were young men signing up.  My dad himself was just 15 when he joined up.  15 and going off, possibly to war!  He was fortunate to have not seen any serious conflict during his time, but nonetheless, how brave he was to leave his family behind and join this legacy of men who sometimes died for their country.  How his parents and sisters must have felt to see him go and wonder if he would come back.  For 15 years he served his country, finally being discharged as a Chief Petty Officer, having also been a ship's diver during his career.

That's what I think when I attend commemorative functions.  I think of the people.  I think of those who are lucky enough to survive the military and how fortunate I was that my father was one of them.  I also think of the young, fit personnel who are lost.  The families left behind.  They took huge risk because they believed in something enough. Or because they had no choice.  Or because it's just what you do, with a stiff upper lip.

Those 11 men killed in Deal weren't even at war.  They were in their home country and yet they were still attacked because of the position they held.   Just like that poor soldier, another musician, Lee Rigby recently.  Although for those that loved them, no concert will ever fix the hole they left, it surely must go some way to saying 'we haven't forgotten them'.  We honour these people who have lost their lives protecting our country.  I feel that while we remember them, while we gather on a green and stand in grave silence, we will do whatever is in our powers to stop unnecessary wastes of life.  We will deplore such behaviour and we will support those left behind.

My son had no idea.  He was wearing no trousers and trying to make himself dizzy.  I looked at his little innocent frame and felt so overwhelmingly sad for him.  One of our fish died the other day and he keeps asking where its gone.  I don't want to tell him the truth, I just tell him that it was ill.  I don't want my son to learn about the horror in this world.  Worst of all I don't want him to march off to war.  I want him forever to be that carefree little lad who got a bit of grass stuck in his eyelashes during the two minutes silence so that we had to break the spell that was holding us and deal with him.

The band lifted the melancholy spirits with a rousing rendition of 'Rule Brittannia' followed by 'Land of Hope and Glory'.  The crowd went wild, waving their miniature union flags (no, it's not a union jack unless flown from the jack staff of a ship).  One wonderful old lady was wearing union flag leggings and T-shirt and was brandishing a union flag umbrella and tiny flag.  People danced and sang, furiously waving their miniature flags, believing passionately in this funny little island.  My daughter quietly breastfed, gazing at me with curiosity as to what was going on.  I am glad I live in a land that has days like this.  Sunny days.  Days of remembering important things.  Days of preserving innocence.  Days of mad, dancing people in red, white and blue.  Days of breastfeeding surrounded by thousands of people and knowing that sometimes there are bigger and more important things to worry about than whether anybody looks askance at me today.

My favourite hymn was played today.  Read the beautiful words and think awhile of those who take a risk for our country.  Forget a moment any political leaning you have and just admire their bravery and empathise with their fears and those of their families.  Lest we Forget.

Eternal Father, Strong to save (for those at peril on the sea)
William Whiting, 1860

Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea!
O Saviour, whose almighty word, the winds and waves submissive heard,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep, and calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!
O sacred Spirit, who didst brood, upon the chaos dark and rude,
Who bad’st its angry tumult cease, and gavest light and life and peace:
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea!
O Trinity of love and power, our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe, protect them wheresoe'er they go;
And ever let there rise to Thee , glad hymns of praise from land and sea

For George Henry Wright, who somehow didn't die at sea
For Charles E. Wright, who went to Anzio aged 22 and never came home
For Charles Henry Sartain who lost his battle with cancer in 1998
For the Deal 11 and for Drummer Lee Rigby
For all the brave men and women who risk their lives in the armed forces.
For their families who are left behind.

There, your names are in black and white, just as they should be.