Afghanistan ~ and why I can’t talk about it in my book!

So, I had my book launch event on Armed Forces Day! It was  huge success! I wasn’t completely ignored! I got to sell lots of copies of the book and also meet so many people with great feedback and positive things to say. So thank you to all who came along….

22/06/2015 - Pic by Lucy Davies Military wife Elizabeth Eager with her new book Warrior Wives which has been published in time for Armed Forces Day. Reporter Sarah Contact Rebecca (Elizabeth) Eager on 401144 / 07933846569

Military wife Elizabeth Eager with her new book Warrior Wives which has been published in time for Armed Forces Day.

I also met many current and former military wives who praised the book which was lovely. One of the older ladies said that she didn’t know how my generation of military wives did it with Afghanistan. She was  what she called a ‘peacetime wife’ and it was hard enough then! Before I had the chance to explain that I don’t focus on Afghanistan in my book she was gone; into the crowd clutching her copy of ‘Warrior Wives’… and I was left feeling like a fraud!

I felt like a fraud because I only did ONE tour of Afghanistan. It was a tough, arduous, terrifying experience. The wounds run deep and if I’m honest I am still licking those wounds which is why I skim over that part of my story in the book…

Let me try and share some memories from that tour: November 2008 Hubby had been gone approximately 8-10 weeks (I lose track of time!) The phone lines and email service had gone down, which by now I already knew meant a fatality… so I waited! Like every other wife/girlfriend whose partner was serving. Watching the news or making sure you can hear the radio in every room… waiting desperately to hear the horrifying, cold, formal words ‘Next of Kin have been informed.’  … because then you know it wasn’t a knock at the door meant for you. Sometimes the waiting, with a constant knot in your stomach would go on for hours, or days, not knowing if every unknown car you saw drive into your street, every ring of the phone, every knock at the door would be the one to break your heart!

Then, when you finally hear those words, you release the breath you didn’t realise you’d been holding for the last two days! And for me, it was ALWAYS with a sob and sudden, hot, fervent tears for the families that had received that knock. Families, wives and girlfriends that I didn’t know – but who would always be much more to me than just ‘Next of Kin.’

So, November 2008 I’d sobbed my tears for an unknown family and continued to check my emails waiting to hear from my husband until 1 am. I went to bed – nothing. I got up early – nothing. I went to work. (Or rather my body went to work, I was ‘present’ – but I wasn’t really present). I came home from work, I burnt a microwave pasta (how? I don’t know!) … and still nothing!!

Eventually after I had gone to bed for the 3rd day in a row not hearing anything. I had a phone call. It was late and there was always a slight delay on the line, so I knew it was him:

“Babe, thank God you’re ok! I’ve been worried sick!”

A long pause… too long! Finally his voice, thick and strange sounding. “It was …” his voice broke as he told me the name of his friend who had been killed. My husband has had a long career and unfortunately this wasn’t the first time he’d told me of a friends death – either in combat or accidents. But I’d always been near him before, or at least seeing him within a few days.

I didn’t know many of his friends on this particular tour because he’d changed units right before the deployment. But I knew of this lad, I knew of the family he left behind. The tears I’d shed the previous evening were not for an anonymous family and those tears quickly burnt my eyes again.

The silence hung between us. I didn’t know what to say. ‘Sorry’ was just not enough. So I cried. and I told him I loved him.

“I can’t talk anymore.” He said “I just needed to tell you I was ok. I love you too.” and he was gone. The dial tone resounded deafeningly in my ears.

phone call

I couldn’t reach him, I couldn’t comfort him, I couldn’t be there for him…. and he didn’t want me to. He needed to get his head together, keep his focus and get on with the job at hand. There was no rest. Barely enough time for a quiet prayer for his friend before he was back on the front line himself.

I sat at the top of my stairs listening to the dial tone and sobbing my heart out. In pain for him. In pain for myself. In pain for the family of his fallen comrade. Stroking my pregnant stomach and wondering if I would ever be able to reach my husband again.

I know he shut me out because he needed too, but it still hurt….

A few weeks later (I always count down deployments in weeks!) I was sat on my sofa, eating a giant bag of Doritos – I was pregnant, and shamelessly giving into cravings, watching X-factor. Another ‘vice’ I could happily indulge in without Hubby’s moaning from the other sofa about the ‘crap’ I enjoy on tele (whilst he secretly enjoyed it himself!) The episode did a ‘special’ on Help for Heroes and The Royal British Legion, and they featured a mini film on Mark Ormrod – the Uk’s 1st triple amputee.

You can see it here

I can honestly say this was the first time I had even considered the possibility of injury. Not because I was naive, or ignorant, but because I couldn’t. I couldn’t cope with thinking about that – the implications were too huge for a pregnant woman to comprehend. But seeing the reality on the screen in front of me was impossible to ignore. I bought the X-factor single, but could never listen to it, or watch the series again. I’d wait until he was safely home, moaning by my side about my trashy choice of TV before I could watch it again!

Afghan was hard and there were many more memories like this; many that I am still not brave enough to face or talk about. I guess as I said – I’m still licking my wounds… and I am one of the lucky ones!! My husband came home to me. He came home and he wasn’t injured. I can NEVER FORGET how lucky I am!

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And I only did this ONCE!!!!!!

I did it once for 6 months, 6 years ago and the memories still hurt. The pain runs deep…. There are friends of mine who had to repeat this fear up to 3 times!! 18 months of their life spent in this constant state of panic and apprehension. My children weren’t born when Daddy went to Afghan, they have no memories of who he was before that time. I know people felt sorry for me during Afghan – who wouldn’t? I was alone and pregnant whilst the love of my life was fighting on the front line. But I didn’t want sympathy- then or now.

I was angry about Afghan for a long time. Or at least I thought I was, until I reached out and went to a coffee morning with other military wives and realised that I wasn’t angry about Afghanistan at all! -I was angry about all of it!! The lack of control I had over my life, and the situations I found myself dealing with. Moving 5 hours away from everyone I cared about to spend 60% of my time apart from the person I’d moved to be with….

In the process of learning to be strong I had put up walls and got confused and angry. I didn’t want to be a bitter, angry wife or mother. So I made a choice then, I decided to let it go….. Writing it down, making friends, sharing our stories was all part of that healing journey for me.

Being a military wife is so much more than JUST the Afghan’s! They are hard, there’s no denying that. But people can recognise that is hard. But the bits you don’t see are just as hard. The phone calls from ship, that you’ve waited all week for, to then have intermittent signal, (“Hello? Hello? Babe, is that you?”) the parts of the call you can hear interrupted by a sodding unintelligible Tannoy announcement and then having the call cut short for some unexplained reason, and having nothing but next week’s call to look forward to. The times when they are given a ‘shore draft’ or supposed to be ‘home’ but they spend most of it halfway across the country “on course”. The times that people don’t understand, because after all “we knew what it would be like when we married them!”……..All equally as challenging in their own way.

But the most important reason of all ~ My book isn’t about having people feel sorry for me, it’s NOT about saying how hard it is!

WarriorWives-FINAL cover_Amazon WarriorWives-rear cover

It is about celebrating the good parts of our life. The relationships that are unbreakable! The brotherhood and sisterhood of serving your country – whether on the front line, or in a supporting role at home. The sacrifices from Afghanistan should never be forgotten, but they are already talked about. There are countless emotional movies about it – all of which reduce me to a blubbering wreck, and I didn’t want people to be reduced to a blubbering wreck with ‘Warrior Wives’ – I wanted them to come away feeling inspired, as I was inspired to write it.

WORST MUM IN THE WORLD!!!!

I am the worst mum in the world.

Am I the worst mum in the world?? That is, sadly, what I was starting to believe…

I have been reading blog after article, after blog recently that has left me and my parenting ego feeling bruised. The blogs have ranged from experiments in frugality, by not spending a single penny on child based marketing products, to why they have taken away their toys, to why they don’t have a T.V or tell their children lies – including about things such as Santa Claus, or the tooth fairy. There are links below to these blogs.

I COMMEND these mum’s I really REALLY do! I admire their resolve and their attitude and their thoughtful way of parenting. I have nothing but respect for each of them – YET- It left me feeling guilty. Guilty and ashamed that I don’t parent in this way, guilty and ashamed that I don’t apply so much attention to detail to my parenting. So I decided to write this blog post for the less than perfect mums out there- the mum’s just like me!

I would like to make it clear that I don’t blame the mums who blog about their great, positive, thoughtful, careful parenting, in the same way I don’t blame a skinny model for making me feel insecure about my body. I am in charge of my own feelings. And this post is about taking charge of those feelings, banishing the guilt and hopefully moving forward in a happier healthier way.

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Here is my list of cardinal parenting sins.

1)      I shout at my children.

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A lot more than I want to and probably more than psychologists would say I should for their mental health & well being. But there it is I do it! After 15 times of saying “Don’t push, don’t hit, don’t bite, put your toys away, dinner’s ready…” The 1st half a dozen times it’s said calmly, then I use their name, I get down to their level, I put enthusiasm in my voice, I make eye contact, I touch them to get their attention, I repeat, I ask them if they can hear and repeat again. When it still results in no action -I shout. And sometimes, I shout a lot sooner than this – if I have had a stressful day.I’m on the phone to the energy company about a bill they’ve overcharged me, after having been on the phone to the bank to find out what this extra payment is for, whilst cooking dinner, and doing pack lunches and checking work emails. Yes sometimes I shout at them sooner than I should. I’m not a saint.

2)      I use the TV as a babysitter.

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On quite a regular basis actually. When I am making phone calls ^^^^^ Or need to pee, or am selfishly trying to finish coursework for evening classes I am doing, because I ultimately want to give them a better life by having a better job. Or even just when I am cleaning the bathroom. (I don’t want my child to see me with my hands in a toilet bowl and chemicals around because it will only incite their curiosity!) I like a clean home so the T.V is often used. I have one ear listening to them giggle at Mickey Mouse clubhouse and learning counting with Mickey and frantically clean as quickly as possible so we can have time to do a puzzle before lunch.

3)      Some time’s we don’t get time to do a puzzle^^, drawing, Play doh etc together before lunch…. 😦

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I feel sad about that and DO try to make time, but it doesn’t always happen. Friends come round for tea, mum phones, unexpected work emails need dealing with. Or coursework deadlines loom.

4)      Fish fingers and ketchup counts as a healthy dinner in this house.

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Dinner times are stressful, my oldest is incredibly fussy. I insist that we sit at the table and not in front of the TV (we do some days as a treat!) But this is my one parenting rule that makes me feel like I am not a complete failure ( –Hurrah I am a wonderful mother- we eat together at the dining table!!) All be it Fish fingers! But in my defence they are served with carrots, peas and Sweetcorn and mashed potato and they always finish their plates!!!!! It is the one meal I can serve up and not fight with them over eating it. We actually have nice civilised conversations about school and playgroup, not arguments or bribery or cajoling, or whining (-and that’s just me “please eat your peppers- they make you run fast…the world’s strongest man eats broccoli-don’t you want to be the world’s strongest man one day?”) So we have Fish fingers more than once a week- but not every day! What can I say some days I can face the arguments and the hour long dinner time, and other days it defeats me and I take the easy option.

5)      I tell them Father Christmas is real, the tooth fairy is real, Magic is real. Because I believed in magic as a child, I thought I could fly on rainbows and find the treasure and speak with the fairies in the garden and, you know what? I wish as an adult that I still believed in Father Christmas (Whenever I watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, or ‘Miracle on 34th street’ I actually kind of do believe a little bit….Ssshhh…)  I also tell them that Santa won’t come if they are naughty and pretend to call him on my mobile if they are testing me and playing up. Not because I am denying my responsibility as the disciplinarian- but because I am being Creative. And the best part of my Christmas this year was wrapping the children up with coats over their pyjamas and hats and gloves and looking up into the night sky to see if we could see or hear Father Christmas (apparently there was a comet/space station that was visible) We didn’t see it…. But I did see the Magic on their faces!! And yes, they look through magazines and see adverts (on the TV they watch too much of!) and they pester me for it. “I want that, I want that, ooh & that…” If it is something I cannot afford I will tell them about the bank account they have and that they can save up money they get given for birthdays or chores and buy it themselves or they can wait all year and ask Santa for it. Am I turning them into materialistic, consumer driven, ultimately unhappy grown ups?? Gosh!! – I Hope not!!!

6)    Sshh… But I discipline my children…. and I’m made to feel ashamed of it! But if they are repeatedly naughty, rude or unkind or put themselves or others in danger they are disciplined. They lose toys for a day or if they are REALLY bad to the bin, they lose stickers and rewards and they have on one occasion had a smack. NOT a whack or a slap or a bruising or a beating but a smacked hand. (as yet I have not had to actually carry out the threat of a smacked bottom!) 

I feel guilty for this but, that’s nothing new. I have felt parenting guilt since my son was born.

But NO more!!! Today I take a stand against the guilt that is pushed on us as parents from the media and the government and the health authority (‘working mothers are bad’, ‘breast is best’ ‘kids are obese’ ‘Kids are unhappy’) We cannot win – if we work we are guilty of neglecting our children, if we are stay at home mums, we are made to feel lazy or like we are spoiling/indulging our children.

In the UK at the minute there is a debate about being able to take children on family holidays during term time. The government feel our education is sadly lacking and that 10 days of a family holiday is too much and will affect our children’s ability to reach those milestones they place on them, those labels and tests that they have to pass to fit into a “normal” bracket. So what???

So they don’t pass the tests as they should, they may have to work a bit harder when they come back to school. But the time and memories they have with their family is priceless and irreplaceable. You can’t deny family time and expect children to still succeed. Surely we can find new measures for success that don’t involve our kids grades, or our bank balance or our waist line??? Measures that involve emotional security, happiness, contentment. FUN & JOY!!!

NOT MORE GUILT!!

By saying no to guilt of all of the above sins, I am embracing Joy. I will enjoy my children’s childhood before I turn around, and old father time has snatched it away. We are living in such a blessed and privileged society, but we don’t consider ourselves lucky- we just find more problems and more things to feel guilty about. Our children have access to education and food on a daily basis (& TV in my house) & Toys & Cuddles and Love.

I want my children to grow up to know that I am not perfect. To understand that I figured this parenting thing out along the way and I made mistakes (probably by the time they are 18 a lot of them!)

I want them as adults to appreciate that I tried my best and I want them to live in the knowledge that trying your best is enough. And being happy is enough. They may not understand fully when they are 11, or even 16 but I have faith that eventually they will be happy, healthy adults who understand. I don’t worry that I am turning them into consumer driven zombies because I am not that! I am happy. I am content to try my best, and fail sometimes, and wake up and keep saying “today is the day I do better”. So if they learn by example I am refusing to let them see a side of me that self doubts and worries and feels incredible guilt about all the things I don’t get quite right. From now on, they will see, a mother who is sure in her resolve to NOT FEEL GUILT. I will probably still shout & discipline & let them watch TV.  I expect when they are 15 they will talk about how unfair I am, and how they wish they were adopted – but that is part of growing up. I am their mother, not their friend. I am (finally) comfortable in my own skin and don’t need their approval, or my parents approval or even societies approval. I know I am doing my best, and that will be enough.

There’s an advert for baby formula in the UK that says “We know mums, and take it from us – You’re doing great!” Yes we are. All of us. Even the really terrible, lazy mums like me who use the TV too much!!!!!!

http://www.livingwellspendingless.com/2012/09/14/why-i-took-all-my-kids-toys-away-why-they-wont-get-them-back/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/10211090/Successful-parenting-without-spending-money-a-mothers-story.html

This is a great one for SAHM

http://themattwalshblog.com/2013/10/09/youre-a-stay-at-home-mom-what-do-you-do-all-day/

Breast IS Best …. But Formula isn’t poison!!!

When I fell pregnant at 25 I was ecstatic. My husband and I had been happily married for 3 years and we were both excited about being parents. The only tarnish to the excitement was that my husband deployed to Afghanistan when I was 15 weeks pregnant and wouldn’t return until just before the birth. Even this major hurdle couldn’t dampen our excitement as my husband has been in the forces for 8 years; we were used to the lifestyle. We just accepted it and condensed our baby shopping into a few short and early weeks, just after our 12 week scan. It was horrible saying goodbye but we just focused on the future. Most people will agree looking back a pregnancy of 37 weeks seems surprisingly short.

            I threw myself into getting prepared as a new mum and signed up for ante-natal classes (with the added incentive of more time off work!!) It was at these classes that I realised how ‘green’ and naïve I was. I have no shame in admitting that the thought of labour terrified me, and the class on breast feeding made me feel ‘icky’. The T.V show Little Britain and its ‘bitty’ sketch has a lot to answer for!! I was embarrassed -what if I had to feed him in public or worse in front of my dad or my in-laws!! I had an immature notion that my baby would be all sweet smelling nappies and suckle contentedly on a bottle. Luckily the children’s centre that held the classes were hugely encouraging when it came to breast feeding and gave me all the support I needed to give it a go, and overcome my embarrassment. Yet, in being pro-breast feeding they provided no information on bottle feeding. Which effectively left no choice-either get support with breast feeding or bottle feed in isolation!

My husband made it home safe and sound on the 19th March and our baby was due on the 31st. We crammed in as much quality time and relaxation as being 8 months pregnant would allow. After all, I never really expected to go into labour on my due date-but that’s what happened!! It was a slow start.I remember the car journey so vividly-the fear, the excitement, the pain! The labour was long and arduous (as they all are I hear!) But it was harder for our baby than it was for me as I opted for an epidural after 12 hours of him being painfully ‘back to back’. There were repeated fluctuations with his heart rate which meant in the end that I had to be given help with a forceps delivery.

Finally, our beautiful baby boy was born, weighing 6lb 12oz, with a full head of blonde hair and his daddy’s frown on his face!

After a lot of support in hospital we got him breast feeding well and were sent home after 2 days. My midwife was on holiday so I had a different nurse come round to do the post natal checks, and after initially dropping to 6lb 2oz, our baby stayed within his 10% parameters and quickly gained again, going up to 6lb 14oz at a week old. I was surprised to find I actually enjoyed breast feeding, it wasn’t painful to get him latched on correctly and feeding. It was also bonding time for us and I knew I was doing what was best for my baby.

This soon changed though. At 3 weeks old our health visitor came round to weigh him and broke the news that he was still only 6lb 14oz exactly. There had been no weight gain at all in 2 weeks! She watched me feed and told me I was doing everything right and it was a good sign that he hadn’t lost any in 2 weeks but she referred us to the GP. Matthew was a ‘sicky baby’ and we thought that could be the problem. Unfortunately that day went from bad to worse, as the Dr detected a heart murmur and sent us straight up the hospital. Two days later Matthew was diagnosed with Ventricular Septal Defect- a hole in the heart. Our world crashed! I remember desperately asking the nurse “Is his heart likely to just stop working?” I was terrified of losing him but it’s one of the most common defects with new born babies and often closes spontaneously within weeks or days of birth. However, more serious cases can cause further health problems and have to be surgically closed; which would leave our son with permanent heart disease, due to scar tissue. We were reassured that the best thing we could do for Matthew was continue to breast feed to boost his immunity, and the hospital would monitor him closely. The following week his weight had dropped to 6lb 12oz and he was constantly sleeping. (This might sound like bliss-but when it’s not normal-it’s not!) . Over the following weeks we were up and down to the hospital visiting specialists and his weight continued to plummet! I was desperate! I was waking him every hour to try and feed him-but he would often be too sleepy to feed. I was expressing constantly to try and keep my milk supply coming, but because he wasn’t demanding much my body started making less. On advice from the health visitor and a paediatric dietician we tried expressing milk before a feed, to get rid of the foremilk so he would latch on straight to the richer milk. Expressing after a feed to make sure I could give him some richer milk from a bottle. Expressing in between feeds to keep my supply up, but it quickly slowed down and it got to a point where it would take me all day of expressing, as well as feeding, and I could only express about 4oz of milk. I telephoned the dietician to explain I wasn’t making enough anymore and was told to express more – “It’s supply and demand” she said. I was beyond desperate at this point and wanted to give up breast feeding. I had no sleep, hardly got dressed and if I didn’t have my son attached to my breast, it was a breast pump! I was told a million different things by friends, family and health visitors- “just do 10 minutes on each side” , “try skin to skin” “let him feed for as long as he needs”…… I tried everything! I was exhausted and depressed. I remember one particularly hard day, Our little man was sleeping and my husband bought me dinner as I was too busy “expressing” to cook. I couldn’t eat it. I saw my tiny, fragile little baby asleep in his moses basket- How could I eat when the poor little man must have been starving??!! Luckily my husband was hugely supportive and we decided to give up breast feeding and try a bottle.

 

I felt like an utter failure, but my instinct was telling me it was the right thing to do. We went to our routine hospital appointment the next day, and they again insisted we keep breast feeding. We were given a supplement of fat and sugar to mix with boiled water and give to him in a sterilized syringe for 2 weeks. The dietician callously told us that “sometimes with ‘cardiac babies’ the weight gain can be such an issue, they have to be tube fed.” I looked at my tiny baby, who seemed to be shrinking before my eyes and thankfully my husband was brave enough to ask “Why don’t we try a bottle first?” but were again told not to and to keep breast feeding “he’s getting everything he needs from you.” The Dr told us, and I thought for one horrible minute my husband was going to punch him when he grumbled “Well it doesn’t seem like it to me!”

 At this point he weighed just less than 7lb at nearly 7 weeks old! He was still wearing early baby clothes! If the supplement didn’t work he would have to be admitted to hospital and tube fed until he got his strength up; But that would have confirmed the Dr’s decision that his heart was causing further health complications, and they would need to operate. We were preparing for the worst scenario – open heart surgery.

 In the car home, my husband broke the silence by suggesting “We could still try to bottle feed, it’s up to you.” I told him “We can’t! We have to do what the Dr’s say.” I was convinced that formula must be some kind of poison and dangerous, or cause cancer, as I couldn’t understand why anybody, let alone health professionals, would suggest tube feeding a baby over giving him a bottle.

Another exhausting week went by with the constant breast pumping, and added job of mixing a sticky glue like paste that stuck to everything to syringe into our son before a feed. My husband had been lucky enough to have extended leave after his tour in Afghanistan and had been with me at every hospital appointment, but the time had come for him to return to work and as he was based in Scotland I had the daunting reality of doing this all on my own with no one else to support and reassure me. We live 200 miles away from any family so I was understandably nervous, but my little one kept me strong. I dutifully expressed before a feed, after a feed, in between feeds; woke him every hour to feed and ate myself to keep my strength up, for 6 exhausting days before the time came to have him weighed again. I was praying with every cell of my being that the sticky supplement would be the answer and he had put on the required 4oz. He hadn’t! – He had put on just 2oz. When the health visitor looked at me and said “It’s not really enough is it?” I cried. I couldn’t help myself and blubbed that I was going to try a bottle before they tube feed him. I asked her for advice on how to do it as I’d only ever been given information on breast feeding, and she explained that she would prefer I discuss it with his dietician as he may need special care formula. The dietician dutifully sent a prescription for a high calorie formula, but no information on how to make up a bottle or sterilise- I had to rely on the packet instructions. I walked out of the baby clinic feeling so isolated and alone, my legs were like jelly and tears streamed down my face as I pushed the pram home.

I felt like a failure. I’d failed in my most important role to provide nourishment for my child. It was a rare occasion when my little man was awake because his heart condition made him so sleepy. He looked at me with his clear blue eyes and gave me a ‘toothless’ smile. It brightened my day and I was sure I was doing the right thing by giving him a bottle. But I had no idea where to start. How much do I give him? How often? I didn’t know how to sterilise equipment or wind a bottle fed baby.

            I fumbled my way through and followed the detailed instructions on the packets and within a week he had gained 10 oz. He weighed 7lb 12oz, at 8 weeks old he had finally gained a whole lb above his birth weight and he went from strength to strength. His weight gain meant the hospital were happy to monitor the hole in his heart for longer before they made the decision to operate.

            A week or so later as I sat giving him his morning bottle the issue of breast feeding was raised on a morning T.V show. It showed a pro breast feeding ‘earth mother’ in a debate with a pro bottle feeding, glamorous mum, who had comments like “my boobs are just for my pleasure….I didn’t like the idea of breast feeding”. I was mortified! It portrayed anti-breast feeding mums as selfish and vain. It was so biased. I had to keep reassuring myself that I had tried my best. I wasn’t being selfish. I questioned myself constantly. It was only when I went to collect a prescription for the specialized formula milk and bumped into my original midwife that I found any kind of reassurance. She made a point of telling me that she was so sorry to hear about my little man’s heart and she could not believe that the hospital had insisted I breast feed for so long. She was convinced that if his heart condition had been detected at birth he “would have been whipped to special care babies and they wouldn’t hesitate to give him a bottle”. The relief was immense. To hear one medical professional support my choice to bottle feed was all I needed.

            I now realise how the health authority and the government legislation being so pro-breast feeding let me and my son down. I have a whole stack of photographs of my baby which are hidden away in a drawer as I cannot bare to look at them because he was so skinny and emaciated. The guilt I feel when I look at those photographs is overwhelming, not because he was born with a heart defect but because I made the wrong choice and listened to the blinkered and biased Dr’s instead of following my maternal instincts. I desperately wanted to breast feed and give him the best start in life, but because of a congenital defect, breast feeding wasn’t the best start in life for him. It was too much hard work for his tiny body. Thankfully we realised before it was too late.

The health authorities have a responsibility and duty of care to give people balanced, correct advice. I was a new mum, I was naïve and I followed Dr’s advice, which was to my sons’ detriment. They took the chance that my baby may have to face open heart surgery in an emaciated state. A choice that wasn’t theirs to make and they should have provided me with enough information to make that choice in an informed way. Having spoken to our local Children’s Centre and other mums I was informed that they are not allowed to give information on bottle feeding as they HAVE to promote breast feeding.  I cannot be alone in thinking this is ridiculous. Not offering new mums information on bottle feeding is like not giving teenagers sex education; it won’t stop them doing it, but it just means they just won’t do it safely or properly. I remember a hospital nurse saying to me that if they can breast feed in the 3rd world, all mums should give it a go here. That is SO WRONG. If our little man had been born in the 3rd world he probably would have died from a relatively common birth defect. We have the facilities to sterilise and boil our water correctly in this country and thousands of babies not only survive but thrive on formula milk.

I am not anti-breast feeding. In fact, I’m pro-breast feeding and cannot wait to try it with my next child. There should definitely be a lot of support to encourage new mums to breast feed. There are numerous health benefits to breast feeding BUT remember there are no health warnings with formula. Mums who choose to bottle feed shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed, selfish, or as if they have failed. There should be more support for mums who decide to bottle feed. As new mums we should be guided and supported in our new role, not dictated to that breast feeding is the only way. The health authority needs to recognise the INDIVIDUAL health needs of each child and parent.

  I feel robbed of that early joy you should have from your 1st child, but instead I am left with guilt and photographs of my new baby that I cannot look at. I can never get that time back, but I HAVE learnt a valuable parenting lesson. There is no such thing as “by-the-book” when it comes to parenting. What is right for one child is NOT always right for another. Parenting is all about guilt and responsibility as we struggle to make life choices our little ones are too young to make for themselves, and we all (including health authorities) need to adapt to the individual needs of our unique child.

 

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Post script: I wrote this article before I had my second child. My second child was such a joy to breast feed. She fed every 45 minutes for about 45 minutes!! It worked! She gained weight and was a happy and healthy baby. But after a few months of breast feeding I found it difficult to be sat on the sofa feeding, with my now, two year old son to look after and no family and friends to help (my husband had re-deployed!)   So I gave my daughter a bottle…. And guess what!! – She CONTINUED to thrive and gain weight! I thought having this success with my second child would have somehow healed me of the pain and shame I felt from failing to breastfeed my son successfully, but sadly it hasn’t. It is something I just have to learn to live with, a part of my parenting journey. I had to watch a friend recently go through a similar struggle recently- She is an ‘attachment parent’ (I will blog on this at a later date!) and prides herself and breast feeding but her baby was lactose intolerant and had numerous food allergies. She spend 15 weeks, amending her diet, watching his weight see-saw and struggling so much to breast feed before she finally decided to give him a bottle and I feel her pain. I understand her sense of failure, but can only reassure her that as long as we try our best, and learn from our mistakes that is all our children can ask of us; the same as we ask of them- to TRY OUR BEST! xx