Wednesday, 2 February 2011

That Thing You Do

I think that every parent/child relationship has a Thing.  An area of lowest confidence, a land of unavoidable conflict; that one subject which is certain to make a parent bristle when other parents start to talk about it.  The one area of life which is best summarised by a cry of "I've tried everything and nothing works and I just can't bloody do it any more!"

For Abigail and me, it's always been feeding.  At a baby group, if mums are talking about sleep, I'm chatting happily; if they're complaining about constant crying, I'm the envy of them all; but if they bring up the subject of food, I'm the one skulking in the corner or studiously entertaining my oblivious daughter with a plastic sheep.

At first it was breastfeeding.  The moment my milk came in, it all went pear-shaped.  Abigail couldn't latch properly - we still don't really know why.  After a week, on Christmas day in fact, she was whisked back into hospital and put on a cannula because she had lost 20% of her body weight and was at risk of a stroke from high sodium levels.  I had to 'top up' with formula, but was producing so little milk by then (having been full of milk she didn't drink just days earlier) that 'topping up' basically meant feeding.  By the time we got home three days later we were formula-feeding exclusively.

I was determined to get back to exclusive breastfeeding, and I did, by the time Abi was 8-9 weeks old.  (I might post about how I did it later if the mood takes me, but that's all you need to know for now!)  But she still wasn't latching properly.  Midwives, lactation consultants, breastfeeding peer supporters and a paediatrician checking for tongue tie couldn't help.  We'd just have to soldier on.

There followed nearly a year of the most trouble-haunted breastfeeding journey I've ever come across - possibly because anybody sane would have given up.  As all my mummy friends got over the first breastfeeding hurdles and started to enjoy themselves, we struggled on as if wading through treacle.  Even the health visitor ditched the usual script and advised me to give up for the sake of my mental health!  I had two bouts of mastitis, constant cracked nipples, and for several months Abigail would only feed from one side sitting up and the other lying down, which ended in my lying flat out on the wet grass, in March, in the middle of Alton Towers, feeding her on a pile of coats.  I rarely had the impression that she was enjoying herself much, and I wasn't loving it either.  Then we tried to re-introduce an occasional beaker (after weaning her) and that was a nightmare too, as she couldn't cope with any kind of valve and couldn't get a thing out of a bottle.  Eventually she took to a free-flowing beaker and we just changed all her clothes after every drink.

Finally, a week before her first birthday, I was once again struggling to give her the bedtime breastfeed (the only one left every day) when she bit me very hard, then screamed and refused to go back on.  She'd been wriggling, biting and fussing for weeks, but I finally got the message, and that was it.  No more mummy milk.  I tried briefly to feel disappointed, but I couldn't - I was mainly relieved.

Now all that already seems light years ago, but I still hide when the subject of food comes up, as in the world according to Abigail, anything not hard and dry is not a foodstuff.  She will eat oatcakes, breadsticks, dry toast, rusks and  - to my shame - chicken nuggets.  It's the texture rather than the taste, since anything wet, sticky, squishy or cold goes straight on the floor and nowhere near the mouth.  We have tried spoon feeding, giving her spoons, sitting her with food and leaving her, sitting her with food and standing over her, eating it ourselves with exaggerated choruses of "MMMMM!", hiding vegetables between pieces of bread, singing as a distraction, TV as a distraction, feeding her one weeto at a time and chucking raisins at her through the bars of her playpen as if she were a little caged animal.  Nothing has ever worked more than once.  Oh, and now she has learned how to spit things out in case Mummy dares to tuck a piece of fruit away inside a pot of yoghurt.

I could go on for a long time about how I feel about this, and indeed I have done on Facebook and in other forums, but all I want to say for now is: I am thoroughly sick of hearing about how other people's children love to consume tagliatelle and sauce with their bare hands.  That is all.

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