Fuck. What a year. What a magnificent and remarkable year. It’s been absolutely wonderful at times, but let me be honest – this bed of roses has been thorns-a-plenty, with a good dose of shit to make sure I stink while I do my growing.
And yes, I know that you might be reading this and thinking I’m some sort of ungrateful cowbag, but let’s please take a moment to appreciate that things aren’t always what they seem – especially when it comes to motherhood.
Go put the put the kettle on because this is a long one!!
Both of my babies are the result of fertility treatment. The challenges we faced with both were similar, but much simpler a second time around – we knew what we should expect and what we could skip this time. How lucky we are that we’ve managed to bring two children into this world, when there were months and years when we felt that we were fighting a losing battle.
The Tiniest Treacle arrived at home on a Sunday morning. Tiny had been collected by my friend and we experienced a second beautiful home birth shortly after she left, this time with no complications. He latched on and I felt like I was ready to conquer the world as a mum of two.
Hooray for boobies...?
I’ve written the short version of our early breastfeeding journey several times to try and make it digestible for you as part of this blog, but it’s no short story and I’m still feeling the pain a bit. Between anterior tongue tie, weight loss, pressure to top up, severe reflux, multiple allergies, more pressure to top up, arranging a regular milk donor, faltering growth (due to medical insistence to top up with formula, rather than actually tackle the reflux – sigh), threats of hospital admission, an incompetent and unsupportive health visitor, weekly and fortnightly weighings, medical professionals questioning of our lifestyle choices, being told that “breast is best for most babies, but maybe not yours”… those first six months made me a wreck. I barely recognise myself looking back on it all.
I just asked my husband what was his most angering comment from the paediatrician and dietician… “all that bullshit about formula being better and having as many calories and as much goodness as breastmilk”. I shit you not – this actually happened. I don’t think I will ever not be angry about the whole thing.
Anyhow, during those first six months I essentially felt like a sleep deprived open all hours milk bar with one child who couldn’t bear to be put down, and another which was still experiencing grief at the arrival of her sibling (damn right – his arrival would have shaken us all enough without the added complications). I’ve a husband who is wonderful to an annoying degree, who would go to work, work, deal with me on the phone in tears at least 3 out of 5 days, then come home and make dinner, work for me in the evenings because I was so exhausted and a blubbering or sweary mess – sometimes both.
I continued working on Hello Treacle through all of this because I needed something to focus on. I was housebound with a baby who screamed in the car and pushchair, who needed feeding every 1-2 hours, who seldom napped and would only sleep on me – day or night. I was so tired I probably wasn’t safe to drive anyway, but I was capable of putting together some stuff for social media, of completing some admin (my accountant might question that, haha). I managed to find a position where I could draw on my ipad while nursing a sleepy baby, or I’d feed him to sleep in our bed and work around him if I could be still enough. I needed it.
Hello Treacle gave me something to focus on beyond how many grams my baby had gained that week. My Hooray for Boobies campaign launched in the midst of an emotional storm so great that looking back it’s any wonder I managed it, but I needed it and I’m deeply grateful for every single person who supported it then and has purchased anything since.
Finding my groove...
Things started getting easier when he was around 7 or 8 months old, but the big difference came from around November, when we were finally discharged from paediatric care and the burden of the regular weighings and scruitiny. I finally felt strong enough to be able to start leaving the house for a couple of hours either alone or with Tiny. The independence has been life changing – not just for me, but for our whole family, and the bond Mr Treacle is developing with his son is the kind of beautiful that makes the literal blood, sweat and tears so worthwhile.
Over the past 12 months I’ve learned a few important lessons…
I’m strong as fuck. How many mums have moved on from breastfeeding because they’ve received unnecessary pressure to introduce formula and have not had the support or adequate accurate information to help them continue to breastfeed? Hey, this was me with Tiny Treacle – no judgement if you needed to move on. We have infant feeding choices in the UK and we make the best decisions we have with the information and support we have at the time. Thank goodness for my local breastfeeding advocacy and peer support network.
Anyhow, this time around I was determined to have a different outcome for my breastfeeding journey. Despite this, there were days when I thought I’d be giving up by the end of the day. There were days when I wanted to give up by the end of the day. There were days when I begged Mr Treacle to let me give up. I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but somehow I did it – perhaps because…
I’m stubborn as fuck. No really, I am. Tell me I can’t do something and I will usually try to move mountains to prove you wrong. Especially if you threaten me or my family in any way, or make ridiculous claims about the uncertain quality of vegan breastmilk. Sigh.
Being upset, frustrated and even angry does not make you ungrateful. It makes you human.
I love my children. With every piece of me. I dreamt of having them, waited for them, and fought to have them. But there are days, speaking completely honestly, there are days when I’ve screamed and I’ve shouted, I’ve thrown pillows, kicked the laundry bin, cried rivers and eaten every last scrap of vegan junk food in the house. They push me to my limit. Not because they’re little shits, but because they’re my children and I love them so much that I feel like even I am not good enough for them. But sometimes they actually do push me and my tolerance – and even when they do, I love them more than I can stand, and they deserve better than the best of me.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to a lot of women at all stages of their fertility journey since Hello Treacle began in September 2016. I can relate to the woman who just got told she might not be able to become pregnant, to the mother who just experienced her first miscarriage, to the mother who finally feels like she’s having a baby and she can’t wait to actually live her dream. I can relate to the woman who feels saddened when mothers complain, who longs to be that mother, to have those children and who swears never to complain about them.
I can also relate to the new mothers who are struggling with the lack of sleep, who are frustrated with even the basics of breastfeeding, who are questioning their choices and their strength, who are making difficult decisions from the moment their baby is in their arms. I can relate to the mum whose baby has reflux – with the endless laundry and concern. To the mother who’s managing multiple allergies or intolerances and who dreads parties for fear of their child returning home ill. To the mother who shouts at her partner just because she needs to let off steam. I can relate to the mother who needs to top up the biscuit jar three times a week because her bourbon habit is what helps her through the day. I can relate to the mum who feels like she’s failing most days, but who gets up each day and tries again because one day she might just crack it. I can relate to the mother who cries in the bathroom because it’s the only place with a lock on the door. To the mother who wonders why she isn’t the natural mother she thought she would, should and deserved to be. And I relate to the mother who just wants to tell it how it is, but sometimes feels afraid to speak up…
And while there have been tough times and there are still and will continue to be difficult days, there have been some of the most incredible, beautiful and special days, which make me feel like the luckiest person alive. The days when they play together, when Tiny shows her love for him, when it’s clear his love for her is so deep that he just can’t stay away. There are the days when he looks up at me while feeding and flashes me a cheeky grin, the days when he falls asleep in my arms – which are now fewer than before. There are the times when it’s just us being silly, making memories and learning together.
Wherever you are on your parenthood journey, remember to be kind to yourself. Your experience, feelings, hopes and fears are all yours and valid. If you have any concerns about your health or your mental and emotional wellbeing while experiencing infertility, or pre- or post-natally, please visit your GP or midwife.
I’m off to go and drink wine now. (I wrote this at 9pm and I cried a LOT!)