PND & Extended Breastfeeding
Last week I shared my experience of with PND and Breastfeeding here. I asked anyone who had a different view or experience to share, if they wanted, to highlight that not ‘one size fits all’ and that PND with lots of similarities from mum to mum, but every story is different.
This week I am so delighted that my wonderful friend Eve Canavan has offered to share hers. I’ve posted a condensed version, you can find the full one on her blog. (You have to check out her blog anyway, it superb!) Just so you know, Eve is an amazing Mum and a survivor of Postpartum Psychosis (PP). She helped the writers at the BBC to create the storyline for Stacey in Eastenders and continues to be an activist for all things PND and PP related. She is simply wonderful. Over to Eve…
“Before I had Joe, I’d never really thought about breastfeeding. I wasn’t breastfed and all but one of my mates didn’t have babies so I’d never properly considered how I’d nourish my offspring. My friend with a baby mix fed so my assumption was that I would do the same. I had however always been proud of my boobs. They were my pride and joy. I wasn’t blessed with a flat stomach, I had child bearing hips since I was about 9 and a buck tooth that shone bright in photos. I hated all of these features. But I had great boobs. Women pay good money for a pair of lils like mine .
I’d read stories in those amazingly trashy women’s weeklies with headlines like ‘my school son still suckles at my breasts’ and would think, what on earth? That child should be eating normal food by now…. And then I gave birth. Went completely bananas, fed Joe through a haze of anti psychotics and have emerged nearly five years later, no longer with my head in Narnia but still nursing my son who will be going to school in six weeks.
Sometimes, when people find out I still nurse Joe, there is usually a) a horrified look on their face b) a comment along the lines of ‘don’t you think it’s about time you stopped this Eve, I mean, he will never be independent’ and then c) which is usually from strangers ‘that is absolutely disgusting’. Someone did tell me once that it was akin to abuse. What a delightful thing to say to a mother. Breastfeeding became important to me almost overnight. I had assumed I would mix feed Joe so before he was even born, along with the 87 cans of caffeine free diet coke and value strawberry angel delights I became obsessed with, I would order those ready made cartons of formula. I just assumed I would use them. And then I gave birth, went insane,became terrified of being near my son,refused to look at him or be in the same room as him but felt a desperate pang to feed him myself. I don’t know what it was. I found the very idea of being near him beyond comprehension.
I remember the day that I ran out into the middle of the road with no pants on screaming “I’m trapped, take me away from this world, he has trapped me”. I felt no sense of shame that I had just bared my saggy arse to the nosey old lady over the road and as John brought me back into the house, I slumped myself on the floor, crying my eyes out. My mum was there and said “Evelyn, what is it love, tell me how you feel, please”. I looked at her, angry, and I can remember clear as day saying “I hate it, I can’t bear it, I can’t even bear to look at him”. My mum started weeping and said “but he is so precious Evelyn. Look at him love, please, cuddle him, please love”, and I just stared at the carpet. And then he started crying. And I did, what I was later to realise I always did when he cried, picked him up and nursed him. I found it hard to look at him but my boobs would tingle when he cried, as if they ached to comfort him.
The feelings I experienced were so confusing and if I am frank, kind of terrified me. I had a massive desire to not be a mum. I was, what was later described in therapy, grieving deeply for my old life. I felt dead, void of positive feelings towards the future and scared of the life waiting for me ahead. But I found myself needing and wanting it nurse the child I didn’t think I wanted.
The day I was hospitalised is when I had a sense of realisation that I wanted to not only be my sons mother and carer but I also wanted to be his life giver. After John had found me wandering around in a daze, I had ran into his parents room and began crawling round the bed on all fours. I was screaming for someone to help me. John was talking on the phone to a psychiatrist and I was walking up and down the stairs over and over,talking to myself. I suddenly heard another voice. My mother-in-law was on the phone to the doctors surgery and was asking for the GP to prescribe some tablets for me to dry my milk up so she could bottle feed Joe. And this was when my brain bolted. I knew I was ill. I knew I was terrified of my role as a mum and god, the terror of this being a job I would have forever like it or not, filled me with a fear that I had never ever experienced. I was confused, scared and lost in my own terrifying thoughts but I knew something. I knew I wanted to feed my son. I knew I could do that. It was the one thing that I could do for him that no one else could and a rage went through me. I had grown used to feeling angry over those first six weeks but this was a different sort. I stood there and shouted “This is not happening. I’m not talking those tablets. He is my son, and I am feeding him and no one else I is. No one”. I knew that I wasn’t going to have that role taken from me. It was as if some mother force from deep within me roared out of me.
I think my heart knew if I stopped feeding him, I would lose any connection I had with him forever. And I could not let that happen. I was his mother and there was no way in hell anyone else was going to take the feeding from me. My milk was yearning to feed him and my heart and head both knew that’s what I needed to carry on doing. I, in no way, wanted him being fed by someone else.
When he got to six months, the ‘oh so you’ll be weaning him’ comments started coming. And I thought, oh, erm I dunno. I’d never even thought about stopping. At this point, I’d never even heard of ‘extended/natural term’ breastfeeding, I simply just didn’t see any reason to stop. And then we just carried on.
A few times I would say, “oh I reckon when he is a year and then that changed to 18 months” and then one day I said, “I think I’ll just keep going until he wants to stop”. I’ve had the ‘when he goes to school Eve, you can’t slip your nip through the school gates to feed him’ comments. I thought, well speak for yourself as I have amazing boobs that can stretch in all different directions so wind your neck in. Of course, I jest. I mean, imagine having stretchy boobs?
But comments like this show how people don’t understand how feeding a child older than a baby or even a toddler doesn’t mean they walk around the shopping mall all day with a boob in their mouth. It simply means they feed milk from their mother when they want it. It’s quite simple really – once a day Joe says ‘can I have a yogurt please mummy’ and then at another point of the day usually before he goes to bed, he says ‘can I have boobie please mummy’. I don’t offer, I don’t refuse.
I have no shame in my child making the decision to continue nursing and I absolutely will not allow him to be made to feel ashamed of this choice in any way shape or form. Some people might not like it and that’s fine, I felt like that once too. I don’t want to change their mind. Their opinion is as valid as mine but I will not let them make my son feel ashamed.
And for the mummies who formula feed after being ill like I was. I wasn’t treated with lithium so I was very lucky I was able to nurse. I feel lucky and blessed that though very hard at the start, our breastfeeding relationship has been so lovely. I chose to continue feeding and it was the right choice for our family. I don’t like being judged for nursing my four year old so I don’t judge mums who were in my position who chose/needed to feed in a different way. Breastfeeding for Joe and I is wonderful and I love that my son cherishes it and finds it such a comfort as it really is so much more than a source of nutrition, particularly now.
We are all mothers. I’ve endured nearly five years of negative comments about the nursing relationship I have with my son and this has made me realise even more that mums have such a hard job. Feeding longer than the six months ‘norm’ may not be for everyone but all I ask is for people to not make hurtful comments about the children and mothers who do nurse for longer. I’ve had people day ‘you don’t look like one of those mums Eve’ when they find out we still breastfeed and I wonder what I’m supposed to look like? I’m just a mum surely ? Let’s all be supportive of each other and let’s all be nice. Let’s not judge when we haven’t walked in others shoes.”
Read the full version and all of Eve’s other posts here: