Festivals: not what they used to be.

Last year, when I was the parent of one child, I got tickets to the Cambridge Folk Festival. The plan had been to go en famille, but my husband was out of town. I considered throwing in the towel on the whole damn weekend. I booked a babysitter, then cancelled the babysitter, then considered ringing the babysitter and begging her to come after all, then finally took a deep breath, packed my picnic blanket, hauled my kid to the festival and hoped for the best.

I was so amped up when I got home that I sent the following email to a friend:

HE WAS SUCH A CHAMP I AM SO PROUD OF HIM IT WAS AMAZING.
I saw KT Tunstall and Glen Hansard, who I wanted to see the most in the whole festival, and in between sets he said ‘more music! Music, mummy!’
You know how when you first fall in love, and it just seems like an utter miracle? That this person exists, and they’ve consented to hang out with you? Having kids is, at its best, 1000x better than that. Theo was sitting on my lap, clapping at the end of every song and saying ‘another song?’ and I felt like my heart was going to burst.
We didn’t get home until after 10, which we’ve never even attempted before. He negotiated a couple extra stories, which seemed ridiculous because it was 10:20 by that point (inhaler, tooth brushing, offering him the potty, etc.) but then he jumped off my lap and marched to bed as agreed and I haven’t heard a peep. I am just so proud of him. He held it together the entire time we were there, the entire way out (it was a little walk) and the journey home, and then he was almost exclusively perfectly behaved once we got home.

We went to the festival Friday-Sunday last year, and while nothing was quite as magical as that first day, I booked our family tickets as soon as they became available this year, ready for Round 2.

So naturally Theo didn’t give a shit about the festival this year. He loved the ice cream van, and he loved the trampoline in the children’s area, but the actual music he could take or leave.

This year, though, the festival was very good for me. Ian took Friday off work, and so I was able to cycle over to see the She Shanties on Friday – an all-female sea shanty group. I love sea shanties (really. I love them.) so I made a special trip and stood surrounded by old people and teenagers, yet all by myself. The music was lovely. Later that night, I went back and met up with friends for the Indigo Girls. I sang Galileo and Closer to Fine and the Wood Song. I felt like a person with a life.

We hauled our kids to the festival all four days, too; it wasn’t just me sneaking out for an hour at a time. Theo was indifferent to the music but I loved being there. More than that, it was significant that there was an ambitious thing we wanted to do – go to a music festival – and we had done it, with minimal drama. The girls were great, the weather was marginal, Theo was disinterested, but I had a great time, and I felt like I’d taken a significant step forward as a parent of three children.

The 90s was a golden age of music.

I went to see the Indigo Girls a week ago, on my first evening out since the girls came home. The whole thing particularly delighted me because my first arena-rock concert, in 1997, was Lilith Fair – Jewel, Indigo Girls and Sarah McLachlan at the Marcus Amphitheatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Almost exactly twenty years later, I went to see the Indigo Girls again. The experience sparked a major 90s lady music kick: I have been listening to Lisa Loeb, Four Non Blondes, and a whole bunch of other gems in the week since (sidenote: I am shocked/appalled at how many lyrics I remember. When I told my husband, he said ‘have you met you? of course you remember that shit’).

There is one thing that has made the Nostalgia Tour 100% better: my daughters seem to love it. They burbled their way through Donna Lewis’ ‘I Love You Always Forever’ (not a good song, by the way, but very good for singing to babies). We did three rousing rounds of Dixie Chicks’ ‘Wide Open Spaces,’ which will give any parent of daughters some Feels. I sat on the floor in front of their bouncy seats and sag the chorus with gusto. And also with jazz hands.

But the song that sealed the deal for me was ‘Wonder,’ by Natalie Merchant. The song was released in 1995, when I was 12 years old, on Tigerlily – one of the first CDs I owned (I didn’t remember that until I looked at the Wikipedia page, and the green and orange CD case brought it back to me immediately).

I’ve had a lot of anxiety about my daughters’ development, because preemies are at an elevated risk for behavioral and developmental disorders (the most likely are autism spectrum disorder and ADHD). Now, with the girls having hit all their milestones at nearly-four-months adjusted, I have relaxed substantially. But (as with any baby), there are no guarantees, and we will know when we know. To say that I have relaxed is more a comment on how tightly wound I was in their early days than how easy-breezy I am now. No one wants their kids to face a struggle.

And so in my heightened emotional state, Natalie Merchant gave me enormous comfort. The lyric ‘know this child will be gifted/with love, with patience and with faith,’ sung to a smiling Daphne on a Saturday morning as we danced around the kitchen, was more reassuring to me than any blog post or statistic I’ve read yet. She’s doing great, you guys. She rolled over today. And love, patience and faith – well, we aren’t the most patient household, but we have love and faith down. It feels like its going to be ok.

 

Welcome to the (Crummy) Club

Not premature babies – just babies.


A couple days ago I was walking over the cycle bridge near the Cambridge Rail Station with both girls when I passed a lanky, heavily tattooed man in his early twenties talking on his mobile phone. As I went by I heard the words ‘they’ve got her on a ventilator, so she won’t have breathing problems when she’s older.’

A few meters past the man, I stopped and did an awkward two step, then turned around and interrupted him.

‘I’m so sorry to interrupt,’ I said. ‘Do you have premature babies?’

‘I do,’ he said, undoubtedly alarmed that he was now being accosted by suburban looking mummies.

‘These guys were 31 weekers,’ I said, eager to be helpful.

‘Mine are 24.’

And this was the moment where I screwed up. I have the world’s worst poker face, and I knew my alarm and concern was washing over my face. ‘They’re doing well,’ he assured me, and I felt more like an asshole with each passing moment.

‘That’s so good.’ I said. ‘Good luck.’ And I moved on, leaving him to his phone call.

I’ve thought about that conversation a lot in the last couple days, for a couple reasons: first, I hope those babies are ok. I have thought about that guy, and his partner, sitting next to those babies’ incubators and watching the monitors the way I did. I have also thought about the ways in which I could have done better. Most of all, I wish I hadn’t put him in the position of having to reassure a stranger. That’s the thing I had dwelt on: I wanted to be helpful but I’m pretty sure I failed. But here is what I would have told him, had I done it right:

From the moment I found out, at about 16 weeks pregnant, that we were facing a particularly difficult pregnancy (even by twin standards) and that the girls would have a tough start, I hunted down success stories on th internet – and there are a surprising number, because the internet is a big place and people like to share happy stories. I joined Facebook groups, read memoirs and blogs, and even managed to talk to an incredibly kind mum of triplets, one of whom was born at 530 grams at 31 weeks and now, age 4, is cognitively just fine: bilingual and counting to 100. Someone told me yesterday about 22 weekers, now 3.5, who show no trace of prematurity.

I know, of course, that my case-study approach has limits. And I also know that my girls are still very much at risk, relative to the general population, of developmental and attention disorders. I relax a little with every passing development: Daphne started blowing raspberries a couple days ago, which hardly makes her a genius, but does seem to indicate that she’s learning and processing as she should. It’s a linguistic development.

Despite my own emotional post-NICU progress, I am still occasionally dismissive of people who had a more straightforward experience – when I encounter people who say ‘baby boy was FINALLY able to come home after two weeks in the NICU, ten days after his sister,’ my first visceral reaction is to blow a raspberry of my own. ‘You have no idea,’ I think – but of course, what do I know? A lot can happen in two weeks in the NICU.

So, to the Dad of Twenty Four Weekers: it is so hard, but you and your partner are not alone. You and I are reluctant members of a special tribe, the NICU Long-Termers. It is a larger group than I ever imagined before I became a part of it, and that is a good thing: we live in a world with many people born prematurely, who weighed less than a bag of sugar at birth but now lead rich, healthy lives: they are bike mechanics or cab drivers or Stevie Wonder, to name a few examples I came across shuttling back and forth to the hospital (I read about Stevie Wonder but I met the first two).

Someday soon, your premature baby will just be a baby, but in the meantime, I know something about what you’re going through, and it sucks, and I’m sorry. I hope your babies are okay, and I hope you are too.

Tandem Feeding is Weird

After a rocky start, I breastfed my first kid for way longer than I ever intended. I thought I might make it to six months; then I thought, I will definitely be done at a year.

In the end, it was Theo who decided he was done: at 16 months, I went away for a few days. When I came back, I lifted up my shirt and Theo reached up and put it back down, like he was pulling down a blind. I tried a few more times, and the same thing happened. And that was it – that was the end of breastfeeding.

I’m lucky it happened that way, because breastfeeding was wonderful for me, but I definitely didn’t want to be the person still boobing her pre-schooler, and I goggled when women in my acquaintance said they hoped to cut their kids off by age three (because, I mean, to each their own. But that’s a whole lot of breastfeeding. No thank you).

This time around, both girls came out ready to go – some of my first interactions with each girl involved them smacking their mouths against my collarbone, desperate to get going. Babies don’t develop a coordinated suck-swallow-breathe reflex until about 34 weeks, and then our hospital has thresholds for how self-sufficient they have to be (high flow level 4 or below, to be specific). So I didn’t start the girls until a few weeks later, and then, the hospital deliberately staggered their feeds so I could do them sequentially.

I vividly remember my first time tandem feeding (I mean, it was only a few months ago). I had a Boppy pillow, which allowed me to hold both girls, each of whom still only weighed about 4 lbs (Fiona more, Daphne less). Once I got Fiona started, a nurse with a trendy brown bob plopped Daphne down and kind of shoved her into me while I adjusted the nipple shield (damn nipple shields) and got her latched. And then we were off.

In the hospital, I usually used the Boppy across my stomach but didn’t worry about any type of nursing cover or modesty shield – in part because tandem feeding was enough of a challenge, and in part because our corner cubicle gave me enough privacy (and anyway, everyone there had seen plenty of breastfeeding). The NICU had folding screens that they could set up for shyer parents; one woman (well, girl, really) set up a breastfeeding fortress every time she nursed her daughter. I just went for it.

Since coming home, though, I have struggled a bit more. My Peanut & Piglet nursing pillow – a formidable piece of infrastructure I have taken to calling ‘the baby shelf’ – has been a lifesaver. But feeding twins is both time- and space-consuming, which makes leaving the house a different proposition altogether.. The parents’ room at John Lewis – which is a lifesaver for many other new parents – has small vinyl chairs that do not accommodate two hungry babies (it is also windowless and smells like poo, so there’s that). I have not figured out a way to feed the girls that does not involve a substantial amount of boob exposure, a couch, and at least 45 minutes of sitting.

The other day, hunched over to feed the girls in bed, one baby head balanced precariously on my thigh, I googled ‘Tandem Breastfeeding’ to see if I was missing a trick. Surely there is a better way – a way that would allow me to leave the house for more than three hours at a time. Right?

There is not a better way.

What I found is that there is a vibrant subculture of women who breastfeed their babies and their kindergarteners simultaneously, and occasionally take professional photos of themselves and their children dressed as wood nymphs with heavy mood lighting. There was not a lot of practical advice for women who want to breastfeed twins without flashing the barista or looking like an image National Geographic rejected for being too sloppy and pathetic.

My google search was ultimately a little frustrating. I am pro-breastfeeding – its been great for my family – but I don’t really feel like a FUCK YEAH BREASTFEEDING type (also, hopefully it goes without saying, Fed is Best). I’m FYB-adjacent. And as such, looking through the images, I felt a little discouraged. I want to breastfeed, but I don’t want it to be a Whole Big Thing every time I try to feed my kids outside the house.

So this is the reality I’ve reluctantly come to accept: there ain’t no way to feed two kids in public without a degree of public spectacle.

Tandem breastfeeding is weird. That is a fact.

 

The Fetal Halfway House

Basically newborns on 20 April


My girls were born in February but were due in April. We spent a total of 9 weeks and 6 days in the NICU (Daphne came home a week after Fiona) and since then I have been trying to figure out the best response when people ask how old they are. If there was only one of them, just giving the adjusted age would do (i.e. they’re 11 weeks). But people generally ask ‘oh, they were on time?’ and then I have to awkwardly walk it back for the stranger in the checkout line/shoe salesperson/other parent at the playground.

When we went to the girls’ development checkups (all good!) the doctor we saw stressed that we needed to think of the girls by their adjusted age rather than their actual age. And I said ‘oh, we know – we have a hard time thinking of them by their actual age.’

The need to go by adjusted age is pretty obvious to anyone who has given birth to babies that looked as undercooked as mine did. They were pinkish and had ears that looked like ears and eyes that opened occasionally (none of which is a given with preemies) but it was clear that they were not normal newborns. And as they were not in my uterus, they also were no longer fetuses. They were somewhere in between. It has felt natural to treat the NICU as a sort of developmental halfway house because the girls came home right around their due date and we almost immediately started acting like normal parents. Within days, we were dropping f bombs when the girls woke up at night while fumbling around to try and shove their pacifiers back in their mouths. They came home with feeding tubes and breastmilk fortifier, but they came home mostly as normal babies: no oxygen, for example.

Preemie babies can be expected to catch up somewhere between the first and (at the extreme end) third year of their life – that is the point at which medical professionals stop correcting their age. In the meantime, I have been working to perfect my response when strangers ask how old they are, and the girls are acting like perfect three month old babies: Fiona discovered her toes this morning and Daphne’s eyes light up when you blow raspberries for her. She flirted outrageously when she met er first non-familial baby this morning.

As the girls get older, its easier to avoid the question of when they were born relative to their due date (already! At three months, it happens so much less than when they were three weeks). And hopefully, by 2019, no one will even think to ask whether they were early or not.

Why I Need New Mum Friends

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A few weeks ago, I met up with some friends who have pre-schoolers and younger children for a Friday afternoon out. I pulled Theo out of nursery early, certain it would be a Grand Adventure, and schlepped one three-year-old and two twinfants to the Botanic Gardens.

Things immediately began to go awry. Moments inside the Gardens, Theo began nagging me to play video games on my phone. Then he asked to go to a different park. Then he licked the snacks the other parents had brought and put them back, declaring them ‘disGUZting!’ (but he ate all the raspberries, because of course he did). Then both girls started screaming and I had to tandem-feed them while yelling at my child not to trample all the rosemary varietals.

The whole event came to a head when the other two boys fell/jumped in the fountain. We ended up with two naked three-year-olds running laps around the centre of the gardens, with one ripping off his Pull-Up and waving it around his head like a helicopter and wiggling his hips at the spectators in the Victorian greenhouse. At that moment, with two sleeping babies and one fully clothed, dry child, I said ‘So I’m gonna go.’ I swooped up my spawn and headed for the door, feeling smug about the fact that I had somehow come out ahead despite the inauspicious beginning and – oh yeah – that whole two babies thing. But I was exhausted, and we had been there barely 90 minutes.

At that point, I realised I needed to make some new friends. I had an incredible baby group the first time around (which is how I have a posse of pre-school parents to hang out with now), but I don’t actually feel the need to take three kids on superfluous excursions far away from home, even if I get to hang out with the women who were so critical to my maternal homeostasis last time.

Thankfully there are tools available to me that didn’t exist three years ago. I downloaded two apps, Mush and Peanut, intended to help new mums connect (either for adult or child friendship — the apps are pretty agnostic as to their purpose). I never used dating apps, but Mush has what I imagine is a pretty standard format for traditional sites. Women (its all women) enter their age, location, age, basic info on their children, and a small bio. They choose from a selection of really cringey hashtags about you as a human and you as a parent, and you’re matched up with other people who live near you, have kids your age or, presumably (based on your hashtags) share your values as a parent. It is mesmerising.

You can filter for people near you, people with kids your age, etc., and then you can add friends and chat (or group chat) within the app. I live in a very fertile neighbourhood, but after about an hour, I had exhausted the possibilities. I added about 8 women as friends and called it a night.

That was about two weeks ago. Since then, I have gone on two friend dates through Mush. One women is an American expat (like I am) and lives just down the street from me. Her son is about a week older than my daughters, and they were in the same room of the NICU at the same time (though he was a NICU tourist – only there for a day). Its not clear to me that we will be besties, but she seemed cool, and we have a follow-up outing planned for later this week. The other date was similar – I liked her; we might hang out again; it wasn’t a total love connection. In both cases, the women lived in my neighbourhood and are people on whome I could presumably, at some point down the line, have a more casual relationship with – someone who could watch the girls in an emergency, or who might be available for spur-of-the-moment coffee.

Peanut, unfortunately, was a total bust. It is like Tinder in that it involves swiping, but I got way less visceral pleasure from it than I expected. I’ve barely opened it since my first foray.

As a friend said, one of the hard parts about mum-friending is that its like an awkward, alcohol-free cocktail party – at which you’re trying to figure out who you’d want to drink with if you had the opportunity. Mush doesn’t make the initial conversations any less awkward but, when I’m meeting up with other parents of infants, we are both clear on what we’re looking for: we want a village. I don’t think anyone is looking for their new bestie, but they want to feel like they’re part of a community, and a village that originates online is still a village.

The That Stupid Pampers Ad

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pampers

Still from the exploitative Pampers ad

Maybe you’ve seen it – a Pampers nappies ad full of premature babies looking impossibly tiny and fragile (one looks a lot like Daphne did when she was a few weeks old) with swelling music and captions like ‘when you arrive early, every day is a battle.’ There are packs of Pampers nappies interspersed throughout the ad and a close up of adults hands holding a doll-sized nappy, for scale.

Pampers has unveiled their micro-preemie nappy – until recently, the smallest available (for commercial or hospital use) were for 2-5 lbs (1-2.5 kilos). They have donated three million tiny nappies to hospitals around the UK and have also sponsored a social media campaign, #powerofbabies, where parents are invited to tag pictures of infants with a raised fist. For every hashtag, Pampers will donate £1 to Bliss, a charity that supports families of NICU babies (‘For babies born premature or sick’ is their tagline).

I have a lot of feels about this ad campaign, which was launched on 26 April 2017 (or at least that’s when the HuffPost published an article about it). They are mostly negative feels.

On the one hand, it is amazing that Pampers has found a way to support micro-preemies, who are classified as babies weighing less than 800 g (1.8 lbs). Daphne was 820 g when she was born, so I have a firsthand understanding of just how tiny that is. The partnership with Bliss is great – they were amazing when we were in hospital. And three million nappies is a lot of nappies.

On the other hand, the ad feels exploitative and gross. It has a triumphant narrative – as, thankfully, most NICU journeys do – but it shows actual footage of preemies and parents in the hospital. Its using people’s personal tragedies for commercial gain. Furthermore, those nappies are not commercially available: they don’t need to be. There is no world in which a 1 kilo baby is anywhere but the NICU. And while Pampers may have made a cracking nappy, we used generic micro-preemie nappies for Daphne with no visible advertising before she graduated to Libero premature newborn nappies, so I can confirm that their claim to have revolutionised micro-preemie diapering with their new nappy does not hold up. And the #powerofbabies tag, which as of today has 1,517 posts on Instagram, is another opportunity for Pampers to leverage premature babes’ tragedy for commercial reasons. The one-minute advertisement has 90k views on YouTube.

In the end, it feels exploitative: the advertisement is leveraging people’s tragedies to hawk a product you can’t even buy. The donations with which it is coupled feel mercantile rather than altruistic. And while I am very much a believer in the #powerofbabies, I can’t quite bring myself to start tagging my Instagram posts accordingly.

 

Two babies at the same motherf*cking time.

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I found out I was pregnant on 4 August, 2017

On 24 August, we had an early scan at a private clinic in north Cambridge. I had had a tumultuous year, fertility-wise, and I wanted to see the heart rate ASAP. Chances of miscarriage plummet once a heart rate is spotted, so I booked an appointment for the middle of the seventh week after my last period – a happy medium between the NHS’ policy of 12-14 weeks and my desire to see the embryo THIS DAMN SECOND. Plus by 7 weeks the heartbeat should be clearly visible so I wouldn’t be setting myself up for any further anxiety. One way or the other, I would know. In the meantime, I went to Asda and bought two cheap pregnancy tests to corroborate the fancy digital one that had clearly said ‘Pregnant, 1-2 weeks.’ The cheap tests came back blue – clearly, irrefutably blue – but they were slow to change and they weren’t, I don’t know, flashing neon, which is the only thing that would have calmed me down.

When I got to the clinic, a compact, no-nonsense woman with an immaculate bob gave me an incredibly firm handshake and sat me down on the ultrasound couch. No sooner had she touched the wand to my stomach than we saw a grain of rice with a pulsating heartbeat flickering in front of us. I wanted to cry with relief. All three of us stared at it for a little while and then the sonographer – who had the air of a Uterus Tour Guide – said ‘ok, let’s just look at the pla…..do twins run in your family?’

And that’s when she showed us an unmistakable second grain of rice with a second, clearly visible heartbeat. She printed a picture and gave us some time to collect ourselves. I spread the picture on my polka-dot skirt and stared at it, waiting for it to feel real.

Now that I’m a Mum of Three

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Didn’t plan on having a litter.

 

When my first child was born, I remember walking dreamily around the hospital room telling a friend that I couldn’t believe something so perfect had come out of me. Objectively, this was not true – kid was a weird looking baby. He was super scrawny, and the first time my sister saw him, she squeaked ‘he looks like an alien!’

(she wasn’t wrong)

Maybe because of the persistent anxiety that defined this pregnancy, or because they were whisked away in incubators while I still felt too shaky from the c-section to touch them, or because two babies is a lot of baby – I didn’t have that this time. I have felt fierce, and protective, and grateful, and scared. But a couple days ago, I looked at my two daughters and said to them ‘I love you so much!’ and was surprised to realise that it was the first time the phrase had come naturally to me.

I learned I was having twins ten months ago, and today, I still struggle to believe that I have three kids – even with all three of them in front of me, it doesn’t seem real. I am still recalibrating my life as a parent – this isn’t the family I imagined, and the third kid is the hardest part. And to be clear, are all the third kid: Theo, when he runs into the bedroom at 6:30 on the nose to ask if he can watch Paw Patrol; Daphne, when she screams because she’s starving but the boob is RIGHT THERE; Fiona, when…well, she’s actually a pretty chilled out baby but she definitely has her moments. I want all three of these kids, but I didn’t want three kids, and I’m still mourning the vision I had for my family, even as I feel myself falling more and more in love with what I actually have.

 

Boobs.

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[Usual disclaimer about how I am not a medical professional, breast feeding peer supporter or anyone with any official knowledge about breastfeeding]


Its kind of lunacy to think that I can contribute anything much to the world of online breastfeeding resources when a. its extremely well-trod territory and b. my qualification is, I’ve done some breastfeeding. Both times I had a stressful start: with my first, mostly because of incompetence; the second time, there was that whole NICU thing.  But both times I gave birth, my baby had a nasal gastric tube. Theo had low blood sugar and, though he was full term, was tiny; he had a feeding tube put in directly after birth and spent an afternoon in Special Care. He was also born with an infection and was floppy and lethargic for the first 36 hours of his life, even by newborn standards.

Both times I was desperate to breastfeed. The first time I just couldn’t get the damn baby to latch. I ended up exclusively pumping after failing, every three hours, to get a latch, then dumping milk and formula down the NG tube into his stomach. The midwives didn’t believe me, but the whole depressing ritual – fail to latch, feed, pump, sterilise – took about two hours and forty minutes, leaving you with twenty minutes before it was time to start again. I have confirmed with other women: no matter how long the health professionals say it should take, it takes 2 hours, 40 minutes. For the first several days, no one bothered to tell me that you can pump on both sides simultaneously. Our hospital doled out single-breast packs (one bottle, one set of vacuum parts) and everyone on the ward shared a communal pool of hospital grade pumps.

On the third night, I called my husband, who was asleep at home, to act completely insane and accuse him of failing to support me in my attempts to breastfeed. I have no memory of what behaviour  of his set  me off, but I do remember that trying to get Theo on the boob had left me shrieking in frustration. I mean,  in the normal course of things, I’m not much of a shrieker.

Anyway. The thing that I originally wanted to impart is this: I have had three occasions where I have had kids on NG tubes and have had to introduce breastfeeding slowly, instead of doing the normal thing where you have a kid, put the baby on the  boob (or the bottle), call it a day and go home. Even if you do have a lot of success with breastfeeding (in which case, pin a rose on your nose) it can still be painful, time consuming, frustrating….my sister said she was glad she knows, from my experience, that feeding is not an easy and magical experience. And it seems obvious to me now, but three years ago I thought that I would have a baby and they would eat. I thought it was something I could prep for with classes and research. I was wrong.

That said, if you are in a situation similar to mine (especially if you have preemies) there are some things I recommend. First, it is important to be proactive, even if your child will not immediately be taking milk (ie if they are on liquid nutrition to start). You can start hand expressing immediately after birth, and – new in the last couple years – medela, the most common supplier of hospital-grade pumps, has created a ‘preemie initiate’ setting that stimulates the breast before hand expressing.

If you want to breastfeed, the best hing you can do is get after it. Milk yourself every three hours – the way a baby would if they were eating. Only expect a tiny amount at first – colostrum, the milk that comes right after birth, is meticulously collected in il syringes. But if it hurts or you aren’t getting any, ask for help: nurses, midwives and care assistants have experience milking new mums, and they’re probably better at it than you are. If your hospital is stressed for resources, ask for a lesson and have your partner help you collect it. It’s not dignified but…well…you get over it quickly. On my fourth day postpartum, I so get out one of the women who had helped me eke out my first drops and proudly showed her my freshly collected 35 mils. I actually got a little choked up – it was a mix of gratitude, pride, relief and Hormones.

Basically the biggest lesson – which I suspect is a theme – is advocate for yourself. Failing that, prep your partner and have them do it for you. There is no way to physically prepare for breastfeeding, so the best thing you can do if it doesn’t come naturally is ask for help – loudly and repeatedly if needed – and be patient with yourself.

And if, after all that, it doesn’t work out or you decide you actually kind of hate it, buy some formula and move on.