Let me clear up one thing, before I go on with the rest of this: I’d never normally re-post or even comment on anything from the D*ily M*il. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you genuinely read it, if it’s your main source of news, I don’t think I want to be friends with you.

However- and it’s a big however- there are some instances in which it’s necessary to draw attention to it. They say the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore it, that they’re looking for attention. I say why should they get all the fun? Sometimes it’s necessary to trump them at their own game. Recently, parent bloggers were in an uproar as ‘journalist’ Anna May Mangan threw up her her hands about the rise of the ‘slummy mummy’.

You probably know the type: ones like The Unmumsy Mum (who was namechecked at length), who proclaim their children to be mini-antichrists, who send said children out as dishevelled riots and rely on chain-smoking, gin and profanities to drag them from sunrise ’til sunset. A parent blogger’s merit, she says, is judged on who can be the ‘most slapdash’. If you dare to say you enjoy motherhood, you’re bottom of the pile. Something is rotten in the state of motherhood, and these scummy, gin-riddled, neglectful wretches are to blame.

I didn’t spend our first child-free date night drinking orange juice

Mangan decries these women, stating that their vulgar lifestyles and constant moaning are an insult to feminism, organised mums and women who can’t have children. There’s nothing funny about being ‘too busy checking Facebook’ to make your children have a proper breakfast. Mangan also throws her hands up at the thought of mothers throwing together frozen meals as a quick fix (sometimes not even defrosted). The worst thing about them, though? They’re not slummy at all. No, in a daring feat of investigative do, she hazards a guess that these women are actually well-educated and middle-class, with well-fed, ruddy cheeked cherubs for offspring.

I can only guess that she did zero research on her subjects if she finds this surprising. Had she ever thoroughly read the books and blogs she was berating, she’d realise that they reek of middle class. Mangan is clearly not someone with an awareness of poetic licence, or indeed exaggeration for comedic effect. I’m not all that enamoured with the phrase ‘slummy mummy’ for one thing. I’m sure it’s meant in jolly japes, but it feels oddly classist. I mean, if the D*ily M*il considered these women ‘slummy’, then what was I? Unmarried, working in customer service, living in a one bedroom rented flat in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow, who took a pregnancy test after a bender in Berlin and- gasp- a bottle feeder? Unmumsy mummies wouldn’t even have looked in my direction to toast hurrah for gin.

Reading The Unmumsy Mum didn’t make me gape in horror. Rather, I felt the opposite. I knew she and I were on an uneven keel when I read that she planned her babies (I didn’t) and was in a good, well-paying, steady career (I wasn’t). No one really thinks of parents like these as ‘slummy’ because they swear and don’t abstain from a drink or three. In the face of most other baby books, though, it was almost a reassurance. It reminded me that it’s OK to be overwhelmed, and have a moan, and swear, and eye-bang a bottle of wine with the kind of lust that got you into this mess in the first place.

Sure, so-called slummy mummy bloggers might not be tanking Tanqueray as soon as they wrestle their little hellions into bed. I seriously doubt that they can’t stay sober long enough to feed and clothe their children. Mangan takes this to the n’th degree, stating that they’re making up the whole damn thing for likes and shares. Umm, hardly. A slight exaggeration for comedy value, perhaps, but wouldn’t it be dull if all they offered was the minutiae of their day? What they have done, though, is offer a different take from traditional parenting books. The kind that enforce routine, order and military precision (Gina Ford, I’m looking at you).

Motherhood has long been an exalted undertaking, a miraculous blessing that we should fall to our knees and be thankful for. God forbid we say anything about feeling scared or overwhelmed, or that the first few weeks with a newborn are anything less than hallowed. The fact that women are making public their fears, frustrations and pitfalls chips away at the veneer of perfect motherhood. It might not be their verbatim experience, but it’s a damn sight more relatable than perfect celebrity mums who snap back into their pre-baby clothes. No one tells the absolute truth of what motherhood is like, but they’re offering a version I can concur with.

I’ve written before about how my initial reaction to impending motherhood wasn’t sheer joy. That scared me more than anything else. The thought of pregnancy, labour and childbirth didn’t faze me. I was terrified of the fact that I wasn’t turning cartwheels at the sight of those two blue lines. What if this was how I’d always feel? What if I resented the baby for what it was? I was at an age where friends were settling down and trying for a family, and some weren’t having much success. I knew of people who’d been so desperate to fulfil their familial wish that they’d opted for IVF. I hadn’t planned any of this. When I thought about all of those people who’d struggled to conceive, I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to be pregnant.

Pregnancy brought with it a resurgence in blogging and I sought out other parenting books and blogs with aplomb. There, I found books like The Unmumsy Mum and How To Have A Baby And Not Lose Your Shit. Sure, there are plenty of mums who are always on the ball, planning meals and appointments and enjoy doing so. The point that Mangan missed was that being one type of mum isn’t a ‘fuck you’ to the other. I eventually want to go back to work, but I have the utmost respect for people who want to be stay at home mums. My house is clean(ish) but untidy, my sink is a permanent rotation of clean and dirty dishes and I sat down to write this after washing butternut squash puree out of my hair. I admire those people who can maintain a child and a home, because I can’t. Hats off to ya. Sure, I get frustrated when Lucas cries endlessly despite trying everything to settle him. I like the (very) rare occasion where we leave him with grandparents and I can get in about a large rosé. It doesn’t make me a bad mum. It makes me imperfect, but what doesn’t?

Bloggers like Sarah Turner help to remind us, in their own way, that motherhood can be hard. More importantly they tell us that it’s OK to admit that. However, for every dirty nappy anecdote there’s another heartfelt one about loving her children, or how hard it was growing up without a mother. Being an imperfect mum doesn’t mean I don’t love my son. He never has to go without. There’s always an abundance of food, nappies and clothes in our house. And at the end of the night, when one large rosé has turned into last orders, I’m the first to get my phone out and flip through the 1500 pictures of him (and counting). After all, children don’t care that your house is clean, whether you’re wearing make up or whether you’re nursing an ‘adult headache’ and bright lights and noise bring physical pain. They don’t care that you have your meals prepped for the week and they could eat them from your sparkling floor. All children care about is that you love them. If you can offer them that, you’re doing OK.

Things have been quiet ’round these parts lately, and in all honesty I’ve needed the break. It’s reignited my need to write, as opposed to doing it because I felt I had to. It’s also- shamefully- been pushed to the bottom of the pile of Things I Have To Do. What else could be so important, you ask? Well, we’ve been busy adulting hard. We’ve been packing, cleaning, embroiling ourselves in mortgages and temporarily decamping to our respective parents. The reason?

WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!

Yeah, if ‘mortgage’ and ‘packing’ weren’t enough of a hint, we’re now officially homeowners. It’s taken two months from seeing it initially but we’re in. And we’re staying. It’s a whole new chapter and yet another massive change from where we were before. I still can’t believe that we have somewhere to call our own, after years of renting.

As exciting as it is, it’s also tinged with melancholy. I know these are super first world problems, and we’re lucky to have a roof over our heads regardless of where. I’m not complaining. It’s just that leaving our first flat was a little harder than I thought.

I’ve lived away from home, on and off, for ten years and always had a fondness for Glasgow’s south side. The west end was tired and pretentious, and I’d already lived way down east. The south side was new, uncharted territory. I knew bits and pockets but had never had any connection to it. When the chance of a flat came up, Ally and I leapt on it.

We’d been together for, at the time, two and a half years. We were ready to move in, although we hadn’t really looked. A flat came up at the perfect time, and we took it. Boom. It wasn’t in the most desirable area.  Mentioning a move there merited a sharp intake of breath. For us, that meant it was cheap and we weren’t complaining. It was busy, noisy, close to town and it was easier for work. We could walk into town as quickly as we could walk to the park and take in the views. It might not have been perfect, but it was perfect for us.

Our flat was the basis for a lot of firsts. As well as being our first place together, it was a new area for us to explore. It was the base from which we went on our first holiday together. We put up our first Christmas tree together there and carved our first Hallowe’en pumpkins. It was where I found out our first child was on the way. It was where we brought our son home from the hospital and it was Lucas’s first home. There were a lot of good memories in that flat. Friends could pop round, we could go out and not worry about getting transport home.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot I wish we could’ve done. The wallpaper peeled off of the bumpy corporation plastering, and we only had one bedroom. The single glazed windows rattled in their frames, icy tendrils of wind whipping through the cracks in the wood. When Lucas was born with jaundice, I couldn’t put him at the window to get some sunlight because of the draught. On numerous occasions, mice snuck their heads under the door or we caught a flash of them out of the corner of our eyes. We found ways around it, though. We’d wrap him up and walk him in the pram for hours, getting him sunlight and fresh air. It did us all good to get out, and we would talk for ages on everything and nothing. When we got home we put on the heater, piled the sofa high with blankets and cosied up in the living room. We painted the windows and Ally laid the flooring in the kitchen and we made it as homely as we could.

Having a son made us reassess what was important. We weren’t going out at all, our families and friends with kids lived far away. The noisy streets, dirty with rain and pollution, weren’t what we wanted our son to run around on when he was old enough to do so. We wanted space to live, a place where our little family could grow, that we could call our own. Buying our house happened so quickly that we didn’t really have time to think on the hugeness of it ’til the sale had gone through. It hit me a lot harder than I thought. I was ready to move on. I knew that what we were doing was for the best. However, there was still a bit of me that mourned the life we were leaving behind. I’d forged a routine for us. Lucas and I had our routes that we walked, and every time I went out I tried to find somewhere different for us to go. It was silly, sure, but as much as I was excited to move I was sad for the memories we would leave behind. Everyone kept saying “you must be so excited”. While I was, I felt like I couldn’t say that it was also tinged with sadness. Like I could only be looking ahead and wasn’t allowed to miss what I was leaving. That is, until one of our walks put it into perspective for me.

One day, I took Lucas around Queen’s Park when he woke up in the pram. I took him to the top of the flagpole to sit and feed him. As I did, I looked across the city skyline all the way to Ben Lomond. By that time he was asleep, nestled in my arms with no awareness of the world around him. It was then that I realised that, as much as I would remember that moment, he’d have no recollection at all. His memories were ahead of us. He needed a home where he could play, be safe, go out in the garden and run around with is friends. I wanted him to be able to walk to school without crossing any roads. I could still look back fondly on what we’d lived before, but that didn’t make the future any less exciting. Anyway so much had changed for us in the last year that it’d be nice to finally have a permanent base.

After weeks of living between our parents’ homes, we finally got our keys last week. The place is still stacked high with boxes but it’s coming along nicely. Just as when he was born, our new routine is a mystery. Our new memories are unknown. The good news is that this time around, we’ve got all the time in the world to make them.

 

…what would I tell you?

There are so many ‘get to know me’ posts out there. Ten random facts, seasonal tags, my favourite […] and, of course, the ubiquitous A-Z of me. I’ve tried to write some before but they always felt a little forced to me. I love reading them though. They appeal to my inner nosey bugger. My problem is that I just never felt like I could drum up enough interesting facts, certainly nothing that I’d want broadcast on the internet. A recent discovery courtesy of Eleanor and Lucie totally resonated with me though. Mostly because it involves my favourite beverage.

How many times have you met up with someone ‘for a coffee’ and ended up sitting for hours putting the world to right? Some of the biggest decisions and realest conversations of my life have been made over a cup a’ joe. There’s something about the smell of a fresh coffee that stirs my senses like nothing else, and makes me so inclined to sit down for a chat. On that note, put the kettle on (or get me an Americano and I’ll square you up) and I’ll tell you all about it.

If we were having coffee I’d ask for it black, two spoons, no sugar, no milk. I’d tell you that I started drinking it when I was a poor student, and milk and sugar were luxuries (but roll-ups and four packs of Strongbow were necessities). At first I studied film studies, which I left after a year and a half, before going back to study film production and finally a Master’s in Creative and Cultural Business. I’d lament on how coffee got me through student film shoots, and fuelled my Master’s assignments and finally dissertation. During deadline season we’d hole up in an empty classroom, sit in a circle and pass books across the tables, stopping only for a coffee and cigarette break. I’d sit there for hours, then go home and retreat my room with a coffee to power through another thousand words. I’d no doubt sigh as I thought about how hard I worked only to wind up in a vicious cycle of customer service jobs.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that I studied events, branding and public relations, and that it was my dream (or rather is my dream) to work in that creative capacity. However, timing was not on my side and I never quite caught that fish. Instead, I poured my energy into volunteering, kicking up my blog again and preparing for parenthood. That I made creative outlets for myself when I couldn’t find it through work, that I’ve gone down a different path to what I thought- one that will, I hope, bring more opportunities my way (although I’m not sure what they might be).

If we were having coffee I would say that I’m actually quite proud of some of my blogging output. That writing is the one constant in my life, regardless of how long I go between doing it. It’s the one thing I’ve always done without too much difficulty. Once I’m in the process, it’s great, but writer’s block strikes more than I’d care to admit. My confidence in my own blog is picking up, and in growing it (albeit at a snail’s pace) I’ve come in contact with some pretty great people, writers who continually inspire me and push me to do better, even if they don’t know it. I’d say that I’m comfortable writing for myself, but that writing for other people is a different matter. I devour magazines and websites with a good long read to get stuck into, but rarely think that could be me. Sometimes I see writers’ communities like The Olive Fox and wish I could pitch something that people would want to read. Maybe someday I will.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that I want to write more, to draw more and create more, but that my time management sucks. It’s always been pretty lax but in recent years- nay, months- it’s gotten considerably worse. So bad that when a time is suggested, I automatically add an hour on to when I’ll get there. When I think about all the stuff I want to sit down and do, it’s kind of scary. I wish I had the drive to match my ambition. For now, some caffeine will do the trick.

If we were having coffee, the time management chat would lead me into my CBT class that I’ve been doing for the last few weeks. I thought it was a postnatal group for new mums to meet up, but turns out it’s a mood management group for people living with depression. I don’t know if that’s me exactly (I’ve never been to a doctor about it, anyway). However it’s taught me to think about my thoughts, be mindful of when certain thoughts occur, to take stock of my surroundings and break out of the cycle that I’ve found myself in. Part of that is managing my week around new or alternative behaviours- doing something new, or even doing old things that I’d forgotten I loved. Things that seem trivial when work and parenting and mortgages are also in the ether, but things that keep me more grounded than any of those things.

On a lighter note, if we were having coffee, I’d talk about my love of travel. Before our son was born, Ally and I went to Berlin and planned a whole host of other trips. I’ve never been the type to want to find myself travelling across Asia for weeks at a time. What I do love is seeing Europe, its cities and cultures, packing in as much as we can for the short bursts that we’re there. I’d love to do the great American road trip, travel from one coast to another and end up in Hollywood, explore the hypnotic richness of South America or head up north to Canada. It was our plan for the next year or so. In hindsight, perhaps a baby was a blessing in disguise since America’s coat is on a shaky nail. Maybe in four years…

If we were having coffee I’d say that my Californian ambition comes from a love of movies, a nostalgia for an old Hollywood that I’ll never know. I’d ask your top five favourite films, because no one has just one. I’d ask your favourite genre, actor, director, moment in cinema. Apart from writing, it’s my other big passion and, like writing, my cinema attendance fluctuates dramatically. I’d say that, in spite of my fairly expansive home collection, I’ve missed out on a lot of the classics. From then on I’d talk about documentaries, real life, true crime, a fascination with serial killers and conspiracies and how it all grew from staying up late as a ten year old, secretly watching The X Files with the sound turned down.

If we were having coffee I’d comment on how nice it was to be in adult company, after spending most of my days with a baby whose conversational skills are limited to gurgling and crying. I’d tell you that it’s a treat to chat to someone who can not only listen but respond, too. He’d probably be there, depending on the time of day. I’d tell you that finding out about him was a huge surprise, but one that I ultimately feel will be the making of me. He’s made me reassess what’s important to me, to realise the joy of slowing down, appreciating the little things and not letting any moment pass unnoticed. He’s grumpy and drooly thanks to hitting the teething stage, but when he smiles at me he makes me feel like the most important person in the world.

 

2017 is the Scottish year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and it’s definitely something we’re not short of. Not only is the country spoiled with a wealth of scenery, it’s also home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ever since I was wee I’ve had a love of history and exploring, ably helped by my mum and dad taking us to castles, heritage sites, landmarks and museums around the country.

Thanks to this, I was/am/will always be a massive history nerd. I devoured any information I could read about historical landmarks, so that when I went I understood its relevance (fun fact: I made a documentary of my trip to Linlithgow Palace when I was nine, putting me way ahead of the vlogging game). It’s been a lifelong passion for me, which has shaped my interests personally and academically. Of course, I didn’t understand the importance of culture and heritage as a kid. I just knew that these places nurtured my imagination and brought what I’d read about to life, and none more so than New Lanark Mill.

New Lanark Mill is nestled in the Falls Of Clyde, less than an hour outside Glasgow. Like a lot of 18th century villages, New Lanark centred around its cotton mill. Its residents lived, learned and worked in the village. However, unlike many other villages of the same nature, mill owner Robert Owen believed that the most efficient workers were happy workers. Key to their happiness, he believed, was access to education, healthcare and good food. Owen was what you’d call a “Utopian philanthropist”, concerning himself with worker well-being at a time of industrial revolution.

At the time it was a pretty innovative notion (let’s face it, it’d be an innovative notion today). As a result of its legacy, the Mill was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and the village still thrives today. I remember going as a child, but I don’t think I’ve been down that way in about twenty years. It was surprising how much of it I remembered (being a heritage site, there’s not a huge amount you can change, I guess). As soon as we got out of the car, the first thing that strikes you is the setting. The site is based within a conservation area, and the first thing you notice is trees for miles.

We were welcomed with tickets and a little passport which we had to get stamped in each of the five areas of the Mill. The first thing you come across is the Annie Macleod Experience: you hop aboard a pod that transports you through time, offering a history of the mill through the eyes of ten year old mill worker Annie. When the little girl’s voice came through the headsets asking “do you believe in ghosts?“, I remembered the shiver I’d gotten the first time I boarded the ride. It was strange, feeling like both a recent and distant memory. I’d forgotten the specifics of it, so it felt like a new experience watching the ghosts of the past swirl around us, bringing alive the stories of real people that could’ve easily been forgotten.

From then on we went into the mill room to see a real one in action, got a shot at hopscotch and learned some history behind Robert Owen and the establishment of the mill. In all honesty, I have no idea how a mill works but it was really interesting seeing one in action. The mill is still used to this day to make wool, which you can also take home. Textile production is a big part of Scottish heritage, and I found something quite reassuring about it. I think there’s some comfort to be found, in the time of fast fashion and mass production, that there’s still a demand for local, homespun, quality goods.

From then we took the lift up to the roof garden, the views from which were stunning. It was a bitterly cold day and we were short of time, so we didn’t get to take a trek along to the Falls Of Clyde but the views were enough to tick us over ’til next time. The Roof Garden is the largest of its kind in Scotland, contains over 70 different kinds of plants and is decorated with plaques featuring quotes by Owen. After the noise of the mill downstairs, the Roof Garden was like stepping away from the world.

After a quick refresh (the café is pretty decent, by the by) we made our way outside to the Old School House. For having such a large population at its peak, the village is fairly compact which makes it easy to navigate. Seeing the old classroom set up as it would’ve been was pretty cool, and I even had a shoddy attempt at cursive using the slates. Unusually for the time, the school was set up for both children and adults: children would learn during the day while adults (and kids who worked in the mill) could attend after a shift. It included a creche for young children and acted as a hub of activity for the community (it frequently hosted dances and concerts as well as having a library).

Across the way was an exhibition commemorating the men of the village who had fought in World War One, the women who worked in the mill producing textiles for the war effort and the efforts of village fundraisers. It’s hard to imagine the scale of loss suffered by villages like these and exhibitions like this help to keep the memory alive. It’s especially important as there are no more survivors left– it’s up to us to make their story heard and their faces visible. Seeing photographs, family treasures, handwritten letters and personal testimonies made it seem so much more poignant- and tragically pointless.

Most of the mill workers’ houses have been turned into either owner-occupied flats or form part of a Housing Association, with the ambition of keeping the village as a living community. Luckily, they haven’t all been modernised: our next stop after the school were the preserved examples of housing from the 1930s and 1820s. What struck me the most was that the houses were apparently generously spaced and in good condition for the time. It consisted of a kitchen (OK, a pretty big one, but still) and a little bedroom off to the side. The 1820s house consisted of even less: a singl’ end style property could see ten people crammed into one room. It put our current living situation into perspective- seeing the way people lived back then made me feel a little bad for complaining about our one bedroom flat. While the style of housing wasn’t all that different to anywhere else, it was the conditions they were kept in that set them apart. The mill houses had electricity and running water, and latterly indoor toilets- practically unheard of at the time.

We just about squeezed in the village shop before we had to leave: the shop was a co-operative, set up so that villagers could have access to fresh produce at lower prices than in the local towns and cities. To this day it sells Fair Trade products, including New Lanark’s own-recipe ice cream. The mill also still produces its own wool, which is pretty impressive given its inception was over 200 years ago.

Places like New Lanark are crucial to our understanding of social history. It’s one thing to study it or read about it, but seeing it first hand brings it vividly to life. It makes history tangible, shows us where we came from. The mill and other places like it were milestones in social justice. Its emphasis on humane conditions was innovative at the time and remains so today. Access to education and healthcare are now recognised as fundamental human rights, and places like New Lanark realised this in a time when workers’ rights were unheard of. The layout of the place is easy to walk through, picking up information on the various attractions as you go. Lucas might have been a little young to appreciate it, but it was still nice to have a little family day out and take in some culture. There’s so much to see that we didn’t even have a chance to get around it all in one day. We’ve still got the Falls Of Clyde to explore, and we’re already looking into going back in the summer for the Brick City Lego exhibition. Who says history has to be boring?

We were invited to spend the day at New Lanark Mill as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 celebrations, but my opinions are all mine.

  • The Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology celebrations are running across the country throughout the rest of 2017 and you can find out more here.
  • More information on UNESCO and its world heritage sites across the UK can be found here.

Confession time.

One time, I left a mum and baby class without staying to feed my son even though I knew he was about due one.

He woke up when we left, as he normally does if he hasn’t taken a feed in a few hours. I hurriedly said my goodbyes and made haste for the door. We trundled through the park to the post office, that I had to get to before 5. It was half 4. I could see him gurning, prayed that it wouldn’t escalate before we got home. Of course it did though. He started screaming right at that point where I was closer to my destination than to home.

“Aw, someone’s hungry”, commented the woman who served me in the post office, as he spat out his dummy and screamed.

The woman who held the door for me gave me a sympathising glance as I hustled him into the cold, hoping that might calm him down. But no. He continued screaming.

He screamed as I pushed the pram in the wrong direction and had to stand in the street with my phone out trying to figure out how to get home. He kept screaming as I hit upon the brainwave of feeding him in the safe, neon foyer of the New Victoria Hospital, a safe space, where I’d attended my midwife appointments and antenatal classes. I knew I could sit and feed him comfortably and without judgement. It was one of those piercing, sore-sounding, slightly pathetic screams that only newborn babies have. People tutted, gave us the side eye, dodged the pram to get by us without making eye contact. We made it to the hospital, he had his feed and we could make our way home.

The reason I didn’t want to feed him in the mum and baby class left me feeling ashamed. I didn’t want to feed him because he takes a bottle, the mum and baby class was a breastfeeding workshop and I was embarrassed. Lucas slept all the way through it while I tried to explain how hard and frustrating and tiring feeding had been. The other mums nodded and said yes, they were exhausted too, their precious darlings breastfed too much. One mum dominated the conversation humble-bragging about how tiring it was feeding a newborn and a twenty month old at once. I had to stop myself from telling her it clearly hadn’t had any positive effects on her twenty month old’s behaviour, as the little shit wrenched a succession of toys from the hands of an eight month old baby.

Some mums were nice, but they still had their own judgements. I said that our midwife had advised me to give Lucas pre-mixed formula as a top up. They tutted, turned up their noses, they shouldn’t be telling you that. They overlooked the fact that we’d been told this because Lucas had lost 13% of his body weight and had to be readmitted to hospital. It didn’t take into account his as-then-undetected tongue tie which meant he couldn’t latch on to breastfeed and was pretty much starving. This group felt like a last lifeline, though. All of the mum and baby workshops, baby cafés and support groups were for breastfeeding. There was no bottle-feeding support. If I couldn’t breastfeed him, where was I going to go? How would I meet other mums?

It turns out there are plenty of other options- it just didn’t feel like it at the time.

My post about Lucas’s first month, and a post on Instagram, detailed our experience with feeding and the tongue tie clinic and I got a lot of feedback from mums who’d been through similar. I still couldn’t find a lot of support for bottle feeding, though. Even buying formula online had a “breastfeeding is best!!!!” disclaimer slapped on it. Sure, the NHS website had a step-by-step guide to covering the basics, but the support is notable by its absence. The difference in menu options says a lot…

There’s bottle-feeding information, yeah, but look how- pardon the pun- formulaic it is. How to sterilise bottles, how to make up formula, what types are available. On the topic of breastfeeding, there’s a wealth of information about how to feed, what positions are best, feeding your baby in public, trouble-shooting, even testimonies from other mums. There are no testimonies from bottle-feeding mums.

I know, I know. I’ve seen the posters, read the literature, spoken with health professionals. I know “breast is best”. Bottle-feeding was never my first choice. For one thing, well, the health benefits. For another, the convenience. Like I could take my baby out for hours and not have to worry about making up feeds because they were right there. And yeah, the crucial factor for me, it’s free. Formula is EXPENSIVE and you only go through more of it because, let’s face it, your baby’s only going to get bigger.

What message does it send, though, that bottle-feeding is treated like such an afterthought even by our health service? I don’t mean this to descend into a breast vs. bottle debate, and it shouldn’t be. However, the drop in mums who breastfeed goes from 81% in hospital to 55% after six weeks. Surely they can’t all be ‘just lazy’? A study on baby café services in the UK concluded that unrealistic expectations from antenatal services left mums unprepared for the reality of feeding.

In my experience this was absolutely true. I wanted to breastfeed, so I never felt pushed into it by antenatal services. However, at no point did they say just how hard it’d be. I seem to remember there being talk of it being a new skill that you had to learn, but it revolved around the first couple of days in hospital. Lucas’s first feed, in the hour after he was born, went without a hitch. I mistakenly thought that was it. It was a different story at home. He couldn’t feed or get the energy to feed and so he cried. The more he cried, I cried, and the whole process just felt torturous.

We took him to the tongue tie clinic at the Royal Hospital for Children, in the hopes that it’d help him latch on. It didn’t, and we went back to the same routine. In between this he was happily taking formula. He was steadily putting on weight and the health visitor commented on how alert he was. I tried to express but got less and less each time. It came to a head when he screamed even before he tried to latch on. “What the fuck DO YOU WANT?” I yelled. Then it hit me. I was shouting at a baby for something that he couldn’t help or understand. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

This post by the brilliant Not So Smug Now was really eye-opening. I didn’t know that it was illegal to advertise formula. The government, it seems, views formula in the same regard as tobacco. The World Health Organisation isn’t too keen on it either, believing that its use should only be considered following an informed and impartial decision.

It’s a good thing that breastfeeding is being encouraged, as is the push to normalise it in public. Studies have shown that a woman’s decision to feed can be based on environmental factors, and that young mums are more likely to bottle-feed as it’s deemed as socially acceptable (although a big part of me thinks this is due to a confidence issue as much as societal). Expectant mums should absolutely encouraged to breastfeed, or at least be made aware of its benefits. However, if mums do choose (or have) to bottle feed, similar information and support should be offered.

MP Alison Thewliss published a bill last week on the marketing of formula feeding. She’s done a lot of work in promoting breastfeeding, and I agree with many of the points, but I do have some concerns. I definitely think it should be tested independently under scrutiny, and companies should be held accountable for misleading promotion. Independent findings should also take precedence over formula-sponsored ‘research’. It’ll allow mums to make a more informed decision regarding feeding choices, which can only be a good thing. I think follow-on and ‘hungry baby’ milks are a complete con, and shouldn’t be marketed as a supplement to weaning (we bought Lucas ‘hungry baby’ milk only to be told that it’s not more dense in nutrients. It just bulks up more).

Plain packaging feels like an easy target, like formula should be something that’s hidden away out of sight- much like tobacco products. Same goes for not allowing it to be discussed in mum and baby clubs. Excluding support for mums because of their feeding choices isn’t going to help them feel included and supported. I doubt that’s the intent, but who knows. You can read the bill here and make up your own mind. These measures aren’t going to increase breastfeeding awareness. That can only happen through education, continued research into feeding choices and better access to feeding consultants and postnatal care.

What I do know is that we need to refocus our own scrutiny. 50% of new mums in England and Wales feel that their mental and emotional wellbeing was overlooked due to a lack of access to midwifery care. In 2016, Citizens’ Advice reported a 58% increase in expectant mums raising concerns over employee rights. There is still a gulf between maternity pay and maternity allowance that can cause anguish for mums on zero hour contracts or who are self-employed.

Instead of shaming mums for their feeding choices, let’s direct that energy elsewhere. It’s a crazy notion, but let’s support them instead. Being a new mum can be an extremely lonely, vulnerable and emotional time. Lucas was referred to the tongue tie clinic a second time, but they said there wasn’t really much to be done. “If the bottle works for you, keep doing that- just enjoy him”. That’s exactly what we’ve done. As long as a baby is fed, clothed and loved, it’s no one else’s business what teat it prefers.

Useful Links

The NCT’s advice on bottle feeding includes how to prepare feeds and deal with common feeding problems.

The fantastically funny (and honest) ladies over at Frank About Feeding talk about all things breast and bottle- no prejudice here.

Fearless Formula Feeder, aka author Suzanne Barston, offers a refreshing look at formula feeding, with enough support and information to help you make an informed decision.

You can keep up with official developments from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding.

NHS Scotland has a with lots of resources.