You there, with the tiny baby. You there, slogging on in a dream-haze between feed and sleep and feed. You, mama, with this terrifying new position as Centre of the Universe for the baby you made.
You there, crying tears of bone-deep exhaustion into your five-day-old pyjamas.
You warrior woman. You lovely thing. Look at you.
We’re in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week, something I’m sure you haven’t missed in all your 3am zombie-scrolling on Twitter. Breastfeeding is something that tends to arouse strong emotions in all of us, and especially in you.
Maybe it came easily and joyously to you, and you’re a passionate advocate for a woman’s right to feed her baby.
Maybe you fought for it tooth and nail, latch by latch, and you’re proud of how far you’ve come.
Maybe you’re trying everything, asking everyone, and it’s still not really working, and your baby isn’t gaining weight, and every visit to the children’s clinic turns your stomach into a hard knot of guilt and fear.
Maybe it never worked, and your baby’s been drinking formula from the start, and you still find yourself assembling the bottles at baby group with an apologetic air.
There is nothing more personal than feeding the baby you made with the body you have. No wonder we take breastfeeding personally. We just can’t not.
I am here to tell you, 3am zombie-woman, that your worth as a mother is not defined by the milk you make. Your motherhood is in a thousand things. It’s the kisses you squeeze onto chubby cheeks, the way you leap up automatically when you hear a particular I’m very hurt cry, the way they quiet themselves on your chest while you soothe them. It’s the floating turds you scoop out of the bath trying not to throw up, and the sick stains on your shoulders, and the way you heave yourself out of bed for the seventeenth time in a single night. And yes, it’s the gathering up of your baby to your breast as he swallows and swallows in rhythm. Or the scoop-tap-scoop-tap of the formula cup into the bottle you just sterilised yet again, before you plop the teat into your baby’s grateful mouth.
Do you know who doesn’t give a damn whether you make milk or not? Your baby. It’s you they want, just you. Most of being a good mother is making sure you are both healthy and happy, yes, both of you together, and you get to decide exactly how that happens.
If breastfeeding works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Spoiler alert: I can’t tell which of my son’s friends were breastfed or bottle-fed. I haven’t really thought seriously about breastfeeding in a while. My motherhood is now in a thousand different things: toilet trips, time-outs, tantrums, responding to the eight-thousandth ‘MUMMY WATCH THIS’ with a smile in my voice and on my face. I think back to the panic-stricken mother I was, sobbing in cupboards about my inadequate milk supply, and I want to gather her up in a fierce hug and tell her that none of that matters a jot.
I promise you, magnificent pyjamaed thing, that one day soon your motherhood won’t be measured in feeds.
But you know it never was, right? It never was.