Imagine the scene: gruesome community room with regulation off-white scuffed walls. A haggle of young mothers gathered on the grubby carpeted floor. Not quite your average mother's meet - note the prevalence of homemade tofu snacks made with brown rice and lentils and chubby kids in slightly off the wall fair trade clothes. It's kind of weird here. Yet here I am - trying to fit - trying to slink in, under the wire, obscuring my vampiric eyes that you could drown in and instead pretending I am one of them. Here I am: engaged in an heroic battle to survive whilst everyone else is just here to drink tea.
I want to admit it early on, in case you get bored of reading or you're worried you're not so brave, and the prospect frightens you away. THIS WAS A HUGE MISTAKE. If you have dead kids, do not attempt to reconnect with the world by taking tea with slightly freaky over-baked zealots. Even if you agree with some of what they say. I breastfed both my kids. Yes, I know there isn't much practical support. Yes, people do look at you slightly strangely if you feed for an extended period. However if your child has died, support groups for other shit are not for you. Trust me.
Fuck - it was bloody awful. First there were the other no-dead-kids' mothers. They were fucking irritating. How long can you spin out a conversation where the only content is my baby wakes me up a few times a night and I am tired? Bloody hours and hours, that's how long. Guess how much sympathy I have for parents whose healthy babies wake them up a few times? Well - more than you'd think... a little maybe... but c'mon..
Then there was the leader... a slightly outlandish woman with grown up kids, who'd breastfed 20 years ago and still felt the need to spend a morning a month talking about it. She was even more irritating than the rest of them - all she could do was go on about her buggering empty nest. "I know it seems hard now" she would chide "but this time is so short, this time when they really need you so intensely". Fuck me - imagine the angst of having kids that grow up and leave home and become less interested in calling you? How bloody awful for you.
I would sit and nod politely. Occasionally it would become too difficult, and my vampire blood would spill on the carpet. Like the time they wanted to say how stupid the cosleeping advice was in respect of cot death because the increased odds are fractional. I coslept with both my babies. I have no problem with mothers making that choice. Yet, I found myself saying: "it doesnt' matter how small the increased risk is if your baby is the one that dies". I know this shit. I have a grave to visit. Imagine how that went down.
It all ended badly. I have a little cameo I could tell, but I don't want to miss the point - or the 2 points I learnt. The first point is, if you're a breastfeeding bereaved mother don't go to La Leche Meeting. They will only make you feel bad. The second point is I think it helped me figure out why I left so often wanting to kick their heads in.
You see, the thing about parenting rhetoric is that so much of it seems to be about delayed gratification. Pit your sleepless nights against the prize of a breastfed baby that will have better health for the rest of his or her life. Baby-led weaning to ensure he won't end up obese when he is 50. Co-sleep so that's she more confident at University. Select a school where the exam results look good. Think of the future, even if you're tired and miserable now.
Yet what does that mean if your child is life-limited and doesn't have a future? What does it mean if your child has already died. Does it mean that it didn't matter that I breastfed Catherine? I breastfed her exclusively for six months. I weaned her onto organic food. I was feeding her when she died at almost 4 years old of a routine childhood illness that most (formula fed) babies tackle without drama. The ladies at the La Leche league want you to consider this unlucky. After all, all my parenting decision were based on the presumption she would grow up. True - they were. I was different then. Yet I am the mother of a little girl who didn't grow up, and that is no longer my take.
I look on the world with my new vampire eyes. I am the mother of a dead child. It is not something that happened to my family years ago: a sad moment in the past that occasionally I am drawn back to. It is there all the time. It is part of me. I am a bereaved parent. I carry my loss with me in every breath.
Understanding as I do the fragility of life, I just don't buy this delayed gratification crap any more. I don't get it. This is your life. The only life you will have. There are only the moments that we have together. Of course we look to make decisions that are sound and good, but to do so at the expense of the present is too high a price to pay. Remembering Catherine, holding her, cradling her, nursing her, making her feel loved and secure - that was always the point, even if at the time I didn't know that. Even if I was tired and grumpy and thought I was protecting her from obesity in middle age.
I get it now. I really get it.