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Interview 14

Age at interview: 34
Brief Outline: Talks about "natural" birth and breastfeeding; pressure from Social Services and health professionals to conform to expected behaviours; conflicting advice, prolonged breastfeeding and the difficulties of weaning a toddler.
Background: At the time of interview, this 34 year old, unmarried, White British woman was breastfeeding her almost 4 year old daughter. She was a baby yoga teacher.

More about me...

This woman is an ex-drug user from a deprived area with a record of depression. She 'weaned' herself from drugs during pregnancy with the aid of antidepressants, methadone, energy work (getting in touch with her chi), swimming and yoga. She talks about the pressure ('bullying') that she was under from Social Services to regulate her life in order to keep her baby. She took a 'natural' approach to birth and breastfeeding allowing her baby the breast whenever she wanted it and did not experience any problems. Mother and baby have always slept in the same bed and the baby had access to the breast during the night. She thinks that this unlimited breastfeeding and the sweets that her daughter eats may be responsible for the child's 'rotten stumps' of teeth. Her daughter began solid foods (pureed fruits and vegetables) 'at the normal time' but now, as a toddler, refuses most foods except for pasta, sweets and doughnuts. She is worried about perpetuating the eating disorder from which she and her mother have both suffered and daunted by the prospect of providing three meals a day. They are now breastfeeding morning and night only. She talks about other people's reactions to her prolonged breastfeeding. This mother is currently depressed and feels the need to take prescription antibiotics to prevent herself from using street drugs again but does not want her daughter to become a 'Prozac junkie'. She wishes to wean but is finding this difficult as her daughter thinks that breastmilk is her right. She has limited her daughter's access to the breast whenever she has had a smoke allowing her to feed for ten or twenty counts on each side and describes this 'as like a weaning process'. They have discussed the situation and made an agreement that they will stop breastfeeding on her daughter's fourth birthday.

 

She did not find the professionals that she dealt with very helpful and is critical of the...

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How long did you stay in hospital, do you remember?

Ten days, I had to stay ten days, 'cause of the issue of flipping, letting my daughter's dad see her. So, basically my specialist midwife said to me, “Mind your p's and q's” when, when she heard that [partner] was outside. And so I assumed that, that's alright I can go out as long as I minded my p's and q's, nobody told me any.

What does that mean?

Nobody told me anything about if you take your baby out to show him we'll probably get a care order, but you know what happened? When they found out that I'd gone out with the baby the midwife who'd just told me, “You can go and see him for a little while but mind your p's and q's”. Suddenly made a big show and came back and got my file open, wrote down that she'd advised me not to see him, she made a fuss about going on about the guy on the door saying, “Oh you shouldn't have let this happen, you can lose your job”. Big meeting, the Social Worker comes down, the Social Worker's really happy 'cause the Social Worker's been saying, “She should, I should get a care order all along”, and like I've been fighting all the way with groups of people persuading them, “No I'm [laughs] I'm going to be an alright mum, I'm going to yoga, blah-blah-blah,” and the Social Worker's really pissed off that I managed to keep the baby before the, you know, in the pre-birth protection meeting. So she was like really gleeful, you see the glint in her eye when, when suddenly, you know, she's got the evidence that she can get the care order. I'm sitting there like really miserable because I'm totally lost you know? And then when we went to London and went to the protection meeting I remember vividly being in this protection meeting I'm seething with this midwife for landing me in it and she's there, and she's trying to pretend it's all, that she didn't do that to me, she just sort of.

And how old is your baby at this stage?

She's about four months.

And fully breastfeeding?

Fully breastfeeding and I remember her letting rip, you know? And I was, I might have even breastfed her at that child protection conference, I don't know if I did or not I probably, I was probably too scared to. But I know when she let rip, I don't even know I might've breastfed after she let rip, I don't know, it wouldn't surprise me if that's what happened, or I just gave her a cuddle, I think I was too embarrassed to breastfeed in front, there was just so many people there, you know?

And what was the outcome of that meeting then?

I got her off the protection register, and like they were saying, “Oh like it's very unusual for a kid to get off the protection register after four months”.

Why do you think that was?

Why do I think? Well 'cause every time I had to do one of these big meetings I argued my case, you know, argued my case and, you know, you're talking about ten, sane, rational, professionals out there and all they're dealing with is this sort of like tilt of institutional prejudice one way or the other but they're fucking rational people. So I would just give them my case and, what could they do? You know, a policemen sitting there, he's not going to think I'm dangerous.

What would you like to say to the health professionals or Social Workers?

What would I like to s

 

She got in touch with her body through pregnancy and breastfeeding and tried to follow her...

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Yeah getting in touch with my body through the pregnancy and through the breastfeeding. Well I don't know, while you're in the pregnancy the hormones were so strong because I was, like really going through a process of withdrawal because I was nurturing myself through a process of withdrawal and using yoga and swimming to help that process I was, producing my own endorphins, I was pretty fit, I was producing strong hormones and they were just totally evident during my pregnancy. When the breastfeeding came along and it came to that point, God I have, I mean at that point I [laughs] it was almost a back seat, I just wanted to, get somewhere safe with [daughter], without people picking on me. And, I ended up staying with my school friend's mum and there we shared a bed and so it was, you know, it wasn't, you know, again I'd get a lot of stuff from, from her and from them about, you know, don't over-breastfeed and, you know, do it at certain times and, you know, let the baby be on their own a lot and don't, you know, carry them round all the time. It's all like, you know [laughs].

How do you feel about that sort of stuff now?

Well I just, I just feel, oh right that was the right context, you know, they bailed me out of this situation, and she came all the way to London and said, “I'll let her live in my place, she can keep her baby”. Look I was in another subservient position and I just had to sort of like, take it and like, you know, take on as much as I, because it was all well meant, there was no, there's nothing not well meant in any of the regulation that was going on. But just basically tried to go with my own instinct.

Don't answer this one if you don't want to but I'm wondering was your decision to breastfeed in any way a lever to make sure you kept your baby with you?

I wouldn't put it as strongly as saying it's a lever, but it was absolutely obvious to me and [daughter] that we were, we hadn't landed in the, safe place we expected to land, and through the pregnancy, I know there were lots of ups and downs but I was really making an effort to try and make sure that she, in a physical form landed in a safe place, and it was a safe place but it was quite different to what we both were heading for in terms of a ship going on a particular course or something, and so we were drawn together very much by the breastfeeding, we were drawn together by everything. And then when I came to live here it was a bit, it was a bit different and so I would even say that probably, you know, maybe that's where I might've started to get it wrong because, you know, she was happily breastfed and she's still happily breastfeeding and, you know, this doesn't seem like there's any, you know, we've talked about her stopping when she's four, on her birthday, and that's what we talk about now, all the other drinks she's going to have instead.

 

She thinks that people are conditioned to behave in certain ways and that the barriers to...

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Did you have a health visitor or anything like that?

Yeah there'd be a health visitor and she was, she was nice and that was all fair enough she didn't, I don't think she, you know, there's a whole sort of culture of like the baby's weight and going to visit and, [pause] and I suppose in some ways if you can breastfeed and it's all happening and it's all alright and you're not that bothered about all that side of the thing, and there's no failure to thrive business going on, 'cause [daughter] was exactly on the middle to, of the centile, she was right on the line she was, at birth she was seven and she just carried on, on that line so they, you know, they couldn't have me for that, you know?

Did you feel good about that?

Of course I was feeling the complete bloom of having a baby and like how beautiful it is to have a baby and, watch them and be with them and [pause], you know I felt all that, but at the same time I think, you know, my emotions were going quite up and down.

You said to me that, not many women in this area breastfeed, why do you think that is? What are the barriers?

Well one of the reasons they'd say that, one of the reasons that they'd say is because in a culture where, where man is sort of like prioritised, you don't, you don't, you don't put money into good nutrition of the woman so she can give, give breastmilk, you go down and get formula that is exactly right, that means that your kid will develop at exactly the right rate they're supposed to, so it does what it says on the tin, and you don't necessarily know that your wife is going to do what is, you know, going to do the same. So it's just a different culture. And also the whole body beautiful culture will be on the western working class women it's like, you know, you are some mad, middle class sandal-wearing hippy if you breastfeed, sort of and but I'm, I don't know, I think that's a prejudice. I reckon probably, I think that, I think the tide is turning and probably women are turning on to the fact that they're, it's the easiest thing to do is breastfeed, it's totally natural.

What do you think we can do to help push that tide along?

I think that's a good question that is. I think you should basically subsidise good food and so, you know, women really become conscious of the fact that the nutrition that they're giving their baby is part of the nutrition they're giving themselves and, that they have to look, you know, that, that it's good to look after yourself so that your baby thrives But I think women know that, women really know that anyway, it's only because of social reasons that people like, don't like you doing it here or.

So what sort of social reasons? Can you just… 

It's so, it's just like, it, I came to the understanding that it was just one of the things under a whole, among a whole host of, you know, need to regulate that comes out of people and it's to do with the way they were abused as kids, and you really discover as a kid, you really discover as a mum, you know, you basically try and sort of fight off these different cycles of abuses coming at you, regulating you, saying, “No that's what happened to me so it's got to happen to them, no you can't possibly”, it's like a taboo reaction, you know, they're all like hysterical reactions, and so funny because you're like really emotionally charged with all your hormones as a pregnant woman and then, having given birth and you're, you're sort of at the same time extremely calm because of all this oxytocin you're pro

 

She was getting pressure to wean her four year old but needed help with what to feed her. She was...

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She was happily breastfed and she's still happily breastfeeding and, you know, this doesn't seem like there's any, you know, we've talked about her stopping when she's four, on her birthday, and that's what we talk about now, all the other drinks she's going to have instead.

So this is a conscious conversation…

Yeah.

…that you and she have?

Yeah.

She's a party to this?

Yeah.

In deciding that this is what you will do?

Yeah, so come her fourth birthday we'll see what happens, I hope, that's what happens.

Are you frightened of weaning?

I'm frightened because I've tried, I've tried to wean and if I have a puff of joint or whatever then I think, 'Oh God [daughter] can't drink for another twelve hours' but [daughter's] going, “what do you mean I can't drink? I can't drink milk for another twelve hours, what are you talking about?” that's why it's difficult for me, that's why I can't say on camera that, you know, over the past three and a half years I've used anything and [daughter's] drunk my milk. Even though within the medical profession it's well-known that's what happens at birth is you, you know, if you get a mum to breastfeed then you can wean that way rather than give the baby a low, a load, a script or whatever of drugs whatever. I've also not gone back onto Prozac because I don't want her to get, you know, antidepressant's, but I'm in a dilemma because I've managed three and a half years and I'm falling apart, I need antidepressant's, you know, I need something to help me, particularly to help me, you know, stop using anything, you know, that I shouldn't use it. I mean I don't use anything bad, I have like, there's been bad ups and downs but there's been, it's been three and a half years, I've been a fucking saint compared to what I used to be, because, for the sake of [daughter]. But that's one strand, the other strand is what's going on is an eating disorder business. So you wean from milk to food, so you wean from some kind of regulated, you know, I don't know what the sort of biological, I don't know what the word is, you know, your emotional regulations and your biological and how it all knits up together to eating solid food at mealtimes or in some other environment that's regulated. And I'm finding it very difficult to get [daughter] to eat anything, and I find it very difficult for her to eat any of the healthy things I try and get her to eat. And, all I remember from my mum is her eating too much all the time, and all I remember from being three is being really fat and being fed loads of chocolate and coke by my nanny, and that being how you got looked after. And, you know, my dad's, my dad's mum died when he was five and, he's never had a sort of regular eating childhood of like, you know, that kind of regulation, that kind of like nurturing and love. And my mum obviously didn't have it because she had a problem all her life so, for some people the whole idea of like, you know, first of all I did try to get into it and during babyhood we'd do all the things like steamed vegetables and mash them up, puree fruit, do all the little finger food and stuff like that, and somehow or other she's kind of like gone through a phase of that during her babyhood and then into her toddler hood and then into her young kid hood and gone, “I don't like any of that stuff I just want the breastmilk, and plain pasta, and if you're lucky a baked potato, but apart from that I'll eat all the sweets that you

 

She did not want to take methadone or Prozac while she was breastfeeding and preferred to use...

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Yeah I did but in a way I still have the legacy of my record because it means that, I can't ask for help any more [laughs], in the way that I used to and for like, for example, I haven't gone onto, back onto, antidepressant's. But I was on antidepressant's and they said, “Oh if you don't take them you're going to relapse”, right?, “If you don't, if you don't take them for over six months, if you” because I stopped taking them and they said, “Oh if you don't then you're going to relapse” and I ended up, getting involved in this other culture of self-medicating, using, you know, street drugs and dealt with my depression that way.

Was this after [daughter] was born?

No this, this was like, this was like years ago.

Oh back.

So I don't know how I started talking about that, what were we talking about?

Antidepressant's, you said.

Oh that's right, so I haven't gone back on them because I'm breastfeeding I don't want her to be a Prozac junkie. So, and also when I was pregnant I was on a methadone script for twenty ml, and there, you know, they have a, it's a very low dose anyway in there.

So when did you start that, when in your pregnancy? Do you remember?

That would've been about five months.

And did you have that right through?

No because what I did is that I used it in the same way that I used all my other drugs. So I'd like stockpile it and then when emotionally I couldn't take it any more [laughs] I'd, I'd use it to help me, and then what would happen is to, then I'd sort of came, you know, I'd come out of that, spin out of that one and go, “Oh God what the hell's going on here?” and then you'd go, “Oh right, right, well ah” even though, even though the line is that you are, that you, that you take twenties, you take a script of twenty ml a day and then when you give birth, you wean through the breastmilk, so you can carry on taking the twenty ml and the baby's still not going to withdraw because they're getting the breastmilk. They're not going to withdraw anyway from twenty ml, twenty ml's peanuts, it's buttons. But I felt at that time I want to withdraw while I'm pregnant rather than do all that, so because I wasn't really using it at that much I was just, you know, I'm, a very emotional person so the whole hormone, drug, physical, inhabiting your body, energy work it's all fucking the same, and it's just, it was a case of taking nine months to wean from one area to another.

So by the time you got to the birth you were off everything?

By the time I got to the birth I was off everything, I was off everything and I would be, get back in the environment where I was taking and using before and I wouldn't be using. So I'd be going on a long walk and I wouldn't be taking any Speed. I was pure, my own endorphins from having swum however many lengths, gone to yoga, you know, that week or whatever. It was just, I'm telling you God, this is happening, the reality of it was the physical body and the organism, physically, the dialogue between the two physical bodies got through that weaning process and that is why I'm in crisis now partly because we're still weaning and I need help to wean. And I can't, I can't, you see because I think [daughter] naturally, is naturally weaning herself now we've got to night time and morning, and if she asks me in the day then I say, “No” an

 

She introduced solids without trouble at six months but later her daughter became fussy about...

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So you began solids for her, doing all the baby stuff?

Yeah. About, from about the usual age from about six, seven months or when, probably from about four, five.

And she took it ok then but she's rejecting it now?

I'm pretty sure that she would eat fruit like pear, and apple, and banana, and, if you, you know, pureed a vegetable then she'd eat breadsticks and, it felt like she went through all the sort of normal thing, it was, you know, she could join the mainstream thing in terms of eating but now it doesn't feel like that at all. It doesn't feel like that at all and it, there came a point where me and my dad would just revert to eating what we usually eat, adult food, but she just wouldn't eat it.

What do you mean by adult food?

Like, well like veg curries, that's what he makes so that's what we live on, it's usually, cook up some vegetables and have them along with some rice. And so she gets to the point where she wouldn't try any vegetables but she'd eat the rice, so then we got this tofu, so she lived on tofu for a long time, so we just, she'd just eat chunks of tofu. And then again the whole, you don't know if it's, you know, but might be my dad, it's because I, you know, it seems to me that I'll get my dole money and I'll go to the shops, and Thursday and Friday we'll have a meal and then Saturday and Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday it's like I'm trying to get myself to give her a meal every day when she comes home from nursery. But, a lot of the time she doesn't eat it and a lot of the time she's eats sweets and chocolate instead, like she expects some chocolate doughnuts as soon as she gets out of nursery.

Do they feed them in nursery?

The thing is right [sighs], God this is a right bummer right? She should be in the full, she would've been fed at nursery but I didn't accept a full time place, she could've had a full time place from now, but I didn't accept it because I know [nursery teacher] you see and [daughter] went to her nursery for a term, and that meant she lost her place, so now she's on a few hours a day instead of a full day, and so she doesn't get them, the dinner.

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