My neighbour and I are sitting in my backyard, chatting while our kids play. She has two little boys. I have a toddler called Tillie. We are having a conversation in snatches while she jiggles her six-month old and we watch the older two dig and brrrrmmm plastic trucks in the sandpit.
Breastfeeding came up in our conversation. I told her how I initially had an easy time of it, yet when Tillie was about three months she started losing weight and her doctor got worried. Tillie had started arching her back and crying whenever I held her to me to feed. It was a really stressful time, made more so by the intense pressure I felt to continue breastfeeding despite dreading every feed. At the time, I felt deeply ashamed. I kept on trying to breastfeed despite the fact it was getting in the way of me being able to enjoy spending time with my baby daughter. Where did this pressure come from? From myself, certainly. But I also had a strong feeling that other parents would judge me should I start to bottle feed Tillie.
My neighbour listened carefully. She is Dutch, and has recently moved to Australia with her husband. She then told me that in the Netherlands, she was ridiculed for choosing to breastfeed her baby for nine months: “The usual is about three months max. People would ask me, ‘Why on earth are you still feeding him?’ They’d look at me as if I were crazy.”
Breastfeeding seems like only one of many things to feel ashamed of as a new parent. It often feels like you can’t win regardless of your parenting decisions.
There’s shame in sending your child to daycare and shame in staying at home. Shame in letting your child cry it out and deciding to co-sleep with them. And there’s judgement around what to feed a child, how to play with a child, how to best discipline a child, what pram to buy and what parenting books to read.
Yet aren’t we all just making it up as we go, this whole parenting thing?
And don’t we all—the bottle feeding parents, the daggy second hand stroller parents, the ones who feed their kids only organic apples—have Weetbix in our hair and sultanas mushed into the upholstery of our car? Aren’t we all trying to muster an interest in Peppa Pig and become accustomed to walking at snail’s pace with curious toddlers? Aren’t we all touched by the love and responsibility of having a child, and just trying our best to love and care for them and ourselves?
Many of us are not surrounded by the family and support networks that would have once helped us raise our children. We need the support and kindness of other parents, a smile of solidarity rather than a raised eyebrow or quiet mutter.
So much of parenting is luck, and trial and error. I sit in my backyard, chatting about parenting in the Netherlands with my neighbour. She giggles with her six-month-old, and I tickle Tillie’s toes. We are different, but in so many ways the same.