Ronan at… hang on. How old is he again?

Poor Ronan. He is suffering from a serious dose of Second Child Syndrome. A few days ago, I was talking to a mother with a little boy around his age. She proudly told me that her little boy was fourteen months old, and asked what age Ronan was. I, shamefully, was stumped. “He’s about a year and a half, I think. No, hang on. He can’t be. I’m pretty sure he’s younger. What do you get if you take March away from July?” Eventually I figured it out, but I did have to check this handy website to be sure of the exact details.

Yes, of course, I know how old my child is. Roughly. There you have it: 481 days old. No wonder I’m having trouble remembering: that’s an awful lot of broken nights’ sleep.

So, what has he been up to since we last heard from him, shortly before his first birthday? Quite a bit, although growing the usual complement of teeth has not been high on his agenda. According to conventional wisdom, babies should get their first teeth between five and seven months old, and, by their first birthday, they should have locked all of the incisors down and moved on to the molars. Ronan, however, was gummy for some considerable time. Even with his first birthday a few weeks off, he remained, like Nanny Ogg, firmly unident. At the time of writing, he still has only six teeth, though he seems to be trying very hard to force the next six out in a single go. I’m sure you can imagine how this affects his general disposition. Thank heavens he was fairly sunny to start off with…

He is noticeably more physical than his older brother. Although they both took their first steps at about the same age (roughly fourteen months), Eoin was reluctant to use his own legs, and tended to lobby loudly to be carried at every possible opportunity. Ronan, on the other hand, rapidly progressed to scrambling up the furniture, throwing himself over the back of the sofa, and climbing the stairs whenever he got a chance. Indeed, he developed such a passion for the stairs that, for a few weeks, climbing them was pretty much his favourite activity, and the one thing absolutely guaranteed to jolly him out of a spell of bad temper. Whenever tantrums threatened, all you had to do was open the stairgate and invite him to climb as high as he liked to be met with a huge, sunny smile. Eoin once remarked, laconically, that “those stairs are a great old friend for him”, which suggests that either I have the world’s most deadpan four-year-old boy, or that we quote far too much Father Ted around our children.

It's a pity you can't hear the excited squeaking he was doing at this point. He’s interested in food. Very interested. Extremely, passionately interested. If you are in the kitchen for any length of time, it won’t be long before you find him clinging to your leg, making rather pathetic noises. He has, you see, realised you are in The Place Where The Food Comes From: he hasn’t eaten anything for at least twenty minutes, and can any growing boy reasonably be expected to survive like that? I’m beginning to wonder if he is part-labrador, or the spiritual heir of Winnie the Pooh. He is, inexplicably, the only blonde in a brown-haired family, after all.

Because his physical development seemed to be so much more rapid than his brother’s, we wondered if he’d lag behind Eoin verbally. It’s hard to judge accurately, as I was too slack a parent to write a detailed and dated list of every word either of my sons has said, but, while tidying some papers, I did manage to turn up a list of all the words Eoin could say at sixteen months. It’s funny to see how many similarities there are. Ronan’s first word was “raspberry”, while Eoin’s was “blackberry”; this is not surprising given their mutual love of soft fruit, but is a little spooky in view of the fact that Ronan is a Raspberry Pi baby. He can also say blackberry (naturally!), blueberry, there, flower, daisy, cat, goo-boy (good boy), Mum-mum-mum (Mummy), da-dee (which does not refer to his father, but, rather, is a general expression of approval), Da-da-da-da-dee (which actually does mean “Daddy”), and Meeee! (meaning “minion”. Please don’t judge us: Eoin watches the films, so Ronan is inevitably exposed to the little yellow guys). Eoin’s vocabulary covered a similar range, though he was evidently more interested in dogs than cats, and his animations of choice were Bagpuss and Abney and Teal. Ronan also has a number of words which he definitely understands, although he can’t yet say them, including Eoin, wave, clap, pat, toothbrush, stairs, bath, tea, pudding and garden. Once, shamefully, he tried to say McDonalds, but I think it’s best for all concerned if we just pretend that didn’t happen.

Ronan is a filth-wizardHe loves fruit, cheese, the beach, taking all the pots out of the kitchen cupboards, his Geiriau Cant Cyntaf book, surreptitiously posting Harvey Margaret (his stinky toy rabbit) into the dustbin, chucking his bath toys into the shower with you when you are trying to wash your hair, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (he’s moved on from “Piano Man”), and covering himself in earth while helping in the garden. He hates eating from his own plate when he could be eating from someone else’s, shampoo, or staying still for too long. His hair is never tidy, and I once found him trying to lick the toilet. He’s a lovely, crazy little ball of energy, and I wouldn’t be without him.

That's some serious crazy hair he has going on.

Hello? Is this thing on?

Blimey, that was a bit of a long hiatus, wasn’t it? I know it’s not really good practice to start a blog post by pointing out that it is a long time since you last wrote, but in this case, I feel I need to. It has, after all, been months. In the spirit of trying to be a better blogger, though, this post is just going to be a short note announcing my reappearance. I have some plans for upcoming posts, but, in the meantime, I should give some brief explanation of what I’ve been doing while I’ve been away from the keyboard. 

Over the last few months, I have mostly been…

  • Chasing an increasingly mobile Ronan around the house, stopping him from climbing the stairs, hiding inside the dishwasher, and attempting to eat the contents of the flowerbeds. 
  • Being taught basic Welsh by Eoin: apparently the approved way of saying that the weather is good is “Dim bwrw glaw”, though I remain unconvinced of this.
  • Going back to work after a fairly lengthy period of maternity leave. Thankfully, I work with a very lovely group of people who don’t seem to mind I tend to turn up in scruffy mum-clothes, because scruffy mum is really about the only look I can pull off at the moment. 
  • Learning all sorts of interesting things to do with GitHub, InDesign, Markdown, and Python, and generally attempting to become more technologically-minded. I’ve even been doing some soldering: if you now have a mental picture of a technologically-challenged ex-librarian armed with a dangerously hot piece of metal, you are probably very afraid. Don’t be: I haven’t destroyed anything, yet. 
  • Spending far too much time messing around on Instagram and Pinterest. It is for work, I promise. 
  • At long last, putting all my books on bookshelves. This may sound like a small achievement. For me, it’s quite substantial!

I have a few posts on different topics in mind, some of which are likely to be easier to write than others. Hopefully, though, I will manage a shorter gap between posts this time.

In the meantime, and in the spirit of my new-found Instagram addiction, I would like to leave you with a picture, though I have resisted the urge to go crazy with the filters. This is one of my favourite things in one of my favourite places in Cambridge: the table in Jim Ede’s bedroom in Kettle’s Yard. It is one of the most beautiful, serene spaces I have ever seen, and I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. 




A bit of a noir moment by the mill race at St Fagans. 

In other news, I’m coming to the end of my maternity leave, so all my free time has been spent learning about technological things like GPIO pins and GitHub and reminding myself just what you do with a command line. Normal blogging service should resume shortly, though. 

Eoin is four

Happy (belated) birthday, Eoin! Like your little brother’s, I’m afraid your birthday update post has been a little delayed. Unlike Ronan, though, you are very aware of what is going this year: you were talking about your birthday for weeks, and, now that it has been and gone, you are already looking forward to the next one. Fortunately, you’ve been good enough to give this post the once-over, so I know that these definitely are things you really like…

Doing science, with a Hex-bugYou still have an unswerving devotion to any and all “things that go”: cars, aeroplanes, bin lorries, bicycles, trains… One of your favourite places in Penarth is the train station: the station master chats to you when you come to watch the arrivals and departures, and, if he happens to have a tin of Roses in the office, he always lets you pick out the strawberry creams, which are your favourites.

Your fondness for strawberry creams is perhaps explained by the fact that they have red wrappers. You are absolutely obsessed with the colour red – “You know, it is my favourite colour, Mum” – and have told me, most seriously, that your birthday party is going to involve red balloons, red plates, red table cloths, red party whistles… In fact, I’m not sure whether it will look more like a child’s birthday celebration or an AGM of the Communist Party, but you are not to be swayed. Red is the best colour, and you won’t hear another word on the subject.

Autumnal eoinYou love “doing science”: you have a globe and a magnifying glass, which are used for much important cogitation, and you take copious notes (intelligible only to you, alas) in your very own lab book, which is a Moleskine one just like your dad’s (yours, naturally, is red). Together with your dad, you have already been conducting some fairly serious experiments involving candles and vacuums, and I recently overheard the two of you having a rather worrying conversation about how to make hydrogen. You enjoyed doing a hands-on science lesson at nursery, but opined that “it wasn’t as exciting as Daddy’s science experiments”, a fact which I put down to the nursery’s very sensible insistence on not using combustible materials.

Eoin studies the pebblesI realise I’ll look like the world’s most pretentious parent if I point out that your favourite food is sushi, and that you are on first-name terms with the staff in the Cardiff branch of Yo! Sushi. It might balance this out somewhat to admit, guiltily, that your second-favourite food would probably be a chicken nugget Happy Meal, or a massive bowl of chips. You love helping in the kitchen, though, and have appropriated the roles of “Season Man” (the person in charge of adding the seasoning to a roast) and “Mr Pressy-Hand Man” (the person in charge of the oven timer) for yourself. You’re keen on a bit of baking, and you love helping to pick fruit and vegetables from the garden. In fact, you’re a bit too fond of this: I don’t think anyone else got a single strawberry this summer, as you beat us to every one.

You love telling jokes, especially about dinosaurs with one eye (“DO-YOU-THINK-HE-SAW-US?”), although sometimes your humour can be a bit surreal: “What do you call a man with a rabbit on his head? Simon!” Your taste in music has broadened, but remains, I hope, reasonably cool for a small boy. Your current favourites are The Cure, The Smiths (“Can we have ‘Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before’, please?”), The Jam and David Bowie, though you are always a tiny bit disappointed that every Bowie song can’t be “Rebel Rebel”. You recently heard Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone”, and announced to the room in general that this was a very good song. You have also been known to use music to tease me: if “Rather Be” by Clean Bandit comes on the radio, you insouciantly enquire whether I like it or not (you know I can’t stand it), and then proudly announce that you find it a very relaxing song, actually, and could I turn the volume up, please?

Eoin and Colin the CaterpillarYou love dogs, cake, cwtches, laughing, dancing in circles, chasing your little brother, and going to the beach. You’re a really lovely, bright, affectionate little boy, and I hope you never get to big to hug me or hold my hand.

Happy birthday, Sausage!


Mummy xx

PS Given that I worry a lot, irrationally, about not being a very good mother, it’s pretty telling that, when I read this list of your favourite things out to you, you pointed out in a very serious voice that I had forgotten one of the most important things. What could it be? “You, Mummy! You have to be on the list! I love you!” You really are a sweetheart, aren’t you?

Sunrise, Penarth Pier

Sunrise Penarth PierI took this a couple of weeks ago, on a day when the spectacular sunrise coincided with me being out early to take Ronan to his childminder’s house. I’m using it as a bit of a test post: WordPress seems to be doing some funny things in terms of sharing posts on social media, and I wanted to try to find out what is happening. Although I’ve shared this around the place before, I thought that it was at least prettier to look at than a page full of Lorem Ipsum text.

Normal service will resume shortly!

Ronan is ten months old, and a bit.

I’m sorry, Ronan: your post got a little lost along the way this month. It must have been because I have been so busy chasing you around: I’m not used to having two mobile children, and this month’s changes have certainly been a bit of a shock to the system.

You aren’t actually crawling yet, at least, not in the strictest sense of the word. You do, however, manage to propel yourself backwards with a great deal of vigour. As you can’t see where you’re going, you tend to end up getting stuck under the sofa a lot of the time, whereupon you squeak furiously until one of us comes to rescue you. You combine this backwards commando manoeuvre with your other favoured form of movement: like Unterholzer’s dog, you get about by rolling. I can tell you think it’s all a bit of a faff, and you’d really rather just be running after your big brother, but I’d be quite happy if you held off on that until I’d had a chance to work out a couple of Ronan-containment strategies.

You are making a lot of interesting sounds, and we’ve had a few moments when you have said what sound like words. My mum was amazed when, as she was feeding you roast lunch one day, she asked you if it was good lamb, and you promptly repeated “good lamb” in a small, clear voice. I realise that this is a bit of an infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters situation, but we have, at least, established that you understand the word “pudding”, judging by the way you bounce up and down in delight when we say it. You have a very endearing habit of grinning and drumming on your tummy when you’re enjoying a meal, and you can spot a banana from twenty paces. You still don’t have a tooth in your head, but we reckon that, once they start appearing, there’ll be no stopping you.

The most exciting achievement this month is that you have learned to wave, sometimes to Daddy, and frequently to Eoin, who is pretty much your hero. Eoin is very impressed about this, in part, at least, because it means he has his own personal groupie: the boy loves an audience.

We all love you lots, Snuggly. Try not to drool on us quite so much, though, eh?


The festive whooshing noise.

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Maybe I am a bad mother after all: I’m sure that there are superhuman lifestyle/mum bloggers out there who have spent the last couple of weeks wrapping presents in coordinating papers, baking their own zimtsterne tree decorations and photographing springs of holly in mason jars with artistic bokeh effects. I, Unfortunately, have been even more disorganised than usual this year: unlike the lovely Eileen of The Kita Diaries, I haven’t made a Christmas cake, and I’m uncomfortably aware that the number of cards I have sent remain very firmly in the single figure range.

If I haven’t achieved anything else, though, I have managed to find the boys some Christmas jumpers…  They’re modelling them rather dashingly below, and they would like to assure you that they, and I, are wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Eoin and Ronan ChristmasThey promise they’re going to kick me into shape next year. Perhaps literally (they’re pretty tough customers). In the meantime, they’re going to chasten me by unwrapping all my presents, stealing the mince pies, and sitting on the Christmas tree decorations. Merry Christmas!

Ronan is nine months old!

IMG_2849.JPGWell done, Snuggly Jeff: three quarters of a year is no mean feat! I’m glad to see that you can rock a crocheted Cthulhu bib with the best of them. Unfortunately, you’re not feeling too well today: a streaming cold and your ongoing battle with your teeth have combined to make you a bit of a sad little Snug. I’m hoping that you’re going to use some of the same super-strength which enabled you to defeat the Dread Yarnmonster of R’lyeh to kick the cold into touch. In the meantime, we all promise to cuddle you lots.

Happy 3/4 birthday!

I am a Bad Mother: Part 4. In which I feed my baby formula.

Again, a caveat: I am Not That Kind of Doctor, so what follows
is merely a record of my personal experience with infant feeding.
Please don’t take what I write as a substitute for medical advice!
This post may also include words such as engorgement, lactation
and other breast-related things. You have been warned.

 It has taken me a long time to start writing this post, which is due in part to the fact that I still feel rather conflicted about the issues involved. From a medical point of view, I feel somewhat ill-qualified to give an accurate perspective of the breast vs bottle debate, as I simply do not have the time, training or access to data which one would need to conduct a proper scientific survey of the medial and nutritional issues involved. Additionally, I realise that the fraught question of how and what parents feed their babies is inextricably bound up with a variety of societal factors, including class, education, the availability of a support network, body image, bonding, and mental and physical health. These can both increase pressure upon the feeding parent, and act as a confounding factor, making it harder to determine with certainty whether the apparent advantages of breastfeeding are causally related to the breastmilk itself, or merely correlated. Nonetheless, this is something I need to get off my chest (Gah! The pun: it hurts!), and I hope that reading about my experiences might help someone else in the future.

Many first-time mothers have doubts about their ability to breastfeed adequately, typically centred around the concern that the baby might not be getting enough nourishment. Some of those fears may be justified, some are probably not. I, however, knew from the first that I was likely to face problems with breastfeeding and milk supply, as, in 2004, I had had a breast reduction. If you are interested in the details (and you might well be: the type of reduction surgery performed can impact differently on your future ability to breastfeed), I had a Lejour reduction, and I remember the surgeon telling me he had removed at least 2lb of tissue from each breast, which would mean I lost somewhere between 1.5 and 2kg of breast tissue in total. The surgery was performed for free by the NHS as I was suffering from bad back and shoulder pain, thanks to my over-generous frontage. I was still left with large breasts: it took a while for things to settle down after the operation, but eventually I ended up being about a 32E. Considering I had started off as a 30G, though, I could deal with not being a petite B-cup: I may still have been curvy, but things were much more balanced, and I wasn’t in pain any more. My overriding emotion was gratitude: suddenly I could do all sorts of things in ease and comfort: play sports, run for the bus, wear dresses, find underwear in a colour that wasn’t surgical beige… For a while, everything was peachy. Then, in 2011, I had Eoin, and things went a bit wrong.

My first pregnancy: I fail at breastfeeding

If you have read the other posts in this series, you’ll know that I had gestational diabetes during both pregnancies, and that it really knocked me for six the first time. As a nervous first-time mum with an inconvenient history of anxiety, I was very concerned about the impact my feeding choices might have on Eoin, and I was firmly convinced that one of the ways I could attempt to right some of the wrongs I had done him by being diabetic (I know, I know) was to do everything I could to ensure I fed him breastmilk instead of formula. In some cases, mothers are able to feed very successfully after reduction surgery, and I was determined I was going to be one of them. I haunted the BFAR website, I grilled my midwife, I had several pre-natal appointments with lactation consultants. I was delighted when I realised that I was able to produce some colostrum, and, on the advice of the hospital, diligently set about harvesting it. Unfortunately, colostrum-harvesting is a time-consuming, tricky business, and it is certainly not helped by being so terrified about your blood sugar levels that you are essentially starving yourself. For weeks during my third trimester, I sat on my sofa with a bag of sterile syringes, getting hungrier and sadder, expressing until I was covered in bruises, yet producing only one or two millilitres of precious liquid a day. By the time I went into labour with Eoin, I had collected about 30ml: to put this in context, this is roughly the amount that a newborn might be expected to drink in about two feeds in the very early days. I fed this to him from a cup while in hospital, and put him to the breast whenever he was hungry. My technique was assessed by a range of midwives, nurses and lactation consultants, who all agreed everything was going excellently. I was patted on the back and sent home on day three after the birth, certain that I wasn’t going to need those bottles and the box of formula I had bought “just in case”. It was at this point that the problems started.

Even in breasts which have not been tampered with, it takes a few days for the milk to come in after birth, and, unfortunately Eoin was desperate for more food before my body was in any way ready to give it to him. He was latched on pretty much constantly for the third day and night, but the only thing that happened was that he got progressively more ravenous. It was only at three in the morning, when he was utterly hysterical with hunger, and had lost his voice from screaming, that I recognised I was going to have to give him formula. I fumblingly mixed up a bottle, fed it to him, and was horrified when he just kept screaming. I remember thinking that all I had done was give him the energy to be really furious. It took another bottle half an hour or so later before he finally calmed down and fell asleep; when I woke up a couple of hours later and heard no crying, I was half-convinced that he was dead, so constant had his distress been until that point.

Notwithstanding the two emergency bottles, I was still certain that I could try to feed Eoin myself, and, the next morning, set about latching him on when he woke up. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I was beginning to feel the first stirrings of post-natal depression. This initially manifested in a rather odd way, although I have since met one other person with identical symptoms: I would be physically sick for much of the time, notably whenever I held Eoin. This got worse very quickly, until I could only hold him for a few seconds without vomiting. The doctor gave me anti-emetics, but I wasn’t able to keep them down. I was then given omeprazole, which, while it stopped the actual sickness, did nothing alleviate the rushes of nausea I would suffer whenever I held Eoin, or whenever he cried. It was only when the PND was diagnosed, and I was able to start taking citalopram, that things got even a little better. In the immediate aftermath of the birth, though, I was really rather unwell: I couldn’t eat, I lost weight dramatically quickly, I was permanently cold and exhausted, and I was pretty much unable to hold my son. Against this backdrop of mental and physical sickness, I was simply unable to continue trying to feed Eoin myself. I did try, but still no milk came in, and still he screamed hysterically until I caved and offered him the bottle. It was only a couple of days after having decided that formula feeding was the only viable choice for us that I finally showed signs of engorgement. I remember thinking how horribly mistimed it was, but in truth it is highly unlikely that I could have continued trying to breastfeed given how ill I was. The whole thing felt like a horrid failure from beginning to end: as I saw it, I hadn’t managed to carry Eoin successfully, I couldn’t give birth to him myself, I couldn’t feed him. The pleasure I should have been able to take in my new baby was entirely sucked away, leaving at worst a depression and at best a flat hopelessness that lasted for around a year and a half.

My second pregnancy: I fail at breastfeeding again, but I fail better

With Ronan, my feeding goals were much more modest: I knew that exclusive breastfeeding would be unlikely to happen, but I decided that I was still going to try to breastfeed him if possible, even if this might ultimately be doomed to failure. The stretch goal, so to speak, would be successful mixed feeding, but, again, I was under no illusions that this might not be possible. I was pleasantly surprised, when discussing my feeding plans with midwives during my antenatal appointments, that nobody turned a hair: I was assured that I would get all the support they could give if I wanted to try to persist with breastfeeding, but that nobody would judge me in the slightest if I ended up using formula. Crucially, I was reassured with the words I had never heard during my first pregnancy, namely that formula is absolutely fine for the baby, and, while breastfeeding is obviously a wonderful thing, it is only best if it works for both the mother and the child. I still prepared myself for both types of feeding, unpacking both the breast pump and the bottles, and stashing an emergency box of formula in the kitchen cupboard. I still expressed and stored colostrum, but, crucially, I didn’t feel anxious and beleaguered about it in the way I had done the first time around. In fact, when I arrived at the hospital for my section, clutching a cool bag full of syringes of frozen milk, the midwife on duty was somewhat taken aback, and told me that they didn’t normally see people being so prepared.

Feeding got off to a slightly rocky start: due, perhaps, to the insulin I had needed to take before the delivery, Ronan’s blood sugar levels were very low after birth, and the milk I could give him was not doing enough to bring them back to an acceptable level. For the first two days he was given small formula top-ups on the consultant’s advice, via a nasogastric tube. As you might imagine, he was not best pleased with the tube (he pulled it out himself after 24 hours), but his sugars soon stabilised, and, when we were released from hospital, he was happy, healthy and taking a mixture of breastmilk and formula. Midwives and the health visitor called regularly at the house over the next few days, and I was, proudly, able to show them that I was indeed managing to breastfeed Ronan, at least for some of the time. Latches, positioning and the like were checked, and everything seemed to be going well. I noticed, however, that, no matter how long I tried to feed him for, he never seemed settled. Indeed, he seemed to get more and more dissatisfied as time went on, fussing and pulling away after a couple of minutes, and he only really seemed to calm down after he subsequently had formula. I decided to break out the heavy-duty breast-pump, and see what I could managed to extract from myself by main force and industrial-strength suction. The answer, sadly, was not much. No matter how relaxed I was, no matter how much I thought of Ronan, the most I could ever pump was the foremilk: no let-down ever happened. One particularly prolific day, after spending hours hooked up to the infernal machine, I managed to collect about 80ml. On one hand, I was very proud of this, as I knew it meant that I knew for sure that I was producing something, and that he was getting some form of nourishment from me. On the other hand, when Ronan knocked this back without flinching in a single feed and then looked for more, it was apparent that I was never going to be able to give him more than a tiny proportion of the milk he required myself. Although I did consider persevering with mixed feeding, it soon became apparent that the game wasn’t worth the candle. At fourteen days old, Ronan had his last feed from me, and has been formula-fed ever since.

While I had an immense sense of guilt and failure over my formula feeding of Eoin, my emotions with Ronan were very different. A lot of this was probably due to the fact that I was not horribly depressed the second time, but I think it was also related to the fact that, with Ronan, formula feeding was a decision I was able to make in my own time, with the opportunity to weigh both the pros and cons without the sense of panic, terror and outright illness which assailed me previously. It was also a relief to realise what exactly was going on with my post-operation breasts: although I have no official diagnosis for this, it seems apparent that I have nerve damage following the reduction surgery, a not-unexpected consequence. With Eoin, I couldn’t understand why, when I was apparently able to produce at least some milk, he seemed unable to drink any useful amount. My discovery, with Ronan, of my missing let-down reflex explained a great deal: effectively my body was completely unaware that there was a baby trying to feed from it. While I could make milk, I couldn’t do anything useful with it. While this was frustrating on one hand, it was also immensely vindicating: on some level I had certainly blamed myself for not trying hard enough with Eoin. Maybe if I had pushed on and fed or expressed through the sickness, the dehydration and the fear, I could have managed to Do the Right Thing. But I hadn’t pushed on: I had just taken the easiest option… The self-hating internal refrain went on and on. It turned out, in fact, that there really was very little I could have done: try as you might, you can’t regrow your nerves through sheer force of will, and teaspoonfuls of foremilk on their own are not enough to be particularly useful to a baby. This time, I can honestly say that I felt very at peace with my decision not to pursue trying to breastfeed.

Why is it still difficult to write about formula feeding?

I began this post by saying I was still somewhat conflicted about the issues involved: I should note that this is not because I feel, in using formula, that I have in some way fed my children an inferior food. Obviously, breastmilk is the natural way for mothers to feed their babies: if it weren’t, we would be born with kettles and boxes of Cow and Gate strapped to our chests instead of mammary glands. However, while breastfeeding may be brilliant if it works for you and your baby, it is clear that formula is a perfectly good feeding choice too. The recent Ohio State University study into long-term outcomes from both feeding methods found that neither was appreciably more beneficial than the other. Crucially, this study examined feeding outcomes in relation to siblings, and so was able to eliminate a great deal of the selection bias seen in other studies of the long-term effects of breastmilk versus formula. For what it’s worth, I was myself formula fed as a child: barring the inexplicable gestational diabetes, I have no health problems, I am not obese, and I am bright enough to have managed to collect four degrees in various esoteric subjects. The fact that I was not breastfed does not seem to have done me any harm.

Why, then, do I still find it difficult on some level to be an “out-and-proud” user of formula? I said above that I was at peace with my inability to breastfeed, but note that, even though my chances of successful breastfeeding were very low, I still began by trying to feed Ronan myself. If I were to have another baby, I would do the same thing: mix-feed for as long as was practical, before moving on to exclusive formula feeding. I think the truth is that I now know what my physical and physiological limitations are, and this is comforting. As with so many things in pregnancy and parenthood, all one is trying to do is to regain a measure of control, of stability, of certainty. You want to feel you have done the Right Thing, however that might be defined. Bluntly, it seems to me that the breast-versus-bottle debate is concerned not so much with the nutritional, developmental and sociological benefits of one particular type of infant feeding versus another as it is with the way you define yourself as a mother, as a woman, as a thinking, responsible person. It shouldn’t be this way, but nonetheless your feeding choices invariably seem to brand you: modest/immodest, feckless/overattached, selfish/selfless, martyr, hero or villain. I confess that I feel the need to tick a box here: if I’ve given a baby my expressed colostrum, if I have tried to feed them myself, then I have done all I can, and I can continue to feed them formula with a clear conscience. But – and this is a big but – why do I feel I need this absolution in the first place? Why not feed formula from the first, if you know that, realistically, this is what you will be doing in a few days anyway?

Absolutely honestly, I think my reasoning stems, predictably, from guilt: my reduction, while medically very desirable, was not a life-saving procedure. I could have held on, surgically unaltered, and perhaps then I would have been able to feed my children myself. Perhaps, though, things would still have gone wrong, and I would then be beating myself up for another set of reasons. I don’t think I have managed to deal properly with this guilt yet, absurd as this might seem to other people. What I do know, though, is that for every irrational twinge of reduction/formula-based shame that I feel, another mother is feeling a very similar emotion for another reason. Extended breastfeeding, switching from breast to bottle, exclusive pumping, feeding through reflux, allergies and intolerances: all of these choices involve hard work and soul-searching, and all are likely to incur the judgement of outsiders. This, really, is the nub of the matter: as parents, we place enough pressure on ourselves without having to deal with the hoiked-up judgeypants of the neighbours, the people at playgroup, the staff of the fancy hotel restaurant (I’m looking at you, Claridges), and the Daily Mail. I have never felt so bad about formula feeding, or so angry at others’ thoughtlessness, as the day that someone came up to me in the cafe at Anglesey Abbey and told me that, if I had only loved him enough to breastfeed him, Eoin would have been happy and content instead of crying. This is the kind of nonsense no parent should have to deal with: life and infancy are far too short to agonise over whether a baby’s milk comes out of a breast or a packet. However you feed, you are doing your best. You will be fine. The baby will be fine. Unless there are medical issues at play, your feeding choices are yours to make, and none of anyone else’s business. The most important thoughts I could leave you with are the mantras of both the BFAR organisation and the Fearless Formula Feeder website. The former states that, in attempting to breastfeed after surgery, you must define your own success, whether that be through colostrum harvesting, the use of a pump or a supplemental nursing system, or simply through knowing that you have done all you can for your child. Measuring yourself against an unreasonable standard is not helpful. The Fearless Formula Feeder reminds us that the most important words we can say to any mother about her feeding choices are “I support you“.

This is how I would like to end: if you are reading this post because you are contemplating breastfeeding after a reduction or some other surgery, or simply if you are struggling with feeding in general, however you are feeding your baby, whether by breast, formula or both, you are doing the right thing. Be proud, and ignore the judgey comments: the people who make them are honestly not worth bothering about. I support you.