Updated: Feb 24
For World Breastfeeding Week I thought it might be a nice idea to share the story of how I came to get sucked up into the Land of Boobs (as I like to call my work community). This may give some insight for those of you who would be interested in a similar career but will, more importantly, hopefully raise your awareness of some of the issues that I faced. I'm going to split my blog into 2 parts: One talking about my background; and one dealing more specifically with infant feeding.
So, without further ado, this is the background story to my amazing job. It is a slightly unusual story in that I came to it from a pretty unusual starting point - complete blank terror and revulsion.
The Saga Begins
I couldn't stand babies. Or pregnant people. It is hard to find the words to adequately express the depth of my fear and avoidance. I couldn't be in the same room as discussions about pregnancy and birth, if I was in the supermarket I avoided walking down the baby aisle or at the very least kept my eyes glued to the floor in case I caught sight of *gasp* NAPPIES. Seeing somebody feeding a baby (by whatever method) in a restaurant was enough to make me genuinely incapable of finishing my meal. Not a promising start to a career in Infant Feeding!
I'd never been bothered about having children of my own (though I did consider adoption of older children). Over the years I managed to convince myself (and those close to me) that I was infertile - or at least I couldn't carry a baby to term. Serious boyfriends were always clear on this point - there were to be no babies.
So, as you can imagine, it came as a *teeny* bit of a shock when I found out I was pregnant. I was completely, unspeakably, terrified. Words cannot express the fear when I even thought about it. Total denial on a conscious level but, bizarrely, some secret well buried part of me was kind of pleased.
We only found out I was pregnant after nearly 13 weeks (note to self: you CAN repeatedly get false negatives on pregnancy tests) and 2 days later when they got my HCG (pregnancy hormone) results we were told I was miscarrying. I remember sitting on the roof terrace of the cottage we lived in trying to come to terms with everything. Whispering to the little dot in my womb that it was okay if it wanted to stay, honest. I blamed myself and my fear for killing my baby. It was a surreal experience, that weekend, waiting for my body to clear itself out.
Then the trip to the hospital to see why that hadn't happened and give it a helping hand. Then the scan to see what was going on. But the creature we saw in the scan moved.
It had a heart that was beating.
He was still alive. I was going to have a baby.
My husband squealed like a girl and I lay on the table with tears (of relief, of fear) streaming down my face.
It awoke my determined and stubborn side. I started to acknowledge that maybe some of my feelings weren't quite 'normal' and that I was going to need some serious help if I was going to get through it.
Over the next few months I had an unbelievable level of support and help. Nobody actually identified (or at least told me) what was going on though. I have since learned that it was likely that I was experiencing Primary Tokophobia, a fear of pregnancy and birth. which they think affects around 13% of women.
I had CBT counselling, one to one sessions with a special midwife, contact with the vulnerable women's team, hypnobirthing sessions and hypnotherapy. Unfortunately I had to seek out most of this myself and it was pretty clear there was no existing ‘pathway’ for someone like me. Attending a ‘normal’ NHS antenatal class was impossible for me and even during the breastfeeding one I had to sit right at the back so I could run away or cry if I needed to.
Everyone went out of their way to help once aware of the situation, though, and I owe them such a lot.
The crowning moment towards the end of all our work was me actually being able to visit the postnatal ward (labour suite was still a step beyond me) and I managed to talk to a woman with a new born baby. I can't tell you how hard it was, and how much I was shaking. I still couldn't turn over the last few pages of that pregnancy book though and only knew about the birth process in the vaguest of terms.
Then he was born. And everything changed for me.
It wasn't 'natural instinct' taking over (or not completely), it was the result of months of hard work, tears and anxiety. My family and friends were amazing even though I hurt some of those closest to me by pushing them away because I just couldn't share my fear. I couldn't have done it without them.
I allowed myself to love my baby.
Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment of "Clare in Boobland"