It’s World Breastfeeding Week and I am filled with bittersweet memories of the short time I breastfed my baby boy. I was in awe of how wonderful my body was to be able to nourish him and give him everything he needed to grow. It was a privilege but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find breastfeeding hard, both physically and emotionally and unfortunately it didn’t last long.

After 9 months of giving my body over to the little human I was making inside of me, I was ready to have my body back. I felt trapped by the constant need to go to the toilet, his head taking up the space my bladder usually occupied. I wanted to wear something other than the few bump-friendly outfits I had on rotation: thick stripes, thinner stripes, multi-coloured stripes. I was desperate for sleep having suffered from bouts of insomnia fuelled by anxiety. It was such a relief when my little human was born, I assumed my body was mine again but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I was now his source of food, warmth and comfort. I was needed at every cry. He was hungry and I had to help him. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t go to the toilet. But it wasn’t about me anymore.

In the first few days cluster feeding made me feel like a hamster trapped on a wheel. I would wake up from a couple of hours sleep, my breasts full and uncomfortable expected to do it all again. He wasn’t the best feeder and of course, we were both still learning. Each feed was a challenge and nowhere near as easy and convenient as I thought it should be. I feared going out in case he woke up and I’d need to wrestle a screaming baby to my breast in public. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I felt like a I was terrible at being a mother. Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, they had said, so why was it so difficult?

I would spend hours on Google, often in the dead of night, searching for someone to tell me what I was doing wrong. Why was he crying all the time? Why was it so painful? How long was it going to be like this? I felt like for him to be that hungry I mustn’t have been feeding him at all, there can’t have been enough milk, perhaps he wasn't latching correctly. Midwives often said “if it hurts you are doing it wrong.” I googled for answers, but I didn’t find them.

The midwives would come and weigh him and ask how he was feeding. Approving smiles were made when I told them he was “exclusively breastfed.” Michelin star food for babies and I was providing it. It was the very best for him, they said, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I was frightened to introduce formula fearing bottles would confuse him. It would hold us back and I felt like we were making no progress at all. I would hold back tears saying I was finding it difficult, he didn’t latch well, he screamed taking in so much air the milk would often come back up. They would remark how well I was doing; he seemed happy. What I was experiencing was all normal and to be expected. He was gaining weight; there was nothing wrong.

When I first gave birth, I went home with my newborn in a daze, riding a high of unconditional love, adrenalin and hormones, which lasted the next few days. But when the hormones wore off and the adrenalin disappeared my need for sleep was so urgent I would cry at every feed, I knew something needed to change. I gave up after just three weeks.

Knowing now my experience was normal and likely had I persevered, I would still be breastfeeding now but I wasn’t prepared for what it was like and my expectations fuelled my desire to give up. Had I known I wasn’t doing anything wrong and this was just how it was, I wouldn’t have blamed myself as much as I did. I had heard it was hard, but I knew few people that had got through the hardship and out of the other side. There seemed to be two types of people, those that found it easy and those that had given up.

I hated that had given up. It took me some time to come to terms with the fact I was no longer feeding him myself. I had been selfish and wanted my body back. I felt there was a stigma to putting myself first. I denied my baby the nutrients he needed for a couple of extra hours sleep each night and to feel comfortable in my body again. But the truth was I was happier. I was now able to bond with him because I was more relaxed, better rested. I cried less. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to doing what is right for you and your family. Formula isn’t a bad thing. Looking back now, with a healthy, happy and thriving baby, exclusively formula-fed, (well and solids) I know we made the right choice.

Women wearing trousers was a milestone for feminism and equal opportunity. I know the struggle because I had to fight for the option to wear trousers at school myself and that was in 2001. (We won by the way). Although my reasons were purely of comfort, it became more of a symbolic fight. But jeans, jeans were not designed for women.

Originally intended as men’s workwear during the gold rush, they were highly durable and hard-wearing. But that was until they met me.

It takes me weeks of Saturday afternoon shopping to scout out the perfect pair to fit my un-uniquely feminine shape coupled with my apparently unusual short leg length. According to my measurements I am a perfect square and as rare as good dust. It takes so many weeks, I commit to a brand until they discontinue the design. I buy multiple pairs at once. Stockpiling to avoid going through the traumatic search again. Each failure to fit examined in the changing room mirror with criticism and frustration. They may look great, but I can’t try and sit down in them. They may fit on my bum, but my legs are hanging like jumbo sausages.

Fluctuating weight changes the quality of the fit several times within the month. Any woman will know the fickle nature of jeans. Synthetic materials required for the perfect fit compromise the strength and durability. My thighs can burn through what I would consider a heavy-duty pair in as many weeks as I took to find them. I have had enough.

I am sick of paying for a product I know will only last a few months regardless of the amount of money I have spent on them.

I am sick of poor fitting styles I have to keep pulling up over my hips if I dare to bend over, try to sit down or even walk.

I am sick of sewing patch upon patch on my worn out thighs to try to hang on to a pair I have made as comfortable as my own skin. RIP "Mom jeans, September 2018-June 2019".

I am sick of tears and holes in worn out knees and buttons that just fall off under the strain of movement.

I am sick of washed out greys, gradients radiating from the knees.

I am sick of trying to fit my body into a piece of clothing designed by men, for men.

It’s time to realise that my lumps, bumps and curves deserve better.

I am giving up jeans and I have never felt more free.

Anxiety peaked weeks before we moved out of our pokey one bed flat. It had become clear our house purchase would not be completed by the time we would have to leave Wandsworth. The moving bit we had sorted. I had scavenged strong cardboard boxes destined for recycling, the van had been hired, the storage unit booked, we just didn’t have anywhere to go; at least not a home.

Our final destination was a block of Hotel apartments a few miles from where we hoped we would be living in the coming months. We had hoped, before our baby would arrive.

The apartments were hidden on an abandoned high street behind a relatively new retail park, the railway track towering above. Beautiful arch brickwork reminded me of suburban London; I missed it already. A gateway opened onto a bare courtyard, displaying an array of ground floor apartments. All apparently being lived in; unmade beds and dirty laundry all on show through the large windows. It was such a strange place for a hotel, only one of two in the whole town. We still wonder now who else was living there. Perhaps there were others like us.

Naturally, it was decided that a young and unmarried couple booking in the peak summer season should be housed at the very back and top of the apartment block, away from the young families or disabled customers requiring easy access. My then pregnant self wasn’t best pleased with the amount of stairs I would have to negotiate daily, but once we had checked in it was a relief to know we were sorted. Atleast for a month.

The room was smaller than we were used to, but we had expected that. One room had everything we needed. A bed, kitchenette (microwave included, hob not included) a television (crucially) and an en suite with shower. We even had a tiny dining table, but with only one chair. Even so, I had thought the space could rival some London bedsits I had heard about.

Going to work everyday gave us the structure we needed. We were both busy heading in early and leaving late. We synchronised our journeys into work, walking the few minutes to the station together, to then get separate trains heading into the same city. It was important for me to get a seat, so I took the slow train, whereas for Stephen it was important that the journey didn’t take an hour and a half. I always tried to spot his silhouette as his train overtook mine, somewhere around Bromley, but I never saw him.

We tried to make the weekends as normal as possible. We’d go for breakfast, do the washing, walk around a few shops, taking advantage of the shopping centre for its air con and sweet baked goods. We found comfort in re-watching Friends. I had only just seen the ten seasons for the first time, but when we got back to where we started, we let it roll round again. It was another thing we could keep familiar.

Life was strange, but we made it ours. Microwave meals eaten across from each other with the laptop streaming in the background. Trips to the storage unit to top up on clothes that could fit over my growing bump: every time wishing we had been more organised searching through boxes and bags to find sunglasses, flip flops and sun hats. Every trip around the shops punctuated by the need to check in on the washing machine, stored in a cupboard under the stairs. Fear and uncertainty didn’t stop us laughing as we could hear the couple next door to us having their best holiday sex.

The phrase you would use now is that it was our new normal. On the brink of so much more change, we clung to the normality of our pre-baby life. With all the strangeness of pregnancy, wild hormones and an ever-changing body, alongside the stress and uncertainty in the attempts to secure our own home, this room had become a comfort to us. It was home.

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© 2020 Kylie-Ann Homer.