Baby Give it Up

A woman I worked with once described breastfeeding as ‘taking a peg, latching it onto your nipple and pulling back – yeah, that’s breastfeeding,’ she said, recalling her painful – and, by all accounts, I mean painful – memories of almost a decade earlier.Indeed, ‘twang’ is the sound my parents made when recalling my mother’s decision to give up breastfeeding her last baby some thirty something years ago. (Hopefully I received all the added health benefits and extra brain cells before she called it quits). At eight months with our first child, my own painful experience of breastfeeding involved teeth. 

One of the most supportive things my eldest brother (eldest by a matter of minutes because he is a twin) said to me before the birth of our first child: ‘Don’t feel pressured to feed. You do what feels right.’ A hands-on dad, with two children of his own, my brother was equipped to offer this advice, and I was glad to receive it.

However, there are many, I would suggest, who should resist the urge to put in their two cents worth. Despite being a personal decision, Breastfeeding is a highly politicised issue – the first baby to be breastfed in parliament making history in recent years. It is wrought with pressure. 

The pressure to feed. ‘Are you going to feed?’ a question often asked of expectant mothers (Ah…yes. I plan to feed my child. I mean, I’m not going to let them starve…). 

The pressure to continue. When things are just not working, caught in the undertow of expressing after every feed; Just keep feeding. Just keep feeding is the mantra of a new mother in a zombie-like state, clamping suction cups to her overworked nipples. 

And finally, there is the pressure to stop. As the baby thrives, growing big and strong, (and big!), the perspective of others changes – remember those I spoke of who would do well to keep their opinions to themselves? Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending ‘…breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond,’ the societal pressure to ‘kick the habit’ sets in well before this milestone.[1]

This stage came rather abruptly for our first baby, born at ten pounds. (Even now as a six-year-old he is the size of an eight-year-old – A big, healthy, thriving boy.) ‘When are you going to give that up?’ well-meaning family members asked at the sight of this oversized baby nursing in my arms. A question put to me well before his first birthday. Probably as a direct result of my response, the question was then softened to ‘How long are you going to keep that up?’

In recent months, I gave up breastfeeding what we intend to be our last child. The decision came fairly easily – comparatively to our middle child for whom I felt much more conflicted in breaking this bond; that special something just for us. With our last babe, however, the timing felt right as I became ready to reclaim my body as my own.    

As my milk began to dry up, our baby, who was really knocking at the door of toddlerdom, happily folded her hands over a bottle of formula, making a sleep-inducing sound of contentment. 

In those final days, I offered my baby a last feed (and one more after that). I told my husband what I had done, quoting the Australian Breastfeeding Association as if to justify ‘my relapse,’ that weaning should occur slowly.[2] That second last feed was exactly what I needed. I sat in our bedroom, alone with my baby, looking down at her being soothed by my milk into a state of bliss.

The very last feed, however, had a different effect. It was affirming. For this mumma and her babe, the time was right.

[1], accessed 15/02/20

[2], accessed 15/02/20


Attention is something that seems to ebb and flow. A good speech almost always gives an indication of its duration in the opening lines, allowing the audience to listen to the content rather than wondering half way through: ‘How long is this guy going to talk?!’ As adults, it is quite common for the mind to wander. In meditation, you are told to acknowledge thoughts that detract from your quest for inner peace, ‘acknowledge them and let them go.’ Yet, just about every parent I know, with children old enough to talk, regularly express their frustration at being ignored; ‘He just doesn’t listen,’ ‘It’s like talking to a brick wall.’

As a teacher, in those first staff days at the start of the school year, I sit in an auditorium listening to speaker after speaker – fidgeting in my chair, checking my watch for the minutes left until morning tea – thinking is this what we put our kids through?

Eyes on me. Listening ears on. How is it we have such high expectations of our children, when most of us struggle to start the day without a morning coffee? 

And yet, I feel frustrated. I feel it when I ask the boys to put on their shoes more than once, to stay at the table to eat their dinner; not least, to stay in their bed of a night-time. I feel it when they run a little too far ahead on the walk to school, when they dart down a different aisle at the supermarket. I feel it when my seventeen-month-old lets out an ear-piercing squeal just to test out her vocal chords; mimicking her older brother whose squeal – very much intended for her benefit – is only slightly less offensive and equally obnoxious. 

As parents, we see our children as a reflection of ourselves. Just as we are happy to claim our part in our children’s achievements, we can’t help but feel a sense of inadequacy when they don’t quite meet our expectations. 

But consider that our children feel frustrated, too. They feel it when we serve up their milk in a red cup when they specifically asked for yellow. They feel it when we cut up their sandwich in triangles, when their preference has always been squares. They feel it when we have the audacity to presume, overtaking some seemingly menial task that was always going to be their job; like squeezing their toothpaste out of the tube. 

But this is human nature. In all of us, the mind is prone to wander.

For the second day in a row – after already having a chat about the importance of not running off – our big (usually responsible) school boy bolted down to the pirate ship at school pick up. Stranded with the pram between two sets of stairs, I was effectively stuck until our son chose to return from the playground. 

After a long chat and some consideration, weighing up angry mum versus pirate ship, our six-year-old was, indeed, apologetic, even wishing to consider how we might avoid this situation in the future. 

His suggestion – ‘But…do you think you could write me a note…to remind me?’

‘Sweet Thing’

While my robust, busy boys loudly stomped around the kitchen table, imitating a T-Rex, I observed the quiet, contemplative play of my niece sorting tiny beads into their rightful place. Despite our eldest son and his cousin being quite inseparable – both enjoying dress-ups, make believe and the company of each other far more than that of anyone else – the contrast between boys and girls was so apparent.

Peaceful. Calm. This is how it is to have a little girl, I thought.

At the local swimming pool, our toddler disappeared from the Women’s change-room to explore the disabled toilet next door; scarily close to the pools.  After what was probably only a few seconds, a swim instructor called out ‘Mary Clare… he’s over there.’ With a firm grasp of my child’s hand, I returned to the Women’s change room, exasperated, walking past a sweet little toddler sitting perfectly still on a plush pink towel, waiting patiently while her mother dressed. 

Quiet. Relaxed. This is how it is to have a little girl, I thought.

As the boys roared with laughter, having let one rip at the dinner table, I placed my hand on my then pregnant belly and thought, Thank God, I’m having a girl. Soon our household would experience the gender balance I craved.

‘The third child just goes with the flow,’ other mums told me, ‘they’re chilled because they have to be.’ Carted around everywhere, disrupted sleep, made to fit in with the family’s schedule; this is the reality of baby number three. A chiller and a girl! I thought.

And then…

So, this is how it is to have a little girl.

Our ‘sweet thing’ yanks bows out of her hair, loves her brothers’ trucks and is prone to giggle at fart noises. In fact, she can fart with the best of them. 

Turning around to find my toddler, pretty in pink, gliding a blue marker across our newly laid floorboards, I wonder why I had thought having a little girl would be somehow different. Pulling out power cords. Diving head first off the couch. Sorting through the recycling. Nothing is off limits from the curious mind of our ‘sweet thing.’

As our toddler girl pushes me away in her swimming lesson (her third one ever) or refuses to eat unless she has control of the spoon and the tub of yoghurt, I think, we couldn’t possibly have another stubborn, independent child; that spot is already taken… isn’t it?

And then, our ‘sweet thing,’ utters the word favoured by toddlers everywhere; ‘No!’ and I realise that boys and girls are not so different after all.