Breastfeeding is not a piece of cake, but there are similarities.
The year my daughter turned two it took me three days to construct her birthday cake. It was a beautiful white chocolate mud cake with a fondant farm yard, inspired by something I saw by Martha Stewart. It didn’t occur to me that Martha has battalions of experts behind her, and I failed home economics. Modelling those little animals in the small hours of the night was a mission though to everybody else it might have seemed a little obsessive. Ok, perhaps more than a little. Baking and decorating my children’s birthday cakes is an act of love, and the planning and process of baking a gift in itself.
Not everyone can or wants to bake a cake; if they could there would be no professional cake decorators, and so it is with infant feeding. The alluring choice of perfect birthday cakes lined up in bakery windows versus the potential for disaster in the kitchen is enough to put many women off baking – particularly if this is a cake that will be the centrepiece of a very public gathering. Not all of us have grown up surrounded by competent bakers to learn from, and even if you did, being surrounded by experts isn’t helpful if you have problems they have never encountered. The techniques, the vocabulary and the risk of failure can seem overwhelming. Researching and commissioning a marvellous cake for your child from a professional baker and not staying up to 3am fiddling about with Disney figurines has something to recommend it too.
Novice bakers may be able to throw money at the problem. There are cake making DVDs and shops selling every kind of equipment, classes you can attend, books of recipes and techniques. No matter how prepared you are, recipe in hand, ingredients measured, baking fiascos can happen and at that moment you have a decision to make. You’re exhausted, fed up and have a partner offering to pop down to Coles. Do you keep on trying, when you’re not even sure what went wrong? The biggest problem is usually that our expectations are too high to begin with. If we are lucky we have a working oven, a stocked cupboard, somebody to make us a cup of tea, and the energy to keep at it until we have something that resembles a cake.
Breastfeeding my first child two hourly round the clock for a year was not what I’d imagined it would be like, but I had the resources to be able to do it. It was in many ways a luxury, to have the time to sit around doing little more than that, and let everything else fall off the ‘to do’ list. Interestingly – just as when you present a finished birthday cake it can be assumed that you’re just ‘good at baking’ and whipped it up in a couple of hours, breastfeeding is often the same. Watching my toddler breastfeed one day a woman remarked that it was just so easy for me, but she hadn’t seen me at six weeks. Nobody saw me at six weeks – I never left the sofa. It took perseverance and support and a marvellous lactation consultant.
When I see a fabulous cake that a friend has made, or a pretty crocheted beanie, I feel happy for that proud and fortunate mother. No, I don’t have the time to make my children’s clothes or knit them jumpers, but I’m happy that other people can and do. Not everyone has the ability or resources breastfeed, or bake a birthday cake, not everybody wants to, but we do have the right to be proud of our work. We sponsor marathon runners, and admire masterchef contestants and cheer for people who can sing on the TV, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about breastfeeding as an achievement that women can be proud of too.