Yes, I am that sort of mother. You will be too, if you read this and think "That's shocking!" :-)
So we were sitting there, with me playing "heavily distract" when a nice young Mum comes along, baby in sling in front of her, hands filled with lots of plastics bags, and sits down beside us. Baby is grizzling, and Mum says "Yes, yes, I'll feed you in a minute!"
Now, I wasn't expecting her to have a breastfeeding baby. She was clearly in her mid to late 30s, and very well turned out, but I didn't expect anything other than formula fed. I know older mothers tend to be, I know middle class Mums tend to be, but I had no expectations at all. So I schooled my face to keep smiling and not react, when the bottle came out of the bag, and was plugged in without heating etc. And out it came, and yes indeed, pre-made up bottle, almost empty, and in it went. Baby guzzled down hungrily, and we carried on chatting. Mostly about my little one being grumpy, as he'd been ill, and just talking about baby stuff. Her little one had had a bit of a tummy upset last week too. I refuse to look at the bottle, and smile and carry on lightly chatting.
I will not react. I will not react.
So we keep chatting, and I keep eye contact and smile, and we talk about toddlers... and the bottle is finished. But she has another one... and she brings it out. A bottle of cold water, obviously had been boiled once, but now stone cold. And then she brings out the pre-measured powdered infant formula container, and pours it into the bottle, and shakes vigorously.
I will not react. I will not react. I WILL NOT REACT.
She keeps shaking it and shaking it, and my skin starts to crawl up my scalp. My blood pressure starts to rise, and I can hear my little voice starting up. "You have got to tell her."
But I can't. I cannot react, I cannot tell her. She doesn't want to know. If I tell her the truth, and mention the bacterial contamination in powdered infant formula, and that she has to use really really hot water in it to lower the risk of the baby getting sick... she will call me a boob nazi. She will be shocked and insulted that anyone could tell her such a lie. The easy, smiling eye contact we have going, will be shredded, and I will be a nasty obnoxious person trying to make her feel guilty.
No, I won't, I don't want to make you feel guilty, I want to let you know what risks you are taking... please, please don't put that bottle in your baby's mouth. Please don't!
And in the bottle goes, and I feel sick, totally sick. I keep smiling, and chatting, and act like nothing has happened, and all along, I'm praying my Hubby comes back RIGHT NOW and we can move on. I can't keep smiling in this lovely woman's face, and not keep thinking about what she's doing, and how she doesn't know how much risk is involved every time she does it.
I hate that we can't tell people. I hate that so many people don't know. I hate that the information on what's really in formula tins, is so poor, and the entire cultural minefield is so intense, that just to speak the truth, is to be the enemy.
I hate that when I visited a friend in hospital, with her 3 day old, and she was having to supplement as she'd has the usual standard of maternity ward breastfeeding help (ie, appalling, abysmal, designed to make her fail)... that I was the only one who told her she had to use pre-packed sterile liquid formula for the first 8 weeks. I hated that I had to listen to her explain that the midwife had said this wasn't true, as all formula is sterile.
I hated that I went out in the car and bought enough liquid pre-packed for at least two weeks, so at least baby would be safer whilst my friend tried to recover from the shocking 'breastfeeding help' she'd received.
I detested that I then had to send her the link on how to prepare powdered infant formula safely, when the baby reached eight weeks old. I hate that she now feels unease whenever she uses the formula she has no choice about, as there is no human milk bank to offer her.
I hate that formula marketeering prevents human milk being donated to women such as my friend. I hate knowing she has to use powdered infant formula, and I had to spell out the risks, so she could do so as safely as possible.
I hated leaving that mother and her baby, in the shopping centre, and not being able to tell her. I hated that I couldn't speak up for the baby, in case I upset the mother... I don't know her. I have no right to impose... she hasn't asked me...
At least my friend knows how to minimise the risks. I feel I failed that mother today, as I left her without a clue.
How did we end up like this? Women, mothers, completely disempowered from the truth, the facts. Utterly ignorant of the risks. Yet, when a newborn dies, the courts say, you can't sue... everyone knows the risks.
No, we don't know the risks. NO ONE knows the risks.
And one of the reasons why no one knows the risks...is that we've all been gagged, on some strange altar of "don't make women feel guilty." Why on earth should any mother feel guilty... if they don't know!
And how come I can't tell them... in case they feel guilty.
Reductio ad absurdum.
So, I didn't tell.
Now I feel guilty.
You can't win, you can't break even, you can't get out of the game...