OBS Story - Lucy
Lucy and Otis
Having children was a negotiation in my household, literally. I moved to the UK from Sub-Saharan Africa when I was 14, and my mother had drilled into my entire being the immense privilege I had in being offered the opportunity to make a life in the UK. Our discussions never failed to fall on how girls my age were being forced into marriage and motherhood in Malawi, and how this new life I was being offered was my chance to ‘escape’ the fates of motherhood and homemaking. I worked tirelessly to earn my place at Oxford for my first degree, then Cambridge for my second degree before starting my Finance career in the city of London. ‘I’m safe’, I’d think to myself; I’d fought my way into a world of career, privilege and opportunity; leaving behind one of poverty which for me was partly defined by the shackles of marriage and babies.
So when I met my wonderful partner and the discussion of marriage and children was broached, I could only define this in terms of what was going to be taken from me. I needed assurances, I told him as we discussed it over dinner in late 2017, that the risk of ‘losing’ my career and opportunities were going to be mitigated somehow. It seems ridiculous now that neither of us recognised that the huge weight of expectation and anxiety I was carrying needed to be addressed before we brought a baby into the situation. I wish I’d spoken to my mother at the time. I know now that her approach to motivating me into academic and professional achievement had stemmed from love. She was the only person who could have realistically invited me to put this weight down, and I’d have listened. Unsurprisingly, I was completely unprepared for the chaos and disorder my beautiful daughter introduced when she arrived in late 2019. Plans for a three month maternity leave went out of the window when the COVID-19 pandemic hit not long after and, of course, my daughter wouldn’t cooperate with any of the plans I’d studiously formulated for her.
I spent the months that followed her birth getting to know her, but also trying to understand a new ‘me’ too. I found balancing the norms of being an ‘African mother’ challenging. I did all the things that felt natural to me having observed my own mother with younger siblings, yet battled against the freedom I’d come to love which these actions jarred against. I carried my daughter everywhere in a sling or ‘chitenge’ as its known in Malawi. She slept next to me in bed having banished my husband to the spare room. It never occurred to me not to breastfeed, and I did this on demand and all the time – it was all I knew. The constant attachment which breastfeeding, co-sleeping and sling-wearing necessitates removed almost all possibility of ‘freedom’, and I found the fear and acute panic which I viewed motherhood with start to melt away. I was lucky enough to find breastfeeding straightforward, so I followed the same pattern when I had my second child, a boy - Otis, in 2021. It was only when it came to returning to work that I felt the need to reach out for support for the first time.
An NCT friend mentioned OBS by chance, and I contacted them with six weeks left until my planned return to work. I spoke with a consultant the next week and joined the OBS Facebook group with hundreds of women who had faced the same issue. Otis, just as my OBS consultant Jayne, had predicted, worked out his own feeding method on the first day I returned to work ...He turned 16 months last week and I’m still expressing during the work day for his feeds and breastfeeding at night – no plans to stop yet.
The treatment I’d received from medical and public support services during both my pregnancies is a long and difficult topic of discussion. Suffice it to say that, when I found myself in need of help, I couldn’t bring myself turn to services which had treated me with suspicion and contempt at an extremely vulnerable time of my life. Otis would not take a bottle which meant my plans to return to work after a 2.5 year break were looking impossible. After months of attempting every type of bottle ever produced on planet earth, I looked at private ‘feeding consultants’ and spoke with a few based in London. The services ran in the thousands in cost but desperate to solve Otis’ ‘bottle anxiety’ (as many of them called it) I pressed on to the next phase. It was only when it was explained to me that Otis would have to be left in the care of the feeding consultant, night and day, for three days with no breastfeeding ‘allowed’ that I laughed and resolved to delay my return to work if needed. An NCT friend mentioned OBS by chance, and I contacted them with six weeks left until my planned return to work. I spoke with a consultant the next week and joined the OBS Facebook group with hundreds of women who had faced the same issue. Otis, just as my OBS consultant Jayne, had predicted, worked out his own feeding method on the first day I returned to work (out of a fruit shoot water bottle – don’t ask!). He turned 16 months last week and I’m still expressing during the work day for his feeds and breastfeeding at night – no plans to stop yet. I’m thankful that Jayne’s encouragement meant a relaxed return to work, and that I didn’t have to make a choice between breast and bottle. I’m still finding my feet back in a professional world which previously defined such a large part of my identity, but my journey to motherhood, as it does for many women, has redefined my drive for a career from one of competition and survival to one guided by a genuine love for what I do.