It would seem that the government have done it again. If by ‘it’ you mean ’cause-uproar-and-outrage’. Which is, in our house at least, what ‘it’ usually means. Seriously, you should meet my children.
Their current offence? Breastfeeding vouchers. That’s right. Money for boobs. I’m not sure when Hugh Heffner became a cabinet minister, but clearly he’s having an impact.
More accurately, they’re offering 200 of your English pounds, in shopping vouchers. £120 if you breastfeed for 6 weeks, and then another £80 if you hit the 6 month mark.
The mummy blogging world is up in arms. Twitter is exploding (virtually, of course.) There are cries of ‘bribery’ and ‘disgrace’ and ‘bollocks.’ Which strikes me as anatomically ironic, given the subject matter.
Stay with me here, but I don’t think it’s that clear cut.
I should point out to start with that I’m not a fan of this government in general. I don’t know anyone who is. Unless you count the government themselves, and a few of their private school friends.
I certainly didn’t vote for them. Strictly speaking, nobody did.
I remember watching the news in bed, heavily pregnant, a few days after the election. Wes went to make a cup of tea. On his way downstairs, Gordon Brown was prime minister. When he came back, Cameron was walking into No. 10 with an air of bafflement. A distinct look of “you’re not quite sure how I managed this? Me neither.”
I’ve watched friends in the NHS cut their hours, quit or leave the country because of the stress they were under. I know several teachers on the verge of nervous breakdowns. I’ve watched our children’s centre lose some of it’s most valuable staff. Women who have been surrogate family for so many of us. Who we are much poorer without.
All that without even mentioning the way that Gove is single-handedly suffocating creativity and the arts for an entire generation of children. That’s a whole week of blog posts just waiting to happen.
To my mind, the whole lot of them seem like overprivileged children. Sitting in their bejewelled fort, looking down at the rest of us. Trying to figure out where the next pot of money is coming from. Like Robin Hood with amnesia.
And then. Then they come out with breastfeeding vouchers. Cue the chaos.
I’m all for breastfeeding. Not necessarily for the bonding process – I’ve been bitten too many times to have fond memories of those sweet, blissed out feeds the leaflets talk so much about.
It just makes practical sense. It’s free, it’s tailored to the baby’s needs, it’s always the right temperature and it comes with hormones that send you straight back to sleep after night feeds. Winning.
I’ve had a mixed experience of breastfeeding. I fed Elvie for a year. Mostly out of guilt and an unswerving determination to be ‘perfect’. She thrived, but I was drained. Physically and emotionally.
With Joel, it was different. I fed through his tongue tie. Through the night he coughed up blood because of how damaged my nipples were. Through the support of the brilliant breastfeeding clinic. Until he hit 3 months. And he was feeding for 3 or 4 hours solidly every evening.
My body couldn’t cope. And neither could my mind. So he had a bottle at night time. He drank it with a look that said he couldn’t believe we’d been depriving him of this powdered joy. By 6 months he was fully formula fed. And he’s done brilliantly.
I certainly wouldn’t have got the full £200 for him.
Clearly there are massive, glaring issues with this mammary masterplan. Policing it being the most obvious. Will you be forced to breastfeed in front of a council worker, to prove you still can? Or will they demand before and after photos, and just refuse to pay anyone whose boobs are still where they used to be?
There are a lot of women commenting, quite rightly, that it will increase the guilt for mothers who aren’t able to breastfeed. But it’s possible that they’re missing the point. If you were already breastfeeding, or trying to, you’re probably not the target audience.
I was feeding Joel at the children’s centre one afternoon, when a friend came over, slightly shocked. To use her exact words, “you don’t see British people breastfeeding around here. Not young ones anyway.”
I’m sure there are areas of the country where breastfeeding is commonplace and accepted and you can whip your boobs out at a moments notice without anyone raising an eyebrow. That’s brilliant. But there are places where that just doesn’t happen. Where people stay under a virtual house arrest because they’re too embarrassed to feed their baby in public. Where a young breastfeeding mother is quite the novelty.
Perhaps the vouchers are bribery. They’ll definitely be an administrative headache and in all likelihood they’ll quietly disappear into the void of policies-that-didn’t-quite-work.
But perhaps they’ll make some women think about breastfeeding. Women who would never have contemplated it before. Women for whom £200 would make a big difference. I’m sure most people would count that a success.
At the very least, it’s an attempt at a positive boob-related story. One that doesn’t involve mothers being shunned or kicked out of restaurants. Or Miley Cyrus.
I know. The vouchers are not the extra health visitors, midwives or breastfeeding clinics that we need. They’re not counsellors or more pro-active antenatal classes. But I don’t think those are options. Not under this government anyway.
My worry is, that if we get up on our high horse about this and batter it into the ground, the government will run scared. And nothing will happen at all.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is to treat the ministers as we would our own children. Tell them it’s a nice idea. That they’re thinking along the right lines. That we’re proud of what they’re trying to achieve. Then hold their hands and gently point them in the direction of a better plan.
It might just work. Especially if we keep some Smarties in our pockets as an incentive.