Like pretty much most mums-to-be, I firmly advocated that I would not be giving my baby a dummy. I don’t know why I felt that way, but I did. When Sandy arrived he fed. And he fed. And he fed and fed and fed and we pretty much got to the point where we knew he wasn’t hungry anymore and just feeding because he liked it. Being recently kidnapped from a time when I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, I found the transition to being at a little scrap of flesh’s beck and call 24 hours a day rather constraining. And frustrating. And nervous breakdown enducing. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a Mum, and I adored breastfeeding, but that Stuart couldn’t just take over drove me a little batty. So we relented and popped that infamous bit of plastic in his mouth and he finallystopped sucking on me for enough time that I could shower, eat and just generally restore a drop of sanity to my life. From that moment on the dummy was never out of sight and it stayed firmly in his little mouth at several times a day for the next two and a half years.
At first I was ashamed of it. I remember vividly carrying him in his sling. He was sleeping with his dummy in and I was approaching the NCT baby meet up group and I slipped the dummy out of his mouth as I entered the room, hiding it. I couldn’t be sure where this embarrassment came from but it was certainly there. After a few weeks though I stopped caring as I realised a lot of mums were sticking fake nipples in their babies faces and, more importantly, these babies were not crying. We picked up many dummies and helpful clips to keep them in place. They littered his cot and the bottom of my bag, and if I was ever without one sheer panic set in. The dummy was there to stay, and it did.
When Roslyn came around then my pre-Sandy concerns over dummies were of course non-existent. In the top drawer of her dresser lay several brand new dummies, in the brand that Sandy had enjoyed, and a new strap too. We were all set for her to suck away on them to her heart’s content. Of course life being the way it is Roslyn decided that no piece of plastic was going to replace her Mummy and gagged and chocked as soon as the thing approached her lips. She even once projectile vomited as I placed it gently in her mouth, such was her aversion. I tried without fail, putting it in when she was upset (nope), when she was already asleep (double nope) and leaving them lying around her when she was old enough to grab them (yeah right). In the car she gleefully played with the dummy on its strap until she was tired then she threw it across the back seat and cried until I pulled the car over in some ridiculous spot and fed her standing up outside the back door, slipping her back in the seat and racing off so she would finally rest. The girl hated dummies, and I am still at a loss how to get her to settle without a nipple in her mouth.
Still, despite my pushing the dummy on to Roslyn, there was a little part of me which felt proud that she wouldn’t take it. I really, really do not know what that is. I’ve racked my brain, thinking of my initial aversion and I can only assume it is deep seated in society and culture but I still can’t put my finger on it. I wish I didn’t feel it, because it means I’m judging, and I wish I hadn’t felt it, and had just given it to Sandy in the first place.
But what of the actual differences in life with and without dummies. Honestly, there is quite a lot, because – putting it bluntly – I am now the dummy. Roslyn needs me in a way Sandy never did. Don’t get me wrong, he loved and wanted me, and preferred me to others, yet he was happy to go off (dummy in mouth) with any of his family. Roslyn on the other hand took a significant amount of easing in to being away from me. In fact I don’t think she even did leave me until she was 9 months old, even for a moment. I remember my Mum taking her out for an hour – a mere hour! – at 10 months old and returning to tell me she had been fine, but was getting upset at the end of the hour, needing me. Me, of course, being my boobs. And it is still the same. I just went to get her from her cot and carried her down the stairs as she pulled at my top and shouted “boobs boobs juice!” (something she replicated during my PhD supervisors review meeting, rather embarrassingly). When I am there, Roslyn will not be with another. She cries for me even though I am a metre from her. When I’m gone she is fine however and I can only sum up that it is like leaving a dummy on the floor in the room with the baby and keeping the baby from crawling over to get it. I know I am much more to her than a dummy, but it is being her dummy that stops her from needing me quite so much.
Would I change it though? At this point no, I wouldn’t. Mostly because I have persevered this far and it would be like putting that work straight in the bin. Would I go back and magically have her take a dummy? Maybe. Yet I coped fine in the end and I can only attribute that to experience. With Sandy I was so unprepared and acclimatised to life with a needy little sucker that the relief the dummy got me was far more important than it would have been if Roslyn had taken it. It occurs to me that my aversion to dummies stems probably from their being unnatural. Let’s face it, hundreds of years ago there weren’t dummies and women coped just fine. Yet life was geared for coping in a way that it isn’t now. When rearing children was the focus of life and a bad night’s clusterfeeding could easily result in a day resting rather than doing all the things necessary in modern society. And even if it was harder than that, and more needed done, the extended family would have been far closer, far more involved and far more able to allow the Mum to cope.
In sum I think of dummies as a modern answer to modern motherhood, a means of alleviating the pressure on mums who are the sole focus of their infants’ lives, but also people with demands of the home and work and friendship. People who are used to having other interests and purposes than raising children and who are not prepared in the same way for the task as they once would be. I’m fine with Roslyn not taking a dummy because our breastfeeding relationship is closer, more natural and longer than it was with Sandy. And I am fine with Sandy taking the dummy because he enjoyed it, he slept far better than Roslyn, and I was able to continue my PhD, my life and my sanity during that delicate new mum era.