Right now, I’m in the middle of making Cottage Pie for dinner. The mince and gravy mixture is simmering and the potatoes are boiling, so I’m going to blog for a bit.
Cottage Pie is one of my favourite meals. I don’t make it very often these days, because one child has suddenly decided that he doesn’t like mashed spuds. But the main reason I don’t make it is the memories that come flooding back to me when I do. Even now, 11 years later, one little experience involving Cottage Pie can bring me to tears.
It was 2002, and Ethan was 4 weeks old. I had undiagnosed postnatal depression, and he had undiagnosed gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. A great combination! I had been referred to the Plunket Family Centre, about 45 minutes drive from my home. Just getting there for my 9am appointment was a miracle. I had a newborn baby, and I was driving in rush-hour traffic to get to a place where I was hoping for some kind of magic cure. Nervous doesn’t begin to cover how I was feeling.
The Plunket nurse who attended to me was (and still is) a lovely lady, I am sure. In some ways, I will be forever indebted to her, because she introduced me to Gaviscon, which pretty much saved my sanity and helped my little guy to cut down on the amount of vomiting. Which at that stage, was pretty up there in terms of frequency and quantity. Sorry if that’s TMI.
Anyway, prior to her ‘diagnosis’ of reflux, which was later corroborated by a bona fide paediatrician, she rubbed me the wrong way in more ways than I thought possible. First, she asked me a lot of questions about why I was there. In short, I was there because my baby screamed during each feed, and vomited all over me and everything else twenty gazzilion times a day. After we talked for awhile, she decided it was time for both Ethan and I to have a sleep. I did not know this part was coming, and I was terrified. She proceeded to wrap my baby tighter than a burrito (I was a wrapper, but not as tight as that!!) and put him to bed in a wee bassinet in a room with several other soundly sleeping babies. Of course, I knew that my baby wasn’t going to settle, because he had just been fed so it was actually vomiting time, not sleeping time. I waited, smugly, for him to cry and spew all over her nice clean sheets. But of course, he didn’t. He stayed asleep and I was ushered out of the room and down into what can only be described as a dungeon of a basement. It was cold and dark, and I was tucked into a bed that wasn’t mine and didn’t smell like I wanted it to. There were two other mums in single beds alongside me. I felt like I was in a horror movie. She told me to go to sleep, and then left.
I didn’t sleep. I lay there, listening for the noise of a crying baby. I actually wanted my baby to cry, so I would have an excuse to leave. I lay there for over an hour, shivering and crying (silently), as the women next to me slept without a care in the world.
Finally, I was allowed to leave and go back upstairs. The Plunket nurse informed me that Ethan had slept for almost 2 hours and was a lovely, settled baby. I wanted to scream! He’s not settled! He doesn’t normally do this! Why can’t he do what he normally does here, so you can ACTUALLY HELP ME?! It was time for me to feed him, and I knew the nurse was not about to give me any privacy while I did it, so I had to flop my boobs out right there in front of her so she could criticise my technique. Mortifying. After I fed him, he promptly threw up all over her clean floor, and I couldn’t have been happier. Surely, I would now get the advice I needed. Not just yet.
First, I had to endure what can only be described as an interrogation regarding the food I had eaten in the past 24 hours. I was asked what I had eaten for dinner the previous night. I replied, “Cottage Pie”. I remembered, because it had taken every single ounce of my energy to prepare that meal from scratch. No small feat when you have a small baby. I’d only been doing the cooking for about a week on my own, as for the first 3 weeks I had been able to rely on Rob being home to help cook, as well as friends from church who provided meals for the first week or two of Ethan’s life. I had been quite proud of myself for making a Cottage Pie. But my pride was soon to be torn to shreds, as she began to berate me:
“Soooo,” she sneered (or so it seemed to me) … “I bet there were onions and garlic in that?”
“And probably tomato paste, too.”
Shock, horror! Tomato paste?
“What about Worcestershire sauce?“
Okay, so you know your Cottage Pie ingredients. Would you like a medal?
She tut-tutted at me, as if any person with half a brain should have known that a breastfeeding mother should NEVER eat food with tomato paste or Worcestershire sauce in it! Each look was like a dagger, each word was like poison. She probably meant well, but all I heard was, “You’re a terrible mother.”
In my mind, I was thinking, “Oh my gosh. I can’t stop my baby from throwing up, I can’t stop myself from crying, and now I can’t even cook a proper meal without screwing it up.” Damn!
I think I burst into tears at that point, and she was quite comforting and kind after that. I know that it wasn’t too long after this that she opened up a sachet of Gaviscon and mixed it with some water and gave it to my spew-covered baby. Little did I know, but this was the start of a fix, for both Ethan and I. She sent me across the road to the chemist to buy a big box of the stuff, and she may have also recommended that I talk to my GP. I know I didn’t actually do that until a few days later, after my own Mama told me straight up (and yet very gently) that I needed help. Which I did. And I got that help.
But for some reason, I’ve never quite been able to forgive that Plunket nurse. I know she was just trying to help me, and if I hadn’t been hideously depressed and sleep-deprived and worried about my baby’s health, her words probably wouldn’t have bothered me at all. But oh, how they bothered me. They ate me up inside. I don’t think I’m over it, even now! And every time I make a Cottage Pie I am reminded of all of those feelings. My memories stir up a whole bunch of emotions that make my tummy feel a bit wriggly and my palms a bit clammy. My heart beats a little faster, and I have to take some big, deep breaths.
Right now, I’m about to layer that mince and potato into an oven dish, and sprinkle cheese on top. Tonight there will be no need to worry about the effects of such food on my breastmilk, and there will be no disapproving eyes tomorrow morning questioning my food choices. Tonight I will sit around the dinner table with my hubby and my two healthy and well-adjusted boys, and thank God for the mean old Plunket nurse who told it like it was, back in 2002. Because when it comes down to it, all our memories and old feelings are just part and parcel of what our life has been, who we are, and how we’ve used or allowed our experiences to shape us. So I’ll try to ignore the butterflies in my tummy and the voices in my head, and I’ll share a delicious meal with my family. Forever grateful for the experiences that I’ve been through, for they have made me who I am today.