It’s the Winter of 2008, and I’ve just had my first baby. I’m in one of the darkest phases of my life.
My first pregnancy ended in a termination at 15 weeks because the baby had deformities deemed “incompatible with life”. Six weeks later I was again pregnant, with the baby I now hold in my arms. My relationship with my baby girls’ father is hurtling towards its finishing act, and I’ve pushed away all of my closest confidantes.
There is only one person I can really depend on for emotional support: the midwife who’s been looking after me since that first, ill-fated pregnancy. She checks up on me every day in the months after I give birth to Clementine, responding immediately to the hundreds of questions I throw at her about sleeping and cradle cap and engorgement. She comes over to my house, admires my kitschy op shop cat figurines, and tells me I’m doing a beautiful job with my baby.
The most extraordinary thing about Cath Curtin, aka Midwife Cath, is that she’s been that lifeline not only for me, but for thousands of other new mothers. Some of those mothers are better known than others – celebrities including Rebecca Judd, Tiffany Hall and Rebecca Maddern called on Midwife Cath’s expertise during their pregnancies.
Back in 2008, I thought that I was Cath’s pet patient, the one person she went the extra mile for.What I didn’t yet realise is that every patient of Cath’s thinks she’s the sole beneficiary of Cath’s post-natal cheerleading.
My second baby was born in 2013, and I had my baby at a public hospital rather than through the private obstetric practice Cath worked in. Cath didn’t give a hoot that I wasn’t technically her patient: she again held my hand through another tumultuous pregnancy and newborn phase.
By that stage, I knew this level of care was par for the course with Cath. She is a one woman, 24 hour care station for new mothers, a non-pharmaceutical antidote to the baby blues.
So when Cath told me that five women had reported her to to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, for making false and misleading claims about breastfeeding in one of her Instagram posts, I was astounded.
This is a woman who is a registered nurse, midwife and maternal child health nurse. She has delivered over 10,000 babies, and written two best-selling guides to navigating the first year of parenthood. Cath is a woman who deserves an Order of Australia medal, not a review of her professional conduct. Few people in Australia can claim to have done more to support new families.
The post that prompted the complaint read: “Some women have fountains of milk. Others not so much. The thing with lactation is we ALL can lactate but ALL don’t lactate the same amount. Make sense? So don’t feel bad if you can’t squirt this much milk. We are all different. Rather than babies going hungry or sitting on a pumping machine (which doesn’t increase your supply by the way) remember that #fedisbest. Your baby needs milk to grow, develop, and sleep. #breastfeeding #formulafeeding #milk #feedyourbaby. We all do our best to care and love for our babies. It’s not a competition-just enjoy every day”
To me, this reads simply as a message of support for new mums struggling with breastfeeding. The women who lodged complaints, however, read it as a pro-formula, anti-breastfeeding message, due to Cath’s claim that pumping doesn’t increase milk supply.
Because Cath is a brand ambassador for Bellamy’s, an organic formula company, the women said, she had a vested interest in promoting formula milk over breast milk.
It’s worth noting that the first hashtag attached to Cath’s allegedly anti-breastfeeding post was not #formulafeeding. The first hashtag attached to the post was #breastfeeding. Also worth noting is that Cath does not promote Bellamy’s on social media, or via any other channels. She runs baby care workshops, and Bellamy’s sponsor those workshops.
Personally, I would not have been able to breastfeed without Cath’s guidance, and a quick glance at her Instagram page confirms I’m not the only one.
“Thanks to you, I breastfed my son for two years” and “You saved my life” are common refrains.
There is a grim irony in all this: a woman who has helped countless women to breastfeed their babies is now being subjected to a professional investigation over anti-breastfeeding claims.
Was it because she had the audacity to use the hashtag #fedisbest rather than #breastisbest? There is no doubt that “breast is best”, but no one benefits when that message is pushed so forcefully that women feel pressured to continue exclusively breastfeeding, even when it is clearly not working for them or for their baby.
If there is one thing I know about Cath, it’s that she is foremost concerned with maternal welfare. If exclusive breastfeeding is not working for a new mum, Cath will not pressure her to continue. Does that really equate to being “pro-formula and anti-breastfeeding”?
I’m not a medical professional, and I can’t comment on the veracity of Cath’s claims about pumping and milk supply.
In most areas of healthcare, though, it’s accepted without much fuss that opinions are many and varied. One gastroenterologists’ IBS is another’s SIBO (and if you’re not familiar with those terms, consider yourself lucky).
There are thousands of unqualified people using Instagram as a forum to spread lies and misinformation about our health and our bodies. Cath Curtin is using Instagram as a platform to help support new families and provide evidence-based, professional advice.
To her detractors, I say ask yourself this: how many women credit you with saving their life?