FFF Friday: “Maybe I didn’t try the best I could, and maybe that’s okay.”

When I started the Fearless Formula Feeder back in 2009, no one was really talking about women who didn’t breastfeed. There simply wasn’t a narrative on this topic yet, other than a few rogue posts by brave (and beloved) parenting bloggers which were always followed by comments like “don’t worry, you tried your best!” and “Every drop counts! At least you did everything you could to give him the best.”  This was one of my main reasons for starting the blog – because, as nice as it was to feel like people were patting women like me on the back for going through hell, I didn’t think women should HAVE to go through hell. And not just for the usual reasons people recite, like how we shouldn’t care what others think, and the importance of bodily autonomy, and blah blah blah, but because it really is okay to choose formula. 

But the problem was, the women who seemed to need the most support, who were in the midst of a unique trauma that no one was recognizing, were those who had gone through hell. So I had to stand up for them, first. It was like advocate triage – you deal with the worst traumas while patching up the ones who can wait a little while.

I fear, though, that those people are still waiting, sitting in some virtual, sterile waiting room with bad elevator music playing on an endless loop, staring at the women sitting next to them and wondering if they really belong here. If they tried hard enough, if they have a reason to need support. If they still qualified as good moms, even if they quit breastfeeding after a day, an hour, or never latched a baby to a breast. 

Julie S. is in that waiting room. In fact, her story submission got lost in my inbox, and I only unearthed it today (thank god, because it’s amazing). So she’s been waiting in more ways than one. 

Julie- and all the others who’ve been comparing, wondering, worrying: I’ve been the woman in hell, and the one in the waiting room. I barely “tried” to breastfed my second child. And that’s okay. It has to be okay. I want you to feel proud that you listened to your gut, that – as Julie so perfectly puts it – you “made a decision”. There is so much power in that. When I was the woman in hell, I needed to see that there were those brave enough to make that choice and own it. It gave me the strength to break out of my self-inflicted prison and do what was needed to survive, to realize that it’s motherhood, not martyrhood. 

So this weekend, after you read Julie’s story, do me a favor. Help me form a new goal for FFF: a movement where the women in the waiting room and the women in hell join hands, bust through the doors, and demand to be seen, demand to be heard, as one strong, cohesive, unit. Because the cold, hard truth is this: until the reasons don’t matter, the reasons are going to matter. Until it’s okay to not breastfeed, it’s not going to be okay not to breastfeed. And it is okay. It is. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Trying My Best? My Journey to Formula

by Julie S.

***

Maybe I didn’t “try the best I could” and maybe that’s okay.

Outside of about 5 weeks of some breast milk, my now 3-year-old son was exclusively formula fed, and now my newborn daughter is as well. I have an enormous amount of guilt, doubt, and insecurity surrounding the fact that I did not breastfeed my children for very long. I used to say I wasn’t “able” to breastfeed my son, but this was not really true. It was difficult, and there were obstacles that made it very challenging, but I could have pushed forward, plugged away, tapped out all of my energy and resources, and probably made it past those first seemingly impossible weeks. The same could be said for my experience with my daughter, although the challenges and the journey were different.

I read the Fearless Formula Feeder entries with a certain hunger to find absolution. “Yes, that was me!” I tell myself. But oftentimes, I read heartbreaking stories of “I did everything I could, to the point of my own exhaustion and sacrificing my physical and mental well-being, and still didn’t have enough milk”, or the baby still wouldn’t latch, etc. And I think to myself, “You did what was right! For you and your baby!”

But I suppose I don’t give myself the same slack, and maybe it’s because, in my estimation at least, I never “did the best I could” to the detriment of all else, and still have to stop breastfeeding.

When I was pregnant with my son, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t breastfeed. I didn’t really know much about the existence of formula. I didn’t even have a bottle in the house as per the recommendation of my lactivist friend who had nursed her three sons until age four. I didn’t read a book or take a class because I just thought, like many women do, that nursing came naturally.

Well, I learned real quickly that very few of my assumptions about breastfeeding were true. In the hospital, I was told that my “milk hadn’t come in yet” (later to learn that almost no woman’s milk would have come in so soon) and when my son was not latching successfully at the hospital, they were already syringe feeding him formula and sticking me on a pump by the end of his first day on Earth. By day three when I was being sent home, the lactation consultant sent me with bottles of formula. A variety of lactation consultants and nurses all had their own advice about how to get my son to properly latch, but all of them just left me confused and frustrated. I therefore went home confused and frustrated. And without a good plan.

The day my milk came in, I cried. I called my husband and mother into the room and showed them the huge wet spot on my shirt. What a relief. But by then, we had been supplementing with formula for almost a week, allowing me to actually get some sleep while my mother and husband and I took turns giving my son a bottle every two hours. My son eventually latched and seemed to be feeding okay, although in my mind he seemed like the slowest feeder in the universe. By then, I knew the “temptation” of formula and bottles. I knew the relief they provided me. I knew that I really liked not having my son chained to my body nearly 24/7.

That was a turning point for me. At that moment when my milk came in, I could have ramped up my efforts, called in a lactation consultant, gone to La Leche League meetings, and pumped like a maniac, and brought my supply and nursing skills to where they needed to be. But I didn’t. It was just easier, and obviously more desirable to me, to wean him from his already very rare breastfeedings.quotescover-JPG-16

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I asked myself what I was going to do this time around (and many others asked me this too). By then I was a pretty well-established formula “advocate” in my mommy circles, but also didn’t hide the guilt that continued to plague me surrounding this issue. I knew I wanted to at least try to breastfeed again, but I was scared. What if I couldn’t prove to myself that I could do it this time? What if I was just never going to be one of “those” women who made breastfeeding look so easy and gratifying? Or, worse yet, one of those women who put everything on the line to make it work? What if I was just too lazy? On the flip side, would I be a huge hypocrite if I ended up exclusively breastfeeding, given all of my talk about formula advocacy?

My daughter was born and they asked if I wanted to nurse. I said yes. They gave her to me and she latched on immediately, like a pro, and sucked away for a good hour. I thought to myself that this was like magic, and I was blessed with an easy go around this time. That night, however, it didn’t seem so easy when she would latch on and suck like a maniac every five seconds, if she even took a break. My nipples felt like needles were being stuck into them and one of them was already cracked and bleeding. I dreaded every feeding, but pushed through somehow. The next day, her magic latch had suddenly vanished. She seemed to possibly have some sort of tongue tie, and the only way she would latch was with a nipple shield. But it was going okay enough, and my milk miraculously came in full force on day three as I was waiting to be discharged. My baby girl sucked like never before, and I realized she was satisfied to finally have some real milk coming out.

I was pretty happy with myself that I had made it home without a bottle or a drop of formula in my baby. I rented a hospital grade pump and took home some nipple shields. I had also formed some semblance of a plan with one of the lactation consultants (I did, however, ask for some free formula just in case. I was well aware how expensive it was!)

Nursing a newborn exclusively was new to me. I didn’t realize just how constant it was. I started to feel trapped, to feel chained to the house and to my baby, especially since I had never felt comfortable nursing in public but in particular not when it felt like I needed an army of hands and pillows and nipple shields in order to feed her. The nights were the toughest. The second night home, I just couldn’t latch her on anymore. My nipples were so raw, she was still fussing a lot at the breast, and I was just too tired. So I opened a bottle of ready to feed formula and gave it to her. I felt like a failure, but tried to talk myself out of that feeling. I was starting to wake up in a panic and my anxiety disorder was rearing its ugly head again. I asked for advice from others: Could I just give one bottle at night and have it still be okay? What if I pumped extra during the day? I just couldn’t bear to do all of those night feedings by myself with my body alone.

Days passed and I started giving more and more bottles. I wanted to get out and feel free. I wanted to go do things alone and be able to leave my baby home with my husband or another family member so I could breathe for a while. The bottles began to very obviously affect her desire and ability to properly nurse at the breast, and my motivation faded. I hired a lactation consultant but it didn’t remove the feeling of being trapped. Swiftly, I sank into a depression. I dreaded getting up to care for her. I loved her, but the anxiety around feeding her made it even worse.

I saw my psychiatrist who was very concerned about me. She wanted me to go back on a medication I had taken pre-pregnancy, one that was incompatible with nursing. She said she preferred I wean. So I did. I didn’t breastfeed again after that appointment with her.

I went on my full medication therapy and pulled out of my depression and anxiety fairly rapidly. My husband and mother both noticed how much better I seemed to be doing and feeling. I had had a rough pregnancy emotionally and this was the happiest they’d seen me in months. My excruciating incessant fighting with my husband decreased significantly.

But, there I was. I had done it again. I had stopped nursing and my baby was barely 3 weeks old. Those three weeks had felt never-ending, but it was an even shorter time than I had nursed my son. I talked to myself a lot, telling myself that I hadn’t failed. Telling myself that some women are just not cut out for it. Telling myself that Mommy’s health and sanity came first. And most of me believed it. Even with the “permission” of my psychiatrist and my pediatrician, who gave similar advice about my decision, I felt like I was just not sacrificing enough for my child.

This was a few weeks ago. My baby is now fully on formula and I am mostly happy with this. I am sad about stopping nursing and do miss that feeling of closeness with her. I don’t miss the full breasts, the bleeding nipples, and the limiting nature of it all. I have come to terms with it for the most part, but a nagging feeling still remains: I didn’t really do my best, did I? I tried, but not an old college try, right? I put in effort, but not enough. I sacrificed, but not like the best moms do. I didn’t fail; I made a decision. I didn’t give up; I decided to stop. I think of all those women who have “real” reasons: Low supply, cancer, major medical problems, etc. What was my excuse? Am I really just lazy, as I had feared?

I continue to struggle with this. I know I am a good mother to my beautiful, healthy children (who are both good sleepers—must be the formula! ;) ). I know that I feel a million times better and my marriage is starting to get back to where it should be. I know all of this in my head. But, in my heart, I still doubt. I still doubt.

I am writing this piece in attempt to write my peace. I told myself that I would put my story out there, and then I would let it go. Because we all have something we wish we could have done better, but as moms we need to accept this and move on. So here I go: I am moving on.

***

Share your story: email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “When we take care of ourselves, our children thrive.”

When you’ve been on the receiving end of judgment, it can be uncomfortable to admit to yourself that you’ve judged others in the past.

Feeling some inner judgment is normal and healthy. The problems happens when that inner judgment renders us unable to listen, or to consider that there may be a larger story, or make character assumptions based on one single action. The problems happens when we use our own life experience, our own reality, and foist it onto others. The problems happen when we don’t grow, when we don’t own up to our judgment, and address it, and conquer it. 

Brianna’s story is a perfect example of how judging ourselves is part and parcel of judging others. Once we can release ourselves of one, the other will follow. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Brianna’s Story

When I became pregnant for the third time there were things I knew. I knew that my blood pressure would likely get high around my 37th week. I knew there was a chance I would not get the natural/out of hospital birth I had longed for with my other two children, and I knew I would breastfeed. After all, I had breasted my second baby for two years. I loved nursing him. Some women say they feel special or beautiful when they’re pregnant. I never felt that way, but I did feel beautiful when I was nursing. I longed to nurse again, and I felt this pregnancy, my last pregnancy, was my chance to do it all the “right” way from the start.

Despite the fact that I had been running 18 miles a week prior to getting pregnant, and despite my borderline obsessive reoccupation with maintaining a healthy diet, my blood pressure started climbing around 37 weeks just as it had in my two previous pregnancies. For the first time, I made it to 40 weeks gestation and I was grateful that my body had allowed my baby to reach full term. At my 40 week appointment my midwife swept my membranes and told me that if I wanted to birth at the birth center I needed to have the baby sooner rather than later. I went into labor the next morning and my third baby, and my only daughter, was born 4 hours later. She nursed immediately just as I knew she would.

During labor my blood pressure had risen to 150/90. That is the threshold at which you are considered hypertensive. Since I was only there for 40 minutes before she was in my arms there was no time for a transfer. Immediately following her birth my blood pressure fell as it had after the births of my first two babies. Seven hours after she was born we were on our way home.

Nursing was going fine, although I was a little concerned that it took over 72 hours for my milk to come in. Over the course of those three days my daughter had lost nearly a pound. When a nurse from the birth center came for my home visit she seemed a little surprised at my blood pressure reading, but not enough to be alarmed. I made an appointment with a lactation consultant because I was concerned about some latching pain and the fact that my milk seemed slow to arrive. That afternoon my milk finally came in and I breathed a sigh of relief.

We went to the appointment with the lactation consultant the next day, and though I was not as engorged as I expected to be, my daughter had transferred a little over an ounce and half during the feeding. I left feeling relieved, and a little silly that I had been so nervous.

A few days later we made a trip to the pediatrician for a weigh in. My little girl was gaining about an ounce a day and she was steadily climbing back up to her birth weight. On the way home I asked my husband to stop at the nearby drugstore so I could check my blood pressure. I wanted to know for certain that it was going down. I was shocked when the reading came back 160/104. I called my midwife who told me to have it rechecked. If it came back higher than 150/90 I was to go to the ER. She told me that though it was rare, women could become preeclamptic postpartum.

I sat at the Minute Clinic waiting to be seen in a state of shock. Would I be admitted? Would I be allowed to keep my breastfeeding baby with me? My blood pressure was rechecked and I resigned myself to the fact that I would be making a trip to the ER that night. I called my midwife back to let her know what was happening. I cried at the thought of being separated from my 5 day old baby, and I asked if they would let me keep her with me but she didn’t know. As a precaution we stopped home on the way and picked up my pump just in case.

All blood and urine tests at the ER came back fine, but my blood pressure remained high. I was able to keep my daughter with me the whole time, which was a huge relief. I was eventually given a prescription for a calcium channel blocker with instructions to see my family doctor on Monday. We left the ER and I began furiously Googling the medication that had just been prescribed to me. At the ER they had said it wasn’t contraindicated for breastfeeding, but what I was finding on the internet, including statements from the drug manufacturer, was not reassuring. I started to cry. I didn’t want my tiny baby to drink milk with medication in it, but I knew I had to take it.

I took the medication before bed that night and woke up the next morning feeling that something was not right with my milk supply. By this time, what had begun as preoccupation and some worry, was beginning to spiral into postpartum depression and panic. The panic came in waves at first. A few times a day I would become preoccupied and worried that I wasn’t producing enough milk, or that my milk was somehow harming my baby because of the medication that was in it. When I wasn’t worrying about those things I was afraid I was going to have a heart attack or stroke. I had no choice but to take the medicine, but I felt it was jeopardizing my breastfeeding relationship.

A few days later we made the trek back to the pediatrician for another weigh in. I was heartbroken to learn that since I had begun taking the medication 4 days earlier my daughter had only gained an ounce. I left with instructions to pump after feedings and to supplement with my milk or formula. I began taking my blood pressure multiple times a day with the hope that it would go down and my doctor would tell me I could go off the medication. It stayed dangerously high. I woke up every morning resolving not to take the medication, but by mid-afternoon I would start fearing that I was going to die, so I’d break down and take it. Even with pumping and supplementing, my tiny daughter was not back up to her birth weight 2.5 weeks after her birth.

The panic that I had been experiencing in waves eventually stopped subsiding. I woke up every morning terrified and shaking. It was like waking up from a nightmare. My husband had to hold me every morning so that I could calm down. I stopped eating. I was terrified of being alone with my children and could not be in my house. I went to my mother’s house every day because I was unable to care for myself or my children. My mom had to hold my hand in public to keep me calm. I felt strangely disconnected from and scared of my children and I cried constantly. At the supermarket a stranger casually remarked at how small my baby was and I burst into tears. I felt unbearable guilt that I wasn’t making enough milk and I believed that the milk I was giving my baby was tainted. I knew I was quite literally losing my mind. It sometimes felt like the small, rational part of my brain that remained was watching the rest of me fall to pieces. I knew I needed medication, but if I couldn’t bear to nurse her on one medication and remain sane how was I going to be able to do it on two?

I made an appointment with my primary care doctor in an attempt to convince him that I could go off the medication. My blood pressure was still dangerously high and as I sat there crying he told me I would need to be on it for 6 months. I was distraught. I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with what I was feeling for 6 months. I broke down and asked for an antidepressant knowing full well that if I took it that would be the end of nursing for me. It would take a while for me to feel well again and I knew I couldn’t bear the intrusive, paranoid fears I was experiencing about nursing on medication until then.

I filled the prescription for the antidepressant but didn’t immediately take it. That night my mother-in-law came for a visit. I sat motionless at the table while my family ate, unable to muster the willpower to nourish myself. I had gained 40 lbs. in my pregnancy and by 3 weeks postpartum I had lost 30 of those pounds. As I write this I am 3 months postpartum and my mother-in-law still wells up with tears when we talk about how I looked that night.

Later that evening, exhausted by my emotional state, I fell asleep on my husband’s lap on the couch. I woke up the next morning, shaking and terrified as always, but was still unsure if I would take the antidepressant. After dropping my older son off at school, my younger son, my baby, and I sat in the parking lot of a local convenience store. I reached into my glove compartment and pulled out the antidepressant. I took one of the pills out and placed it in my mouth, but didn’t swallow it. I sat like this, with the bitter pill dissolving on my tongue, willing myself to do what I knew I needed to do in order to get my life together. I finally swallowed it and silently said goodbye to my dreams of breastfeeding my last baby.

Roughly 12 hours after taking the first dose of my antidepressant I experienced my first wave of feeling like a capable mother. It came on suddenly and overtook me just as the waves of panic once had. I was talking to my mom when it happened and I told her I thought the medication might be working. I asked her if she could tell and she said my voice and face had actually changed in that moment. I started to experience hunger, something that I couldn’t remember feeling in nearly a week. Temporarily buoyed by feeling centered again I called the MotherRisk hotline to inquire about nursing on the antidepressant and blood pressure medication. The woman I spoke to indicated that the antidepressant was likely safe, and although the blood pressure medication was slightly less safe, it was not contraindicated. I decided to try to nurse my baby to see how I felt. I wanted to try to continue. Initially, I felt ok about it, but when we all piled into the car to head home I suddenly felt the panic returning. I turned to my husband with a very serious look on my face and told him I was feeling panicky again and that I didn’t feel like I could nurse her without the gnawing anxiety returning. Intellectually I knew that she would likely be fine if I continued to nurse her, but the overwhelming sensations coming from my body could not be ignored.quotescover-JPG-9

The panic I experienced upon waking didn’t subside for weeks, and though mornings continued to remain tough for me, I slowly started to get better. The panic and depression I had been experiencing while nursing began to dissolve, but were replaced with incredible guilt and embarrassment. I had been such a devoted breastfeeding mother to my second child after “failing” to nurse my first child due to PPD and lack of awareness. Between my first and second pregnancies I learned everything I could about breastfeeding, surrounded myself with breastfeeding women, and tried to correct all the things that I believed had caused me to “fail” the first time. For 4 years I had been a vocal and passionate supporter of breastfeeding, and I was going to have to admit publicly that I had “failed” again. The thought of bottle-feeding my daughter in public filled me with dread.

It was the dread that lead me to a painful opportunity for personal growth.

I was forced, in this moment; to admit to myself that I had once been judgmental of the women I had seen bottle-feeding their children. If I had been asked prior to this experience if I judged women for bottle-feeding I would have said no. After all I had bottle-fed my first child. It would have been a lie. I felt judgment because I had been judgmental, and that was a painful, but ultimately freeing truth to acknowledge.

Ironically, it took the birth of my only daughter to teach me how to support other women without judgment. It was with pure arrogance that I had once thought that with more education and support all women should or could breastfeed the way I did with my second child. The truth is I know nothing for certain. About myself or anyone else. Instead of looking at a woman feeding her baby with a bottle and thinking she should be breastfeeding I am keenly aware that she may have experienced something worse than I can possibly imagine which lead her to this choice. Whatever her reasons for not breastfeeding may be, they are none of my business.

It was only after I stopped nursing that I was able to fully bond to my daughter. I maintain the kind of relationship with her that breastfeeding would have fostered by wearing her often, holding her often, talking to her, playing with her, putting her to bed at night and being the first one to see her in the morning. None of these things are dependent on the way I chose to feed her, but have gone a long way to heal the disconnectedness I experienced after her birth. I’d heard the message that a healthy, happy mother makes a healthy, happy baby, but part of me discredited it. I still truly believed that self-sacrifice, nearly at any cost, was what mothering demanded. I no longer believe that to be true. When we take care of ourselves our children thrive. I see it now in every gleeful smile, in all the chubby folds of my daughter’s beautiful, growing body, and in the way she lights up when she sees me at the start of our day. I see it in the way my oldest son asked me tentatively one day after I started the medication if I was happy. When I said yes, he told me that he could see it in my face.

It was my love for my daughter, though distorted through the lens of depression that caused me to stop nursing. Someday, if she chooses to have children herself, I will look into her weary eyes and tell her this story. Perhaps she will breastfeed. Perhaps she won’t, and that’s more than ok. It’s best.

***

Want to share your story? Email it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

A Mother’s Day Wishlist

As you’re all aware (provided you haven’t DVR-d past those jewelry commercials and avoided the card and party aisle at the drugstore), this Sunday is Mother’s Day.

Beyond the usual Hallmark cheese, our new digital age has ushered in a new wave of delights in honor of the occasion: viral videos showing (in a imperceptibly condescending manner) just how hard this mothering gig is; flowery status updates about the importance of motherhood clogging up your news feed; and, come Sunday, an onslaught of staged “Mother’s Day 2015″ photos from your friends, perpetuating the myth that all of us are perfectly coiffed, perfectly happy, perfectly perfect moms who are perfectly adored by our children.Mums-Jewelry-Gifts

Don’t get me wrong – I like it. My kids make me great gifts in school (like the card Fearlette brought home yesterday, which included her guess of my approximate age as “72″ and my height as 2 feet, which is totally accurate). Sometimes, I get to sleep until 8:30, which is heaven. I’m not kicking this holiday out of bed.

I just wish that, instead of overpriced flowers and jewelry, generic sentiments and hero worship, we could get what we really need for Mother’s Day.

Like subsidized maternity and paternity/partner leave, because having a newborn is hard, and being all alone with what amounts to a tiny terrorist (or several terrorists, if you have multiple children) is easier when there’s two adults around. Safety in numbers and all that.

Like a prenatal experience that actually prepares you for taking care of a baby, and doesn’t pretend that every woman has a supportive partner, money to burn, and the desire to breastfeed, birth naturally, and quit her job.

Like a hospital experience that respects your wishes to breastfeed or not to breastfeed, and is mother-friendly as well as baby-friendly, because pushing a baby out of your vagina/ having major surgery is kind of hard work. Not that being born isn’t hard, too, but why can’t we be friendly to both mom and baby? And while we’re at it, friendly to partner-parents, too?

Like a world that accepts that the term “good mother” doesn’t have one definition, and that what works for me and my child might not work for you and yours, and that’s a beautiful thing, because we aren’t robots. (At least not yet.)

Like more inclusivity for adoptive mothers, on this holiday and every day, because growing a child in your body isn’t a prerequisite for the title of “Mother”, nor has it ever been, or ever will be.

Like an Internet that gives us all the good stuff – support, information at our fingertips, a way to connect with the world even if we’re housebound, stuck inside with a immuno-compromised preemie in the dead of winter/having a hard time getting out of our pajamas, but leaves the bad stuff behind, like the judgment and smug pseudo-science and mommy-board trolls and my-way-or-highway bullies.

Like safe, clean, food-secure environments for all women and their children, because it’s so easy to forget that as we fight about feeding our babies, some women can’t feed themselves.

Like partners and/or family members and/or friends who are always there for us, and who have been given the tools to support us while we are breastfeeding but also respect when we decide not to.

Like care providers who acknowledge that postpartum depression and anxiety are real, and prevalent, and treatable, and worth prioritizing over general recommendations from the World Health Organization or the AAP.

Like accessible and judgment-free lactation assistance and bottle-feeding assistance, without having to take out a second mortgage to afford the help.

Like the realization that mothering extends beyond the first year, and that we will face all sorts of challenges as our kids grow which will give us an opportunity to be amazing or screw it up, and thank god for that, because too many parents have that ripped away from them, and we are so, so lucky to be able to screw our kids up for as long as we can.

Like health recommendation messages that are backed up by hard science but also humanized, because they are being delivered to a group of people who just got hit with a Mack truck of change and upheaval, and who are living in constant fear of all those .001% risks that you make sound like very real possibilities.

Like a magic solution to all the mother-on-mother competition and turmoil, because while it’s human to judge and question, our utterly inhuman method of communication has taken it to an insidiously harmful place where we hide behind screens and levy our judgments without ever having to endure the impact this has on those being judged. The jury of our peers is the least just.

Like a promise that we will stop pressuring women into using their bodies certain ways; assessing their strength and power by their bodily functions; and forcing them into narrow categories based on how they birth, feed, diaper, and transport their babies.

Like any of these things. Even just one.

Or you know. Something from Zales.

Happy Mother’s Day, fearless ones,

The FFF

 

 

 

FFF Friday: “Breastfeeding destroyed me psychologically.”

I don’t know quite what to say about Ashleigh’s story (below), except that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry things haven’t changed. I’m sorry that this situation gets more ridiculous by the day. I’m sorry we are arguing over the perceived dangers of formula advertising in resource-rich countries when we could be focusing that attention on the very real dangers of postpartum depression. I’m sorry feminism – or, rather, those who dwell at the intersection of feminism and motherhood – has failed to see the full scope of the infant feeding issue, essentially turning its (their) back on women for whom the Patriarchy is not a formula company, but rather those who insist on reducing women to biological functions. I’m sorry I haven’t made a dent in this fucked up discourse. I’m sorry you are hurting. I’m sorry. I’m just so damn sorry. 

But here’s hope: we grow in numbers by the day. We’re listening, Ashleigh. We’re here to say yes, we’ve been there, it’s okay, we’re sorry. And we will keep saying these things – we’ve been there, it’s okay, we’re sorry – until our voices are loud enough to vanquish this particular, unnecessary nightmare of motherhood back under the bed, with the dust bunnies and dead bugs. Where it belongs. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Ashleigh’s Story 

The line turned pink, finally. After almost a year of trying to conceive I was finally pregnant. After a year of watching friends and family find themselves pregnant, I was finally pregnant. I was finally pregnant. I tested 7 days before my missed period, I was BARELY pregnant. Those next few weeks were, at the time, the hardest few weeks of my life. I was in a constant state of fear of miscarrying.

At about 5 weeks pregnant I had some slight nipple tenderness, I thought, “ahh finally! My first physical sign of pregnancy, breast growth!” Yeah that lasted all of two days; looking back I’m fairly certain my nipples were tender because I opted not to wear a bra with my scratchy “UNLV Alumni” T-shirt. By 6 weeks pregnant I was questioning the health of my baby on mommy boards via pregnancy apps, wondering why my first pregnancy symptom not only wasn’t getting more intense as the days passed, but that it had stopped all together (eventually I found myself in a bout of morning sickness that lost me 15 pounds).

Why. Weren’t. My. Breasts. Growing? Why? Why weren’t my breasts tender? Why? I brought it up at all my early OB appointments, was assured over and over and over that breast size did not dictate milk production nor the ability to breast feed (you’re right, size doesn’t, but other things do) – and that it was still early enough in my pregnancy and by the time I delivered my breasts would be full of milk and ready to feed my baby.

Months pass, still no growth. Still no tenderness. Still no colostrum. Still the same ‘ol “no-boobs”, as I’ve always referred to them as. I start scouring the internet for answers, since none of the doctors at my office had any answers besides the infamous “you will be able to breastfeed without question, ALL women can breastfeed!” I started questioning the incredibly offensive and demeaning saying “every woman can breast feed”. From early on, despite my denial, I knew deep down that every woman, in fact, couldn’t breastfeed, and I knew that I was going to be one of those women.

Words cannot explain how badly I wanted to be able to nurse my child. I was borderline sanctimonious about it- not because I wanted to belittle others or make them feel lesser, but because I believed the lactivist propaganda, I fell for their lies, for their tricks. Some days I think my sanctimonious opinions about “breast is best” is the reason for my failure- it was karma, the universes way of laughing in my face for even thinking for a second women who didn’t want to breastfeed or didn’t succeed at breastfeeding just weren’t trying hard enough- a feeling I am so deeply ashamed to admit that I almost didn’t write it here.

My research let me to a little something galled IGT- insufficient glandular tissue. Yup, that sounds about right. I do copious amounts of research on IGT, information, pictures, markers; I had almost every marker. Then one morning before work, because I’m a smart person, I finally cave to looking at pictures of what IGT breasts may look like- something I was avoiding out of pure fear: the pictures matched my body. Moments later, 32 little kindergarteners pile into my classroom, me with tears in my eyes, coming to the realization I was not going to be able to nourish my child. I was going to fail her. ..But no. I WILL BE ABLE TO BREAST FEED, DAMNIT!! I WILL! I WILL TRY HARD ENOUGH. Again, denial. From then on I started searching phrases like “breastfeeding with IGT” “Does no breast growth during pregnancy mean I won’t be able to breastfeed?” I found a few articles of women who were successful with the markers, or the lack of changes I experienced during pregnancy. I was going to make it. I was going to try hard enough. Here I am 8 months pregnant and can’t even fill up an A cup, yeah okay, keep lying to yourself honey, they’ll grow, you still have time. Friends assured me, even though they were stunned by my lack of growth during pregnancy, that I would absolutely grow immediately after birth (yeah, that didn’t happen either). I turn to my husband for comfort, who was deployed my entire pregnancy, and expressed my fears… he thought I was crazy. Of course he did, he wasn’t here to witness the momentous failure my breasts were. He thought I was exaggerating, I wasn’t. He did make it home 8 days before the birth of our daughter, he told me my breasts had grown, he lied to make me feel better- I did appreciate the sentiment. Every appointment up until moments before I delivered I discussed my concerns about not being able to breastfeed with my doctors, I was ignored, as usual.

Our baby was finally here, a beautiful 6 pound, 4 ounce baby girl. I developed a fever during labor and had a slight postpartum hemorrhage after delivery, and was unable to feed my daughter for almost 2 and a half hours after birth- I do partially attribute that delay in time to my epic failure of nursing. Even hours after she was born I was barely able to squeeze but a few drops of colostrum- I was given a hospital grade pump and nothing came out. My baby was unable to latch, and I was unable to produce. But the nurses, again, assured me my milk would come in fine, and that my baby would be able to eat, “her tummy is small, she only needs a little”.

I was given syringes to collect what few drops of colostrum I could manage to hand express from my breasts, I’d fill up maybe 1/5 of it, over an hour… that’s supposed to feed my baby? According to hospital staff, yes. I didn’t respond to a pump, I didn’t respond to hand expression, I didn’t respond to my baby’s suckle. My body was broken. I was NOT going to be able to nurse my child. It was official, it was certain.

We returned to the hospital 2 days after being discharged for my daughters 5 day old appointment; she was a whopping 5 pounds 5 ounces. My baby had lost 15% of her birth weight. I was devastated, I started crying uncontrollably right there in front of the hospital staff. We were given formula and a syringe with a tube to supplement- no bottles of course, you don’t want baby to get nipple confusion.

8 days after birth, yes 8, my “milk” finally came in. I woke up one morning with slight pain in my breasts- this was great!! I have milk! I pumped a whole 2 ounces- combined of course- and was slightly discouraged- my mom looked on the internet and assured me that was normal. I sent a picture to a friend so proud of all the milk I’d managed to pump, and got a response of “that’s all you got?” I know she wasn’t trying to rain on my parade or make me feel bad, but it did. I wanted this, damn it. I wanted to nurse my child.

We decided to only supplement 1.5 ounces of formula a day, a decision today I regret whole heartily. My baby was struggling to stay on the charts, she was the 0 percentile… is 0 even a percentile? For her, it was. Fast forward a month, after round the clock nursing sessions that lasted up to an hour, pumping every two hours, and many many lactation consultations, we finally started giving her bottles. Up until that point I was nursing every 2 hours and pumping the off hour… it was horrible. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I wanted to give up, not give up, stop, but my husband made me a promise that he wouldn’t let me, a promise I forced him to make- I know he was trying to support my decision and respect my wishes, but I had had enough.

Once the bottles started life got easier. At first it was one a day, we eventually went up- combo feeding worked for us, until it didn’t. When my baby was 6 weeks old my in-laws came for their first visit (they live across the country), the can of formula was on the counter- I overheard my MIL say to my husband “you know, you really shouldn’t be giving her formula, that’s not good” he responded with “well we are, because it’s what works for us”. Shamed for formula feeding in my own home. Shamed for trying to keep my baby alive in my own home. I tried, I tried to EBF, I couldn’t, I was starving my baby- I’m sorry my sweet girl, mommy is sorry.  quotescover-JPG-75

At just before 5 months we weaned her completely from breast feeding. She was over it, mommy was too hard to eat from and she was too hungry to work that hard for it. She rejected my breast. Refused me. She preferred bottled formula over mommy’s breast. Do you know how painful that is for a woman? I couldn’t force her to nurse if I tried, she wanted food, and I couldn’t give it to her.

Fast forward to today, my sweet girl is just 2 weeks away from turning 1 and I have found myself obsessed with the notion of relactation… its unhealthy. I’d never planned on breastfeeding past a year anyway, but here I am convinced that if I try harder this time I’ll be able to do it, I’ll be able to produce. Even when looking back and remembering how many days I felt like dying because I couldn’t nourish my child. I wanted to die. Or to run away and never look back because I felt like my child deserved better than me and that I wasn’t worthy enough to be her mother, all because I couldn’t succeeded at breastfeeding? Yet I’m still partially obsessed with relactation????

Breastfeeding destroyed me psychologically. Destroyed me. It took my happiness, it took my feeling of worthiness, it prevented me from fully bonding with my child, it contributed deeply to my postpartum depression, and it made me want to die. I no longer wanted to live, and that is terrible. Even today, on the days I forget to take my medication, I find myself in fits of tears over the loss of what should have been, but wasn’t, because of my broken body. I shouldn’t feel broken, but I do. I shouldn’t feel unworthy of motherhood, but I do. I shouldn’t feel like I failure, but I do. I shouldn’t fall into spells of depression and self-loathing all from seeing a photo of a friend breastfeeding, but I do. I shouldn’t feel a deep despair simply from noticing another woman’s breasts grew during pregnancy, but I do. Breast will never be best when it makes a mother feel like that… when it makes a person feel the way I did, the way I still do. My identity has become reliant on my lack of ability to breast feed, and it shouldn’t. I am a good mom, even if I did formula feed. Every day for the rest of my life I will struggle with the feelings of guilt and shame, and I hate that. But as long as there are lactivists who shame and humiliate formula feeding mothers, there will always be that feeling of incompetence in my heart- and its truly not fair.

FFF Friday: “No one is going to completely understand how difficult it is for you, except you.”

In the early days of Fearless Child’s life, I used to feel caught between a rock and a hard place. Or, more accurately, between a pump and a crying baby; between feeding my child, and caring for him. To keep up with his needs, I had to pump around the clock. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that my husband went back to work a week after FC was born, and we had no local family, no help. So, when I was pumping, I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t rock him, or walk with him in the sling, or do any of the things that would soothe him when he was inconsolable. I couldn’t even feed him, because I was too busy milking myself for his next meal.

The irony wasn’t lost on me, but I continued, because…. well, we all know why. Because we’re told that providing breastmilk is the most important job a mother has. Not loving your baby, or responding sensitively to his particular needs, but simply providing milk for him. And while there’s no doubt that giving him the “ideal food” is important, when every parenting decision is an exercise in risk/benefit assessment, it’s easy to see why some of us – like Whitney, who has written this week’s FFF Friday – decide the bad is outweighing the good.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Whitney’s Story

When I was pregnant, I knew I was going to be breastfeeding my child. “Breast is best” is the slogan that a pregnant woman, and the public in general, sees everywhere. There are commercials, billboards, and internet ads dictating that breast feeding is the best choice for a growing baby. I thought that too. I knew there was no way my baby was going to touch formula. To me, formula was poison. It was what people who did not care fed their children, and I looked down on any woman who fed their child formula instead of breastmilk. It is so easy, natural, and FREE I thought. Then, I had my baby.

My daughter is perfect in every way. She was born 6 lbs and 19 inches with the tiniest mouth I had ever seen. When she opened her mouth to cry I noticed the thick attached upper frenulum, but did not think anything of it. She started breastfeeding well in the hospital, so well, in fact, that the pediatrician asked if I had other children. I felt awesome. I was rocking this breastfeeding thing. Then, we came home. Little one stopped eating. Completely. We came home at 11 am and she still refused to latch on until the following day when my mom ran out and bought me some nipple covers. She was able to latch a little better, but only for about 5-8 minutes, and then she was done. Then we would spend the next hour with her crying and me crying and frustrated trying to get enough milk in my daughter. We would take an hour break, and then we would start again. I went to a lactation consultant and she said that it possibly could be due to the frenulum attachment. I asked the pediatrician about cutting it, but she wanted to wait and see if it detaches on its own. Eight weeks this went by, and I was exhausted. I was angry at my baby. Why couldn’t she do this? Why did this have to be such a struggle. I envied the mothers posting happy breastfeeding pictures online, while I lived on the couch, an hour of feeding, an hour break. Every day. Something had to change, but I didn’t want to.

I started to exclusively pump and bottlefeed. I had bought widenecked bottles for Avie before she was born since they were supposed to be easier for breastfeeding infants. Of course, she could not use them at all, and I had to go out and buy standard sizes. At this time, I was also worried about having enough milk once she started daycare (more on that later). I started pumping and  freezing, and gave her formula occasionally. This was such a hard decision, but I wanted her to get some sort of breastmilk as long as possible, and I did not make enough to feed her and store extra. I had no clue about what formulas to try, or even how to prepare it, but through reading blogs and trial and error we learned. I felt like a failure. I had a friend, who does not have kids, tell me, “oh my sister had a hard time too, she had to use covers, her nipples were bleeding and cracked too, ect ect,” and she gave me “the look.” We all know what the look is.  The automatic judgement look of  ”I cannot believe that women is feeding formula to her baby! She is so lazy, and her baby is going to suffer for it.” My friend had no idea what my struggle was and how it affected me and my child.  I could care less about how breastfeeding was painful, but I did care that my baby wasn’t eating. No one is going to completely understand how difficult it is for you, except you.  What we should have, though, is empathy. From that point on, I internalized my feeding struggle. I was embarassed and did not want anyone to know my child had formula. However, things were better for my baby and me.quotescover-JPG-62

Once I started work, things changed. I have a job in which I work out of the car. I am a home health pediatric therapist and spend 30 to 45 minutes at a patients home, and then I drive 30 minutes to the next patient. It takes me an hour and a half in the morning from the time I leave my home, take my daughter to daycare, and then arrive at my first patients house. Then, I have 5-7 patients a day, driving over 100 miles, with my furthest patient being 50 minutes from my house in no traffic. Needless to say, it was hard trying to find time to pump. Usually it would be 5 hours between my morning pump and my next available time to pump. I pumped in the car on a daily basis. I even pumped while driving. I don’t recommend. I would massage myself if I could not pump, until I felt the let down. I took Fenugreek capsules, up to 10-12 of them a day. I did everything I could to keep milk production up.  Since my job does not involve being in an office, my company does not have to go along with the guideline of Obamacare stating that a breastfeeding  mom should be provided with a room with a sink and adequate time to pump. In fact, my company did not care when I told them I needed time to pump in the car. Instead, they told me I needed more numbers, and said I needed to start seeing two patients that were an hour away from the patient that was right before them.  I broke down and told them no. The alternative was for me to drive around with the just out of college male office recruiter. Yes, because I was really going to be able to pump that way. I felt like all they cared about was making money off me while sending me driving around unsafely trying to pump every free chance I had. I wonder how a company specializing in pediatrics can treat their breastfeeding mothers this way, but I have digressed. Needless to say, my milk production declined, and my stress about it rose.

When Avie was 6 months old, I had to undergo a minor surgery to inject cortisone and hyaluronic acid into my hip. I have avascular necrosis which is too far along for surgery, so this is my only option until I get a hip replacement. At 27 years old, I want to wait as long as possible. I did not realize that cortisone could decrease milk production. After the injection, I got 2 ounces out the rest of the day. I spent the next 3 days (it was a long weekend), pumping for 30 minutes every hour and a half except 6 hours at night until I brought my production up to 12 ounces a day. I was even more stressed about pumping as often as possible to maintain this production. A month later, I had a cortisone injection in my knee for the same complication as my hip. I had to go through the whole pumping for 30 minutes every hour and a half for three days situation again. I wish I was exaggerating. But, I am not. This time my production went up to 6 ounces a day. You may wonder why I would have gone through with another injection after the results of the first one. Well, I had hip surgery 4 years ago that never fully resolved. I always had some degree of pain. In the 9 months  prior to my injection, I was unable to walk without severe pain. I was unable to go up stairs or even the slightest incline. I could not take a single running step on my left leg, could not hop, and could not bear weight on just that leg. I walked via a step to pattern. This is not an option for a pediatric physical therapist, and I could not tolerate it any longer. Now my pain has decreased immensely and I am so grateful for my doctor.  I feel like I am trying to justify my decision to put my health needs over my babies breastmilk needs for all those women out there who refuse to acknowledge that formula may be a better option for certain women. I, nor any other woman, should have to feel this way, but so many of us do.

During this time, I started losing weight. I gained 24 lbs when I was pregnant. I went from 106 to 130. When my daughter was at 5-6 months I went down to pre pregnancy weight. Then, two months later I had lost 13 more pounds. I weighed 92.8 pounds. I had not changed my eating habits, albeit they were not the greatest. Since I don’t get a lunch break and I was pumping during free time, my lunch consisted of snacks in the car. The stress of trying to pump as much as I could, yet only getting .5 to 1 ounce every 30 minutes I pumped was taking its tole.  There is another slogan. “Every ounce counts”. When it takes you 30 minutes to make that ounce, 30 minutes that you could spend time with your child, or get work done, or just relax, I promise you, that ounce does not count. I had to do something. So, when my daughter was 9 months old, I had to quit.

Quitting pumping was one of the hardest decisions I have made. My mother, a pediatrician, was pressuring me to continue pumping even though I made so little. I felt like a failure when I stopped and I felt ashamed. I still am a bit ashamed, but I should not be. I live in a predominately white, middle to upper class, bubble of a city. A majority of the moms around me stay at home. I can feel the judging when I take out a water bottle and formula mix versus a boob when I am at a restaurant. I can see the judging on the face of others when they ask if my daughter is breastfeeding.  Apparently, that is a common topic among mothers. I know there will be plenty of people out there who probably think I did not try hard enough or think they would have kept going no matter what in my situation. If I did not go through this, I would probably be that arrogant too. Here I go again, trying to justify my decision for a group of women who no matter what the circumstance, believe that formula should never be given. (Yes, I read too many blogs where these women come out of the woodwork). They have no idea how hard I tried to give my daughter milk; how much my health and relationship with my child was sacrificed. But you know what? In the long run breastmilk vs formula does not matter. No one is going to care that my daughter received formula when she is entering kindergarten ( and if they do care, they have issues of their own). My daughter is happy. She is healthy. I am happy; the happiest I  have been since my daughter’s birth. In the month since I stopped, I have gained two pounds and I get to actually spend time loving on my child when I get home from work instead of fret while pumping.

I wish judgement of moms by other moms and women would come to an end. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see. All moms supporting each other instead of trying to prove they are better than each other.  If you choose to breastfeed: Great. If you choose to use formula from day one: Great. If you choose to breastfeed and it does not work and you try formula: Wonderful. You have chosen what is best for your family, and no one should make you feel less because of it.  I am sick of the breastfeeding campaign throwing stats down our throat, and people interpreting it to be if a child is not breastfed he or she will be dumb and sickly.  That is just not true.  I do not want anyone to have to go through the struggle and the feelings of inadequacy that I went through.  My child is being fed, I love her, and she loves me.  She is a happy, healthy 10 month old, and an incredible miracle. That, above all else, is what is most important.

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Feel like sharing your story? Email me: formulafeeders@gmail.com

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