FFF Friday: “The price of failure is so high…”

The following FFF Friday story might be a difficult one to read. FFF Brenna has struggled with issues that go far beyond the scope of this blog, but much like Lilllily’s experience, it is a vitally important story to include in any discussion of infant feeding. We need to consider all types of possibilities when looking at an issue as personal as formula feeding vs. breastfeeding, and I hope this reminds everyone not to make snap judgments when you see a woman holding a bottle. You never know what went into her decision, and what emotional odds may be at stake.

I want to thank Brenna profusely for sharing her story with us, as I’m sure it is not an easy one to tell. Her honesty and clarity humble me.


I have been thinking about submitting my story because although it’s not the perfect tale of overcoming odds, I do believe each of us has something unique to contribute that goes a long way to supporting all mothers, regardless of the choices we make. So here it goes!
I’m the mom of 2 sons, and my 1st daughter is on the way. My boys were born in 2001, 2003, and my newest is due to arrive this November.
When my oldest son was born, I had just turned 20 about 2 weeks prior. I don’t want to blame my relative youth for the choices I made, but it is what it is. T was formula fed from the very start. Breastfeeding never even crossed my mind. All my in-laws bottlefed, and to my knowledge no one in my own family breastfed beyond 6 months. Breastfeeding was just one of those things no one talked about. At that time in my life, we were not connected to the internet. I had no idea that there even was a battle amongst mothers over such things! Ah, blissful ignorance.
26 months later, my son E was born. I had enough mommy friends by then to know that there were “right” and “wrong” choices when it came to motherhood. I made the choice to breastfeed him, not knowing what I was in for.
Aside from issues such as zero support and flat nipples, I was equally unprepared for how my status as a childhood sexual abuse survivor would affect my nursing experience. Oh, if I had only known! I had had no formal therapy for my childhood traumas. I told myself I didn’t need it, that there was nothing wrong with me, and if there was indeed something wrong with me, it was not my fault. Somehow to me, that also meant it was not my responsibility to address any issues I had.
Although our VBAC attempt failed, I was still determined to nurse E. I did not see him until he was about 3 hours old. My husband was snuggling with him in the nursery! By the time they did bring me my baby, I was too zonked to really care. 35 hours of labor will do that to a person. The next morning, I made my first attempt to get him to latch on.
I was shocked to find not only was it not easy, but that it creeped me out. Badly. I was not prepared for the first of several flashbacks that would come that day. I felt horror at my perceived perpetuation of the cycle of abuse upon my newborn son. Good Lord, I just shoved my boob in his mouth! He was crying! What had I just done?
Then as the day wore on, it became increasingly difficult to be around E. Each time he was put to breast, I wanted to fling him across the room. I would close my eyes and cry while the hospital LC tried to get him to latch. She probably thought I was having a typical mommy meltdown I’m sure. I had not told anyone of my past. In retrospect I should’ve at least made mention of it to my midwife, but hindsight is 20/20.
By the time we were ready for discharge 3 days later, breastfeeding was still not established, and I could not look my sweet baby in the eye. I felt like the most horrible of people- a child abuser.
The very next morning, my husband and I decided to put E on the bottle. What a relief! I could hold him and not be repulsed. I could kiss him while he drank his bottle, and know I was indeed giving him my best. A mother on the verge of a breakdown is not a mother at all became my mantra.
1 week later, I began intensive therapy to deal with my past. I spent the next 4 years of my life regaining what was mine by right, taken from me far too soon.
My sons are now 9 and 7 years old. While I do not regret for a minute that I bottlefed them, I now find myself in a position to try again with my new daughter when she is born. You would think that’d it be a no-brainer. I only wish it were that easy. The price of failure is so high, and I’m not talking health benefits here.
I keep going back and forth on it. My boys and I are so close that I cannot imagine that feeding method would make my bond to my child any stronger. The boys are also healthier by far than I ever am. They may get that from my hubby though. And I never found bottlefeeding to be difficult or a pain. Then again, this may be my last chance to breastfeed. It’s also the last thing I cannot do because of my history. Somehow, it feels like I need to reclaim this too so that my father has not won. Then I can say I truly have taken back all that was took from me. Those are just the surface issues that come to mind as well! It’s so much deeper than that alone.
I admit I am very undecided about how to feed the new baby. I’ve got time yet to make a choice. I just know that whatever choice I make, she will be fed and I will be doing the best I personally can for her. That’s all I can ask of myself. Love my kids, meet their needs, and be more forgiving of myself. We’ll all be better off for it. 

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to share my story. And thanks for being a “port in the storm” for FFF everywhere!


If you have a story you’d like to share for an upcoming FFF Friday, please send it to formulafeeders@gmail.com. Any and all experiences are welcome.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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15 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “The price of failure is so high…”

  1. Wow! First, congratulations on your daughter. Second, I'm so sorry to hear all that you went through as a child. You are very strong and very brave; a beautiful example to women. I found your story to be absolutely amazing.

    Know that whatever you decide to do, it will be the right choice. Whatever makes you the best mom you can be, is the right thing.

    I was unable to breastfeed me daughter, and we are as close and bonded as any parent-child I've ever seen. People are always amazed at how much she adores me, and she was not breastfed past a week. I don't believe that it's the delivery system that promotes bonding, but the way it is delivered. If you bottle-feed with love and attention, that's what matters.

    Good luck to you! Thanks again for sharing this remarkable story!

  2. I respect you so much for sharing this. To be honest, while I know that breastfeeding can be traumatic for survivors of abuse, I never understood why until now. You have brought an issue to light that few people ever talk about. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this, Brenna. It brought tears to my eyes. You are clearly a strong woman and a loving mother. I'm sure you'll give your daughter just what she needs– a loving, present mother– no matter how she is fed.

  4. “The price of failure is so high, and I'm not talking health benefits here.”

    THIS. I get this so much. I too am expecting a daughter (2 weeks!) and went back and forth on the breastfeeding thing. I know now, from experience with my first, that not matter what choice I make I know its out of love and trying to do what is best for BOTH of us.

  5. Thank you for sharing the story. This is a subject rarely shared by other mothers who went through something similar.

    I have to agree with everyone else, it's not what the baby is fed, but how it's fed. Whatever decision you make is what's best for you and the baby both! Congrats on having your first girl and having 2 wonderful sons!

  6. Brenna, thank you so much for telling your story. There are so many things that you said that I just love, but I particularly appreciate this: “Love my kids, meet their needs, and be more forgiving of myself. We'll all be better off for it.”

    Congrats on your upcoming arrival and the sweet family already waiting to greet her! 🙂

  7. What a huge inspiration you are! I have two friends who are survivors from sexual abuse in their childhoods. They have had a lot of therapy and were not able to bring themselves to have children. I think you're amazing and whatever you choose, as many have already said, it's the right choice because you are a great (and experienced) mommy!

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