FFF Friday: “My guilt has turned to anger…”

A little over a year ago, FFF Sara went into labor 5 weeks early. But the drama didn’t end there. Like so many of us, Sara endured the pain and frustration of figuring out the best way to feed her daughter…but ultimately, she became a stronger mom, and person, because of it.
December 24th 2009 should have been just another day. 5 weeks until my due date, I was stuck on bedrest due to low amniotic fluids. The biggest events I looked forward to were showering, peeing, and my twice weekly NST/AFI appointments. Anything to get up and off of the couch was a happy moment for me.
So when Christmas Eve came, and I was surrounded by my family and friends, I was actually SAD to leave my couch since I was with everyone I loved. You see, my closest family members are more than 400 miles away, so everyone had to come to my for Christmas. Being doted on from my couch was lovely, but still incredibly annoying and a hinderance.
So naturally, the ONE time I don’t want to leave my couch, I begrudgingly leave. The plus side to my family (and when I say family- my parents, sister, and grandparents) being around is that my dad cooked a huge breakfast that day. Waffles, bacon, orange juice, fruit salad… quite the feast.
We head off to my appointment after going through the drive through ATM and the post office. I got to my doctors office and was hooked up to the NST machine.
“Sara, you’re having a contraction”
“Really? I don’t feel anything!”
“Maybe it’s just braxton-hicks, let’s keep you hooked up for the full 20 minutes and see what happens”
“That’s fine by me, I’m feeling great”
“Sara, you’re having contractions every minute… I’m going to check to see if you’re dilated”
“Alright by me”
After some poking and proding…
“Sara… you’re 7 centimeters. You’re having this baby now. I’m calling over to the OR now, she’s still breech and the fluids are low. It’s dangerous to give birth with these conditions.”
What a whirlwind. Madalyn was whisked away to the NICU directly after birth, as she was unresponsive and limp. A tiny 5 lbs, 2 ozs, we were petrified for her life. I wasn’t able to see her until Christmas Day, and she was too small and weak to even cry, let alone suck out colostrum from a breast that was ill-prepared to give milk.
Out of sheer stubbornness, I refused to give up. I rented the horribly expensive hospital-grade pump, I took every herbal remedy known to man to up my supply. The amount of water I drank? Was enough to easily throw off my electrolyte balance.
I pumped every two hours, faithfully, 24 hours a day. Each time being hugely discouraged when I would get about .75 ounces total, between both breasts, with 20 minutes on each breast. With producing such little milk, I naturally had to supplement.
At 6 weeks, I pumped several dribbles and I knew I was done. Not because I wanted to be, but because my body physically refused to make any more milk.
I used to be upset about it. I used to think I was a horrible mother. And there were plenty of people around, that whenever they would pass judgments on me I would cry. Now? I get angry. My guilt has disappeared and since turned to anger. How people could judge reasons for why formula is being used is beyond me. You cannot tell by looking at me that I have major kidney disease; that the fact I made it to 35 weeks was a miracle in and of itself.
I am personally inclined to believe that the statistic of 2% being literally unable to breastfeed is horribly incorrect. I’ve heard from countless numbers of women of their stories of trying everything they could and still didn’t produce milk. I wish some new and updated studies would come out on such a subject.
Until then though, I will look at my wiggly, wriggly, THRIVING, healthy and giggly 10 month old girl and be happy knowing I did everything I could- and never passed judgments. 
If you want to share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday, simply email it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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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11 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “My guilt has turned to anger…”

  1. I'm convinced the 2% number is completely fabricated as well. Somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of women have PCOS, and some third of them suffer chronic low supply. At the 10 percent level, those alone would represent 3% of women with at least a significant challenge to breastfeeding. And that wouldn't include women who've had breast surgery, women with other reasons for hypoplasia, or the various other conditions that threaten breastfeeding. And this certainly doesn't touch the myriad women with serious medical or psychiatric conditions who MUST take their medication which would put their children at risk. But I've also seen a lot of handwaving about how dangerous these medications are… of course all of this follows the handwringing about how important it is to avoid, I dunno, too much oxygen during pregnancy.

  2. I agree that the 2% or the 5% must be a number pulled out of someone's arse. I had supply issues and have been diagnosed with a rare chronic immune system disease. Sure what I have is rare, but with others about such as lupus, rhuematoid arthritis and then PCOS as mentioned and the problems of prematurity etc with bub the numbers would start to stack up.

    I wonder where the number comes from and whether it is even a useful number to know. The only time I've seen it used is when someone feels that they are having supply issues and an LC or someone invariably trots it out. When you are having problems does it even help to know that you are in the minority and everyone else is apparently not having this issue?

  3. Being a good mother has so little to do with how we feed them as infants. Hard to see it at the time when it's not working to breastfeed, but it gets easier as they grow and thrive, doesn't it?

  4. Hi Sarah. Thanks for your story. I was also confined to bedrest for 10 weeks – ach, longest weeks ever! So glad your little girl is happy and thriving.
    I was at a new mom's forum this week and the educator said something like 20-25% of moms end up formula feeding (she was actually very positive about FF, which was refreshing). I would guess this is probably a much more accurate and realistic number. Also, although it's still a minority number, somehow being part of 25% feels much less isolating than being part of 2%. I was never “diagnosed” with anything to explain low milk supply, and I've decided it really it doesn't matter: My body didn't produce it, end of story. Now 3 months later, I am finding myself more angry than anything by the insensitive and judgmental comments. When did it become okay to comment on a complete stranger's choices anyway?

  5. Even if the actual number of women who are unable to produce enough milk is 5% (what I've heard quoted most often), that is still 1 in 20 women, and so every woman is likely to know a few people who couldn't produce enough milk to breastfeed. 5% may mean that it is fair to tell a new mother, “Chances are you'll make enough milk,” but it doesn't mean “rare.”

    If the actual number is 10%, then that is 1 in 10 women. Not rare at all. I know these number conversions are obvious, but I think the statistics really have a different feel, at least to me, when they aren't just considered as percentages. I don't know an actual source for these numbers though, and wouldn't be surprised if they are simply made up. Someone probably used them as an example, not actual statistics, to just mean “most women can breastfeed,” and now they're quoted and requoted with no real source.

  6. No, they're not made up. Marianne Neifert, a breastfeeding specialist (who, by the way, strongly disputes the view that EVERY woman can make enough breast milk), conducted a study in which 4% of women had what is called primary lactation failure, that is, an inability to provide enough milk unrelated to breastfeeding technique. One study found a slightly higher number: 7% of women who did not have breast implants had what the author called “lactation insufficiency” (the number was much higher for women who had implants, however). However, the 7% included women who were having problems in the first place and had gone to the author's breastfeeding clinic, so it's probably a bit inflated.

    By the way, here is what Neifert wrote:

    “In a prospective study of lactation outcome measured by weight gain in infants exclusively fed breast milk, 15% of healthy primiparous women were deemed to have insufficient lactation at 2 to 3 weeks postpartum. At least two thirds of cases were judged to be secondary breastfeeding problems rather than primary.”

  7. I see everyone here has beaten me to the punch on lactation failure's real statistics. The 2% number is ridiculously enough based on the breastfeeding initiation rate of Norway and Sweden. Initiation rate means you leave the hospital breastfeeding or breastfed in the hospital. Even there (if you wade through their health report with the aid of Google translate) 70% are still exclusively breastfeeding at 6 weeks (which is the point you establish your full volume by more or less).
    I too wish that 2% number would die a hot firey death.

  8. Hear hear! And yes! My “guilt” also turned into “anger”! It's two years later, and I thought I was totally over it. But guess what? I'm still angry! Recently I was invited to join a private new mom group on facebook. Half the posts were about breastfeeding. When members introduced themselves, it was “Hi, I'm so and so, my baby is X days/months old, and we're exclusively breastfeeding.” They were defining themselves by how they fed their babies–by breast of course! Anyone who posted with struggles about breastfeeding was not met with any real compassion or acknowledgement about what they, the struggling mother, were going through or GOD FORBID, the idea that they could give a bottle of formula to get some rest–it was all, keep going, it's nothing in the long run and all this pain is worthwhile, yada yada. There was actual diminishment of what they were going through. It was all or nothing. Or maybe it wasn't, but that's what I saw. The idea that breastfeeding is the be-all-end-all of child health still makes my blood boil.

    You are right! I think many more women are struggling than is reported currently. If the real statistics were captured, maybe it would be less easy for people to blow off major concerns and struggles. Maybe there would be more compassion and less dismissal and judgement and fanaticism? One can dream….

    Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  9. Going back and reading through comments I should clarify that the 20-25% I threw out there was the educator's observations from her group at the hospital, not a formal statistic. However, I like how La Mama Loca broke it down in saying that even 5% is 1 in 20 women. I think the reason the whole “number” game bothers me is because it is used as a weapon… it's the word ONLY that I don't like. When I did the BF class the statement was ONLY 2%, 5%, or whatever can't BF, with the implication that you won't be that 2% or 5%. The reality is somebody WILL be the one to make up the percentage, and it would be nice to not feel judged or diminished for it.

  10. I was wondering where that 2% came from! I'm also a bit curious where the stats on mothers breastfeeding at 3 months, 6 months, etc., come from.

    The way that stat is used is completely messed up too. I guess it's meant to be reassuring, but that's kind of strange to me. Chances are, you're not overly worried about supply until you are having problems, and then that stat is the last thing you want thrown in your face. Even if the person intends to be reassuring — “Oh, you're doing fine, only 2% of women have supply problems” — it sounds like they are calling you a liar. Nothing like saying you are struggling and being called a liar…

  11. Count me as another angry mom. I'm only about 8 months out from the end of my nightmare, but I remain furious at the lactivists and everything they stand for. I haven't yet had the experience of someone approaching me in the grocery store while I'm holding a can of Similac, but I can assure you, if it happens, that person will get the earful of their lives.

    I hope that at some point I will be at peace with what happened, but the way I see it, the lactivists robbed me of bonding with my baby during her first 6 weeks, and I will never get those weeks back. I can barely remember them, I was in such a haze of pain. There is no way in hell that is right, or justified.

    The next snotty lactivist who tries to tell me otherwise will get my usual line: “any benefits of breastfeeding are completely outweighed by the baby being raised by a mean, judgmental, rude, smug, self-centered mom who will teach by example that the only way to build herself up is by tearing others down.

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