I’ve sat down to write this post about 50 times in the past week. I’ll start it, stare at what I’ve written, and hit delete, hating every word; nothing sounds right. It rings false. Defensive. Wrong.
I suppose I should start at the beginning. I went in for my induction in the wee hours of December 13th, at 39 weeks and one day. My doctor had wanted to forcibly evict the Fearlette a week earlier, due to my cord issues and her cessation of growth, but since I had ample fluid and reactive non-stress tests. I demured, hoping I could go into labor on my own and avoid another induction, or at least give her one more week of valuable womb-time. We compromised on the 13th, and since my daughter didn’t make any moves on her own, I found myself hooked up to a steady drip of Pitocin on a sunny, warm Monday morning.
About 8 hours later, the Fearlette was born. I only pushed through one contraction; the room was full of laughter and Florence and the Machine sang about the Dog Days in the background. Our only complication had been my cord wrapped tightly around her little neck, which provoked some worrisome heart decelerations during my labor, but other than the few scary seconds of blue-tinged silence, the Fearlette was perfect.
From the moment of delivery, my daughter’s birth was completely different than my son’s. I’m sure a large part of this was thanks to being on a good dose of medication which kept the postpartum depression demons at bay. With FC, the darkness descended the second I passed the placenta; this time, it was all wonder and sunshine and joy. As soon as she was checked out and deemed healthy, I asked for some skin-to-skin time. My new babe looked up at me matter of factly, opened her mouth, and latched on to my breast.
Easy as pie.
|Yup, that’s me breastfeeding.|
Okay, let’s rewind a bit. You all know I’ve been struggling with the decision on how to feed Fearlette for months. Some days I felt compelled to breastfeed, other days I was adamant about going straight to formula. Ultimately, I went into the hospital looking at the whole thing as an experiment. I would nurse in the hospital, so that she’d get colostrum; other than that, I would make decisions in the moment, and not go in with any dogmatic ideas about what I wanted to do. I brought my own formula, after a lengthy discussion with my pediatrician (who, knowing my history and field of study, not only respected my decision but looked at me with arched eyebrows when I said I was planning on nursing in the hospital and said, “You know you don’t have to do that.” She also told me that our hospital needed to meet a certain percentage of mothers nursing at least at time of discharge or they lose funding. Talk about coercion) on what the best choice would be (if any of you want to know what we chose and why, feel free to email me. I don’t want to endorse anything on here). Whatever we ended up doing, I wanted it to be on my terms, with my own supplies. What had inspired me to take this approach was, ironically, the writing of lactivist Gabrielle Palmer. While I find most of what she says alarmist, misguided and extremist, she does speak of how the modern approach to breastfeeding has taken the “natural” and women-empowering aspect out of the practice. I wondered what would happen if I just let instinct rule; if I – dare I say it – went with the flow.
So when Fearlette started nursing with a perfect latch, right away, with no help, no drama…I thought my little experiment might take a poetic turn. I turned to Fearless Husband and said “Huh. Well, maybe we’re breastfeeding after all.” To his credit, he seemed fine with that declaration. He had agreed to be supportive of whatever I wanted to do, but I think he was still suffering from a fair bit of post-traumatic stress from our first breastfeeding experience. In one of our many discussions on the subject, he had said something pretty resonant, which had been bouncing around my addled brain in the last few weeks of pregnancy. “Why would I want to give my second child a substance that essentially poisoned my first?” he asked, in a heated moment. And he had a point. Breastfeeding had caused our family nothing but misery and pain, whereas formula had been our salvation.
“Think of it this way,” he said. “Remember when your parents sent you to private school, and it was basically hell for you?” Indeed, I did. My two years at a prestigious New England academy had done irreparable damage to my psyche; my fellow students made the Lord of the Flies crew seem darling. “Let’s say we lived back east, and all our friends were sending their kids to that same school, because by doing so, the kids had a much better shot at getting into the Ivy League, of being more successful, etc. But we decide to send our kids to public school. Everyone thinks we’re crazy, but we both went to public, and loved it, and feel we are more successful because of it. One one side we have a place that you associate with misery, but is supposedly far superior; on the other, a place that we know – even if our friends don’t – is safe and reliable and has done nothing but good for both of us. What do we chose?”
Sing it, Fearless Husband.
And still. There in the hospital, with my miraculous, easy, perfect little daughter, who seemed to be satiated and comforted by my breast rather than tortured like her brother was, I found myself wanting to nurse. This changed things. I hadn’t expected that. Deep down, I expected I’d hate it again, and that my emotions would make the decision for me. Let’s be honest: I wouldn’t have brought that formula with me unless I had a good feeling I’d end up using it.
That whole first day, I nursed on demand, whenever she fussed. It was absolutely awesome. Sure, my nipple was a little sore, but nothing abnormal. Notice the use of the singular nipple, though. I was only nursing her on one breast. If you know my story, you’ll recall that I had some nebulous form of nerve damage in one of my breasts that made breastfeeding on that side excrutiatingly painful. I had tried once or twice to nurse Fearlette on that side, but it just hurt too damn much. Although I knew better, I decided to just nurse on the “good” side. So rather than 15 minutes on each side, I did 30 minutes on the one.
On the second day, a lactation consultant came in to my room, uninvited. Both FH and I were ready for combat, but for whatever reason, I had lost my edge. I was willing to listen to what she had to say, because I felt strong enough; there was no chance of my being persuaded into doing anything I didn’t want to do. She was actually pretty cool, and just told me that she’d get me a pump because if I didn’t empty the other breast I’d find myself in a world of pain once the milk came in.
When they wheeled in the pump an hour later, my stomach immediately knotted up. I attached the suction cups and listened to the familiar whir of the machine… it still said the same thing it did two years before: yousuckyousuckyousuck. Even though this time, I didn’t. Even though this time, my baby did, and very well at that.
We were discharged that afternoon. I didn’t want to spend one minute more than necessary in the maternity ward. I hated keeping a record of every feeding and having to explain why I was only feeding Fearlette on one side to every nurse we encountered; hated having to note when we supplemented, as if I was being policed. It was better than last time, when we were awoken every two hours to force FC on the breast despite his inability to latch, his inability to get the nourishment he needed to find the energy to suck. But still. I wanted to go home.
Once home though, I faced another challenge. Fearless Child was having a hard time adjusting to being a big brother. He wanted to be near me constantly, insisting on being held by no one but me, and crying hysterically every time Fearlette was in my arms. It broke my heart, not only for the obvious reasons, but because I felt he’d been cheated. My postpartum experience with Fearlette had been so sweet and perfect; he’d been shafted with the absentee mom, one who could barely brush her hair, let alone care for a newborn. What should have offered him comfort just gave him pain; my daughter had nursed happily and easily. It just wasn’t fair. So, while I knew that proper parenting etiquette would be to carefully explain the reality of the situation to him, and continue to revel in the beauty of my new daughter, I just couldn’t. Instead I wanted to hold him closer, drench him with love.
And because of this, I gave Fearlette a bottle rather than nursing her. I still hadn’t made a definitive decision, at least not consciously… but deep down, I knew where this was heading. I thought I could combo-feed, and continued putting her to the breast whenever possible. But as the days went on, she wanted bottles more, and my milk less- or rather, my lack of milk. My milk still hadn’t come in 5 days postpartum, like last time; who could blame her for preferring the instant gratification of the formula? I knew it was probably my fault – the few bottles here and there had screwed up my supply. Strangely, though, I didn’t feel guilty. It was what it was. I knew she’d thrive on formula like my son had. This time, I’d done my homework; I didn’t fear formula; I had made an informed decision, and that decision had been mine, not fate’s or the formula company’s or the breastfeeding police’s.
What I hadn’t expected though, is that this time, I enjoyed nursing. It was pretty great, actually. I can’t say for sure, but I do think that if Fearlette had been the first child, she would have been nursed- at least for a few months – and the Fearless Formula Feeder never would’ve existed.
We’re three weeks out now, and exclusively formula feeding. Which means that I now fall into another category of Fearless Formula Feeder – one who chose to formula feed, for non-medical reasons. I could justify it by saying I was nervous about my antidepressants passing through my milk (and quite honestly, that did factor into my decision. I do think it’s probably safe to nurse while on certain medications, but I am not 100% comfortable with the lack of long-term, quality research on the subject – especially when formula is a viable option, and the mom doesn’t have a strong desire to nurse) but that wouldn’t be the whole truth. The whole truth is that it was a myriad of things that drove me to this choice. My own personal issues with my body image and need for autonomy, my history of PPD that was strongly linked to breastfeeding (and interestingly, the day my milk came in this time around, I immediately started feeling the darkness creeping in. It didn’t abate until 3 days later when I had completely dried up. Could have been a coincidence, but I suspect that the hormones involved in that second stage of lactogenesis provoke my depression. This may or may not be the case for other women; I just know that there’s a correlation in my case); the reality of my work situation; the needs of my entire family, not just mine or my daughter’s… all these things mattered, and added together, they meant that formula feeding was the choice I felt most comfortable with.
Notice I didn’t say the better choice. I don’t think I can qualify this choice one way or another. There would have been a thousand awesome aspects to breastfeeding. There may only be a few awesome things about formula feeding. I have second guessed my decision hundreds of times. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. My daughter is well fed, I am happy, my son is adjusting, and my husband is comfortable with our decision. We’ve already moved on to obsessing about other parenting issues. Case closed.
But as I sat down to write this post, I realized that I still had some unresolved feelings about my choice. While I feel 100% confident that it was a good move for my family, I worry that I’m going to be letting you guys down. I’ve always been able to identify myself as one of those women who tried desperately to nurse and couldn’t; I know there are so many of you who fit this description who would give your left toe to have the gift I was given: a baby who latched well, milk that came in. How will reading this make you feel?
And how about the lactivists I’ve befriended, the ones I like and admire, who will see my choice as a blatant slap in the face to their cause? How can I say I support breastfeeding for those who are willing and able when I had the opportunity to do so and didn’t?
Still, this blog has always been based on the premise that how we feed our babies should be our personal choice, free from exhortations or moral indictments. What was so fearless about feeding formula when I had no other choice? Couldn’t this be a happy ending, in it’s own weird way?
I’m still nervous about how this decision will affect all of you. I hope you will still see me as the FFF you know and love. I made a choice that worked for me; it in no way is meant as a judgment or endorsement in either direction. I can share with you a few things I’ve learned from this process, which I hope will be of some value to those of you thinking about future kids:
For those who want to breastfeed…
Just because you have a crappy experience with breastfeeding the first time, does NOT mean that you will the next. I had learned a lot from my time with FC; because of this, I was able to latch Fearlette correctly with no help. But I also think I was able to do this because I put no pressure on myself. There were no stakes, you know? I was relaxed because I knew we’d be okay, no matter what. Going through a bad nursing experience gives you this advantage – the “worst” has already happened once, and you’re prepared for anything.
That said, I think it’s really important to assess your deepest emotions surrounding nursing. As I mentioned earlier, my husband had a bit of PTSD about it all, and I think I did as well. I still associated breastfeeding with misery; even though the act of it was enjoyable with Fearlette, I had all these loaded feelings which were weighing on me. You may want to explore your psyche beforehand and ensure that you are in a calm, positive space. Just a thought.
For those who are thinking of formula feeding…
It’s a very different thing to make an informed, unencumbered decision to formula feed than to “resort” to it after exhausting your breastfeeding options. I think there is a reason that we don’t have many women visiting this site who just “chose” to formula feed from the get-go: there’s a certain strength in that A few days after my milk dried up I read a message board thread which said some really disparaging (and wrong) things about formula. A month ago, reading these comments would have hurt me. Now, I can look at them a bit more dispassionately. There’s power in making a CHOICE. I can’t really explain this in words, but it goes back to that insidious Jack Newman quote I often cite about the only women feeling guilty about formula feeding being the ones who wanted to nurse, and couldn’t. While this isn’t entirely true – it was recently brought to my attention that there can still be a hefty dose of guilt and fear inherent in this choice as well, depending on the circumstances – this is a telling statement (even though Newman brings it up in an entirely wrong context). And it’s exactly why this blog needs to exist, to defend and support those women. It’s bad enough to feel like you “failed” at something you really wanted to do; we don’t need people rubbing salt in the wound, especially when that salt is milled from defensiveness, misinterpreted statistics, and poor science.
So, here I am, guys. Laid bare. I’m evolving from the FFF born out of fear, anger and isolation, to one with an unbelievably inspiring and strong community behind her (at least I hope, after this confession, that they are still behind her…) who has chosen to formula feed for reasons that may not be dramatic or understandable to all, but are legitimate reasons all the same. And FFF has always been, and always will be, about choice. I love hearing all your stories about how you ended up formula feeding, but ultimately, I want everyone to know that none of us should care why you feed your child the way you do. It is a personal decision, end of story. I want us all to get to a place where we don’t feel the need to defend or explain ourselves. Myself included.
Phew. Okay, let the public flogging begin. I’m ready. At least I still have about 12 extra pounds of postpartum fluff to protect me from the blows….