My in-laws are coming in today and I need to clean the damn house, so I have to rely on a guest post today. Luckily for me, I had a great one lying in wait.
I received this story from a wonderful, positive lactivist who has a popular blog; she asked to remain anonymous for reasons that will become obvious. Still, I hope she is reads this – because I want her to know how much I admire her for being able to step back from her activism and recognize that in some cases, common sense has to supersede advocacy.
The Day I Championed Formula With My Whole Soul
My name is Sharon*, I am a young and passionate activist for breastfeeding. I want to tell a story that to this day weighs on my mind and heart to such an extent, it makes my blood boil when I think to what extremes some women will go to in the “name of breastfeeding”. Let me first explain a little about my experience with breastfeeding and what has made me a compassionate and open minded advocate for breastfeeding.
I became a mother at the age of 18 to a beautiful 8 pound daughter. I went through hell the first weeks with cracked nipples and the whole shebang. I was fortunate to have had help, ambivalent familial support and a tremendous desire to breastfeed, so, I continued and eventually we fixed the problem. I fell in love with breastfeeding and this is what subsequently drove me to become an outspoken activist for the cause. I breastfed my daughter for a little over a year and I look forward to it the second time around.
Because of my tumultuous start with breastfeeding, I know what it’s like to be near that point of giving up. I know what it’s like to have nipples that feel like shards of glass each time a nursing session comes up, and I know how it feels to want to reach for that can of formula and say “To hell with this!” These reactions are normal and I don’t judge them, or women who feel this way, whether they succumb to the thoughts or not. I don’t gain any personal glory from putting a woman down for turning to formula when she feels like the whole world is crumbling around her. It’s a choice, it’s her choice, it’s not the choice I would have made, but that’s because it was not mine to make. I grant (in my mind ) everyone this right. The right to choose.
Let me continue now to tell you of a story of a former friend of mine, someone so determined to breastfeed, so full of passion and perseverance that she nearly starved her first, and second child to death.
She was a woman who exuded confidence to the extent that it turned into sheer arrogance. She had a character that was an acquired taste. I like to compare it to iguanas and cacti. Not many animals can walk on cactus, it takes a certain type of animal to bear it, namely, an iguana. She was like a cactus and I did my best to be like an iguana for the sake of the friendship. She refused all breastfeeding or childbirth education classes, but she knew she wanted a home birth and breastfeeding experience. She was too good to go to any class because she was a self proclaimed “self-learner”. She ate those words pretty quickly.
Fast forward some months and she finally gives birth. A rather small but healthy baby named Lola. Lola was adored by her family and was given extra attention because of being the first grandchild. At that time, my former friend, Tanira* was living at her mother’s home, along with her husband and siblings. Tanira was adamant about breastfeeding. She came from a long line of breastfeeders who nursed their children successfully so nothing less would suffice for her (in her mind). Her rigid and exacting attitude made it difficult to correct her or suggest anything that she disagreed with. That would just welcome a fight.
A breastfeeding counselor looked at the latch, watched the nursing sessions and deemed everything alright. Tanira breastfed day in and day out. Mercilessly. But, as the weeks passed by and I saw Lola, she wasn’t getting bigger, she wasn’t getting fatter. I mean, come on, a baby at the breast that much should be a load of rolls . Another week passed, yet another, and each time I saw Lola, she looked worse. The skin hung off her bones, her body re-grew fuzzy hair all over it, and if she ever cried, she could only squeeze out a whimper. Something was terribly wrong and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that.
I was quite unsure about how she would react if I approached her about how her baby looked and what I could observe. I could barely sleep at night thinking about how gruesomely skinny Lola was getting. I finally decided that I could no longer take it. I contacted an LC and notified her, but asked her to check things out quietly (for fear Tanira found out it was me who said something) I didn’t want to hurt Tanira’s feelings but I couldn’t stand by and watch what was happening and remain silent. Tanira’s husband and mother stood by and watched little Lola for weeks dwindle and lose weight but never spoke up. They weren’t allowed to dare mention the word bottle or formula.
By this time, I started to become increasingly disgusted with Tanira because of her unyielding attitude. I sensed that she knew something was gravely ill but didn’t want to face the music and be deemed a “failure” by the standards she touted. She skipped the weigh-ins of her baby, and this is when I became enraged. Another LC was contacted because we could not figure out the problem. Everything the baby did was right, the latch, the suckling, the shape of the mouth, the suck, the mom’s nipples were fine. We were stumped.
Then, a term I’d never heard of before came in the mix. IGT, or Insufficient Glandular Tissue. When I started researching IGT, I kept finding more and more similarities of her situation. The failure to notice breast changes during and after pregnancy, the very slight to almost non-existent engorgement the day your milk comes in, and also, tubular breasts. She matched the description perfectly. With IGT, a condition affecting a small amount of women, the mother doesn’t develop enough of the mammary tissue during puberty, nor during pregnancy , that sustain complete lactation. So while she does produce some milk, the amount never suffices for a complete feeding.
It was as if we had an epiphany, we finally found out what was happening and now we could help her and get this baby growing! Not once, had anyone around her criticize or demean her if she decided to opt for formula as a supplement or even full time. Quite the contrary, we were all scared out of our wits, never having dealt with such a situation and we wanted nothing more than to shove a bottle of good ole cow’s milk down that baby’s pallet just to get something in that baby.
When her condition was suspected, she was advised by three different breastfeeding experts to pump what she could, and supplement whatever she could not. She was not allowed to breastfeed, she was forbidden to breastfeed because the baby had become so sickly. What did she do? She continued to breastfeed. She refused to pump stating it was too much to handle, despite the fact that her mother was there to help her every step of the way. I became so upset that I immediately notified the LC to take action for fear this baby’s life was in the balance. The LC then called Lola’s doctors to call her in for an appointment immediately.
To our surprise, Tanira went, a bit reluctantly, but she went. When Lola’s doctors laid their eyes on her, their stomachs sank. They informed Tanira that her baby had gained so little weight, that Lola had become anorexic. She grew hair all over her body for warmth because she was so weak she could not stabilize her own temperature. How much weight had Lola gained in 6 weeks? 300 grams. A little bit more than what a breastfed baby should gain per week. We were all stupefied. How could this have gone so far? What would have happened had we not intervened? That baby was near starvation, and for what? For the sake of breastfeeding, for the sake of validating herself as a mother, proving to herself, her self-worth by means of the act of breastfeeding.
I was so turned off by Tanira’s actions over the course of the weeks. Her selfish and egotistical attitude, her disregard for her baby’s failing health. How could you look at your baby grow weaker and weaker and not feel anything? How could even after finding out the cause, still deny it and push the limits f your child’s life? Why could she not have supplemented, with donor milk or formula for that matter? Hell, all of us was chanting her to do so. It was because it was not about her baby drinking human milk. It was not about giving her baby the optimal start in life by means of mother’s milk. Had this been the case, she could have easily obtained breast milk from another mother. No, this was not acceptable to her. Nothing less than her own milk, not even at the cost of her baby’s health.. Now, I don’t know about y’all but, I’m all for breastfeeding, but not to the detriment of the child.
She did eventually supplement with formula, and then the baby grew, finally Lola grew! She gained weight! And this story was quickly swept under the rug like a shameful family secret that no one dare utter.
Fast forward two years later and Tanira gives birth to her second child. Another girl, named Emily. I was so sure that she had woken up and knew from the very beginning how to proceed and still reap the benefits of partial breastfeeding at least. And then, the unthinkable happened. She exclusively breastfed the second one too. What happened, you ask? Did Emily grow and thrive on a copious production? No, Emily dropped 200 grams below birthweight. Emily was still passing meconium after 10 days of life. Emily’s once full cheeks sank into her face. But this time around, it was more serious. We had proof, we had evidence. And this time the CPS was thrown into the mix.
Classic Tanira style, she refused to go weigh the baby stating that meconium after 10 days of life was “normal” and that everything was fine and dandy. Clearly, it was not. She was notified that if she refused to weigh the baby and follow instructions, her baby would be taken into foster care. The result? Sadly, it took her to hear those words for her to go to the appointment, and start the journey of supplementation again. With what result? Emily is now gaining well.
What about Tanira’s husband you ask? He never uttered a word. He never spoke out against her, not just because she rules with an iron fist, but because (and I can personally attest to his disregard) he simply didn’t care about anything around him.
To this day I struggle to wrap my mind about how far one mother could go just to be able to say “I breastfed exclusively!”. This thought sickens me. As if this was some race, some competition. It’s not ladies. Get that through your mind.
The morale of the story? This is exactly the reason why I strive to be understanding and compassionate when a mother decides to formula feed. I don’t want to be the one who makes women feel so insecure, so demeaned that if they gave anything less than human milk to their babies, they are incompetent, unfit, mothers. Because it could cost a baby their life.
So think about it, fellow activists. The next time you feel the urge to judge another formula feeding mother for her (unintentional) choice to formula feed, think of Lola, think of Emily, and stop being such a bitch about it, it makes breastfeeding look bad.