This week’s FFF Friday is the first installment of a 2-parter. Erin started out as an exclusive formula feeder with her first son, but ended up exclusively breastfeeding her second. Which not only means that she could conduct her own personal sibling study (the gold standard in infant feeding research), but for our purposes, she is uniquely poised to give us a POV we don’t usually hear.
I have the pleasure of knowing Erin in real life, and she is all sorts of awesome-sauce, which I think comes through in her writing. I love how fearlessly she approaches both modes of feeding – just goes to show the importance of assessing each individual situation, and not relying on blanket concepts of how you are “supposed” to nourish your child.
Only a few weeks until my deadline, FFF’s, and then I will be back to posting regularly. If I survive, that is; if Fearless Husband doesn’t find me crushed to death under a mountain of breastfeeding books, anthropological texts, and medical journals. What a way to go.
Anyway, forgetting that melodramatic and morbid image for a moment, let’s focus on today’s FFF Friday. This story comes to you courtesy of Amanda, who talks about the psychological aspects of attempting to breastfeed a preemie.
My water broke at 23 weeks with my daughter. Born at 1.2 pounds, she was fed 0.5 mL of breastmilk every 6 hours for about the first month. I pumped. Every three hours. For six months. I lugged that breast pump of a contraption around everywhere. I carried ice packs to keep milk cold, I carried wipes to keep the pump clean, I carried spare parts, extra bottles and labels to document everything. My car window was shattered one night during a Girls Night Out so that someone could steal the bag I used to carry the pump. I was most angry that they stole my breastmilk. That represented hours of pumping! Forget the window, bring me back my breastmilk, jerks!
We tried “non nutritive suck” exercises while she was on devices to assist her breathing, we did paci dips to help her to get used to the idea of sucking and eating. For the first 5.5 months of her life, she was exclusively tube fed.
A month and a half after her due date, she was moved to a less invasive breathing device. This meant she was finally able to take a bottle by mouth. She was 165 days old. She went for a swallow study, to evaluate her ability to eat and we were devastated. I was devastated. She aspirated. A lot. I watched as breastmilk filled her lungs instead of her tummy.
At this point, the nurses in the NICU were all asking why in the world I was still pumping. “You’ve done way more than can be expected” they would say. “Just stop pumping. Formula is not going to hurt her.”
I really, desperately wanted to be able to breastfeed. Even now, I have to hold back the tears when I think about it. It wasn’t about breastfeeding, it was about doing something normal with this baby who I barely knew. I knew it was one thing, the ONE thing I could do for her. The weeks of not being able to hold her, the hours of watching monitors, the moments when we thought we would lose her; those were all out of my control. But breastfeeding, this I could do for her. This I could control. This could be our one normal experience. But the swallow study confirmed our fears. Charlotte could never breastfeed. Anything she got by mouth would have to be thickened to prevent aspiration.
Knowing my goal to keep pumping until the swallow study, one of the physical therapists from the NICU pulled me aside and said, “Charlotte doesn’t know normal. Formula will be her normal. You know what’s not normal? A mom who can’t hold her baby because she’s pumping for 4 hours a day. A mom who can’t interact with her toddler because she’s pumping. A mom who’s so stressed about her next pumping session that she’s checked out on life. That’s not normal. You can give her normal.”
And so I do. Everyday. I give my child her normal. I give my child formula.
Because, in the end, it’s not about what I want. It’s not about nutrition or calories or anything else. It’s about her. When I pumped, it was all about me. When I was going to pump, when I took milk into the NICU, when I was full of milk. I’m so grateful for those nurses and therapists for helping me to see that it’s about Charlotte.
I give my child formula so that it can be all about her.
Considering FFF Friday is practically the only thing keeping this blog going while I scramble to finish this damn book, I’d be really grateful for more submissions. Send ‘em my way! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join the party – share your thoughts on your breastfeeding or formula feeding experience for FFF Friday. Email me at email@example.com.
Can a person fall in love over the Internet? I’m sure the owners of Match.com think so, but I’m talking about another kind of love… a love that dares not speak its name. Yes, I’m talking about the love between an associate editor of a medical journal and a blogger who is guilty of the same thing he is so eloquently criticizing. But oh, Chris… I can’t help it. You are just pure awesome.
My love affair with Chris actually began as a love affair with his place of employment, the British Medical Journal (BMJ), when that publication printed the analysis article I talked about in my “British People Are Cool” post. You know, the one that said breastmilk alone may not be sufficient for a child over the age of 6 months? And dared to question the almighty WHO?
But then, I read the responses to the article that BMJ printed, and felt betrayed. It almost seemed like my new love was regretting publishing the article, as if the bravery they’d displayed by printing such heresy was just an embarrassing mistake, something they needed to cover up with a slew of outraged letters-to-the-editor. (I’ve since come to realize that these were just “rapid responses”, basically the equivalent of leaving a comment on a blog post, so the editors have little control over what is said. At the time though, I thought these were more like “letters to the editor” in standard form, and was disheartened.)
And then… hark! Here comes Christopher Martyn, with an editorial to end all editorials, completely renewing my faith in the medical research profession.
I’ve printed a few selections from his editorial below. I would print the whole thing, but it’s one of those you-gotta-pay-to-read-it things (like the majority of what appears in reputable medical journals today, unfortunately) so I think legally I’m not allowed to. I think this little snippet will suffice, though, in demonstrating why I am kvelling the way that I am…
Mary Fewtrell and her colleagues probably thought that they had been careful in the way that they phrased their analysis article published in the BMJ a fortnight ago (BMJ 2011;342:c5955). They had…asked whether it might be better to abandon the current recommendation to breast feed exclusively for six months in favour of introducing solids earlier.. In the hope of forestalling any misunderstanding they had put in a sentence saying that the evidence for breast feeding itself was extensive and that it wasn’t their intention to question it.……But that didn’t prevent the inhabitants of planet Blog seizing the wrong end of the stick and then complaining that their hands were dirty. Breastfeeding websites vary from the twee (boobiemunchkins.blogspot.com) to the overexplicit (theleakyboob.com). Many are vehicles for groups of people with a fundamentalist conviction about the virtue of breast feeding, and these worked up a sense of outrage over the study. Lactivist.net called on its readers to email the editor of the BMJ demanding another press release. A blog called Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths worried that “fragile nursing relationships have been undermined by these reports”. The Analytical Armadillo guessed that “many people with a young infant coming up to solids age will now be absolutely bewildered about when they should be thinking about solids!” It also quoted the author of a book, Baby-Led Weaning, whose view was that “this is pure speculation and scare-mongering”…It almost seemed that some of the people contributing to these websites were looking for a fight. Gurgle.com posted a calm and balanced piece, explaining the BMJ article well, only to receive complaints that it had been irresponsible……The websites and blogs that I’ve been writing about may do all sorts of good things to support women and encourage breast feeding, but there’s no getting away from the fact that they don’t contribute much to scientific debate on infant nutrition. Reading them felt like being caught up in a demonstration march. It’s not that the protesters are bad or wicked or unable to discuss other points of view, but if you’re among them there’s just no way of going in the opposite direction.
I vote we all start an email campaign of our own, letting BMJ and Christopher know that not all “mommy blogs” are angrily stabbing his voodoo doll with safety pins; to thank him and BMJ for finally exposing the craziness for what it is. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if, when I start this campaign with my own email, I use the subject line SWAK…Shh. Don’t tell Fearless Husband.