FFF Friday: “I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.
Guess what guys? Book manuscript is DONE. Well, maybe not done done, but nearly ready to go to the publishing house, and until they come back at me with edits…. I’m yours. And I have a zillion thoughts a-brewing, all fodder for upcoming posts. Thanks so much for hanging in there with me, and as of May 1st, I’ll be back with new, frequent posts.
Until then, I’m grateful you all are allowing me to keep up the awesome FFF Friday streak. FFF Branson writes about wishing she had a thicker skin; on one level, I get what she’s saying, but on another, I feel pissed that she has to have a thick skin to put up with the crap women heap on each other. People don’t have to agree with your decisions, but they could have the sensitivity to keep their mouths shut about it, you know?

I am going to let you in on a little secret… even though I subscribe to the blog, I am not always a Fearless Formula Feeder. In fact I border on being the opposite. Fearful. But I don’t fear the outcome of Aiden being a formula-fed baby. I fear the opinions of others. I have been told by several people that motherhood requires a tough skin. They warn me that “people are not always going to agree with your decisions, but you have to do what is best for you and your family.” I so want to be that woman. I want to be the mama who can ignore the hurtful statements and ignorant assumptions. Unfortunately, I am not. Yet.

When I found out I was pregnant, I automatically assumed I would breastfeed. In fact after my Nebraska shower I made a comment to my mom about how many bottles I got that I would “never use”. I remember being shocked that she didn’t know I planned to breastfeed. I just assumed she expected me to. After all we had all been breastfed. During that time before Aiden was born I was surrounded by literature enforcing the importance of breastfeeding. I had been signed up for just about every baby list out there, and so I would get the information from the formula companies, but even THAT said “Breastfeeding is best” before going into the details of formula feeding. My mother-in-law was a group leader for the Le Leche League. I honestly never even considered any other feeding option.

Aiden was born 3 weeks early by csection. In the hospital, I was visited daily by a lactation consultant. We never had much success, but they all assured me that it was just because he was early. They told me it would be a matter of days before my milk came in and he started to nurse. I pumped faithfully, feeding him green colostrum with a syringe and googling on my phone to make sure it was ok it was green! The nurse told me it was fine, but she had been surprised herself. I determined it was okay based on the oh-so-reliable online world, and continued the process while we were in the hospital. We refused the little bottles of formula they kept offering us, because we had been told over and over that they would ruin all of my breastfeeding efforts.

Aiden was a hungry baby. The tiny dribbles of colostrum were ok the first couple of days, but we were in the hospital 4 days after he was born, and by the last night he absolutely would not stop crying. The nurse came in and basically said I was abusing my baby by not feeding him, and so I cried while I fed him one of the tiny bottles. He finally stopped crying, and slept after that. I, however, felt like a total failure. Basically the pediatrician told me that if I didn’t either start producing milk right away or continue feeding him formula we would not be able to go home because he was losing too much weight. I looked at my tiny, jaundiced, shrinking baby and it was all too much.

I continued feeding him the formula in addition to trying to nurse and pump. I was in soooo much pain from the csection, and could not get up and down or get any privacy. I got used to the fact that everyone in that hospital had seen me topless as they wandered in and out as I tried to pump in bed. We were able to leave the hospital after promising to check in at our local doctor for a weight and bilirubin test the following day. They gave me a prescription for a hospital grade breast pump, and directions to the rental place, along with a good supply of those guilt-inducing little bottles and a can of formula. Of course my insurance did not cover the breast pump. So I put down the deposit and paid the $20 fee for the week and headed home.

Once I got home, I continued pumping every 2-3 hours. Eventually, the green went away, and what I was pumping looked more like milk but there was never much of it. It was thick like the fatty milk that comes first, but there was never any of the thinner blueish milk I was told would come after that. I continued to try to nurse Aiden before feeding him the formula and then I wuld pump after that. By the time I was done pupming I could sleep for about 20 minutes before we started all over again. The next day we had to go back to the hospital, this time our local hospital, because Aiden needed jaundice treatments. I packed up my pump, and stood in the bathroom (which was still pretty painful) to pump during our hospital stay. I would give the results of the pumping to the nurse, and she would store it for me. She would encourage me each time, and tell me how good I was doing. She is the only person I remember hearing that from.

We were once again cleared to go home. Basically my routine remained the same for the first 5 weeks of Aiden’s life. I never pumped more than 6 ounces in a full day. I cried at every doctor’s appointment when asked about it. I took so much fenugreek I thought I would smell like maple syrup forever. I hated myself for being out of work so long before Aiden was born, because money was tight and I could not afford to see a lactation specialist. All of this was going on amidst a serious bout of post-partum depression to boot. I cried in the shower every day, and every time my little sister complained about leaking or painful boobs it made me angry. She didn’t even want to breastfeed, and her body worked just fine. I was going crazy trying, and I got (almost) nothing. I never had any discomfort. When I finally stopped pumping it was like I never had. No leaking, no soreness… nothing.

The decision to stop was the hardest one I have ever made. Matt and I struggled for weeks. Well, actually I struggled. Matt was okay with formula from early on. I was all alone in those first weeks because he had to work, and I think he probably would have done anything to make life easier for me. Honestly, I never worried that feeding Aiden formula would make him any less healthy or smart. As someone who is very interested in sociology, I believe there is more to those studies than breastmilk vs. formula. I am very much on the side of nurture over nature, and I think the kind of mother who is likely to breastfeed has more of an impact than the actual milk. I absolutely believe breastmilk is best when it works, but I don’t worry about Aiden having any kind of disadvantage. In the end, I knew that if I was not producing more than 6 ounces a
day after five weeks and tons of supplements something was wrong. I could not afford to keep paying $20/week for a pump that wasn’t able to produce enough milk to feed my son.

I couldn’t even return the pump myself. I felt like the women would look at me and know I was a failure. I cried as I packed away the pieces of the kit that didn’t have to go back. I couldn’t throw them away for some reason. They are still in a drawer in my kitchen. Feeding Aiden formula continued to make me sad for quite a while. I felt like a total failure.

Now, I can feed Aiden with no bad feelings. He is a happy, healthy, smart little boy. Meal times are just about feeding the baby. They are not a reflection of whether or not I am a good mom. His cousins all take the same formula he does, no one in our family makes me feel bad about that. I can even hear about my sister-in-law nursing her daughter without and bad feelings. I really have made good progress. There are still those occassional bad days though. I follow a lot of mom blogs, and read a lot of natural parenting websites, and every once in a while the guilt and fear creep back in. I feel like I should have tried harder. Like I somehow failed, even though it was my body that would not cooperate. Like I said, I don’t fear Aiden will be any less healthy or smart, but I fear what other people think of me. I feel like I have to hide from the natural parenting communities, because even though I value a great deal of the same things they do, I use formula and therefore am inferior.

I don’t deny that some of this might be all in my head, but the truth of the matter is that most of it is not. The fact is that there is a huge divide in the world of feeding choices, and just like the formula companies feel the need to print that breastmilk is best on their feeding guides, there aren’t many people willing to admit (out loud) that formula is just fine too. I am constantly surrounded by insensitive and vocal people willing to point out studies saying that babies who are fed formula will be less intelligent, obese, unhealthy adults. You might think I am exaggerating, but join some parenting forums and then we can talk. So I have two choices… I can stop reading those forums and blogs, or I can find that thick skin that I have been looking for.

I don’t want to take the first option. I may not breastfeed, but I still want to learn about all kind of parenting and I actually have a fair amount in common with some of those moms. I make my own baby food, believe in many attachment parenting practices, and would love to be more organic and earth friendly. I love the fact that they tend to be fairly anti-consumerism, and focus on helping stay-at-home moms live on a budget. So, I have no choice but to work on letting the little digs (and the not so little insults) slide by. After all, the people who are closed-minded (my doctor actually called them lactation nazis once, trying to make me feel better) are by no means the majority! They are just able to get to me because I am overly sensitive. So, my goal? To stop hiding. I did what was right for me an my family, and I have nothing to be ashamed of.

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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13 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

  1. Bravo ! You are an amazing mom for working thru that guilt 🙂 I still feel that way from time to time too. But am so happy this feeding choice is available for us 😀

  2. Very well said. There are parts of your post I could've written myself. Nearly 19 months later, sometimes those nerves are still a whole lot rawer than I would like them to be.

  3. I had a similar experience with trying to pump after a c-section. No one really explains to you how painful the recovery is going to be, and it really played a huge part in me not being able to breastfeed. Growing that thick skin is a process – I think it comes one layer at a time as you see your healthy formula-fed baby growing up.

  4. I call them boob nazis.

    Honestly I have found the best response to boob nazis is to be completely and unabashedly proud of my feeding choice. I no longer apologize. I no longer tell strangers on the internet the long tale of how I tried to breastfeed but ultimately failed. They expect you to apologize for feeding formula. When you seem proud of it, it really throws them off. 😀

  5. I'm with Shelley. I find myself now at 9 months post-partum no longer offering excuses or explanations as to why I use formula. I used to feel I had to explain and of course it takes a while to get past the guilt – and the anger (at the “nazis” I mean).

    6oz in a day is pretty awesome. Puts my 1oz in 24 hours to shame! 😉

    Congratulations on your lovely little baby! I too agree that nurture over nature is paramount.

  6. This story really resonated with me. I made my husband take my pump to the children's consignment store to sell bc I couldn't stand looking at it one more time.

    I really wish people would stop using the term “boob nazi,” though. It's pretty inappropriate and insensitive. I'm not that politically correct sometimes, but that's just over-the-top obnoxious IMO.

  7. I'm a breastfeeding mama, but I do not condone belittling mamas that choose to use formula. Especially mamas that try so hard! I don't think I'm better than anyone because I breastfeed, however I am disappointed in mamas that refuse to even consider the idea of breastfeeding and that's mainly because I want everyone to be fully informed about every choice they make! Love your babies, no matter how you feed them, that's what makes you a good mama!

  8. I am right there with you on the issue of “mom” forums. They can be brutal, but just know that you're not inferior.

    @Diana-I am glad to see breastfeeding moms make an effort to support formula feeding moms (and visa versa). However, I wouldn't be too quick to assume that women who choose not to breastfeed at all are uninformed, or lacking information; this stereotype is exactly the thing I believe this blog exists for. I am one of those moms who chose not to breastfeed, and I can assure you, I was fully informed in both methods of feeding.

  9. Diana- If you read the stories on this blog, you will find that your perspective is probably a bit misguided. It doesn't matter if a woman tries hard to breastfeed or doesn't consider it at all. She is feeding her child, and that's what matters.

  10. I know exactly where you are coming from – and it gets better and easier by the day! As you see your little one grow up healthy and happy your good decisions will be reaffirmed. Formula is wonderful! Keep looking for those non-judgmental parenting sites – they must exist somewhere, right?! 🙂

  11. Thank you for your story. So much of what you said resonates with me. I posted on this site back in November, but in summary, also had a c-section, didn't produce, tried the herbs and pumping round the clock routine (brutal!). It IS hard to have that thick skin. What I find surprising now is how often I find myself talking to other moms who are struggling themselves. There are so many of us out there. And just because you use formula doesn't mean that you (and me) don't get to be whatever kind of moms we want to be. I'm just sorry that so often attachment-style and earth-friendly forums are unwilling to remain open-minded when it comes to feeding. I've found it a challenge to all of a sudden be the advocate and 'other voice' in those types of settings. It's okay if sometimes it still hurts because being the person that is the example of change is hard. You are so right that you have nothing to be ashamed of, you did what was best for your family, and ultimately that is all that matters. *hugs*

  12. Aside from the c-section and jaundice, I pretty much could have written this post. Isaac is about 3 and a half months old and I still struggle with the fact that I couldn't make breastfeeding work. I wanted to try to write my story and send it in, but I'm not fearless yet, so I didn't think I was ready. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story!

  13. just wanted to say that although I’m a man, I am wanting to congratulate you on feeding bottled milk, and not concentrating on what you had wanted but hadn’t had happen and are fine with the outcomes… :o)

    I know it must be tough for you, but thank you for showing me this as it gets me one step closer to being a dad myself, and I would like to help my future girlfriend/missis prepare for motherhood.

    I feel so cozy, and comfortable knowing that there’s mother’s out there concentrating on their babies, and feel love for you and your babies as a friend and a brother..

    thank you for sharing, please be ok with me writing?

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