FFF Friday: “They needed to know…that formula feeding was my choice.”

FFF Kristin tells us about walking into the formula feeding lion’s den – AKA a LLL meeting – and how she turned what could have been an intimidating experience into a positive, productive one. I think her story is a great example of how if we can just talk to each other as individuals rather than stereotypes (militant breastfeeder, lazy formula feeder, etc.) then we could start breaking down these ridiculous walls the remain between mothers.
Happy Passover/Easter/Spring Solstice, everyone! 

I wander into the local library, excited about my first MOMS Club meeting.  Peeking through the glass door of a meeting room, I see kids running around and a bunch of moms sitting in a circle in the center of the room.  I’m about 15 minutes late as baby took his time this morning with his bottle.  I sneak in quietly, as to not disturb the current discussion.  I listen as I begin to unpack and peel the winter layers away from my 4 month old son.  The only elderly woman in the room confides that she used to spank her children because she didn’t know better.  Taking a seat, I listen to the other women in the room, thankful to have local moms to share experiences with.  That was, until the sign in sheet got to me.
For an instant, my blood ran cold.  I was at a La Leche League meeting.  A horrible mixture of fate and coincidence; both meetings were at the same library, same time.  The meeting rooms were not labeled. Each mother began to introduce themselves to the group of about 6 moms.  There’s no way I could slip out casually.  I’m going to have to face this.
Ever since my son was born I have struggled with guilt, frustration and a general feeling of defectiveness when it comes to nourishing him.  While pregnant, I never gave too much thought to it. I was formula fed 35 years ago and I’m just fine.  I was blissfully unaware of the raging emotions spewing between the breastfeeding and formula feeding camps. 

I had no pressure from outside influences while I made my decision.  I choose to breast feed.  I had seen information on the health benefits and plus…it was cheaper and seemingly easier.  My mother in law had asked me numerous times about what I was going to do.  I finally informed her on my decision and she let out an audible sigh of relief.  She is adamantly pro breast feeding, had done it with her 3 children and she was breast fed herself.  
I educated myself as best I could.  I read up and watched videos.  I learned about colostrum and how babies lose weight immediately after birth.  I learned the holds.  I thought I was ready.  Besides, there would be a lactation consultant there.
My son arrived on a Friday morning by way of a scheduled c-section, as so many are these days.  I had wanted a natural birth but was told that he was too large and a natural birth would risk physical harm to him.  What mother could fight that?  As soon as he was pulled out of my belly he was cleaned up and swaddled.  He was only 7 lbs, 15 oz. and 21 inches long.  They handed him to my husband and two pictures were snapped.  I did not see him for another hour and a half to two hours as I was placed in recovery and he was sent to the nursery.
They bottle fed him a small amount of formula during that time.  They were aware of my breast feeding request.  I wasn’t upset about the formula.  This was my first.  Plus, I couldn’t be with him and he needed nourishment.   The lactation consultant arrived in my room shortly after I had held my son for the first time.  She immediately noticed that he still had a lot of fluid in his lungs as evident by the liquid bubbling at his lips.  I was told that this is normal with c-sections. Within seconds, she had called for the nursery staff.  He was ordered to stay with them for a little while longer.  She then informed me that she doesn’t work over the weekend.  I didn’t really understand the huge impact this would have on me until the next day when I really needed her assistance.  The nurses did the best they could, but they are not lactation consultants.  My son was screeching when put to the breast.  He was not latching and my nipples required the shield.  Even with the shield things barely improved.  Not to mention the fact that for the first 24 hours I was catheterized and bed bound so I couldn’t change by baby’s diapers or walk him around to soothe him.  With him screaming for nourishment, I began to shred.  I couldn’t even do the most basic thing a mother should do for her child?
By Sunday night, I had broken down and turned to formula.  He had lost over a pound by then.  I knew babies lose weight after birth but that and the combination of me not being able to provide him with his most basic needs…well.  Watching him feed to satisfaction and a peaceful sleep was the most amazing feeling I had experienced.  I was finally able to relax and enjoy him.  
Monday brought it’s own problems and stresses.  I had quickly developed post partum preeclampsia and ended up spending a total of 5 days in the hospital.  I hadn’t completely given up on breast feeding.  I tried to give him what I could.  My milk came in relatively quick.  My mother in law tried to help me.  She really wanted to see him breast fed.  Nothing worked.  When the LC came to see me on Tuesday (yes from Friday to Tuesday), she suggested I go straight to pumping.  What hell that was.  I felt like a cow.  I was bed bound again with the preeclampsia and a catheter again. What my instincts had called for, I was told I couldn’t do.  I had to be milked.  I had to be confined to the bed. 
By Wednesday, my BP was still quite high but they allowed me to go home.  I was on a medicine for BP that is approved for nursing and pregnancy- an older, less effective medicine.  I had follow ups scheduled with the GYN to monitor my BP.  My mother in law purchased a breast pump for us while we made the trip home from the hospital.  
Those first days home were hell.  As any new mother is, I found myself exhausted.  I was dealing with healing from major abdominal surgery. There were the pounding headaches from preeclampsia.  Yet that was the least of my concerns.  I just wanted to make sure that by son was ok.  My first priority was nourishing him so that he would thrive.  We had taken home some 2 oz bottles from the hospital.  I pumped what I could and we supplemented with the formula.  It was a struggle to get my husband to accept the formula.  My husband was worried about the financial impact of formula.  We’re a one income family and he want to provide for his son, too.  My mother in law and her mother wanted to see me breast feed, period.  Both constantly offered their help.  I took it at first.  It didn’t help.  Subsequent offers were swiftly denied.  
I learned quickly that if I wanted to pump, I had to pump every 2 to 3 hours.  It took 30 to 45 minutes for each breast.  Basically, I would have a 40 minute break between pumping sessions.  My BP was still too high.  If I was put on serious meds to fight my BP, I could no longer nurse. I was given the choice: allow my BP to remain high and yet nurse or take the meds and discontinue the breast.  I decided to use formula and give up the ghost.

I finally could enjoy my son.  I had more time with him.  I had mobility.  I began to heal from the surgery.  My son was beginning to thrive and I no longer had the fear and anxiety of being faced with helplessness through his hunger.  My mother was there and supported me thoroughly.  She had done it, after all. She didn’t understand my mother in law’s enthusiasm for breast feeding.  I didn’t want to tell my mother in law.  She has a very strong personality and I often find myself a little intimidated around her.  She’s very kind and respectful but I didn’t want to feel intimidated around her about this emotionally charged decision. I didn’t want to face that shame.

My husband told my mother in law.  I could feel her disapproval around the bottle for weeks afterward however to her credit, she never did say anything.  My husband’s grandmother once said to my fussy son, “I wish I could give you the real stuff”.  My husband wrote it off as her being older and unaware of the consequences of her words.  I was super sensitive though, and little faces and comments really bothered me. Through the internet, I became aware of the controversy between EBF and FF moms.  My shame, guilt and general feeling of worthlessness began to snowball (I had a touch of post partum depression as well).  I found the Fearless Formula Feeder site and that has started me on a path of forgiveness and release.  
Then one Monday morning in January I found myself in the inner circle of hard core breast feeding advocates.  I had felt inferior to these people and I was highly sensitive to the fact that their organization does not recommend the path I chose.  I tend to be timid.  I’m often told that I’m quite sensitive. It surprised me when I spoke.
“Hi.  I’m Kristin and I’m in the wrong room.  I was looking for the MOM’S club,“ I say. Heat burns on my face.  People chuckle and someone commented that this wasn’t the first time that’s happened. Still red, I smile and my firm voice continues. “I’m glad I’m here, though. I bottle feed.  I had a c-section.  I also had post partum preeclampsia which is no walk in the park.  I was put on 4 different kind of blood pressure medicines. “
I explained how I couldn’t nurse with the medicines I was prescribed.  I also describe what it is like to give birth but not be able to hold your child for an hour and a half afterward.
I did not explain the alienation of pumping or that putting myself on the stronger BP medicine was a choice given to me by my Dr.  I didn’t tell them about the lack of Lactation Consultants at the hospital for two whole days immediately following my son’s birth.  They needed to know and I needed to say that formula feeding was my choice, my son is thriving and our family is happy and healthy.  I received a few tight smiles after my admission however on a whole they received me with warmth.  I stayed for a little while longer to discuss the experience of c-section with some other mothers.   We respected each other and it was lovely to get those feelings out with them.  After a little while longer, I excused myself so I could make it to what was left of the MOM’S Club meeting. 
Share your story with the FFF audience. Send me an email 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: “They needed to know…that formula feeding was my choice.”

  1. I too had a c-section in the end (emergency) I often wonder if c-sections have a negative impact on BFing… Most other section moms I've talked to say it took longer than average for their milk to come in (mine took 5 days) and in that time, the damage had been done…

    Glad you stood up for yourself in an uncomfortable situation! FFing can also be “no walk in the park” but you are doing it beautifully 🙂

  2. I also had a c-section (after a long labor with no progress), and had to wait about as long as you did to hold my baby. No one really tells you how hard the recovery is going to be. I have a very pro-breastfeeding mom, who used to be a LLL leader. It has been a real learning experience for her to see me formula-feed, but she has really come around as she watches my daughter grow up healthily. I hope your MIL opens her mind more, too!

  3. Actually, it is possible to successfully breastfeed after having a C-section (I did), so I hope no women who have c-sections come away reading these stories as “proof” they can't have a good nursing experience.

  4. And it can go the other way too…my milk didn't come in until 4 days pp, and I had a vaginal delivery. I never minded giving formula, and I don't really believe that an infant that young will suffer nipple confusion/rejection. (I do believe it can happen w/older babies who either refuse bottles preferring the breast, or vice versa). Anyway, even if I had minded, I had no choice—I had two tiny 36wkers who needed food—they couldn't wait 4 days.
    I didn't hold my children immediately after birth either, (preemies, needed immediate checkup, they were fine).I did attempt nursing, about 3hrs after they were born and they latched ok, they just weren't getting much. And when milk finally showed up, it wasn't enough.
    Anyway, I'm glad Kristin was able to have a nice discussion wo/any name calling or sanctimony. If all LLL meetings were like that, we wouldn't need this blog.

  5. @Anonymous- It's also important for people to share these stories and not to marginalize them as unimportant or rare just to support a breastfeeding agenda.

  6. Amy, you may not mind giving a bottle (filled with whatever) to such a young infant, but the fact remains that nipple confusion/preference is real, and a real headache for moms who do want to breastfeed. There are other ways to get formula/EBM to an infant younger than 6 weeks, such as the cup, spoon or syringe.

  7. Wendy–ok. It's true I was thinking of people I know, who do not constitute the whole population. Anyway, none of their babies had nipple confusion in favor of bottle, but several had babies that refused to take a bottle after a few months of exclusive nursing. That was also a headache because the mothers were going back to work, and the babies HAD to take a bottle.

  8. What I find interesting is that Kristin's experience face-to-face with LLL moms was much different than what many of us has encountered on websites or on mommy forums. I think it is much easier to be insensitive and unbending when typing onto a screen vs. talking to someone in person. Hats off to you Kristin for not just saying I was in the wrong room and then skeedaddling (as I probably would have done) and for being willing to open a dialogue. I'm sure you shared a perspective that many of the moms in that room hadn't thought about before and it sounds like a powerful experience for you to be listened to and respected.

  9. anon- it wasn't the c section that caused the difficulty. as i noted, my milk came in rather quickly. it was the pre eclampsia that did me in, mixed with latching issues.

    thank you everyone for your comments!

  10. I don't see why anyone would attend a LLL meeting, frankly, after reading their website. An organization that promotes breastfeeding even when the mother is HIV+, against the recommendations of the CDC, is at the very least suspect in my mind, if not fatally irresponsible.

    LLLI's forums are full of people giving medical advice sight-unseen over the internet without knowing enough of the mom's or baby's medical history. It's bad enough that even IBCLCs often miss medical reasons not to breastfeed, such as insufficient glandular tissue (IGT), much less issues like auto-immune disease. The forums are tantamount to promoting child abuse, in my opinion, as they advocate starving babies indefinitely, sacrificing them on the altar of breastfeeding just so the mother can tick off one more box on her “perfect child-rearing” checklist.

    I feel that LLLI's website and forums do breastfeeding moms, themselves, a terrible disservice. They are made to look like intolerant, irresponsible fools, when I'm sure many of them are just nice people trying to make sure that BFing moms get the respect they deserve. LLLI's web content pits moms vs. other moms in an artificial competition, instead of promoting informed choice (and NOT the pretense of choice, which is what it promotes now) and proper risk/benefit analysis for what is truly a medical decision.

    I feel bad for the true lactivists among us. BFing has become such an extreme issue that it strips the beauty from it. I'd love to see LLL become a responsible organization and clean up its act just like its militant members demand formula companies clean up their act for promoting formula in countries with bad water supply. Unfortunately, that won't happen without internal pressure, and I don't think a lot of rank-and-file LLL members are aware of the bad rap they all get thanks to the bullies on the internet.

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