Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles

Week after week, I post stories on here from amazing women who have the cajones to share their deepest, darkest thoughts about formula, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, sexual trauma, medical issues, traumatic births, etc. In between these heartfelt, brave guest posts, I usually tackle some random aggravating study that’s being Tweeted to hell and back. Occasionally I share a personal tidbit here and there. But I am not laid bare, typically. I don’t get too intimate. And it’s starting to make me feel a little fraudulent.

I feel like a fraud because there are things – formula/breastfeeding related things – that happen in my daily life that make me feel hurt/annoyed/like I want to hit somebody, and I don’t share these with you guys. I think I used to; when FC was young, and these feelings were fresh and raw, I think I did open up more. Part of the reason I don’t discuss these things anymore is that I’m so caught up in the infant feeding world that I (mostly) approach the subject clinically; it’s work, so I can disassociate. And then of course there’s the fact that Fearlette is my second kid, and I have the advantage of perspective. I don’t freak out about much, because I know pretty much all of this “parenting science” is bullshit. You get what you get, and when you are lucky enough to get the kind of kids I have, the best you can do is try not to screw them up.

Still, if I’m being 100% honest – 100% fearless – I have to admit that a large part of why I don’t discuss the little jabs that sting me here and there, is that I have friends who read this blog. I worry that they will recognize themselves in something I write and feel hurt/annoyed/like they want to hit me. That’s not just cowardice in the FFF sense, but also in the writerly sense. What kind of writer censors herself because of what people might think? And yet I find myself holding back. A lot.

In real life, too, there have been countless discussions where I’ve bitten my tongue so hard that it bleeds, because I don’t want to alienate myself any further from my breastfeeding friends. The danger in this is that it actually creates the situations that are so tough for me to write about.

First case in point: a good friend’s second son was just diagnosed with a dairy intolerance. She managed to control his symptoms by cutting dairy out of her diet, which is great. I *think* I reassured her that she should keep breastfeeding even when she asked if she should just switch to hypoallergenic formula, even though I also helped her try a 24-hour Alimentum test when her doctor wasn’t being very cooperative. I tried my best to help her with the elimination diet, since I’d been there, done that.

Anyway, we were talking this weekend and she mentioned – pointedly – that her doctor told her it was the cow’s milk that kids reacted to, not breastmilk. Now, this is a common belief. There is some pretty interesting research that suggests that many dairy allergic kids might also be reactive to breastmilk, but many doctors are not aware of this… I believe this can be filed under “Medical Advances that Will Never Be Made Thanks to the Breastfeeding Hysteria”, but that’s another story for another day. (Plus, I have a whole section on it in my book so I don’t wanna give away the cow for free. No pun intended.) My point here is this: she knows FC’s history better than anyone. She also knows where I stand on the dairy/breastmilk allergy issue. I know we have discussed this very thing probably 590 times. And yet I found myself repeating the mantra: Well, I cut out dairy with FC, too. It didn’t work. I tried.

But what I wanted to say was this:

Really? You’re going to challenge me on this? Do you realize what you are implying? You’ve been talking about what a “fun challenge” it was to cut out dairy for your kid, and how much better he is already. That’s awesome. And it’s even more awesome that it took no more than a few days for him to improve. You know what happened with FC, right? I not only cut out dairy (which wasn’t hard, considering I was 85% vegan at the time anyway) but also soy, nuts, and a variety of “gassy” veggies on the advice of the zillion Kellymom articles I read on the subject, obedient wannabe lactivist that I was. I did that for 2 weeks. It made no difference. He was sick as a (really sickly) dog on my breastmilk. So, you know, that’s cool that your doctor said that. It’s cool if you believe that. I know my beliefs about this are a little off the grid. But your telling me this – me, specifically, who has been through this very thing and did not find it a “fun challenge” to eliminate foods from my diet, but rather a hellishly drawn out science experiment with a sickly newborn as a guinea pig – seems an awful lot like you are implying that I just didn’t try hard enough. Because if you believe it’s just a matter of cutting out dairy, then by process of elimination (haha, get it? Elimination??) that means you either think I am lying or I didn’t love my kid enough to stop eating ice cream.

But of course I didn’t say that. Not only would it have been extremely confrontational, I worried it would come off as anti-breastfeeding. That she’d take it to mean that I thought she should switch to formula, which wasn’t it at all. I am thrilled that she can continue nursing. Why does my experience have to negate her good fortune? They were two different experiences, two different moms, two different kids. I don’t get why my feeding choices/history has to threaten hers, or vice versa.

And then this morning, I met up with a friend who I had tried to help when she struggled with her choice to EP and supplement. She had asked me for reassurance that it was okay to stop pumping, on a few occasions. I told her that I was hesitant to “go there” because I never, NEVER wanted to be responsible for talking someone out of breastfeeding (or pumpfeeding, or whatever you want to call it). This friend also read a rough draft of my book. In other words, she knows how I feel about overblown breastfeeding claims, especially regarding immunity.

We were chilling on a blanket in the sun as another acquaintance peacefully nursed her baby, and my friend began talking about how her daughter had never been sick (thanks to breastmilk). And she’d stopped pumping a few weeks ago, and then she herself had caught a bug, and she’d been so worried about her daughter catching it since she was no longer receiving breastmilk. Luckily, she sighed, the immunity advantages must last longer than she’d thought.

And I sat there, silent. Because what could I say? If I interjected “well, um, it doesn’t exactly work that way, which we’ve discussed. And I’d actually bet that your kiddo’s good health has more to do with you having the cash for a full time nanny rather than sending her to daycare, so you don’t need to worry,” I would have come off as being anti-breastfeeding. While her friend sat there, nursing. Shoot me, seriously.

I keep silent. I hold my tongue. I bite my lip. And I seethe, inwardly. I seethe at the tiny digs that some friends throw my way, time and time again. The little glances I see, passed back and forth, between them, if I dare to correct a mistaken belief. Even if that belief is causing them stress, unnecessarily.

Then I come on here, and write, and act like I have no fear. Bullshit. I am full of fear. It’s easy to go balls-out when I don’t care about the person I’m debating. But with those I love? I soften my stance; I sugarcoat. I convince myself I’m being overly sensitive. I keep my big mouth shut.

But who is this really helping? Certainly not me, or you guys… the more we keep things close to the chest, the more people will be telling us what we need to do with our chests. And you know, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to my friends, either. If I don’t start speaking up when they say hurtful things, how will they know that they are hurtful?

I know our breastfeeding sisters have had to deal with a crapload of stupid comments and insensitive behavior. I admire breastfeeding moms who counter the ignorance of others with strong, confident, calm responses. I think it is the most effective way of provoking real change: offering to have a discussion, rather than resorting to nasty rebuttals. In that sense, I’m glad I held my tongue in these cases; in the heat of the moment I probably would have come off a tad nasty. But maybe in the future I can make a concerted effort to speak my mind, calmly and clearly. Fearlessly.

Maybe I can start living up to my screen name. Starting by hitting the “publish post” button…… now.

If my friends abandon me, I’m blaming you guys.

FFF Friday: “I’m done with defending myself.”

I don’t think I can possibly explain how much I love the following entry from longtime contributor, FFF Antigone. I knew she was rad, but this is beyond rad. I promise you’ll feel empowered after reading this one….

***

I am different than most mothers here in that I knew from the beginning that I would probably have problems breastfeeding. You see, I had a breast reduction right before I went away to college, 11 years ago now. I will not tell you the whole story of my surgery, but I will say that my breasts were grossly out of proportion with my body, causing me intense discomfort, both physical and psychological, and my insurance covered the surgery as medically necessary. The more modern procedure with the anchor scar was used. Thus my nipple was not removed, which was less likely to cause a loss of sensation and a complete inability to breastfeed. Even so, I was warned before the surgery that I would probably not be able to breastfeed. Being a teenager at the time, and a formula-fed one at that, this didn’t faze me in the least. I could blame the whole thing on childish ignorance, but I won’t. Even knowing that the surgery did ultimately render me unable to breastfeed, I would not take it back for anything. I am still glad I did it, glad that I did not spend the last 11 years suffering, glad that I am not doomed to years more of suffering until I’m finished having children.

I guess that is why, in my heart of hearts, I feel attacked when militant lactivists attempt to separate the sheep from the goats, the innocent women who truly couldn’t breastfeed compared with the selfish hussies who just didn’t want to, or didn’t try hard enough. I bridge the gap between both worlds. I physically could not breastfeed. I produced a comically low amount of milk. But the reason I physically could not was a surgery that I chose to have. And I would choose again.

For a long time I wondered whether to try breastfeeding at all. Did I mention I also have PCOS and had to use fertility drugs to get pregnant? This also, apparently, lessened my chances. I read the Breastfeeding After Reduction book and visited the website. I saw a lot of extraordinarily dedicated women who were willing to pay substantial costs – economic, physical, psychological – in order to get just a relatively small amount of breastmilk into their babies. There were a few who were able to exclusively breastfeed, especially with subsequent children, but most settled for just a fraction breastmilk – usually 30-50%. They spent tons of money on galactogogues, some of which aren’t FDA-approved (domperidone) and/or had unpleasant side effects. They hooked themselves up to pumps constantly. It seemed my vision of having a natural, normal breastfeeding experience was going to be impossible. Now there was the question – was it worth it to try for even this limited breastfeeding experience?

I debated with myself for a long time. I was afraid of making a stressful time more stressful. I have a history of depression and thus have a higher risk level for postpartum depression. I was afraid of not knowing when to supplement and starving my baby. Ultimately my research led me to believe that some formula was probably inevitable. So I bought bottles, started reading FFF, and defended formula feeders wherever I was.

I didn’t make the decision until a few weeks before I gave birth. In the end, I had to know for sure if I could breastfeed or not. I think if I didn’t try, I would always question and feel bad about it. My daughter was much-wanted and long-awaited and as I felt my due date approaching, I wanted to give her my best. But MY best. Not what some other woman thought my best should be. I vowed not to let myself sink into depression. I vowed to be reasonable in my efforts and not drive myself crazy. If I had milk, I would give it to my baby. Maybe I would be one of the lucky ones, the few who are able to fulfill most of their child’s need through breastfeeding despite the reduction. I tried to stay hopeful.

So when I checked into the hospital that December day, I told the nurse I planned to breastfeed. My daughter was born at 9:34 pm, a normal vaginal delivery after a fast labor. We put her right to the breast. The latch was weird but they assured me I’d get some help in the morning. I continued to put her to the breast all night long.

The next morning a LC visited me, brought a pump and a bunch of informational packets. I was instructed to put her to the breast for 15 minutes each side every 2-3 hours and pump afterwards to simulate milk supply, which I dutifully did. She told me it would be 2 weeks before I would know the full extent of my supply post-surgery. 2 weeks, I told myself. I can do this. The first day I got colostrum, a small syringe full which I fed to my baby. It still seemed my supply of colostrum was smaller than what I had been told to expect, and I felt the latch was not good. The LC brought a nipple shield and some breast shells to help my nipple stick out. Later that evening I was informed that my daughter’s glucose levels had dropped and we would need to begin supplementing, small amounts, just 15cc per feeding. I guess many breastfeeding advocates would scoff at this and fight it. But as one of my fears was not getting my daughter the nutrition she needed, I complied right away. Then in the wee hours of the morning my daughter was diagnosed with jaundice. Fortunately they were able to bring the isolette with the bili lights into our room so that we would not have to be separated. We were recommended to increase the supplementing because it would help her to expel the bilirubin.

I continued to nurse and pump. I was visited by another LC who helped me with my latch. It was still frustrating as the baby was rather sleepy and had a weak suck, but the LC was kind and filled me with confidence that we could do this. However, it was obvious to me that my colostrum was drying up. The previous day I’d been able to pump a few CC of colostrum, now I was getting only drops. I hoped and prayed that the baby was getting more than I was, but I had a sinking feeling that she wasn’t. Her increasing hunger was apparent, and her formula consumption continued to increase. That evening I was “discharged” since my 48 hours post vaginal delivery had elapsed, but my daughter was kept behind due to the jaundice. Since the hospital had extra rooms, I was allowed to continue to stay with her.

The next morning (3rd day post delivery) my colostrum was completely gone. I was getting nothing. Constantly pumping a dry breast was giving me blisters and I was crying from the pain. The LC was kind and said I could put it on the lowest setting, it was okay. If nursing hurt I could use the nipple shield, it was okay. I kept on as best I could. That evening we were discharged. By then we were supplementing a full ounce of formula at every feeding. And I was on the roller coaster. Nurse, supplement, pump, wash pump parts.

It was not until the next afternoon (4th day post delivery) that my milk “came in.” Instead of nothing, I was getting whitish fluid, but not much of it. I felt engorged, but only tiny amounts were coming out. I had my husband make some lactation cookies, and buy some fenugreek. The milk situation did not seem to improve. The most I ever pumped was a whopping 5cc; most pumps yielded between 1 and 2cc. No that’s not a typo. We’re talking mL here, nowhere near even a fraction of an ounce. This is with a top of the line, hospital-grade pump.

Many would say that pumping is not indicative of supply, that my daughter was getting more than I pumped. In my case, I’m not so sure. I visited the LC at my pediatrician’s office when she was a week old. I was having problems latching without the shield, probably a result of the bottles. The LC was not able to get her to latch without the shield either. We did a 30 minute nursing session with her while using the shield and weighed the baby. She had not gained even a fraction of a gram on the digital scale. After the nursing session, the LC brought a 2oz formula bottle so my daughter could have something to eat. She drank it all.

Meanwhile fatigue was setting in. I was not able to keep up with pumping all night and often for night feeds I skipped it, or skipped nursing, or just told my husband give her a bottle I need to sleep. My husband’s return to work approached and with it an impending sense of dread. Merely the thought of being alone with the baby all day and all night (since my husband needed his sleep for work) left me a sobbing mess. I knew that there was no way in Hell that I could continue with this nurse, supplement, pump, clean pump parts routine, which would take up at least half of the 3 hour cycle, all by myself with no relief. My supply was not improving. The writing was on the wall. But still I couldn’t stop. I had to keep going the full two weeks. I had to prove to myself that I had tried my best.

The day before my husband returned to work, I finally gave up the ghost and packed up the pump. Returning that pump was the best decision I ever made. It brought the light out of the clouds to know I would never have to deal with that monstrous machine again. From everything I’d read, I knew I would not be able to maintain or increase my “supply” without it. Since I was still using the nipple shield, I wouldn’t get adequate stimulation. So I accepted that this was it for me. I was not one of those women who could breastfeed after reduction, not even for a small percentage of my daughter’s need.

I continued to nurse though, because the truth is I actually enjoyed it. I was afraid it would hurt, but after the first couple days, it didn’t. At 3 weeks old, my daughter was finally able to latch without the shield. The situation did not really improve, though. Oh sure, when you squeezed my breast, a tiny bit of milk came out. But my daughter was consuming as much formula as a fully formula fed baby, according to all the charts I found. Whether I nursed before giving her a bottle made no difference in her consumption. It was obvious that what she was getting from me was not significant. I continued on, although part of me felt like I was just pretending to breastfeed, a giant faker trying to fit into the club. But it was relaxing and was one way to spend time with my daughter when she was too little to do much else. And the pediatrician assured me that even the tiniest amount of antibodies would be beneficial to my baby. Some might find this admirable, others might find it crazy. I can’t explain it and even I would never have thought I would continue so long under such circumstances. Something about the postpartum hormones and my fierce love for my daughter led me to do things that previously I didn’t think I would.

Even so, I knew that she wasn’t getting much of anything from me. Probably not much more than the few CC that I had pumped. Our feeding routine was far too lengthy and often my daughter would fuss at the breast because she was hungry. I told myself I would stop at 2 months, after her vaccines. So I did, gradually dropping one session after another. She hardly noticed at all, and her formula intake didn’t change noticeably. She is now almost 6 months old. When I think about it now, I am still a little sad that I wasn’t able to breastfeed her. On the other hand, formula feeding has gone smoothly, my daughter is healthy, and I beat the baby blues. I feel absolved of guilt because in my heart I know I did the best I could, and it was not even a close thing.

What frustrates me is that when you say you weren’t able to breastfeed, particularly because of low milk supply, the usual reaction from the breastfeeding community is not to just accept it, but to question and assume that you simply didn’t try hard enough. 98-99% of women are physically capable of breastfeeding, don’t you know? Why didn’t you try an SNS? Domperidone? A different LC? More milk plus? Mother’s milk tea? Why didn’t you pump more often? Try more skin to skin contact? Drink more water? Improve your diet? Etc. In my case, my supply was so hopelessly low that I truly believe that none of this would have made any difference. Even if I’d been able to follow all of this advice simultaneously, exactly to the letter, I would not have had nearly enough milk.

I resent feeling defensive, feeling the need to constantly explain my whole story and that yes, I really truly had almost no milk supply, that yes, if I wanted my daughter to live she needed formula. But you know what I really resent most of all? The notion that there are “good” and “bad” reasons to formula feed, and therefore “good” and “bad” formula feeding mothers. (Often, the code words “could not” breastfeed and “chose not” to breastfeed are substituted for “good” and “bad”—but we know what they mean). And who has the right to judge which reasons are good and which reasons are bad? Not the mother herself, who surely has the most information on her own situation. No, random strangers REALLY know whether you had a good reason or not. And the assumption tends to be that you didn’t have a good reason. Because 98-99% of women are physically capable of breastfeeding, so there’s a very good chance that you were, if you’d only tried hard enough! That’s why I’m done with defending myself. I’m done with trying to persuade anyone that I’m one of the “good” ones, or that formula feeding women shouldn’t be demonized because there are several “good” reasons to do it. I truly believe that we as a community of formula feeders should stand together, and not turn against each other by pointing out which reasons to formula feed are valid, and by implication, which aren’t. If you give your 2 month old Coca Cola in a bottle, you should have to explain yourself. Formula specifically balanced to meet an infant’s nutritional needs? Not so much.

I trust women. While there are a few bad apples out there, most of us love our children and want to give them our best. I am supportive of breastfeeding and am supportive of efforts to assist women who want to breastfeed in being successful. But I am NOT supportive of labeling or bashing ANY formula feeding mother.

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After reading that one, I hope you’ll all be inspired to contribute! Send your story to formulafeeders@gmail.com and keep the revolution rolling…

Doctors can be fearless, too

When it comes to having emotional responses to posts about formula feeding, I’m pretty stoic. After reading so many heartbreaking stories you start disassociating – you have to, or you’d go crazy with outrage and frustration.

But tonight, I cried as I read this post. Happy tears. Tears of relief. And then, tears of frustration as I read the comment section.

The post in question was entitled “Let’s stop the war between breastfeeding and formula feeding”, and it was on a blog sponsored by MedPageToday. Pediatrician “Yolanda MD” wrote a rational, calm, but still impassioned post about how crazy the pressure to breastfeed has become, explaining that while she believes breastmilk is “incredible stuff” – she nursed her baby exclusively until suffering a supply dip after returning to work – breastfeeding is not always possible:

I still do everything I can to encourage mothers to breastfeed. I want to help them get through the ups and downs. But obstacles do arise. Obstacles abound. Breastfeeding does not come naturally for many, and life can often throw a wrench in the most well-intentioned plans. Severe pain and slow healing. Minimal time with a lactation consultant. Discouragement from family members or even medical providers. Postpartum depression and stress. Insufficient glandular tissue. Illnesses and hospitalizations. Medications. Returning to work. Limited support for pumping at work.

The idea that every woman can nurse is a hurtful myth….

Which is, of course, no shocker to anyone who reads this blog. But then, she says this:

I was fortunate and did not have difficulties with breastfeeding. But that’s all I can call it — fortunate. My ability to nurse my baby did not make me a more successful or more loving mother than someone who decided to use formula…The mark of a mother is not whether she dons a nursing cover. The mark of womanhood is not whether her breasts are able to produce enough milk. Since when did mothers need to prove that they care?

Amen, hallelujah and sing it sister!

Of course, then the comments began. It was exactly what you’d expect ….”Formula is a marginally adequate nutritional supplement for breastfeeding. But formula feeding has significant health risks for babies and mothers. We must remove the barriers and allow all babies and mothers to have a NORMAL, healthy breastfeeding relationship as long as possible for each mother and baby.” said one visitor (also an MD). “I’m sorry but can someone explain to me why mothers who are successful at breastfeeding, despite all of the obstacles in their way…aren’t allowed to be proud of their accomplishments? Please! I salute every mother who meets her personal breastfeeding goals and she should be proud and deserves a pat on the back for doing what is best for her, her baby and society at large,” said another.

These were only the first of many, I’d bet, which will miss Yolanda’s point entirely. Nowhere did she say breastfeeding wasn’t “best”. Nowhere did she say that women should not feel proud of their accomplishments. She only suggested that to make breastfeeding the mark of motherhood was unhelpful and pointless.

Herein lies the reason that we will never, ever get anywhere in this “debate”. There is no room for alternate opinions. There is no room for sensitivity, or moderation, or nuance. If a person merely hints that bullying women into breastfeeding – by making them feel like inferior mothers (women) if they don’t, or by misrepresenting the “risks” of formula so dramatically that they deserve an Oscar – is wrong or misguided, they are immediately dismissed as being Enfamil’s pawn or a women-hating moron. And if that person happens to be a doctor, god help us all.

Do they not see that this is censorship in the most naked sense? What could be so scary about acknowledging that the experience of one woman is not any less valuable than another? Does the stress caused by not breastfeeding compare to the stress of breastfeeding? Was my pain worse than yours? Who the fark cares? It’s pain, and pain sucks.

It is easy to win an argument when you are wearing earmuffs. Taking them off and hearing – really hearing – what the other side has to say takes true courage. Although I don’t know how you could turn a deaf ear to the breastfeed-at-all-costs zeitgeist, I think we should all make a concerted effort to hear, and comprehend, that point of view. Maybe if they see that we are willing to do this, they will take off the noise-canceling Bose earphones and finally have a real conversation. Not that I am holding my breath.

Regardless, go visit Yolanda’s blog and show her some love. She deserves it.

FFF Friday: “I realized a dead mother cannot take care of her baby.”

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.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

The term “traumatic birth” doesn’t really cut it for FFF Sandy, who found herself second-guessing medical decisions because of her guilt over formula feeding. Not that it should EVER matter why someone chose to formula feed, but reading Sandy’s story – and hearing how she was still judged, even after everything she went through – makes you wonder if there is such thing as an acceptable “excuse” for not breastfeeding in the eyes of a judgmental, overzealous, and unfortunately very vocal, few.

***

So all my friends breastfeed, and when I was pregnant, it was what I was going to do too!. It’s the right thing to do, right? Best for the baby, best for everything. I was all for it and ready. My pregnancy was uneventful, except for the absurd amount of swelling I began to have in my second trimester. My blood pressure remained normal, and my blood work was normal, so no one thought much of it at the time. Then the week my son was due, my BP shot up to 165/90 and it looked like preeclampsia. I had some tests done that week, and on my due date, the doctor sent me to the hospital to be induced. Around 9am, the induction began. My labor was terrible. 12 hours of induced contractions with no dilation. My water broke on its own, but the baby wasn’t going anywhere. Around 9pm, I looked around and quietly stated “Everything is red” and then I turned and saw my BP monitor which was humming at 201/110. It was then I was rushed in for an emergency C. My epidural only took on one side, so I had to be put under. 43 minutes later, my beautiful son was born.

Everything seemed to be ok. I tried breastfeeding and he would latch a little, and let go, but I was determined. The next night, I get a call from the nursery. I’m thinking it’s time to go feed him, but that wasn’t the case. He was being sent to the NICU because of fluid in his lungs and some rapid breathing. Nightmare. So we spent our next few days visiting the NICU and working on breastfeeding. Sometimes it seemed like it worked, sometimes not. Mostly he would just fall asleep. Then his blood work started coming back strangely. His sodium was too low, his electrolytes were off, his red blood count was off. I was still determined, but now I started pumping. I wasn’t going to let him have to go on formula! I was determined to pump forever if I had to. So I pumped and pumped, and was starting to get more and more with each pump but it wasn’t enough. My time was getting short in the hospital and I didn’t want to leave without my baby since he obviously couldn’t leave until his blood work was better. Finally, I accepted using some formula to supplement. He started to improve! So we got into the routine of starting out with whatever I could pump and then topping him off with formula. I could live with that. Unfortunately, I was cleared to go home before he was… So I spent the next two days driving to and from the hospital, and pumping like a crazy person at home. I also didn’t sleep. Whenever I laid down, I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was having a panic attack My mom and I chalked it up to stress and hormones and missing the baby, and I had a doctor’s appointment Friday to check my BP (which was still 150/80) and other routine post-baby things.

I arrive at my appointment and the doctor looks at my ankles and we see that none of my swelling has gone down. She takes my BP which is now 180/100… I am promptly sent back to the hospital and admitted to the cardiac ward (at 33) with heart failure and pulmonary hypertension due to the massive amounts of fluid my body is refusing to let go of. The cardiologist gives me two options: They can aggressively treat or not. Aggressive treatment will NOT allow me to breastfeed because of the levels and types of medications. If they do not treat me in that manner, I can still breastfeed, but they are unsure of my recovery time. I must have been a moron, but I actually was thinking about the latter until I realized a dead mother cannot take care of her baby. A dead mother was not an option. I went with the aggressive treatments.

Over 3 days, I lose 40 pounds of fluid. I also pumped and pumped still because there was nothing else to do and I needed some relief from the huge amounts of milk I was producing. And I cried and cried as I dumped it all down the drain. My “poison milk” as I called it. My baby went home 4 days before I did. Breast feeding was no longer an option.

6 months later, I am only on one medicine for my blood pressure, and have my breathing and everything else back under control. My baby is drinking formula and started solid foods earlier than is “healthy” according to my breastfeeding friends. But he is happy and healthy at 19+ pounds and has been sleeping 11 hours a night since he was 2 and a half months old. He’s big and strong and beautiful. My husband loves being able to be a part of feeding time, as does my family. Formula has been great and I am all for the mothers who can’t/don’t breastfeed.

Some of my breast feeding friends and the advocates still look at me with a bit of a self-righteous air about my “choice,” even knowing that I was ill after he was born. I guess they just don’t understand. I guess they don’t know that I still cry about having to make that decision; how it still hurts my heart sometimes that I wasn’t able to give my baby what I thought was best. But no, I did give him what was best. I made sure that he would still have a mommy to give him that bottle, formula or breast milk.

***

Haven’t sent me your story yet? Shoot it over to formulafeeders@gmail.com. Come on…you know you want to….

Sticks and stones: A collection of the worst formula-related insults and misconceptions

Over on my Facebook page, FFF Alexandra posted the following comment:

I was thinking just yesterday actually that maybe FFF needs to allow us a thread on the blog to list the MOST ridiculous insults ever lobbed at us – seeing them “en masse” like that should enable us to laugh at it all and hopefully give strength to those newly struggling with residual guilt.”

I love this idea, and am therefore inviting you all to post in the comments section and get this party started. What have been some of the worst reactions you’ve seen/heard about formula feeding? Have people been nasty to your face, or has it mostly been faceless, nameless, (gutless) folks on the Interwebz? I’d also like to open the thread up a bit, to include the most aggravating misconceptions you’ve heard about bottle feeding moms.

You know, it’s interesting – I can’t recall any fellow moms in my “real” life saying anything intentionally cruel about the way I fed my kids. My angst was more due to well-meaning friends saying things in my presence about people who didn’t breastfeed, or about formula, or alluding to the fact that I must be so devastated about not breastfeeding… I think this qualifies more as ignorance than rudeness or animosity.

Sometimes, though, I wished that people would drop the act and say what they really felt. It is far easier to deal with rudeness than pity. It’s the pity that killed me. I was proud of how I was feeding my children. In FC’s case, I was proud I confronted my own desire to breastfeed and realized that it was about me, and not him; proud that I figured out what was wrong with him and filtered through the formula-antagonistic propaganda to find a solution. As for Fearlette, I felt proud that I fought my guilt-demons and made a strong, confident decision to do something to ensure I could be present for her.

But I feel I can’t explain this to many of my friends. They stare at me blankly when I try, or get this look in their eyes…and I don’t feel like it’s useful to anyone, me or them, to push the issue. They have been told by “professionals” that formula is poison; that breastfeeding is the most important thing they can do for their babies. I can’t undo that kind of brainwashing, and as long as they don’t get in my face about it, I don’t get in theirs. That’s friendship, you know?

All the blatantly nasty comments I’ve heard, I haven’t heard at all. I’ve read them, online or in books. But in some ways, I find these comments from random strangers far more disturbing than if they came from my real-life friends – because these words are read by impressionable multitudes, rather than heard by a few sensitive ears. One cruel comment on a respected blog, or a disturbing anti-formula-feeder thread on a popular message board, can do a heckuva lot more damage than some obnoxious half-wit in line at the grocery store. Not that this means a whole lot if your understandably sensitive ears are the ones in question, of course!

And speaking of… let ‘em rip. Gold star goes to the person with the most smack-em-upside-the-head-iest comment…

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