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.
I relate on a visceral level to so many aspects of FFF Abbi’s journey, and I’m sure many of you will, too. Her story highlights how tough it can be adjusting to motherhood, and how breastfeeding difficulties can exacerbate an already emotional, difficult situation. There is no shame in admitting to yourself that motherhood is just one – albeit an intensely important one – facet of who you are as a person, and as a woman. It’s time we gave ourselves permission to see motherhood as part of who we are, rather than all of what we are.
The Day My Breasts Stole My Identity
The worst thing I heard during the first two weeks of my son’s life was “He only got half an ounce.” The second worst was, “Now your job is to feed your child.”
The first came from the sales clerk at a local retail establishment which claims to be a support network for breastfeeding women in my area and not a retail establishment, but my, do they know how to push the expensive nursing bras and clothing at you. She said this to me after I nursed my son in this establishment after weighing him, recording the pre- nursing weight, and then weighing him after feeding him. As a new mother of all of 10 days, I took this woman’s word as hardcore science, the word of God, and the authority on feeding. I took names for lactation consultants, bought the expensive bras, rented the pump, and cried the entire cab ride home with my son and mother. I thought it would be another few years before I screwed up my child, but apparently, I was starting early.
I emailed my friends who had babies that past year and asked for the name and number of their lactation consultant. I called the LC and she was available that afternoon, just 24 hours after my experience with the breastfeeding (non) retail establishment. She came over and sat down with me, my mother looking on, as she helped me get my son to latch, clucked her tongue and made sympathetic “mmhmmm” noises as I explained that he was born at 37 ½ weeks, not 40, and that he was a C-section, not a vaginal birth, and that I was still in a lot of pain and recovering from major abdominal surgery. She had an “aha” moment when I said he was born a little early and explained that while he was, as she put it, fully baked at 37 weeks, there are still little things that he may lack, like the ability to focus on my breast and the desire to breastfeed. I listened to her explain that I needed to feed him every two hours and that’s from when the first feeding starts and each feeding takes 40 minutes. After changing his diaper and burping him and getting him to stay awake long enough to eat, that leaves me with less than an hour to do things like sleep, shower, eat, check my email, function as the adult I once was. Then I said, “I feel like everything I am, everything I spent the past seven years working for has changed. I’m an educator, a chaplain, and almost a rabbi. Those are my jobs.” My LC looked at me and said those fateful words: “Now your job is to feed your child.”
The identity crisis that ensued in the next weeks was epic. My husband spent a lot of time mopping up after me as I cried at breakfast, dinner, and everywhere in between. I am in my last year of rabbinical school and will be ordained as a rabbi May 2012. I spent my year working as a chaplain, helping people who were dying while I was growing a new life. I am a teacher and write educational material that is highly regarded within my community. I spent a lot of time, effort, and money to get to this place. The idea of spending my summer “just being a mom” was one that had not yet hit me and I still had no idea how complex it would be. Just a few days before my son’s birth, I was working as a consultant on a national program. Now, my job was to feed my son.
This made me hate breastfeeding. The pain of breastfeeding, when my son would latch, was pretty bad, but nothing compared to the stories of bleeding and scarring that I heard from others. It was painful, but manageable with gel patches and warm compresses. My son and I would fight with each other to get him to latch onto my breast. He would arch his back and push his little hands against me and or put them into his mouth. I felt horrible as I held his head and tried to position him against my body. We couldn’t find a hold that both of us liked. Invariably, he would fall asleep. I was frustrated and he was frustrated and my husband stood by and watched all of it, feeling helpless. This was not bonding. This was not enjoyable.
Still, the pain was nothing compared to the feeling of having my professional identity stripped away and instead being seen as someone whose main purpose was to feed another person. I told my family, friends, and colleagues that I loved being a mother. I missed being a rabbi.
We took my son to the pediatrician when he was three weeks old. He was up past his birth weight, but still very small. The pediatrician asked if we wanted to continue to breastfeed exclusively or if we wanted to supplement with formula. Until that point, the only time my son had received formula was during the middle of the night feedings, so I could rest and let my body recover. When formula was offered as an option by the doctor, I jumped at it. Here was a medical professional telling us that we were not ruining our child by giving him formula. I went home and made my son a bottle and he happily ate it. I tried to nurse him later that day, but he just fell asleep. My husband looked at me getting frustrated and in pain and said that maybe it was better if I pumped. That was the last time I breastfed my son.
I pumped for another two weeks. I hated pumping even more than breastfeeding. I had low milk production and there was no way I was drinking any teas or taking herbs or supplements. If my body couldn’t do it on its own, something that a regulatory agency had not approved was not going to do it for me. I sat with the pump in the morning and the evening, scared to pump during the day because I was home alone with my son. If he needed me, what was I going to do while attached to the pump? Let him cry? Lose the milk? The rental pump was expensive, costing as much per week as a container of formula. By the end of my son’s fifth week, I was producing maybe four or five ounces of breast milk a day. When the rental was up, I had my husband return the pump and let my milk supply dry up. A few days later, my breasts were a normal size and didn’t hurt all the time. I was happier, my husband was happier, and my son was growing.
As I write this, my son is almost three months old. He smiles, coos, giggles, and has long and involved conversations with the animals that hang above him on his play mat. He follows me around the room with his eyes and loves to curl up and nap on his dad’s chest. He has a great relationship with both of his parents. I truly believe this is one of the many benefits bottle feeding has given our family. His pudgy legs and hands and full chipmunk cheeks are another.
A big benefit is that I am happier. I am not the only one who can feed my child, which gives me more freedom to be able to ease back in to my professional life. I can take a few hours a week and work on my sermons and education materials and not worry that I have to be home to nurse. I can enjoy my child and not see him as someone who is hurting me while I feed him. Formula was created for a reason and there are many children (including myself and my husband) who had it and are just fine.
I used to think of giving my son a bottle of formula as failing him because I could not even produce enough milk or having the patience to do what my Creator intended for me to do. As a religious and spiritual woman, I saw feeding my child as a holy act, made somehow less so because I could not provide it myself. However, I also believe in change and innovation within my religion, so why not in how I feed my child.