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 love how honest this account is, and how the author – “Katie from Brooklyn” – has become more confident in her decision as time has gone by.
As a preventative measure for the inevitable critique of this story from breastfeeding experts, I want to reiterate that this space is for PERSONAL ACCOUNTS of formula feeding stories, and should not be taken as advice or “facts” by those contemplating breastfeeding. Like Katie says here, her concerns about breastfeeding were speculative, and this is not meant to discourage anyone (for example, Katie’s milk may have come in sooner were she breastfeeding round the clock; she had already made the decision to bottle-feed, so she wasn’t attempting to establish supply). I think the lesson we can – and perhaps should – take from this story is that infant feeding decisions are not a one-size-fits-all type of thing, and we all deserve the space to come to our own “best”; our own “right”.
So, good for you, Katie from Brooklyn. You made an introspective, informed, and understandable decision, and I am so glad you are starting to own it fearlessly,
by Katie from Brooklyn
Before you read my story, you need to know some things about me. I’m a perfectionist and a people-pleaser. I also suffered from severe depression from which I have since recovered, but the memories of my suffering have haunted me for the last three years. A year after finding my turning point, I was able to go off medication and haven’t had any bouts of depression. I consider myself healed but actively work to avoid any triggers.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was elated but overwhelmed. I felt a lot of pressure to breastfeed because of all the literature and advertisements on TV and because of the unsolicited comments mothers would give me about feeding my child. I worried about the possibility of PPD. I worried what would happen if I failed at breastfeeding and if this would trigger depression.
I also knew that I would have very little support at home after the baby was born. My husband works 12-hour days and my sisters and my mother are three hours away in Philadelphia. Because my husband’s very small family lives Europe I would have no in-laws to call. None of my friends have children or would be able to help in times of crisis. I had to be “together” to take care of my baby so that my new family wouldn’t suffer. How could I do this if I were depressed? So I told myself I would try to breastfeed and do my best, even if it was just for a couple days, but if I failed or if I felt myself slipping into depression it would be OK. It would be OK to use formula.
Then the delivery came. I labored for 16 hours and had an emergency c-section that I knew was coming because of the various issues I had during labor. My body had been through major surgery and had a long path to recovery. I was given a boatload of medication that medical professionals promised me wouldn’t harm my baby, and I still felt pain in my incision through heavy-duty narcotics. How was I supposed to breastfeed, recover, and raise a child alone for 12 or 13 hours a day? Almost immediately I gave up on the idea of breastfeeding. For me I felt it wasn’t in the cards. I couldn’t do it – I didn’t have any strength left. An hour or two after she was born, I gave my baby formula. I just wanted her to eat and be nourished, which was of the utmost importance to me.
My husband supported the decision wholeheartedly and my mother breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I wouldn’t have to suffer through breastfeeding. Unfortunately, I felt tremendous guilt and sobbed repeatedly every day for two weeks despite knowing it was the right decision for my family. I rehashed the decision over and over again and what it would mean for my daughter’s future. I worried what other mothers in my hippy-dippy Brooklyn neighborhood would think. I imagined the criticism and the unsolicited remarks I would receive – so much so that I avoided meeting other new mothers. I feared I created an insurmountable barrier with potential friends by this one decision. Just reading peoples’ views about formula feeding across the Internet was enough to make me feel alienated and hate myself for this decision.
As I write my story with my daughter asleep on my chest, tears fill my eyes as I wonder how I would ever have been able to breastfeed, even if depression were not an issue. My milk did not come in for 6 days. When my breasts were finally engorged, nothing came out, not even a drop. How would I have fed her, all ten pounds seven ounces of her, if I did not give her formula? My daughter needs me almost all of the time. When she’s overtired, fussy, and can’t sleep, I’m the only person she wants. How could I get a break if I were the only person able to feed her on top of this? How would we have managed the ups and downs of breastfeeding together? These questions and more spin around in my head every day and I don’t have the answers. Other women have successfully breastfed their children despite these issues, but I’m not sure I would have. All I know is I am confident I would make the same decision all over again. I just wish I could have felt less guilt and less shame about it.
Still, The guilt lingers. I mean, I tried breastfeeding once in the hospital mainly out of guilt, which ended in failure with a very hungry and frustrated 2-day old infant. So all the issues I worried about are completely speculative. However, every time I look back on my decision and the sequence of events that followed, I feel justified. I avoided unnecessary stress and the threat of depression. I am recovering slowly from the cesarean and I am able to be a good mother.
Now when my husband comes home from work, he can feed our daughter so that I have a break for 30 minutes. I can sleep later on the weekends because he can take care of all her needs. He has the opportunity to bond with her that he might not have otherwise and I have the opportunity to recharge. When my mother and my sister visited, they each were able to feed her and develop a bond with her as well. When I visit my family in a few weeks, I know my father will be able to do the same. This is all so very precious to me.
My four-week old daughter now sleeps eight hours through the night. She’s very strong and has been able to lift her head for almost two weeks. She’s not sick. Her skin is beautiful. She’s content and satiated. I love her dearly and we have an incredible bond. Her happiness means the world to me and I feel that I have achieved this by being the healthy mother she needs me to be and by giving her nourishment she needs to thrive.
Slowly, I am realizing that I’m not the evil mother that breastfeeding zealots make me out to be. My OB and my baby’s pediatrician have both been supportive. In fact, I have fed formula to my daughter twice outside of our home and there have been no unwanted comments, no hateful glares. Still I know how I will respond if they come because I know I made the right decision for my family. No one can tell me that I don’t love my daughter or deserve to have her in my life because I chose not to breastfeed.
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” – Alan Alda. Make like a bottle of Shine Free and share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.