FFF Friday: “The balance around talking about infant feeding is completely off-centre…”

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.


This contributor asked to remain anonymous, but I seriously wish I could shout her name from the rooftops, in Streetcar Named Desire-esque fashion. Her sentiments are exactly what I want FFF to be about – finding a modicum of practicality, honesty, pathos and humor in the breast vs bottle conversation.

I think after all the seriousness and academic discourse of the past week, we all deserve a little levity. It’s rainy and gray here in LA today, but reading this makes me feel like the sun is shining and there is hope for humanity. Dramatic? Yes. But well deserved.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

-The FFF

***

I’ve started to write this so many times, and every time I did it started well but almost immediately became long and boring, which isn’t my style…the long bit anyway, I’m averagely short; my husband will confirm that I’m an incredible bore. I want this post to be a light hearted account of triumph over zealous lactivists, and an ode to my superb family and all the stuff I love about them.

I thoroughly enjoyed my pregnancy; it was easy and fun. I got to be fat and not care, my boobs were enormous, I was a little spotty but hey ho, my stomach moved of its own accord! I planned to breastfeed and read up on it, went to support groups (where they had knitted boobs no less!), but I wasn’t actually all that fussed. This is where my Mum comes in; she’s always said about the whole pregnancy/childbirth/breastfeeding thing (paraphrased):

“50% of the population are going to do it at some point, you’re not special, people survive, get on with it try not to have Pethodine and breastfeed if poss. If it’s not possible don’t whinge, you weren’t, your sister wasn’t but your brother was and he’s got all my allergies, oh and you’re the cleverest one [thanks Mummy, no favourites then!]”

She’s actually right about my brother, he turns into The Gruffalo at the mere mention of a hamster but otherwise he’s a very nice individual. I can’t offer any insight into the comparative states of our various tracts, nasal passages, earholes etc. but I’m assuming his are OK because he hasn’t mentioned them to me of late. Currently, he’s more worried that I’m going to get a PhD., that would bring us to a whole new level of sibling rivalry and one he’s not sure he can entirely be bothered with. Maybe I should just tell him that Mummy already thinks I’m the cleverest and it’s a lost cause? Anyway, that’s a whole other story and I digress.

DD was born after a text book, but long labour. The high point was when I turned into the girl off The Exorcist when my husband came into the room with a bowl of cornflakes. The low point was the two times I got sent away from the hospital because I just wasn’t ready to be in there yet. Once DD was (finally!!!!) born she was put straight onto my chest and there wasn’t a peep out of her, she just looked at me like a tiny alien. I was absolutely ecstatic and more proud of myself and our new family than words can say.

After I was put into the bed and given tea and toast someone popped into the room and told me that she might quite like to be fed now. I thought that was about right and so my beautiful, wide-eyed, 7lb 5oz baby girl was manhandled into getting her tiny mouth around my enormous boob. The midwife looked momentarily pleased with her effort, said “there you go!” ticked a box on my chart and left. We got the camera for the obligatory photo continued with our ecstatic daze. I suspect the midwife was momentarily chuffed because the simple tick of the box added another stat to the ‘initiate breastfeeding’ rates, job done.

Things got a bit trickier when we got home, mainly because I had no idea whatsoever of what I was doing and despite the classes, research, and midwife; I had not heard a single realistic account of what it’s like to breastfeed. The first four days went something like this: she woke up, I sort of managed to stick it in, and she went back to sleep. In fact, she slept for almost a whole three days on my husband’s chest whilst I sat next to them twiddling my thumbs and waiting for the whole ‘Motherhood’ thing.

By the fourth day, DD woke up and was starving. I mean STARVING. She wouldn’t stop crying and I didn’t know what to do, my milk wasn’t in. A midwife came round to check on us and responded to my exhausted and tear-puffed face with: “They only need a teaspoon-full at the moment; you’ve got all she needs, keep going”. The moment she left my husband was dispatched in search of a box of Cow&Gate. I already had the bottles in (naughty naughty!) because I’d listened to my Mother, she’d also firmly informed me that “Cow&Gate babies are happy babies” (she says the same thing about Marmite and Fishfingers and sleep). DD downed 4oz immediately, it didn’t touch the sides. I was incredibly relieved that I had ignored the midwife and my baby was now able to sleep peacefully whilst my scabby nipples recuperated before the next onslaught.

On the fifth day my milk did come in and my breasts were incredibly painful, it was worse than labour itself. I think Hugh Heffner would have marked me highly for the enormous ball shaped protrusions on my chest but I may have lost marks for the diagonal, puss-filled, bleeding scabs across each nipple. A little off-putting I imagine. I started with the pumping, I gave bottles, I cried a bit, I kept trying to get her back on again, I cried a bit more, I did it in private, I had a go in public, I did cabbage, I did hot water bottles, I did ‘on demand’, I did timed and anyway, eventually, it’s all a bit of a blur now, I got the latch, or whatever it was that was difficult, right. By that point the EBF ship had sailed.

There were points where I was furious with myself for giving her bottles, to points where I felt defensive about using bottles to points where I would claim to be fine about it and then internally beat myself up and get depressed about how thick and fat I was going to make her. I called myself possibly every name under the sun and then some. However, after a while I noticed that everyone was seeing how beautiful DD was (is!), and telling me how relaxed and happy we both seemed and that I was a ‘natural’ mother…yeah, natural and only 80% of the nipple time! Finally, I stopped growling stuff containing the words ‘misogynist’ and ‘testicles’ and ‘sandpaper’ and ‘vinegar’ to my husband and our marriage started to get that twinkle back. From that point I quit with the naval gazing (Mother’s advice again) and accepted that I mixed fed, that DD was happy and that we had an awesome little family thing going on.

I actually consider myself to have been really successful; I managed to breastfeed for over a year and really genuinely enjoyed it. I supplemented with bottles and DD thrived. I don’t think this would have been possible had I not had a superb midwife (day six) who was superbly pro-choice. She told me everything I needed to know about bottle feeding, gave me the number of my local breastfeeding support group for when I was ready and wrote “sore ++” and “discussed” in my medical notes so that other midwives wouldn’t give me any stick. I wish there were more midwives like her and think that FFF and books like Joan Wolf’s “Is Breast Best?” are superb resources for women and should be required reading. The balance around talking about infant feeding is completely off centre and that’s why we need to be talking about our experiences and engaging with research positively, that means with constructive criticism as well as praise.

On account of my success I would also like to thank my superb family, especially my Mum for her fantastic advice. Her body is similar to mine and she’s done it three times before, she was so right and so supportive (although not ‘supportive’ in the way lactivists would like). Seeing her face when she was able to give DD a bottle herself was beautiful, she was full of pride and love and that is a priceless memory.

My Dad deserves thanks for never failing to make me laugh, intentionally and unintentionally! He gagged when he saw bottles of expressed milk in the fridge (unintentionally hilarious) and thoroughly enjoyed shouting ‘BITTY’ whenever he liked (inappropriately, but intentionally hilarious). We never made breastfeeding into some sort of sacred act of Motherhood to be worshipped and revered, it just happened sometimes and was funny because it’s a bodily function with wobbly bits involved.

I would like to spare a thought for my fantastic husband who put up with a lot of breastfeeding nonsense from me. I would also like to say that I loved watching him feed our baby and love that he still enjoys feeding babies now; he’ll give any baby going a bottle he really will. I’m very proud of myself for letting him discover that pleasure. I’m also really proud of the way he approaches the whole “breast is best” debacle with a healthy dose of cynicism. He went from being a staunched “breast is bester” to a more moderate, “thank you for trying your hardest”. I love that he appreciates my efforts and that we’ve started this journey together (can I have DD/DH 2 now pleeeaaaase?).

Finally and most importantly, I’d like to thank my wee girlie. I’ve been hugely fortunate in seeing DD grow stronger, funnier and more wilful every day and I have the privilege being able to love her with all my heart. Just some of the more random things I love about DD are that, she’s almost phobic of yoghurt, not allergic, just extremely hateful of it. She LOVES swimming, but not on her back because, try as she might, she can’t open her eyes when she’s on her back in water (not even in the bath). Her favourite song it Regina Spektor, Fidelity, she listens to it on repeat. She’s superb at baking. She loves all animals, even snakes! If I go out without her, even to the shops, I get greeted with an enthusiastic “Mummy! You’re BACK!” as though I’ve been to the moon. She says ‘Hopigus’ instead of Octopus and thinks Batman is called Fatman (she also suspects that her Daddy actually is ‘fatman’ on account of a t-shirt bearing a certain bat-shaped logo). Oh, and she’s not fat, she’s top of her class, she’s got perfect teeth and she’s rarely ill (although I would still love her with all of my heart if she weren’t those things).

My hope is that should someone stumble across this post in their darkest breastfeeding hour, they can take comfort from it. Breastfeeding is awesome, it’s cuddly and warm and once you get the hang of it, very handy when you’re out and you realise that you’ve forgotten the baby’s drink (I have an almost 100% record for that), it can also mean that you don’t have to get out of bed at night. However, bottle feeding is also awesome, your significant other, Grandparents and friends can all enjoy feeding your tiny one, it gives you a well earned break whenever you like and it feeds your baby when you simply feel like you can’t. Supplement or no supplement, just find a balance that suits you and your growing family.

My biggest boob related hope for the future is that we all find some sort of middle ground and realise that boob, bottle or both, we all just want the same thing, the best for our babies. I also never want to hear “breastfeeding is free” or “breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world” or “only 1% of women don’t have enough milk” or “breastfeeding causes obesity” or “breastfeeding reduces crime” etc. ad infinitum/nauseam….might that be asking too much?

To finish with, if any pregnant Mother asks me for my breastfeeding advice I now say:

“Do your best, but don’t beat yourself up. Breastfeeding can be amazing, but that doesn’t make it easy and sometimes it won’t feel natural at all. Listen to, and don’t dismiss the advice you’re given, if the shoe fits you can try it on, if it doesn’t, say Thank you and leave it there. The most important thing is that you give your baby your love and attention and make a happy home, whatever form that may take.”

From the bottom of my bosom, thank you for reading this.

***

Feeling in inspired to share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. Come on…all the cool kids are doing it….

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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15 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “The balance around talking about infant feeding is completely off-centre…”

  1. Lovely!!! I giggled and awwed and nodded along agreeing to so much of this. I love that she was able to see how funny it all was after a point, and her little daughter sounds adorable (isn't it silly how we get so concerned about the ways in which we feed our little ones that we forget to tell the world just how adorable they are?) And what a wonderful, sensible mum she seems to have too. Much as I disagree about the Marmite…

  2. What a great post. Thank you for this. I love reading everyone's stories. To me they are all successes because you all figured out a way to feed your babies!

  3. Oh my goodness; I wish I had read this when my son was a newborn. We struggled through every breastfeeding trick until finally it got into my head that formula babies are no less statistically healthy, intelligent, or thriving than breastfed babies. I would love to breastfeed again, don't get me wrong… but I am certainly going to be sure to have bottles and formula ready for next time so I can get that moment of sanity you feel when you get 4 hours of sleep 😀

  4. Maybe I'm immature but your description of “wobbly bits” had me in stitches. Thanks for such a laugh, and for your practicality. You mentioned some books that are required reading–maybe you should consider contributing one of your own. Such wry and positive humor needs to be heard more often in the stressful world of Mommy-dom.

  5. This is the sort of thing I just want to print out, and shove under everyone's noses. Everyone! Just random people in the street! Because it's *that* good. Brilliant. And unless I've misread some of the references (quite possible, knowing me!), then it's lovely to see another UK FFF about here 🙂 Thank you for sharing 🙂

  6. Wonderful post! I wholeheartedly agree with this attitude and wish that every new mother could learn this lesson early and smoothly.

  7. “She says ‘Hopigus’ instead of Octopus.” Reminds me of the time, long, long ago, when my now 17 year old told me that an octopus has very long testicles.

  8. Hysterical! So funny and so great. I wish everyone could have your attitude. And your parents sound awesome by the way. I laughed out loud at the thought of your dad yelling “Bitty!”

  9. Looove this. Thank you, I needed it today, I needed to find this site today after some attacks against my super cheerful response to an article on one of the pro-bfing groups I was fond of. I supplement, there really seemed to be no place to go for someone who was one foot on either side of the issue, I'm glad I finally found one! 🙂

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