FFF Friday: “…I am filled with regret and disgust at my body’s inability to do something that comes so naturally…”

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.

When discussing breastfeeding “failure”, we hear a lot about who’s at fault. It’s the fault of the formula company for tempting women with insidious marketing. The fault of the doctors for being too quick to supplement. The fault of the mother for not doing her homework; for accepting medical interventions; for not trying hard enough.


If you read through the FFF Friday archives, however, it seems the fault lies more in seldom-mentioned places. Lactation consultants who refuse to see the mother as more than a pair of lactating (or non-lactating, as the case may be) breasts; dogmatic and often incorrect advice doled out over the internet; a disenfranchised society that makes it virtually impossible for women to have the social, emotional, and physical support necessary to overcome severe breastfeeding impediments.  


In FFF Wendy’s story, she speaks of feeling guilt and anger. The guilt is understandable given the current climate of breastfeeding promotion, but she has no reason to feel guilty. She does have reason to feel angry. Stories like this exemplify the insult of superfluous studies that waste research dollars which could be better spent on finding solutions to real, physical breastfeeding problems. It’s why so many of us feel abandoned by the medical establishment which convinces us of the importance of breastfeeding and then ignores the fact that our bodies are not machines, and “natural” processes don’t always happen naturally. And as she explains below, it’s why providing parents with evidence-based, unbiased advice on the practicalities of formula feeding is essential.


Wendy’s story is why this blog needs to exist, and why all of you – as a support system – are so valuable. As long as women are falling through the cracks in the system, we need to be there to catch them; remind them that they are great mothers; and reassure them they are not alone. 


Happy Friday, fearless ones. 


The FFF

***



When I was pregnant I never thought twice about NOT breastfeeding, of course I was going to breastfeed, no question. Everyone I know does. I am a stepmom to my husband’s two kids from a previous marriage and he has shared with me that their mother did not BF them, much to his disappointment, because she just simply didn’t want to. Both of my stepkids have suffered mightily with asthma and ear infections out the wazoo and my stepson at age 8 still has a speech articulation disorder that is a direct result of his many ear infections. My husband and I always kind of had this attitude that all this is pretty much their mother’s fault for being so selfish and choosing not to BF them because she didn’t feel like it. I guess the Breastfeeding Karma Bitch came to bite me in the butt over my judgment of her. 

So pregnant with my son I took the classes, I bought the high end pump, I read the books, and most of all I talked to all my friends who BF. One of my best friends had a baby 10 weeks ahead of me and in talking to her about all the nitty gritty details I knew breastfeeding would not be easy. I was fully prepared it would hurt like hell after she shared with me that her sore nipples hurt worse than her labor. Minus the initial soreness, she had a relatively easy experience breastfeeding her child, no problems with supply or latching, but she was not shy about telling me the truth. I felt fully prepared and ready to do this for my kid. 

I never in a million years expected or even considered it might simply not work for us.  I completely fell for the line that “if you just try hard enough (and/or suffer enough) it will work! “

I had a really hard birth with my son. While his body was in the right position his head was not, it was turned, and they had a difficult time getting it in the right place. I hemorrhaged and lost a significant amount of blood–what amounts to 40%. I was on the borderline of needing a transfusion. In retrospect I wish they had gone ahead and done it as it might have made things different, although my doctor is hesitant to do transfusions unless absolutely necessary. I suffered a broken tailbone along with the expected tearing and hemorrhoids. They had to use the vacuum to get my son in the right position. 

No one told me or seemingly even considered that the significant amount of blood I lost might make breastfeeding difficult. It wasn’t until day 9 when I still had only drops of milk and was having a terribly traumatic time that my dad, a retired cardiologist, consulted his medical resources and raised the possibility that I had Sheehan’s Syndrome, where the blood loss impairs the pituitary gland’s ability to produce the hormones necessary for milk production. Once that possibility was raised it all made sense— along with the nursing troubles I had classic symptomology of Sheehan’s Syndrome. 

By this time I was already in what I call the third realm of hell–Unsuccessful Breastfeeding. Backtracking a bit: My son had colostrum in the hospital and while they told me my nipples were “short”, his latch seemed okay and we didn’t really have any problems. We had several sessions with hospital lactation consultants while still in the hospital and things were going okay. The first two nights we had him home he was fussy and didn’t sleep much, and I had trouble getting him latched. I never thought to put two and two together to realize that the colostrum was gone but there was no milk. By the third day we were home he was refusing to latch at all, he would just scream and rage. I would sit there sobbing uncontrollably with a very pissed off infant trying to get him latched while my husband looked on helplessly, or tried to give him what little milk I could express in a syringe like they had shown us in the hospital. In retrospect I can understand why my baby was so angry, I would be angry too if I was hungry and someone was shoving an empty boobie in my mouth. My breasts were still flaccid and when I pumped (after every nursing attempt) I barely got anything–usually nothing more than 1/2 an ounce if that. 

Then my son began having bright orange streaks in his diaper, and an anxiety and tear-ridden visit to the pediatrician on day 5 of his life revealed he was very dehydrated. I was horrified. We were very close to a re-admission to the hospital. We immediately began supplementing with formula (while being told I could work on my supply and get back to EBF). The change in my son after receiving formula was dramatic and immediate–suddenly he seemed content, stopped fussing, slept soundly (if not for very long!). Every time I think about how simply hungry he must have been I feel terrible. 

We continued the cycle the LC’s had recommended to us: try to get him latched for at least 15 minutes on each side, then give him supplemental formula, then 15 minutes pumping. It would take so long to get him latched (IF we could) that often the attempted nursing sessions alone ran 45 minutes to an hour, then add on the pumping (my husband would feed him the bottles while I pumped) and the cleanup of the pumping materials and I would have about 15-20 minutes to snooze before starting all over again. I didn’t mind the sleep deprivation as I was just so highly anxious and upset about the feeding process and working so hard to get a milk supply. I was actually pretty wound up most of the time. I was already taking all the herbs, drinking the tea, staying hydrated, had rented the hospital grade pump, etc and was considering the prescription drug Reglan. 

On the 3rd post-discharge visit with the hospital LC I mentioned my dad’s suspicions about me having Sheehan’s Syndrome. She seemed surprised at my history of blood loss and said that she wished she had known that but admitted she had not read my chart. She told me based on that information she wasn’t sure I’d be able to get milk at all but that I should do everything in my power and give it my best shot, which of course I fully intended to do. 

We continued the hellish cycle for as long as we could. I ran intermittent fevers during this time and was still just in general very weak due to the blood loss. We considered Reglan as advised and decided against it after learning it can exacerbate anxiety and depression.  I have no history of depression but am a highly anxious, high strung individual to begin with, and my anxiety over all this was already through the roof. My husband in particular was adamant about not potentially making it worse with the drugs. 

Nearly three weeks into my son’s life I was still just getting laughably miniscule amounts of milk on the pump, and he simply wouldn’t latch at all. After many tears we finally decided we had given it our very best effort and it was time to stop beating our heads against the wall. The LC’s were somewhat disapproving but not unkind, and they gave me instructions on how to “dry up” my milk supply. In retrospect that still makes me laugh because I guess they failed to understand the entire problem was I never really got a milk supply to begin with. My breasts remained flaccid and it was only a matter of about a day and a half before I had nothing left in them at all. Not even a few drops I could rub on his baby acne. 

I grieved, and still do grieve, terribly that I couldn’t breastfeed my baby. Every time I look at my breasts I am filled with regret and disgust at my own body’s inability to do what comes so naturally, what should be so normal. I feel like my body betrayed me. Every time I glance at the pump still sitting in the nursery I am filled with a mix of emotions: anger, guilt, shame, and terrible grief. More than anything I am just SAD that nothing about my son’s delivery, his eating, or first few weeks went as expected. I am envious of my friends who breastfeed with seemingly no problems, even after a few initial bumps. I despise envy in myself but I feel it, strongly. 

Prior to all this, I never really had a problem with formula or those who use it, it was simply just a non-issue to me. To be honest I didn’t think much about it at all. I know that while I was pregnant there was a tainted formula scare with Enfamil, and the only thing I could tell you about it is that I blew right past it and paid no attention because I never thought I’d ever have to worry about something like that. Thank God we had some samples of formula that had been mailed to us that I’d put up in a cabinet “just in case”. As much as I didn’t and still don’t really want to give my son formula I’m so glad it exists because without it he would be starving. 

I also feel like the medical establishment failed us in that everything we learned about safely bottle-feeding formula we had to learn on the internet on the fly. I am ashamed to say those first few days of bottles we were so ignorant we didn’t even know to sterilize bottles, we were just rinsing them in hot water. Nobody ever told us anything about the logistics of formula feeding. If I had been half as educated about that as I was about breastfeeding maybe my anxiety wouldn’t have been so high. 

My story echoes so many others of women who desperately wanted to breastfeed but simply couldn’t: grief, anger, regret, embarrassment, fear of judgment by others. I am a huge people-pleaser and a non-confrontational person to begin with but if I ever face blatant judgment or disrespect over giving my son a bottle I really think I just might lose it on anyone who says anything. Because I tried my damnedest to nurse my baby and I couldn’t. I remember many times sitting strapped to that hateful pump, tears streaming down my face at what wasn’t coming out of my breasts, and the thought that just kept repeating itself over and over in my head was “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip and you can’t force milk from an empty boobie”.  No amount of “trying harder” or “really wanting to” would have magically replaced the blood I lost or magically put milk where there wasn’t any. 

I know logically that failure to breastfeed my son was not my fault, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling terrible and less than a mother/woman about it. I am still working on accepting this reality. It’s comforting to me to read stories on the FFF blog about other women who have been through what I have and still have healthy, thriving, and bonded babies. I read a quote the other day that I thought was so meaningful (sorry I do not know the original source/credit): 

“This is a brick wall. 
It’s in your way. 
You can climb over it. 
Or tunnel underneath it. 
Or kick it down. 
Or try to walk around it. 
Or you can sit down on the ground in front of it
and weep bitter, life-is-not-fair, brick wall-hating tears. 

But let’s be honest: 
When you cry, your mascara runs. 
And so does your nose,
and your eyes get red and puffy.
And when you are done,
That brick wall will still be there. 
In your way. 

But the choice is yours. “


***



Becoming an FFF Friday contributor is as easy as pie. And who doesn’t like pie? Simply email your story to formulafeeders@gmail.com to contribute to this collection of stories from truly fearless parents.

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: “…I am filled with regret and disgust at my body’s inability to do something that comes so naturally…”

  1. Oh Mama, I feel your pain on so many things you said, as my own breastfeeding story is one that needs to be told on here.

    Thank you for sharing your story and for doing it in such an honest and inspirational way. I hope you continue to heal with the passing of time and the acceptance of your circumstances. 🙂

  2. Wendy, I think you need someone to tell you you're a great mother, and a success at being a mother. There is tremendous pressure on women to be a mother in the “right ways” and those right ways mean absolutely nothing to a child. Your son doesn't care how he was born. Your son doesn't care how he was fed. He cares that he was born into a loving family that did what it took to get him fed. And clothed and bathed and cuddled and kissed and everything else you do to love him. And he certainly doesn't give a poopy diaper what anyone else thinks of you.

    Your story is the kind of thing that illustrates why “breastfeeding as biological norm” is not only a booby trap, but a particularly insidious one. When we start defining ourselves by biological functions such as giving birth and breastfeeding easily, we're cheapening ourselves–cheapening our individual dignity. Nature is not benevolent, gentle, fair, or consistent. Nature is cruel, harsh, unfair, and diverse.

    Those who sell women on an idealized, false notion of what is biologically normal are in actuality dehumanizing the many, many normal women and children whose bodies work differently, to the detriment of us all. We are not clones of each other, and it's beyond time for us to insist on being treated as the individuals we are, before someone else gets hurt the way you so viscerally were.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. Very similar to my own. I am past the tears but still feel shame, regret and sadness for not being able to breast feed my babes.

  4. I'm so sorry that you suffered through this. I think it is very sad that even medical professionals, like LCs, can be so dedicated to “nearly everyone can breastfeed” that they don't thoroughly investigate to look for medical indications as to why it may not be working for this particular woman.

  5. This story is so similar to my own, I have tears streaming down my face reading it. You sound like such a wonderful mother. My son was supplemented by 8 weeks and had only drops of BM after that until I “quit” at 4 months. He is so healthy, so bright, and yes beautifully “attached”. It's the mom who forms the attachment, not the milk. You're doing great, and as you can hopefully see, you're far from alone!

  6. Wait wait wait. The LC didn't read your chart!?? Isn't that straight up malpractice? Sorry, so angry for you. Put that pump in the back of the closet and keep doing your thing mamma. *hugs*

  7. Sweetie. You YOU did not fail. Nature failed you.

    Stories like yours are the reason formula was invented in the first place. That, even in 1867 when Nestlè came up with their first formulation (ha pun not intended) there were women struggling and having trouble nursing.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My heart aches for you. I agree 100% with Teri – you are a wonderful mother. For me, the guilt eased a bit as my daughter got older and it became clear that she is a healthy, happy, and bright little girl. If you haven't already, I really recommend reading FFF's own piece on Guilt, as that blog entry was a huge turning point for me.

    Big hugs for you, Wendy. You are amazing x

  9. Wow! You are a really great mom who cares so much for her child. FYI, my child was almost exclusively breastfed (had to supplement slightly until my supply FINALLY kicked in) and gets sick all. the. time. Seriously. Besides, once you get past the one-year mark and everyone's on to bigger and badder things, you cannot tell who was and wasn't breastfed.

  10. I just want to echo words of support. I also had a traumatic birth experience, and my breastfeeding story is very similar to yours. It's okay to grieve, it's part of the process. Time does offer some new perspective, as does talking about it and getting support. Hang in there. You ARE a great mother. Eventually your heart will begin to heal and the “logic” of your head will be able to sink in. Thanks for sharing. *hugs*

  11. I am so glad you shared your story and I promise those feelings of shame and regret will fade with time. It does get better! It did for me. Especially when your little tyke is older and other worries and triumphs crowd out those anxious first months. Just think of first words and first steps and “I love you Mommy.” None of that has anything to do with feeding. 🙂 No matter how horrible an experience there is always a silver lining. I think you've done a fantastic job even with the challenges you've been given. Way to go! Hugs to you! Enjoy those baby snuggles!

  12. I wanted to join in by echoing the sentiment in many of the other posts. I felt let down by my own body because breastfeeding wasn't a piece of cake. I also felt absolute grief when I knew that it was over for me & my little one. We are not bad mothers & those negative feelings do go away. Just look at your beautiful babies…

  13. I can relate to your story so much! It seems to me the medical profession and its experts have let you down terribly, but the strength and determination you have shown in trying to make it work against the odds are incredible, it doesn't matter that it didn't work out, like you said, “you can't squeeze blood from a turnip.” You should be proud of the fight you put up and not ashamed in any way. You sound like a really strong woman and an incredible mother. It doesn't matter to your baby whether he was breastfed or bottle fed, only that he was fed and loved x

  14. I just stumbled upon this while looking up information on Sheehan’s Syndrome. Thank you for sharing your story. It is so very similar to mine. I was in a very dark and lonely place while trying to get my non-existent supply going after I experienced severe postpartum hemorrhaging (about 50% of my body’s blood was lost). Seeing women like you share you stories has helped me not feel so alone about my breastfeeding difficulties.

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