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.
FFF Sarah’s submission is a wonderful document of what she calls a “regular breastfeeding failure”. I know I related to a lot of it, and I’m sure many other women out there will as well. But what I love most about Sarah’s essay here is her inclusion of a wider perspective – she alludes to the social and employment characteristics of so many women who feel the heaviest breastfeeding pressure, and speaks of the historical context of breastfeeding “failure”. And she also brings up my biggest pet peeve – the fact that the biggest perpetuators of the war against women is none other than women ourselves.
Happy Friday, fearless ones…
I have been a regular reader of your blog for several months now and am a proud to be among the ranks of other Fearless Formula Feeders. As I read through other FFF’s stories, I find that I have a pretty typical breastfeeding failure and I think this is what angers me the most about pro-breastfeeders, the very real and VERY common failure to produce enough breastmilk.
A little background: At 36, I became pregnant for the first time. I had a normal, healthy pregnancy. I am a healthy, adult woman with no previous history of medical or emotional trauma. I am, your average, adult, professional working American woman.
I went 40+4 before I went into labor and after 36 non-epidural hours (NOT my choice) and 4 blissful epidural hours, I had a non-emergency c-section. I never desired to have an unmedicated birth and had no hang ups about having a c-section. Afterward, the doctor assured me that there was no one he was ever coming out the natural way. Hooray for modern medicine!
As far as breastfeeding was concerned, I figured I would give it a try but certainly didn’t fall into the ‘breast is best at all costs’ mentality. My husband and I even took the “Infant Feeding” class that was pretty much a pep rally for breastfeeding and nothing else, but hey, it’s what all the cool kids are doing, so why not!
After my son was born, he latched great. Four visits from two different hospital lactation consultants assured me that everything was going well. By day three I was starting to get a little concerned that he didn’t seem to be urinating as much as the nurse would like, but he keep having bowel movements and no one else seemed concerned.
Four days after delivery, we came home. My milk had not come in. I’m sure you can guess the next part of the story. 2:00am, screaming child, no milk, latch, unlatch, scream, latch, unlatch, scream, latch, unlatch, scream. Sample can of formula opened and my child was instantly satisfied. The guilt, which I promised myself I would not have, set in. Oh, I forgot to mention that upon discharge, my son was still jaundiced and losing weight (shocking!) we had to go back to the hospital and the pediatrician the following morning. Our pediatrician was supportive, basically ‘no harm no foul, but KEEP breastfeeding and your milk will come in’.
Fast forward to week 4. I am breastfeeding as much as possible, topping off with formula when needed and trying pump in between. I am exhausted, frustrated and starting to become obsessive about my lack of production. Breastfeeding is also becoming more difficult. My son was aggressively latching and nursing upwards of 40 minutes at a time. My nipples are becoming scabbed and hurt constantly. But, there is supposed to be a certain amount of discomfort, right? I press ahead.
I go to a breastfeed group at the hospital to see if there is anything I can do. The lactation consultant took one look at my nipples and said ‘you need to take him off, he is destroying your nipples’. Yay.
It took me over a week to heal. Since I, like the majority of American women, had to go back to work after three months decided not to put him back on the breast after I took him off to heal. It seemed rather cruel to me to attempt to retrain my son how to breastfeed only to have to take him off in six weeks when he had to go to daycare. In the meantime, I pumped and pumped and pumped. I never became engorged (which I attributed to large breasts), I never leaked (which I attributed to large breast) but I soldiered on. My letdown took forever 45+ minutes and I could still never yield enough breastmilk to stay ahead of my rapidly growing son. I took supplements to boost production, I drank Mother’s Milk tea and lots and lost of water. Nothing I did ever got caught me up.
I know what breastfeeding enthusiasts will say. I wasn’t committed enough. I didn’t relax enough. I didn’t have enough support. But the truth is, I did. I committed as much as I could to not risk the health of my son. I relaxed as much as a first time mom can. I had and sought enough support to know that I did my due diligence. I was educated enough, I took the additional steps and the hard truth was this: MY body could not produce enough breastmilk to feed and sustain my son.
In days of yore, I most likely would have died from childbirth. If I had not died from childbirth, my child would have starved to death unless I would be lucky or rich enough to have a wet nurse. Why do lactivists insist that these things didn’t occur commonly? Women didn’t even get NAMES in census records until the mid-1800′s. Who honestly knows how many women and children died due to childbirth or malnourishment?
I reluctantly put the pump away at two months. At that time my son was getting one bottle of breastmilk a day and my supply, what little I had, was dwindling. And then, the first full day of formula feeding I realized something. I had let my preoccupation with breastfeeding get in the way of truly bonding with my son. The remainder of my maternity leave was not spent charting milk production and pumping. It was spent holding and loving and bonding with my child. And it was WONDERFUL. My son is almost seven months now and he is just a joy.
For me, the most difficult part of being a new mom has been my breastfeeding experience. And honestly, I’m bitter about it. Bitter that no one is willing to be truthful about the difficulties of breastfeeding for fear that being honest that breastfeeding may not be all that it is cracked up to be is a ‘booby trap’ and impediment to breastfeeding. That we, as women are apparently so naive or frankly, stupid, that even with ‘breast is best’ thrust at us from every turn that WE can be swayed to not breastfeed by a sample can of formula. That there is a DANGEROUS lack of information provided to new moms on how to properly formula feed in the event that we are unable to breastfeed or unable to produce enough breastmilk to feed our children. That somehow, non-biased information about all forms of infant feeding is a bad thing.
And then there are the embellishments: Every drop of ‘liquid gold’ is precious, that is cures all sorts of ills, from pinkeye to cancer (!?!). That formula is POISON. Your formula fed baby will a)dumb, b)sick, c)fat or d) all of the above. That breastfeeding is THE MOST MAGICAL, THE MOST IMPORTANT, THE MOST BONDING thing a mother can do. Sigh.
I never felt magical waves of euphoria wash over me as I watched my beautiful child struggling and starving at my breast. It was quite the opposite. Talk about setting up women to feel like failures! If you don’t feel that surge of golden rays of love oozing from your maternal pores while you breastfeed, CLEARLY something is wrong with YOU. Again, sigh.
To counter this I’d like to point out the following (and while every child is different, here is what I can say about my child): my formula feed baby is currently, 50/50/50 percentile for height, weight and head circumference. He has had one sick baby visit since birth. He was sitting up at four months and crawling at six months. He is curious, focused and a very, very, happy child. He receives all the benefit of my and my husband’s love for him and frankly, no amount of breastmilk IN THE WORLD is more important than that.
So, this is my story. One of countless untold formula feeder stories.
I could tell you about my sister-in-law who was bullied by doctors and midwives so much to keep breastfeeding that her son became dehydrated and had to be admitted to the hospital or the woman that told her daughter, her second child, that ‘her mommy must not love her because she didn’t breastfed her’ (both formula fed babies are now in their teens and are honor students). Or, the story of my friend who had twins and had NO production problems who gave up breastfeeding at 5 weeks because she was exhausted from round the clock breastfeeding and was starting to feel trapped. Or, of another friend who is still breastfeeding and whose child has been sick MULTIPLE times and still wakes up several times a night to breastfeed at almost 8 months old.
I hate that there is a pervasive “one size fits all” approach to infant feeding. We are all individuals with different and equally important life circumstances. How can pro-breastfeeding activists judge me and others when no two children, pregnancies, home life are the same.
Shouldn’t it really be ‘to each their own’? I support my breastfeeding sisters, shouldn’t they support me? Aren’t we all in this together? To some lactivists, no, we are definitely not. And, that, my friends makes me very sad, bitter and angry.
Thank you Fearless Formula Feeder, for being there for us, all the regular breastfeeding failures. You validate that we are not selfish, ignorant, willful mothers. We are real women, real mothers who formula feed, who love and want only the best for our children.
Sarah was really sweet, but you certainly don’t need to tell me you love me to get your story posted. In fact, you can think I suck. Just get the pain and frustration off your chest. (Quite literally!) Send your FFF Friday submission in today: email@example.com.