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 also are 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.
There’s been some anger floating around the Facebook page lately, and my impulse is to urge people to simmer down and not let themselves be baited. And then, I get stories like Mandi’s in my inbox, which make me wonder if anger might be an appropriate emotion to embrace. I think we should feel angry that women like Mandi have to keep questioning themselves, because imagine how much women could accomplish if this kind of intelligence, spirit, and insight didn’t have to be muted – even momentarily – by self-doubt. Anger can be a useful emotion; at least more useful than guilt or fear. What matters is where you direct that anger. It’s pointless to waste it on extremists, or random haters on the internet who get their jollies from seeing their hateful thoughts typed out on a Facebook thread. It’s more healthy, and productive, to direct quiet, controlled anger towards those who can truly create change, and influence them by rising above the sloppy rage so prevalent in this debate.
The anger expressed in the post below is the kind I’m talking about – it hits you in the gut; fills you with drive rather than rendering you impotent. It’s the kind of anger which will provoke us to fight for better rights for ALL parents, formula feeding, combo feeding, and breastfeeding. We need to make it clear to the powers that be that we are not fighting a petty mommy war – we are standing up for every parent’s right to feed their baby in the safest and healthiest way possible, whatever that ends up being.
(Oh – and just one caveat: this story does touch upon politics, and I know we are a very diverse group here – so I hope we can give the same respect to differences in opinion on political matters as we give to differences in opinion on parenting styles.)
Happy Friday, fearless ones…
When I was 16 years old, I wore a size 10 pants. I also wore a size 2x top because I wore a size 42 G bra. I was ludicrously disproportionate. So when I had the opportunity to have a breast reduction, I jumped on it, not even caring what the repercussions might be down the road because I was 17 and 17 year olds just don’t think like that. I vaguely remember the surgeon mentioning that I might or might not be able to nurse my kids later on, but that it would be a “wait and see” situation.
Fast forward 15 or so years, and my husband and I are trying to start a family. I’d been diagnosed with PCOS (though in hindsight I disagree with the diagnosis and think it’s based on my weight, not on the actual diagnostic criteria). We defied the statistics. I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant without clomid, progesterone, IVF, some sort of fertility aid, etc…. but I became pregnant within the first 2 months we were trying. I continued to defy statistics…. I was supposed to have gestational diabetes because I supposedly had PCOS, so it was treated like a foregone conclusion… no diabetes. As far as nursing was concerned, I approached it with the same attitude: the doctors say I won’t be able to, so I’m going to prepare everything to be able to anyway because if things keep going like they are, it shouldn’t be an issue. I researched nursing bras for larger mamas, got myself set up with a medical-grade double electric pump, and had daydreams about rocking my baby while we peacefully nursed and bonded.
I was wrong. You hear about inadequate supply all the time and the more vigilant lactivists will insist that there’s no such thing and that the mother just isn’t committed enough or doing the right things to boost her supply. I made next to nothing. I tried latching my newborn daughter in the hospital to no avail. I used a hospital pump and got nothing. And when I say nothing, I don’t mean a little colostrum like one would expect while waiting for the milk to come in. I mean that after 40 minutes of pumping I would have 2-3 drops of breastmilk in the bottles. Still, I thought that maybe once I got home my milk would come in and we could still nurse. Nope, nothing. I tried herbs. I tried tea. I tried warm compresses, drinking a ton of water, pumping regularly, etc…. but never produced more than an ounce of milk in an entire day. We bottle fed that to my daughter, got a can of formula and moved on with life. It was only then that I started feeling the “sting” of being a bad mother, having not tried hard enough to nurse, etc…. I have several “crunchy” mom friends and while their attitudes weren’t so Judgy McJudgerson, they frequently posted articles to FB and such that demonize formula as chemical poison and insisted that all women could nurse, allowing reprieve only to those who didn’t have breasts due to mastectomy or some such thing. I began to wonder if these people truly believed it would have been “healthier” for me to starve my daughter by insisting that breastfeeding WOULD work if I tried hard enough, despite empirical evidence that I didn’t just have a low supply, I had a no supply.
Then about 18 months later I went off birth control again because we were thinking we’d like to conceive a second child in the next 6 months or so. As Yoda would say, “There is no try, there is only do,” and I was knocked up again the very first time we tried- literally within days of having my IUD removed. Infertility and I were not acquainted. This time around I changed the focus of my research, typing searches into Google such as “Chances of lactating with second child if unable to nurse first,” and began to believe that I was the only person in my situation who either really couldn’t breastfeed or didn’t just say I don’t care, formula feed and avoid the internet.
Still when it became time for my younger daughter to be born, I was hopeful that maybe this time something would change. As soon as she was born I asked for a pump to be brought to my room. I didn’t have very much faith in my boobs, so to be honest I didn’t even try to latch my new baby. I tried pumping, every hour, for the time we were in the hospital. Again, nothing. Same story at home, different characters. I admit it, I gave up. I didn’t want to be a slave to the pump for 1oz of breastmilk a day. With such a tiny amount, my daughter needed her Mama much more than she needed my breastmilk.
Still, despite all the logical conclusions on Earth, a part of me still has guilt. My tendency towards overeducated and passionate friends means that I have read countless horror story articles, articles denouncing me as less than a mother. When our daughter had colic, I wondered if it would have been different if I could have nursed her. When she was diagnosed with a sacral dimple and possible occult spina bifida, I wondered if whatever was “wrong” with me that caused me not to lactate had made my poor baby imperfect. And I can’t shake those feelings of guilt, not yet. If I had it to do over, would I still have had the reduction surgery? Yes. So I don’t know how to feel. I have received the message loud and clear that I failed. No matter how many times the judgment is followed up by “but you have to do what works for you,” etc…. it doesn’t change the underlying message of “what works for you is WRONG.” And for what it’s worth, that message has never come from a man, a Republican or a Tea Partier; those people who are waging the legislative battle against women’s reproductive rights. It has come pretty exclusively from the community of educated, prosperous women for whom childrearing has become a competitive sport. The world where Apgar scores are mentioned in conversation as a way to compare how good you were at being pregnant, where women who take advantage of the advances of medical science that allow the vast majority of pregnant women not to die in childbirth the way we have for millennia are viewed as irresponsible and negligent, where pseudo-scientific studies tout how much smarter, thinner, faster, better, healthier the Bionic Breastfed Children will be than my own, poor, unloved formula fed daughters, where strollers (except for super expensive BOB strollers of course) are neglectful because you should be wearing your child in a sling….. where every message of “support” is clouded with judgment that some choice you’re making (or in my case, was made for me) is WRONG and the “supporter” is overtly telling you how much better of a mother she is because her children have only eaten organic tempeh with carob dip and your kid has had McDonald’s nuggets. My guilt comes from hearing, over and over, the message that Breast is not just Best, it ought to be ONLY. If I’d done what that community insists I should have been able to do, my kids would be dead. But that does little to overcome the guilt of my own failure. Thanks for that.