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.
I honestly don’t know what more I can say to introduce this piece, because the title says it all.
Thank you, FFF Abigail, for illustrating how individual circumstances are far more important in what determines a woman’s feeding choices than formula bags, societal barriers, pacifier use, sub-par maternity leaves, or any other “booby trap”. Sometimes, a family’s decision is less about confronting barriers to breastfeeding, and more about confronting – and overcoming – personal barriers to health and happiness.
I feel stupid saying my usual “happy Friday” today, since everyone in the US knows it is anything but. So instead, let me close with this:
Stay safe and happy, fearless ones,
My mom died during my birth from poorly managed pre-eclampsia that was detected at a routine prenatal appointment. I was born via c-section, after she was clinically brain dead, at 32 weeks. In 1980, my chances of survival at 3 lbs., 3 oz. weren’t so good. Fortunately, I inherited the family’s stubborn gene, and I persevered! Obviously, I wasn’t breastfed; Similac was the drink of choice. Despite being premature and being deprived of oxygen for some time while my mother was comatose (long story here), I thrived. I had a normal childhood, was rarely sick, excelled in school, and got my PhD when I was 25. Not too shabby given the fact that I was raised sans breast milk!
When I got pregnant with my son, I was elated! But, pregnancy was a terribly nerve-wracking time for me. I worried about pre-eclampsia and pregnancy complications as well as miscarrying, birth defects, etc., all while dealing with my husband’s crazy, special-ops military schedule. I’ve always dealt with anxiety and mild depression, and I could make a profession out of worrying, but my OB felt that it was better for the baby for me to go off my medication while pregnant, and so I did. In hindsight, that might not have been the best decision, but I wanted my pregnancy to be “clean.” I did a lot of reading and researching during my pregnancy…birthing options, feeding options, etc. Reading about breast feeding nearly sent me into a panic attack…thinking about having supply issues and mastitis and cracked nipples and having a baby attached to me all the time and having issues forming a nursing relationship. The more I read on the subject, the more anxious I got about the whole notion. And, after a lot of discussion, my husband and I decided it was probably best if I formula fed…he could share some of the feedings and take some of the burden off of me…it would give him some quality time with our son since his career takes him out of the country very frequently…AND, most importantly, I could go back on my anxiety medication after giving birth without worrying about how it might affect by son via breast milk. To us, formula feeding made sense. And, since I wasn’t breastfed and turned out just fine, I never thought of formula feeding as something detrimental.
Fast forward to my son’s birth…an uncomplicated induction…an uncomplicated vaginal delivery…a beautiful baby boy…and my worst fear…less than 18 hours later, we learned that something wasn’t right. My son had a rare craniofacial birth defect that would require surgical correction. Craniosynostosis, a skull anomaly that occurs in one out of every 2000 births, occurs when one or more of the sutures (fibrous material that hold the bones of the skull open while the skull grows), fuse prematurely. In our son’s case, two sutures had fused in utero. Left uncorrected, he would have an abnormal head shape, the brain couldn’t grow properly, and he would likely suffer intellectual and developmental delays. We met with a craniofacual surgeon when my son was 8 days old and surgery was scheduled for three months later. The surgical correction involves an ear-to-ear scalp incision, breaking of the sutures, stabilizing the breaks with plates and screws that will dissolve over time, and, in my son’s case, re-shaping the forehead and the eye sockets. The news was DEVASTATING. I went back on medication immediately, and the 12 weeks we waited for H’s surgery were AGONIZING. Though we knew the surgery was necessary, it’s horrible to contemplate something so major happening to your tiny son, and I am SO GRATEFUL I was using formula!!! Had I not been on medication, I wouldn’t have been able to be a good mother during those weeks of waiting…and had I breast fed while on medication, my anxiety would have been unmanageable. It might not make sense to those not in my shoes, and that is OK. I’ve been told I shouldn’t have had a child if I wasn’t willing to breastfeed…that I was selfish…that I was harming my son…but I beg to differ. Because I formula fed and because I placed my mental health above what my son ate, I was able to be the BEST mother possible to my son. The mark of a good mother is not found in how she feeds her child…it’s in how she loves and cares for her child. I’m his number one advocate…and now…a year post-op, to look at my brave little hero, you’d never know what he’d endured. He’s a happy, healthy, thriving 16 month-old. Breast may be “best,” but it wasn’t best for us!
Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.