FFF Friday: “My son deserves a mother who doesn’t derive her entire identity from being a ‘good’ mother.”

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 feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

Lily’s breastfeeding experience was marred by physical challenges, but what I find most upsetting about her story is that her relationship with her breasts has always been fraught with turmoil. It seems so incredibly unfair that she couldn’t have breastfed the way she wanted, especially after struggling to feel comfortable in her body. Breasts are such complex body parts, and it truly sucks that we need to feel so conscious of them from an early age, and then must endure the judgmental observation of society when we become mothers, for entirely different reasons. I know breastfeeding is very empowering for many women, but when it doesn’t work out – and you’re already someone who has hated her breasts in the past, for whatever reason – it adds insult to injury. Especially for those whose breasts have quite literally endured insults and injuries.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Lily’s Story

I am sitting here engorged with milk and yet I feed my 7 month-old son formula. This sad irony is finally getting me to write my story after lurking on FFF for months.

I have to go back 23 years to when this saga began. I was 16 and got my period. It seemed like overnight that I transformed from a lanky kid to a curvy woman. My breasts seemed to explode out of nowhere. I was mortified when my mother brought me bra shopping and the saleslady measured me and said we’d have to make do with a 32DDD since a 30H bra was not sold there. I hated the attention I got. It wasn’t that bad from boys in school, but I was terrified when older men began to follow me. Their stares and catcalls sent fear down my spine. As you might have guessed, as soon as I was able to muster the courage, I begged my mom to help me get a breast reduction. I just wanted to be normal and to feel safe.

I did have the surgery and went down to D cup!

Fast forward to my early-thirties. Somehow my amazing boobs had re-grown and I was back up to almost the same original size. I did the unthinkable and decided to have yet another breast reduction. I wish I could say that this time it was because I had back trouble or the bra straps caused grooves in my shoulders. Both were true, but the reasons for the second surgery were the same as the first, unwanted attention and shame. This time my boobs have stayed a D cup. Horaah!

When my husband and I decided to have a baby, I was mentally prepared for the challenges of breastfeeding. I read the books and learned as much as I could about how to maximize the potential of my post-surgical breasts.

When my son was born, the nurses handed him to me and I placed my sweet little guy in the right position and waited for him to suck. Well, he didn’t even try. So, I diligently placed him at the breast every 2 hours and waited. Ahhhh nothing?! Two lactation consultants helped me and we tried the supplemental nipple system and the nipple shields and the little guy just looked at me sleepily. Oh well, maybe he wasn’t hungry. I started pumping. There was nothing coming out, but apparently the pumping would stimulate my breasts to produce. I started hand expressing as well and got little drops of colostrum, which I saved in a vial and poured down the little dude’s throat!

When it came time to leave the hospital, the doctors found out that he hadn’t latched and they said we couldn’t leave until he latched on something. We gave him a bottle of formula and he drank it up. We went home with our pump and our lactation plan. I was to attempt to breastfeed. If he didn’t latch, I was to give him to my husband to feed with a bottle and I was to pump for 20 minutes. It was a grueling schedule, but I was determined. Through a combination of hand expression and pumping, I moved up from vials to little bottles and was producing milk! I gave him formula and milk and felt somewhat successful. I even got him to latch a few times. He would usually fall asleep at the breast, but hopefully, he was getting something.

Ten weeks into this routine, a friend noticed that my son was tongue tied. My pediatrician confirmed it and suggested a frenotomy to free up his tongue. This might help with his poor latch and at-the-breast sleepiness. Somehow, the lactation consultants, the nurses, the doctors and my son’s own pediatrician had failed to notice this common problem. I imagine they thought our breastfeeding difficulties were solely due to my surgeries,

We did the frenotomy on my son, but after more than two months of mostly bottle feeding, he had become accustomed to an artificial nipple. He latched a few more times, but we never got the hang of it. I’ll never know what my supply might have been like if we had established a real breast feeding relationship. Even a hospital-grade pump doesn’t extract as much milk as a baby. That makes me sad, but up until now I’ve been surprisingly easy going about it all. I give my baby formula AND breast milk. If anyone asks, I can say I do both. The truth is that the most milk I’ve ever pumped in one day is 4 ounces. And when I say pump, I mean up to 7 times a day, so it’s more like I supplement formula with breast milk.

So why am I sitting here engorged and sad? The truth is, spending hours every day hooked up to a pump is no longer fulfilling. It’s starting to feel hollow. I know every little bit of breast milk is beneficial, but at this point I believe I’ve mostly been trying to convince myself I’m a good mother. It’s time to let go.

I stopped pumping a few days ago and all the sadness of the last 7 months hit me. Pumping allowed me to delay the full shame and pain of being unable to breastfeed. I’m surprised how hard it is for me to stop. I thought I would feel relief to have so much more time. It’s as if I’ve been holding on to the partial identity of breast feeder and now I have to admit that I am a formula feeder. I definitely don’t regret my surgeries and I am so grateful formula exists so I can feed my baby, but it hurts that I am unable to give my son the best.

At some point, I hope to embrace the title of Fearless Formula Feeder with something that approximates pride, but for right now I’m in real pain. My breasts hard with milk. My eyes full of tears. I think I’ll have to pump a few more times since I read that it can be dangerous to quit cold turkey. I feel like a lactation addict that needs her fix!

My husband pointed out that I’ve never worked as hard at anything in my life, as I have to provide breast milk for our son. I wonder what else I can accomplish if I use that energy to pursue something that adds real meaning to my life. I think my son deserves a mother who lives for herself and doesn’t derive her entire identity from being a “good” mother. What pressure for a kid to grow up with! I’d much rather he get the example of someone who has her own passions and lives for her authentic self.

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Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday: email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

About the Author:

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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4 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “My son deserves a mother who doesn’t derive her entire identity from being a ‘good’ mother.”

  1. Sing it, sister. We are more than our breasts, our bodies. We are women, wives, mothers, maybe someday grandmothers. We are doctors, lawyers, business women, teachers and scientists. We are stay-at-home mothers that take pride in their ability to get 3 healthy squares on the table or to be the best classroom parent ever. We are friends, sometimes foes.

    Any woman (or man for that matter) can not be solely defined by one characteristic. A person who bases her identity on one action, interest or personality trait is setting herself up for a fall. We don’t like it when other people pin labels on us, or pigeonhole us. We should not do that to ourselves. Breastfeeding and parenting in general are temporary…what happens to a woman who defines herself as a breastfeeder after the last child is weaned? All people are and should be the sum of their parts, no one is one-dimensional. A good mother loves her children and provides for them the best she can. She also takes care of herself, because it is not selfish to have needs. Women are not subsumed by their children–they are still independent entities.

    I can understand your grief, and I am sorry things did not work out as planned. But, you have a beautiful healthy son! :)

  2. I stopped pumping last week, my baby is 10 weeks old and I too had been holding onto the pumping as a way of being able to define myself as still giving him breastmilk. He is my third child, I breastfed my first two for over two years each, but I have had so many difficulties breastfeeding my third child, the grief at times has been paralyzing, and yet just this week I feel like I am understanding that I can let go of the shame that I have been feeling about not being able to breast feed this baby. I can face that it was not meant to be and I can look at it plainly and begin to learn the lessons that I am being taught in this experience. I have gained great humility already and I am deeply touched by your honesty here!!

  3. I had the same difficulty with stopping pumping and ditto on supplementing formula with breastmilk. When I did stop pumping I was so ashamed that I lied and told people (including my husband) that I was still pumping. It took me two weeks before I finally found the courage to tell people that she was fully formula fed.

  4. I’m so glad I found this website. This is SO similar to my experience – frenotomy, speech therapists, feeding specialists, lactation consultants, SMS, nipple shields, intake scales, breastpumps, herbs, foremilk/hindmilk, green poo, possible dairy allergy, no dairy in my diet – I did it all and it didn’t work. In my case, I tried breast feeding for 10 weeks – hour long feedings every 2 hours – before my daughter stopped gaining weight. We ultimately learned that she was not sucking correctly and therefore was unable to get enough milk from me even though I was producing enough. We then went through a hellish 2 week period where she determinedly refused the bottle because I had been breastfeeding her so much that’s all she wanted (even though she couldn’t get enough food from me!) We finally got her to take it and she quickly became a happy, chubby baby!

    What I can’t get over is how unprepared I was for the fact that sometimes breastfeeding just doesn’t work. Before my daughter I was born, I went to breastfeeding classes, read everything I could about it, met with a lactation consultant, and was positive this was what I would do. No one ever gave me the slightest indication that it might not be as easy or as “natural” as I was being told. I think that if I’d been prepared for the fact that sometimes it just doesn’t work, it would have been much easier for me to give her formula in the beginning.

    I am still giving her breastmilk – she’s 7 months now – via the breast pump which I dutifully hook myself up to 6x a day. I’m getting to a place where I’m realizing this might be a little crazy, but I haven’t given up the pumping yet. I’m getting there though.

    Anyway, thanks for this blog. It helps so much to know that it’s not just me going through this.

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