FFF Friday: “I felt like my body was failing me, yet again.”

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.

I think there’s something to Shelley’s point here about going through fertility treatments. If it weren’t for many interventions, my kids probably wouldn’t be here, and I definitely felt more compelled to breastfeed my first in order to “prove” that my body could do something right. But what is that about, really? Are we judging ourselves on how we conceive, as well as how we birth and feed? So, what – women who conceive with candles and roses are superior to those who conceive in the back of a Chevy, or in a sterile doctor’s office?

It’s pretty ridiculous that we are judging our self-worth on how our babies are brought into the world and how they eat for the first year, rather than focusing on parenting with love, respect, and positivity for the rest of our lives. Maybe it’s time we all took a few giant steps back and looked at the big picture.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Shelley’s Story

After two years of trying to conceive using IUI (artificial insemination) my husband and I finally turned to IVF. We were one of the lucky ones, successful with our first attempt, and are now parents to a beautiful, healthy, spirited 4 year old daughter.

Anyone who has been through assisted reproductive technology can tell you that the process is a difficult one that lacks empathy and takes no prisoners. Its unnatural in so many ways and for many women, the drug-laden, vagina probing process makes us feel less womanly. That inability to have what I like to call a “sex baby” can sometimes make me feel insecure in both my womanhood and my “motherliness”. With that in mind, it is no surprise that when I learned I was finally pregnant, I felt compelled to have the most natural pregnancy, labor & delivery possible.

I had horrible nausea/vomiting for the first 18 weeks of my pregnancy. I turned to acupuncture in lieu of anti-nausea medication. I hired a midwife and doula. I used natural lotions and ointments, refused unpasturized cheeses and when I found my daughter was breech I spent 4 days per week for 2 weeks with a chiropractor that specialized in the Webster technique. My husband and I took 12 weeks of Bradley Method child birth courses and learned about baby wearing. Of course we took a breastfeeding course and I purchased a Boppy with three (THREE!) covers! I DIDN’T purchase bottles or pacifiers — after all, I’d be breastfeeding! Why would I need either of those things?! I was doing everything NATURALLY. In my mind’s eye I saw myself a happy, breastfeeding mom to an infant and then a toddler. I saw the two of us smiling as we sat in the mall food court, her nursing while I enjoyed my decaf Starbucks latte.

At 39 weeks I was told, reluctantly by my midwife, that if I didn’t go into labor on my own at 40 weeks they would want to talk about induction due to my very high blood pressure. Of course I had NO interest in that so I sought out my acupuncturist. At 39 weeks and 3 days my acupuncturist did her magic and a mere 8 hours later my water broke. The only problem was that my contractions wouldn’t start. Almost 24 hours later my doula and I finally agreed I should go to the hospital. We tried everything to get contractions started but to no avail. Finally I was started on pitocin (the naturally laboring mama’s nemesis!). 12 hours after the start of pitocin my labor was finally rocking. Shortly thereafter I felt the urge to push. I had not had an epidural or any kind of pain management medication. I pushed for 4 hours and 12 minutes. Without an epidural and on pitocin. I.was.determined to have my baby NATURALLY. I actually broke a record for my midwive’s practice for pushing without an epidural. I finally delivered my healthy daughter and brought her to my chest. We let the umbilical cord stop pulsing, donated the blood to the research hospital and with the help of my doula I attempted to feed my daughter for the first time. OUCH. Using all of the knowledge from my breastfeeding classes and my doula, I spent the next 2 days in the hospital putting my baby to my breast every hour. She screamed in between. She was never satisfied because I had not yet begun to produce ANY milk, at all. In the midst of the screaming, instead of marveling over the miracle that was my new daughter, I cried at the pain breastfeeding. Remember, I had just pushed a 8 pound baby out, sans medication and had 3rd degree tears but my BOOBS HURT MORE.

We brought her home and this process continued for 2 more days. Me in agonizing pain — my breasts screaming for relief. For 2 more days my baby screamed because she was hungry and I put her to my breast every.single.hour. She was exhausted. I was MORE than exhausted. But I was NOT going to feed her FORMULA! That poison! I had endured 4 hours and 12 minutes of pushing without an epidural for this child! SURELY I could breastfeed her! I hired a lactation consultant to the tune of $250. I then hired a better lactation consultant for $300. Then I rented a hospital grade pump so I could pump in between my daughter’s 45 minute feeding sessions only to turn around and do it all again an hour later. At 7 days out, my milk STILL had not come in. I took fenugreek, drank mother’s milk tea, had a glass of wine, massaged my breasts and looked at my baby while I pumped. Nothing. At 8 days post-partum, with a hungry, screaming baby who had lost 15% of her body weight and my breasts hurting so badly that I cried through each feeding, I realized I was resenting my child every time I had to take her to the breast. Can you even imagine how guilty, how depressing it is to think back over all you endured to have your baby and then look down at her gnawing on your breast and feel nothing but resentment? How is that possibly worse than cracking open a can of Similac? And yet I had doctors, nurses, friends, STRANGERS both implying and outright telling me that if I didn’t breastfeed my child, I was not doing enough for her. That it would “get better” in a few weeks. I would sit and stare at these people, incredulous that I was to endure this level of pain for WEEKS. How was it possible?

Both then and now I wonder why breastfeeding has become such a hot topic. Even though having your baby vaginally is shown to be exponentially healthier for mother and baby than a c-section you don’t find doctors, strangers and other mothers tsk tsk-ing a woman for her childbirth choice. No one ever berates a new mom for not laboring long enough. No one ever says ” Oh come on! Just endure that horrible contraction pain for a little longer! I promise it will be worth it in the end!”. No, they give the woman the epidural she asks for! Some have the determination to power through, some do not. Some have an easy labor and delivery, some do not. Why is it that breastfeeding is where the judgement begins? In my case, in those weeks after giving birth, my friends would marvel at my birth story and I would brush them off, instead begin crying about how hard and painful breastfeeding was.

After 8 agonizing days of trying to feed my child without excruciating pain, my lactation consultant said what I needed to hear: “Feeding your baby formula does not mean you love her any less than any other mother loves her child”. Can you believe that NO ONE had yet said that to me? A light bulb went off for me that moment. I continued to pump 6 times a day until my milk came in more than just a dribble (10 days post-partum) but I supplemented with formula. 6 months later I was still pumping because even though I was a more confident mom than I was at the start, I still had many, many outside influences telling me “breast is best”. I felt like my body was failing me, yet again. I couldn’t naturally conceive, I couldn’t naturally feed my baby. With great reluctance and guilt, I finally made the decision to stop trying to put my baby to my breast.

What I realized shortly after making that decision though was that it took me LETTING GO of breastfeeding to finally start to bond with my daughter. To this day I feel RELIEF that I let go of breastfeeding. I feel so lucky to have not wasted my daughter’s infancy feeling sad and frustrated and in pain. I chose to feel happy. Formula provided me the ability to revel in the miracle that was my baby and I am grateful for that opportunity. While I would never discourage a new mother from breastfeeding, I never hesitate to remind her that how she feeds her baby doesn’t dictate how much the love their baby. What a woman can endure is different from woman to woman. A woman is no less or more a mother because she conceived naturally, unnaturally, adopted, had a c-section, had a natural birth. She’s no more or less a mother because she breastfeeds or formula feeds. She’s a mother because the child is hers and she loves that child.

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When you’re ready to share your story, email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. Until then, make sure and comment on these Friday stories to let the guest posters know they aren’t alone. 

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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7 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I felt like my body was failing me, yet again.”

  1. While I appreciate your story and agree regarding the judgement surrounding BFing… I think you are adding to the stigma regarding birth choices. You say “Even though having your baby vaginally is shown to be exponentially healthier for mother and baby than a c-section you don’t find doctors, strangers and other mothers tsk tsk-ing a woman for her childbirth choice.” 1)I disagree, in many cases it is much safer to have a c-section, if labor is not progressing, the babies heart rate is too high or too low, etc. It is unfortunate that we do not have the medical ability to KNOW why the baby is having difficulties so some might say it is an unnecessary risk NOT to have one, but I know many natural mommies who chose to continue with labor against a doctors advice. Those same mommies are judgmental of the “too high c-section rates” and uneccesary procedures. Well I wasn’t willing to risk brain damage to baby or hemorrhaging to me when the doctor said a c-section was necessary. But there is PLENTY of judgement. 2)name some legit studies that show a c-section is detrimental to baby long term (exponential as you say!) any more than formula feeding? (I feed my baby formula!) I’m just saying, having a vaginal birth MAY have some benefits for mom/baby IF it works for them, JUST like BFing might MIGHT be healthier for baby but (in my opinion) is not worth giving up every other part of motherhood if it’s not working. Anyhow, I guess what I’m trying to say is there is plenty of judgement around childbirth, and some of it is coming from you!

  2. I too was finally able to bond with my baby once I stopped trying to BF and went to formula. A few weeks postpartum I devloped a rare and severe BFing complication, an unusually large galactocele that blocked all my milk supply up, required multiple needle aspirations, developed into a severe staff infection, and finally required surgery, hospitalization, a drain surgical placed in my breast and doctors orders to stop BFing in order to heal. Like Shelley I can understand the pressure to continue trying to BF even when it is clearly not working. Even after all that I tried to relactation because I was fearful I was completely failing my baby because I was formula feeding her. Finally, I realized that formula feeding was giving me the opportunity to bond with my baby, I was no longer in and out of the hospital, and no longer in severe pain. I can sympathize with so many feeling Shelley expressed in her story. Well said, thanks for sharing! Thank you for reminding me to be thankful I too am not wasting my daughter’s infancy by feeling sad or trying to live in severe pain.

  3. Actually I have to say that in many parts of the world (ie anywhere where enough crunchy people are) you will get refused a epidural and you will get berated for how you birth. It seems to all be part and parcel of the natural parenting movement where people feel they can judge you for not doing things the exact way that they feel everyone should be doing something involving raising kids. It is sad that some people do not recognize that there is more than one way to raise a kid and each kid is unique.

  4. I could have written your exact story, 3rd degree laceration and all… Luckily I had a husband who supported me through my trial at breastfeeding and supported my tentative decision to quit BFing. It was all so hard. I think there is more support for FF than there was 4 years ago when I had my first. Also there are starting to be studies in how pain with breastfeeding is correlated with severe depression – I would say the cause based on my experience. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it helps a new mom out there who is dealing witht he same thing.

  5. Shelley, I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing well and please don’t think I’m jumping on you but I also have to say that depending in where you live, your birth choices have a huge effect on how people judge you. Here in Vancouver, Canada women are refused epidurals outside of medical reasons all of the time. In fact there’s many respected people in the medical professions who argue that feeling all of the labour pain is a woman’s responsibility as a mother! I know many people who have felt like they needed to lie about having c sections and epidurals. In fact one time at a local “mommy meetup” I overheard one woman being “educated” that her opting for a c section after 26 hours of labour actually wasn’t necessary because she could have pushed it to 30. My own midwife told me that enduring unmedicated labour was the first way I could show my baby I loved her. Personally, I think like infant feeding, when it comes to childbirth we really should take the contest out of it.

  6. As a fellow infertile who can only conceive through IVF (and only after several attempts and miscarriages), I can definitely identify. However, your comments about vaginal birth versus cesarean are a tad judge-y and honestly, makes it hard to really see through to your message. I had a c-section and I’m not sure where you get the idea that society doesn’t judge c-section moms because it most CERTAINLY does. I’ve been told I didn’t “really give birth” that I took “the easy way out” and that it’s “sad I wasn’t given just a bit more time,” etc, etc, etc. I feel judged every time I turn around; from using ART and IVF to having a c-section to failing at breastfeeding. And quite frankly, it’s disappointing to feel the sane judgment from someone who’s walked in similar shoes. I do hope you find peace.

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