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.
Today is International Women’s Day, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how infant feeding dynamics play into women’s rights. I admire those who are vocal about all types of feeding rights – those who fight for longer maternity leaves and better pumping accommodations; those who defend a woman’s right to nurse in public and breastfeed as long as she cares to; and of course, those who have the audacity to actually choose to formula feed (the horror!) simply because they know it’s the best option for their families, without going through the requisite heroics.
You can think a woman who opts not to breastfeed is selfish or uniformed. You can raise your eyebrow at her, make a snarky remark on the internet, or (as in Kelly’s case, below) bring her to tears with your judgment. Just please do not tell me that choosing not to breastfeed isn’t a women’s rights issue. Taking away the “rights of the baby” and all that rhetoric for a moment, one must acknowledge that insisting a woman endure physical pain, loss of autonomy, and pressure from the patriarchal influences in her life can easily infringe on her basic human rights (and before the comments come pouring in, I am in no way suggesting that breastfeeding causes any of these hardships for the majority of women- but for some people, it can and does). It’s fine if you’re going to argue that the good of the child and of society supersede those of the mother (although I will fight you on the quality of the evidence to support those claims), as long as you don’t turn around and tell me you are genuinely concerned about the plight of your sisters.
But enough feminist ranting. I think Kelly’s story illustrates what I’m trying to say here (far better than my overtired self can manage on a Friday night when I’m itching to go watch Zero Dark Thirty on pay-per-view) and I bet the strength and confidence she exhibits by the end of her journey will leave you cheering.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
Before having my first kid, I figured I’d be skewing granola on most things – carrying baby instead of using a stroller, co-sleeping, and of course breastfeeding. It wasn’t long before reality came along to challenge me. Boy#1 was delivered via emergency c-section, and was immediately whisked away to the NICU, so my hopes of holding him and nursing him after birth were dashed. In fact, I didn’t get to see him until the next day. Still, I hoped it wasn’t too late, that we could establish a breastfeeding relationship. This proved to be extremely difficult. He didn’t latch on well, and the pain – even with a nipple shield – was intense. The lactation consultants I worked with with equally unable to get a good latch out of him. By the second night, the NICU called me in the middle of the night and insisted that they be allowed to give him a bottle. I agreed, but felt that I had started down a slippery slope.
My feeling was correct. By the time we went home, I couldn’t get him to so much as look at a nipple, forget about latching on to one. He was all bottle, all the time. I felt terrible over it – all of my friends breastfed their babies, why couldn’t I do the same with mine? Reinforcing this feeling was the judgment from the public. I clearly remember deciding to attend a new mothers’ group, thinking it would help me to make connections and fight the creeping sense of depression and isolation. I did chat a bit with a few women, but when Boy#1 cried and I pulled out a bottle…backs were literally turned. And a loud conversation about how breastfeeding was so difficult but so rewarding was begun. I immediately burst into tears and left, vowing not to go to mom’s groups anymore. At home, my husband was somewhat supportive, but couldn’t understand why I didn’t try harder to breastfeed, and expressed disappointment and resentment that I was unable. So I kind of felt attacked from all sides.
For the next four months, I pumped and used formula as well. Given the time commitment involved in pumping, there were many times when the baby would be crying or wanting attention, which I would be unable to give since I was hooked up to that infernal machine. Now I look back and wish I had skipped the pumping – he wanted me more than he wanted breastmilk. But I felt so guilty about my failure I just didn’t feel I could stop. Finally, after a miserable bout of double mastitis, I decided it was time to be done. And slowly but surely, once I was free from the pump, I started to come out of my depression and actually enjoy the baby.
The second time around, I was determined to do things differently. Having done a good bit of reading on the subject, I was no longer convinced that breastmilk was a magic elixir – Boy#1 is healthy and happy, as well. I did, however, want to avoid the mess and expense of formula. I’d been jealous of my friends who never needed to mess with a bottle – they had food ready-made wherever they went! So when Boy#2 was born via VBAC, I thought that was an excellent start, and began trying to nurse him right away.
Unfortunately, he turned out to be what the lactation consultant termed a “barracuda baby” – his latch was SO strong, he left bruises on my areolas! And my nipples were battered and destroyed within a day. Nursing him was so painful I had to make sure I had a stack of Kleenexes available to blow my nose, as I sobbed through the whole thing. Actually, I’d usually start crying once I realized he was hungry, in anticipation of the pain I was about to endure. Given a newborn’s appetite, this meant I was pretty much crying nonstop. But I persevered, as I’d promised myself I would really try – and everyone agreed it was hard at first, right?
Things did not improve once we got home. Feedings were agonizingly painful and went on forever – and the worst part was, he always seemed hungry afterwards. I could nurse him for an hour and he would be screaming and sucking on his fists. I added in pumping sessions to up my supply, but rarely got more than a half ounce, and in the meantime, my nipples were getting worse. I desperately wanted to quit, but felt I couldn’t unless my husband promised he wasn’t going to hold it against me. I figured I could stand the judgment of outsiders if I had support at home. However, he admitted he couldn’t promise that, and felt I needed to just deal with it. I dreaded feedings, and was beginning to resent the baby for inflicting the pain, but without support I just didn’t feel I could stop.
But Boy#2 was losing too much weight, and not peeing/pooping enough. When he was nine days old, his pediatrician said that if he hadn’t gained or held steady in the next few days, he would have to be hospitalized. She instructed us to give him formula, and for me to pump for half an hour after every feeding session to get my supply up. I had a sudden flashback to Boy#1 crying all alone while I pumped, and thought, NO, I don’t want to do that! Even if I wanted to, I don’t know how it would be possible while trying to watch an energetic toddler. I told my husband I would be willing to continue to nurse, then give bottles, but I would not be attaching myself to the pump ever again.
That night I nursed Boy#2, then immediately came down with terrible chills, followed by a high fever. Turned out I had developed infections in both nipples as well as a uterine infection, and ended up being hospitalized for three days. So once again my actions, intended to create greater closeness with the baby, had the opposite effect – in this case, complete separation! Once in the hospital, I decided to hell with what my husband thinks, I’m done. I was offered the use of a pump multiple times by the nurses, but each time I turned it down firmly. A couple tried to convince me I could still breastfeed, to which I replied, yes, I know, but I’m done. And I felt good and confident about saying so.
Boy#2 has been gaining weight and looking better now that he’s on formula. The lethargy is gone, and he dirties diapers with gusto (never thought I’d be so happy to see poop!). Feedings are now a sweet time when I can snuggle him close and talk to him, instead of crying and watching the clock. My only regret is that I didn’t stand up for myself sooner and say it’s MY body, and if I don’t want to be in agony, that’s perfectly reasonable and my right!
Ready to share your story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.