FFF Friday: “Without support I just didn’t feel I could stop.”

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,

The FFF

****

Kelly’s Story

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 formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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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17 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “Without support I just didn’t feel I could stop.”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, the part that made me feel the worst for you was the lack of support from your husband. It’s bad enough when we get crap from other mommies, or from pushy doctors or LC’s but to be judged by the person that’s supposed to be there through thick and thin must be a horrendous feeling. Enjoy your littles ones and to hell with the breast is best agenda. Take care

  2. My heart aches for you. And I’m sorry, but your comments on how your husband acted towards you had chills going down my spine. That’s atrocious, and I am so sorry to hear that you faced such judgement at home as well as the ridiculous attidues we often face in the wider world. I hope he realises now what a damaging effect he had on both your experiences, and is sorry for it.

    Well done you for finding the solution which worked best for you and your babies /hugs.

  3. my heart broke when I read this post. Im so sorry that the one person who was supposed to have your back dropped the ball. If it makes it any better there are people who understand and realise its not an easy “choice” to formula feed and no one, especially those who love you should ever make you feel worse or pass judgement. Hold your head high and be proud of what you have achieved.

  4. Your husband owes you a huge apology. Partners are supposed to raise each other up, not say they “can’t promise” to be supportive.

    What an ass.

  5. I agree.. I am so lucky my hubby is actually encourageing me to stop bf as he can see how hard it is on me. He is my biggest supporter, as he should be !

  6. I’m sorry but your husband owes you one hell of an apology for the way he acted. Absolutely unacceptable that he was not supportive, especially since he had a front row seat to how much pain and depression you were dealing with.

  7. Thank you for sharing this heart-wrenching story — it makes me so sad that any new mom should have to go through this, and I’m glad you were able to find the courage to do what was best for you and your children even in the face of such an appalling lack of support.

    It’s so painfully self-evident to me that infant feeding choice (including the choice to formula feed) is a women’s rights issue, and I find it almost disturbing that pointing this out should require so many disclaimers. I know supporting lactivism under a feminist banner seems to be the fashionable thing to do these days, but in my view there is just nothing feminist about a movement that pressures women to “succeed” at breastfeeding at all costs, to keep trying when it obviously isn’t working, to ignore whatever impact it has on them physically or emotionally for the sake of maybe gaining a small health benefit for their children. Changing the subject to rage against formula marketing or societal barriers to breastfeeding doesn’t make these problems go away.

  8. Seriously, your husband needs to make some serious amends to you — I am shocked that he didn’t apologize profusely about his utter lack of support when nursing landed you in the hospital.

  9. Good for you for standing up for yourself! If hope you don’t mind but how are things with your husband now. I’m embarrassed to say this but my son is 22 months old and it wasn’t until mmm…2-3 months ago that I really forgave my husband. After 7 miserable weeks of breastfeeding my husband outright expressed his disappointment in my breastfeeding, how I was giving our son more formula and complaining about breastfeeding and not trying–this after two cases of mastitis and pumping around the clock. He also said if anything ever went wrong with our son that he’d always blame me in the back of his mind. He apologized after being lambasted by his mother, but it never sat well with me…and I made sure he knew it. I’m just curious, how did you work past it? For me it was a gradual thing…

    • Good lord. Glad I never had to deal with that. I think it’s a side effect of all the scaremongering about how your child will be sick, fat and stupid if you don’t FB – men hear that part and don’t have to deal with the bodily aspect of it, and it takes strength, knowledge and respect for your spouse to really be able to stand back and say, this is her decision to make.

  10. What a sad story. It’s very fitting for international womens’ day.
    I’m appalled at how this woman was treated by her own husband. This is definitely not what you’d expect from a normal loving relationship. When I put myself through hell trying to breastfeed my firstborn with inverted nipples and low supply, my husband was the one who empowered me to say ‘No more’. I suggest the poster gets some couples’ therapy to clear out what could have possessed him to act against her best interests at such a vulnerable time *twice*.

    FFF, thank you for putting extremist lactivism on the agenda as a women’s rights issue. This IS about a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. There are so many shocking examples of hypocrisy among self-proclaimed ‘feminists’ who are at the same time militant lactivists and pro-choice. According to these people a womans right to self-determination only applies to the lower half of her body, and it ends at birth.
    A formula-feeding mom shouldn’t have to explain how she ‘tried hard and failed’ before being accepted. ‘Because I decided to’ should be reason enough. The infantilising argument that everybody would want to breastfeed for X months if only they were educated/supported enough is insulting.

  11. I am so sorry your husband was not more supportive. My husband was amazing. I made it through 3 months of pumping with #1 and only 1 week (no pumping) with #2. Your story mirrors mine a lot. I am pretty sure I had enough milk, but feeding was SO painful. I also cried during feedings with #1. When my husband so how much pain I was in, he suggest formula. With #1 I didn’t have to use formula until about month 2, but #2 was formula fed from 1 week on. #1 has had no ear infections, and #2 has only had 2 ear infections in 2 and half years. Formula-fed babies are NOT sick all the time. My pediatrician said it has more to do with day care and being exposed to other sick kids.

    Also, I too assumed baby #2 would be so much easier because I had learned a lot with #1. But the mastitis, clogged ducts and bleeding nipples all happened again. And, as you said, with a busy toddler, I just wasn’t going to strap myself to a breast pump all day or try to deal with the pain for however many weeks it took to get past the problems.

  12. I never heard the term barracuda baby but I think I had one of those as well! My son latched on with ferocity, which I thought would be good compared to my daughters wimpy latch. But I was also in all kinds of pain. I wish that your husband was more supportive and hopefully he will see in the end how little it matters when he has two healthy kids!

  13. I never heard the term “barracuda baby,” but one of the lactation consultants who saw me after the birth of my second son referred to him as a “little Hoover” as she was telling me to stop trying to breastfeed for 3 days because he latched fine, but sucked so hard he made me bleed. She said it was better to let myself heal than to feed him breast milk and blood… After that three days, I was already not producing milk anymore and I was terrified to try again because of how much it hurt – so I didn’t.

  14. Thank you so much for posting this! I just gave birth to a beautiful baby boy 2 weeks ago and have been dealing with similar breast feeding issues. I decided this weekend to stop pumping and have been feeling a tremendous amount of guilt over this but reading your story has made it easier for me to stand firm on this decision which I know is the overall best decision for my family. Thank you.

  15. Our stories are so similar. Before I had my baby, I had no doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed. I had no idea how difficult it would be, and the way it can drive a wedge in between mom and baby. Enjoy those precious babies!

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