FFF Friday: “I simply cannot fathom why I’m supposed to feel guilty…”

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.

This week, I went on a television morning news show and, much to my chagrin, came off sounding more like a breastfeeding advocate than a defender of feeding choice. But that didn’t stop a few breastfeeding pages from starting writing campaigns to protest my “offensive” appearance. You know what they found offensive? That I suggested that pumping was hard. That I suggested even women who exclusively pump are made to feel guilty for not meeting the breastfeeding ideal. That I said some women can’t breastfeed, for emotional, physical, or workplace-related reasons.

I cannot understand how either of these assertions anti-breastfeeding in ANY way, to a rational human being. Pumping is hard, for many of us. That doesn’t mean that it’s not easy for some women, or that we shouldn’t do it.  And why is it considered detrimental to breastfeeding mothers to suggest that some women can’t breastfeed, or simply don’t want to?

This, my friends, is the reason FFF must exist. Because it doesn’t matter that we support breastfeeding. It doesn’t matter what our reasons are for choosing, or being “forced” to formula feed. The people who have created this parenting powder-keg don’t care about personal choice, personal feelings, or personal situations. They are not advocating for breastfeeding. They are advocating for censorship; for brainwashing; for dogmatic agreement from every segment of society that their choice is not only the healthiest, but the ONLY choice, and anyone who suggests that a woman has a fundamental right to formula feed should be promptly silenced. 

Why am I using this rant to open this week’s FFF Friday? Well, because Meredith’s story is my new battle cry. She is someone who opted not to breastfeed from the start. And she feels no guilt, no shame, no regret – she can see how ridiculous this situation is, and how amazing her child is, and feel proud of her own unique, personal choices. I want to hear from more women like Meredith; I want them to join our ranks, to encourage us to fight a bit harder, to not wallow in guilt, and to rage against the structures which create a divide between mothers and allow this us vs. them bullsh-t to continue.  I love Meredith’s last line – the one I chose for the title of the piece – and I want us all to start living it, breathing it, and repeating it:

I simply cannot fathom why I’m supposed to feel guilty.

Yes, yes, and a thousand times yes.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

*** 

Meredith’s Story

I started following the FFF Facebook page and blog a month or two before my daughter was born, so admittedly I haven’t been around that long, but I have noticed that as wonderful as the posts are, I don’t see a whole lot of unwavering, unapologetic, completely unashamed pronouncements of being an exclusive formula feeder from very many women. There are an awful lot of moms who seem to tell their stories of ending up formula feeding after heartbreaking experiences with breastfeeding failures, and while that’s understandable it doesn’t exactly equal “unashamed.” I don’t mean to put anyone down, and I completely understand why they’re sharing their stories—there’s a grieving process for women who wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t, and they need to mourn. But as someone who genuinely feels no guilt, it stands out to me as odd on a page for the “Fearless” Formula Feeder that not many women say, “I didn’t even consider breastfeeding, I don’t regret it at all, and this is why.” So I thought I might share my story, which is one of exclusive formula feeding from day one, without shame, or guilt, or regret, to maybe reassure some women that their babies will still be beautiful and smart and amazing without breast milk, and that their health really, genuinely matters, and if they’re sacrificing their health to breastfeed, it’s really okay to say “It’s just not worth it” without all the guilt. You really can’t appreciate how important your health is until it’s gone for good, and anyone who tells you your health doesn’t matter deserves a punch in the face. You can always blame it on your hormones.

I have never once thought, “Oh, if only I’d breastfed, maybe my four month old daughter wouldn’t be so incredibly strong or ridiculously smart.” Seriously, my sister thinks my daughter’s a genius, my brother wonders if she’s a mutant, my husband’s godmother (who worked in a daycare for two decades) has never seen a baby like her, and everyone in the family is simply floored by how smart, alert, active, and happy she is, not to mention the fact that she’s gorgeous. I know every baby is beautiful to their mother, but when you are routinely stopped in stores by strangers who want to tell you how beautiful your baby is, or when your landlord sends you an email simply to say that your husband brought the baby when he dropped off the rent and she wanted to tell you how beautiful and happy your daughter is, you might have a really beautiful baby. All of this is without a single drop of breast milk. Not even the colostrum. My husband and I are actually somewhat afraid of how much more advanced she’d be than she is right now if she were getting the “magical properties” of breast milk and not just evil store brand formula. That’s right—we aren’t even feeding her the name brand stuff! Frankly I’m not sure the world is ready for her as an “inferior” formula fed kid. The planet might implode if she’d had access to the “super-awesome-ridiculously-superior goodness” of breast milk.

 

Alas, that was never going to be, and the world can blame me for my daughter not being able to reach her full superhuman potential of flight and x-ray vision because she was bottle fed (I accept this, the world is going to blame me for everything they deem wrong with her anyway). I genuinely don’t care if the world shakes its fist at me and declares, “She could have had a magic lasso and invisible plane if only you’d breastfed her!” Maybe that’s because I’m somewhat jaded. Maybe that’s because I don’t much care what random strangers think of me. Maybe that’s because I was 37 when I had her, so I’m very much an adult who knows how to stick up for herself and doesn’t buy into a lot of trendy mommy b.s., or take kindly to bullies. Maybe it’s because her dad was a breastfed baby and still has ADHD and dyslexia. But more likely it’s because I was a breastfed baby, and was still diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 24. My husband and I are living proof that breast milk isn’t magical, and I long ago had to come to terms with the fact that there are just going to be things I can’t do.

The list of things I can’t do because I need health insurance and my body has very finite limits, but had planned to do when I was 24 and my robust health took a permanent powder:

  • Backpack across Europe.
  • Move to New York to become a Broadway star.
  • Move to Hollywood and couch surf until I made it into movies.
  • Become a freelance journalist while writing the great American novel.
  • Front a rock band called Drunk Boy and tour the country covering ‘80s songs by British bands (you probably don’t know that the bone holding your vocal chords, the hyoid, is a joint and will swell if you have a joint disease—singing is to my hyoid bone what running up and down stairs would be to my knees).

 

I know you can’t possibly think I was actually serious about any of these things. Even at 24 most people have a sense of reality. Au contraire. I was as serious about these as a heart attack.

 

When I was four I decided I wanted to be an actress, since it was the only way I was ever going to meet Bo Duke (what can I say? John Schneider was 18 and the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen when I was four). I beat out all the boys for the lead of “Father Time” in the school musical in the first grade and was completely hooked.

When I hit the second grade and they started teaching us creative writing, I started writing profusely. I wrote my first novel in the fourth grade. It was 87 pages long, and I filled spiral notebook after spiral notebook with stories for the next eight years.

Upon graduating high school I won the English Key and the Music Key, and had been in choir all but a single year from kindergarten to 12th grade (for some reason recess seemed more important than choir one year in middle school). My English teacher wanted to send me to Russia and my parents said “No” (stupid Cold War). I’d gone to NYSSMA for both piano and voice multiple times, and had traveled to the first international choral competition our school had entered, in Quebec (our group was too small to officially compete, but they were pleased to have us none-the-less and I was pleased to put a use to my five years of French classes). We got to sing Mozart and Bach in the center of a cathedral named after a saint (not being Catholic, I don’t recall which one). I was in Girl’s Ensemble, Show Choir, Select Choir, Hand Bell Choir (which I miss more than you know), and had sung pieces in Latin, French, German, and Spanish. My choir teacher created an award for me senior year, “Section Leader,” because “Choir Leader” was a popularity contest no alto would ever win, and she couldn’t let me graduate without officially recognizing I’d carried the alto section since the 7th grade.

I got my BFA in Acting, (which many people would agree is a stupid investment, but two years out of school it was a completely worthless investment—I can’t even pursue an MFA to teach because the hours at any program worth its stuff are far too grueling, or require trapeze classes [I’m looking at you, National Theatre Conservatory]), and was starting to plump up my resume through community theatre around my native city before heading off somewhere big to make a career of it. And it wasn’t just my dream. My maternal grandmother gave me her sister’s mink stole, because I was the only one in the family who would ever have anywhere to wear it once I was a famous actress. She never understood why my parents taught me how to drive, as she was positive I would have a chauffeur to take me anywhere I needed to go. That was an actual conversation she had with my mother. She imagined I’d be Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, or Vivien Leigh, and I’d always known she was right (though I wanted to be Meryl Streep). I was destined for greatness, mink stoles, and chauffeurs. Only I wasn’t. Rheumatism runs in my family, and my immune system was just waiting for something to set it off, which it did when I was barely an adult. I was very close to my mom’s parents, and if you want to talk about grieving, talk about knowing that you’re never going to live up to your grandma’s absolute, unwavering belief that you would be someone so magnificent chauffeurs would drive you everywhere. She died when I was 26. I don’t cry about not being able to breastfeed. I cry that my health couldn’t have just held out for two more stinking years so my grandma would have died knowing I was pursuing the life she imagined I would have, rather than knowing I had the same illness that crippled her mother. (That’s when I think about it, which I don’t often, because you can’t spend your life crying.)

In comparison to giving up goals I’d held since I was four years old (four), deciding to formula feed was a piece of cake. I did briefly entertain ridiculous thoughts of breastfeeding in the month and a half of my pregnancy where I didn’t want to puke all the time and my joints hadn’t yet figured out I was off my medication. That month and a half was the best I’d felt in a long, long time. I stupidly thought, “If I feel this good now, there’s no reason I can’t breastfeed!” Then my joints caught on to my clever scheme of using pregnancy hormones to keep them in check, and they rebelled with appropriate fury. It was laughable that I’d even entertained thoughts that I could stay off my medication to put myself into a sleep deprived breastfeeding stupor and expect to take care of a baby. My husband had to help me dress. I couldn’t find any position to sleep that didn’t cause horrible hip and shoulder pain. I spent night after night crying until two or three in the morning because I couldn’t lie down (or sit up, really) without being in agony. I went to work with my wrists and hands wrapped in athletic tape for support. Going up and down the stairs at work or at home was a nightmare because of my knees and ankles. I went to my baby shower with my right arm in a sling so I could keep my shoulder immobile and not be in excruciating pain (those aren’t humiliating pictures or anything). I lived day to day in paralyzing fear that my medication would no longer work when I went back on it. Outside of going to work, I was practically a hermit because I didn’t have the energy or feel well enough to even go to the grocery store to buy bread and milk. That was pretty much my pregnancy from week 22 until my daughter was born (a week late, thanks kid).

 

Yet somehow people didn’t understand why I wasn’t having the whole, “I am the Earth mother” experience. I did mention to my husband a couple of times how mind blowing it was that we made this whole new person who had never existed before, a concept that he just grasped last week. (He actually said while watching her in her bouncy seat, “We made a whole new person. She never existed before. That’s amazing!” Since I’m a good wife, I did not respond with, “Duh.”) But other than that I was pretty miserable and just counting the days for the whole thing to be over, which I’m sure made me look like a bad mommy to a lot of people that don’t know me well and weren’t aware of how sick I was, and I really didn’t care. Nineteen weeks of constant severe pain and little sleep—which makes the pain worse, which keeps you from sleeping, which makes the pain worse, which keeps you from sleeping ad infinitum—is a very, very long time when you’re carrying around 35 extra pounds that your joints do not like. The RA turned what was supposed to be a wonderful time in my life into months of anxiety and physical torture that I just wanted to end. But as terrible as my pregnancy was, I’ll still do it again—hopefully twice, I’ve always wanted three kids and am loathe to give up yet another dream to my disease—because my baby is proof that the end result is worth 19 weeks of agony and sleepless nights. Another pregnancy [or two] would simply not be possible if I wasn’t able to immediately get control of my RA post-partum because my medication is breastfeeding contraindicated and I bought into “breast is best.”

Ironically, my body understood that we weren’t breastfeeding. My very large breasts swelled for about three days after we brought our perfect baby girl home, and then started rapidly deflating like punctured balloons. I kept waiting for the pain from engorgement and to start leaking all over everything, but that never happened. It was actually quite shocking to be waiting for something that just never came. I kept expecting I’d have to hand my baby off to my mom (she stayed with us the first week, as she’d been a nervous wreck worrying about my health most of my pregnancy) or my husband the first time my breasts ached because I wasn’t feeding her, and my breasts would say, “P’shaw.” She’d cry, and I’d wait for my breasts to react by squirting out milk, forcing me to hand my baby off to my mom or husband, but my mammaries would just sit there going, “Meh.” I’d take a shower with my back to the water to avoid the warmth because so many people had said it was painful, and my breasts would declare, “Excuse me, you’ve had us in a sports bra for days. We’re sweaty and gross. Why aren’t you washing us???” It makes me wonder if I would have even been able to breastfeed, or if I would have ended up in the long dismissed line of women who don’t produce enough (or any) milk, riddled with guilt at having failed my daughter in her first days and weeks of life since “everyone can breastfeed,” and finding no one anywhere to tell me that just wasn’t true and formula wasn’t poison. (See, I really can imagine the guilt – that probably would have been me.)

My daughter also seemed to know from minute one that her mom had certain limitations, and she was just going to have to work with them. She hated the pre-made formula we had in the hospital (largely because the nipples on the bottles had medium sized holes and she was choking on the stuff, plus, have you seen it? It’s taupe, or ecru, or eggshell, but it’s definitely not milk colored), but as soon as we got home and put her on the powdered formula she took to it like a champ. She has never cared what kind of formula we were using or what kind of bottle we give her, so long as she’s being fed. We switched formulas after about a month and a half from our initial pick to something less clumpy, and she didn’t fuss at all. Her diaper wasn’t pleasant for about two days, but otherwise her tummy didn’t object and her taste buds didn’t care. She’s had no colic, nor is she particularly gassy, has no indication of food allergies, hasn’t spent a single day sick yet except for one rash that didn’t even give her a fever over 100, and just this week has become quite adamant that she gets “grown-up” food at dinnertime (oh, how we love our peas!). She started sleeping through the night two days after I went back to work and hasn’t stopped since. The most problematic issue she’s had with feeding is hiccups. She seems very aware that a diet of milk is temporary and for babies, and is determined to be a big girl as soon as she can manage it.

At just under 20 weeks old she’s exactly average in her height and weight, which I know is my “fault” (people with RA tend to have smaller babies), but her father and I don’t mind that she’s only average in her growth, because she’s smart, spunky, funny, and it’s really easy to buy her clothes. There’s no guessing whether or not 3-6 month old clothes will fit your four month old daughter when she’s right in the middle of the pack for her age. And, quite frankly, I wouldn’t have built up the arm strength yet to carry her around if she was a hulk in the 98th percentile weighing in at 18 lbs. Her more gradual weight gain is allowing mommy time to recover the considerable muscle mass I’ve lost to RA, which is crucial since I take her everywhere with me. (I admit it—as physically awful as pregnancy was I got used to having her with me, and getting constantly kicked wherever I went, and I still haven’t adjusted to being separated from her.) She goes to all my theatre meetings, breakfast/brunch/lunch/coffee with my friends (she has many “aunts” besides my sister), script read-throughs, committees on which I sit, and she’s already appeared in her first play (which you bet I wrote for her, though I think I’ve created a monster; she knew the applause was for her and she LOVED it). She’ll be coming with me to rehearsals for a June production that I’m in, which a dear friend of mine (who is her honorary grandpa) is directing (he adores her, and the feeling is mutual). She is fascinated by everything she sees and does with mommy, has so much fun with her biological and extended theatre families, loves new faces and being in the middle of the adult action, recognizes cameras and coyly poses for pictures whenever she sees one, never cries unless she’s very hungry, extremely tired, or ends up naked on a public bathroom changing table after a diaper blow-out (who wouldn’t?), and is ridiculously well behaved. Every day my husband and I look at her in utter amazement, and wonder how we got so lucky in having such a completely magnificent child, who babbles and laughs constantly and loves getting kisses as much as we love kissing her. She’s my favorite person. It makes me think my grandma just may have been off a generation. She’s definitely getting Great Aunt Althea’s mink.

There is no way she would have the adventures with mommy she so clearly enjoys if I was incapable of picking up a 15 lb. baby because I put breastfeeding ahead of my own health. Not only wouldn’t I be able to care for my daughter without medication, I wouldn’t be able to care for myself, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to work (my job provides our family’s health insurance – that’s kind of a big deal). There are women with rheumatism who have chosen to breastfeed despite the risks, so I know that ultimately it was an option for me. I also know that across the board those women have ended up with far worse cases of the disease than before they became pregnant. Many women with my illness think any risk is worth it to breastfeed, and even if their pregnancy wasn’t great it won’t get that bad if they stay off meds a little longer, and even if it does they’ll make that sacrifice to keep their baby from the ills of formula. I suppose I’m fortunate to have 1) a rheumatologist who is very persistent in getting his patients to listen to common sense, and 2) a good friend with RA much worse than mine, which she started suffering from shortly after having her only child, while living in Brooklyn. She went without a diagnosis for five years and was on inadequate medication to control the symptoms in the meantime. Since they finally figured out it was rheumatoid arthrittis, she’s never been able to get it under control, and she’s been on every medication they’ve come out with to treat the disease. She’s about ten years my senior, can’t straighten her right arm, can’t close her hands around small objects, her fingers are starting to permanently bend outward, her knees are chronically swollen, and she’s had all her toe joints surgically fused (all that walking around the Big Apple for five years with a small child was a bad idea). I imagine she will eventually end up in a wheelchair, or having a heart attack from all the prednisone she’s on (that’s the only thing that works right now), and she’s not even 50. She is a real person I know with my disease, not a random stranger with a scary story, and for my baby’s sake I refuse to be her. Call me crazy, but I think it would be a lot worse for my daughter to be worried at ten years old that her mom, who has fused toes and arms that don’t straighten, might drop dead of a heart attack than it would be for her to maybe have more ear infections and a mom who can braid her hair an sew her Halloween costumes. Because I choose to bottle feed, my daughter is four months into a childhood filled with a loving family, stimulating activities, and a mommy who can change her, bathe her, feed her, play with her, sing to her, and carry her into the grocery store where total strangers will tell her how beautiful she is. I simply cannot fathom why I’m supposed to feel guilty about that.

***

Viva la revolution. Fight the power with a hell no, we won’t go, and all that jazz. Send your FFF Friday submissions to: formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

FFF Friday: “We do the best we can with what is presented to us.”

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’m too exhausted from this week’s craziness in Boston to write anything even slightly intelligent to preface Katherine’s FFF Friday story. Luckily, Katherine has enough intelligence for both of us. As a fellow hypoallergenic formula mom, I appreciate her disbelief at how warped some people’s sense of relative risk can be. When your child is suffering from ingesting a food, it doesn’t matter if the substance in question is made from unicorn horns. All you want to do is make the suffering stop. It’s a loving, rational, and (as much as I hate the term) “biologically appropriate” response. I’m not sure how anyone can speak of trusting the maternal gut and making childbirth/childrearing less of a monitored, medicalized experience, and then in the same breath tell a mom she should breastfeed, in spite of her child’s bleeding insides. 
Could be the exhaustion talking, but… I don’t get it. I really don’t get it.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
The FFF
***
Katherine’s Story
I always planned to breastfeed my baby for the first year. After all, “breast is best” right? I read many books, made sure I had all the requisite nursing supplies, and spoke with friends about their nursing experiences. No one I knew formula fed; I never really considered it as an option.

After an emergency c-section my baby girl was admitted into the NICU immediately after being born. She had ingested a great deal of meconium, and required CPAP her first night to help her breathe. The hospital we were at was a WHO designated “breastfeeding friendly” hospital. Staff were very proactive in getting me pumping early on so my milk would come in. I was able to nurse my daughter in the NICU 12 hours after she was born, and every few hours after that, supplementing as needed with the colostrum I pumped. My daughter never needed formula in the NICU, and on day 4 she was well enough to room with us just as my milk came in. I felt pretty pleased with myself. In spite of needing a c-section and not having immediate skin to skin, here I was, successsfully breastfeeding.

I batled some latch issues, but with the help of my midwife and public health nurse, we were able to resolve them. I didn’t love nursing, but my daughter was gaining weight like a champ (she only ever dropped 2 oz from her birth weight), and seemed to enjoy it. I resolved to persist with my goal to nurse for one year.

At 10 days old, my baby started having bloody and mucousy stool, diarhea, gas and abdominal pain. She also became very fussy at the breast. I cut dairy from my diet. Then soy. Then nuts, eggs, and several other foods. Her issues continued, and her hemoglobin dropped to below acceptable levels. After meeting with a pediatric surgeon who performed a rectal biopsy, we confirmed she had allergic colitis. I met with a nutritionist to ensure my diet was apropriate, and persisted. I was finally beginning to enjoy nursing, and didn’t want to give up just as I was really getting the hang of things.

Finally, after over 2 months of a restricted diet,  we made the choice to temporarily use hypoallergenic formula while I pumped, in the hopes her GI would heal and I could resume nursing. Short term pain, long term gain. I’ll never forget the exchange with the pediatric nutritionist at the hospital as she was giving us samples of hypoallergenic formula to try. It felt like we were doing a drug deal in the parking lot. Since it was a breastfeeding friendly hospital, she felt ashamed to be giving us formula samples, even knowing my daughter’s GI issues.

First we tried Alimentum, but within 12 hours her bleeding was significantly worse. Since Alimentum contains elements of cows milk protein, it can cause a reaction in some babies with milk protein intolerance. So, we switched to Neocate. The change was immediate, but it took 2 weeks for her symptoms to completely resolve.

I should have been thrilled, but instead I was becoming increasingly anxious about resuming breastfeeding, and depressed from the burden of pumping and being on such a restricted diet. I stumbled across an article on Dr. Sears’ website that basically equated hypoallergenic formula to poision. Should I have persisted with breastfeeding in spite of all our challenges?
Finally, we were able to meet with a pediatric allergist. He suggested waiting another 2 months before re-introducing breastmilk, to allow our daughters system to completely heal. I would need to keep pumping, and maintain the diet, since food proteins can remain in the system for several weeks. Even then, there would be no guarantees she would tolerate my milk. His reccomendation was to continue with Neocate, and not reintroduce breastmilk at all. After careful consideration my husband and I decided that switching to formula for good was the best choice for our daughter’s health, and also for my wellbeing.

Making the choice to switch to formula was incredibly liberating. my depression lifted, and I was able to get out of the house with my daughter, eat like a normal person and enjoy life again. Still, I always feel the need to justify why we formula feed. I feel like an anomaly-I’m a formula feeding, c-section having mom in the land of home births and extended breastfeeding. I should have tried harder, eaten less, or -this one takes the cake- kept breastfeeding even if my daughters GI issues didn’t resolve. Because “breastfeeding is best.” Even if it means having a GI tract that is so inflamed, it is BLEEDING.

If anything, my experience has made me so much more empathetic to other moms and the difficult choices we all have to make as parents. We do the best we can with what is presented to us. Ultimately my goal as a parent is to raise a kind, compassionate, open-minded human being, and I seriously doubt that being formula fed has any bearing whatsoever on what kind of a person she will grow to be.

However a mom comes to the choice to formula feed, or have a c-section, or whatever, is ultimately her own business, and we could all stand to be a lot more open minded and empathetic.

***
Feel like sharing your story? Email it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “Society has made it so that if we don’t breastfeed, we better have a damn good reason for it.”

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 can’t read Amy’s story without tearing up, because it is SO much like mine. And it infuriates me – because no mothers, and no babies, should have to suffer like this. The dismissive attitude of her care providers; the lack of information that might have at least helped her find an appropriate formula (why wouldn’t a pediatric GI suggest a hypoallergenic? I’m dumbfounded…); the helplessness, inadequacy, and frustration Amy felt… this isn’t “okay”. Even for those who claim our fight is maternal-centric; that we only care about the well-being of the mother – how was any of the experience detailed below beneficial to Amy’s daughter? Maybe we should focus on the babies for a minute – because we certainly aren’t doing them any favors with the warped, convoluted system that passes as “maternal-infant care” these days. 

Rant over. Now it’s Amy’s turn – and boy, does she have reason to rant.

Happy friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Amy’s Story

My story is a lot like many others on your site. And really, I should leave it at that. Why do we breastfeeding “failures” always feel the need to explain and explain and explain? We shouldn’t have to. But alas, society has made it so that if we didn’t breastfeed, we had better have a darn good reason for it. And so, explain we do. To anyone who will listen, really. Even long after the little one has started kindergarten, for goodness’ sakes.

My start at motherhood failed fantastically in every way you could possibly think of. I couldn’t even *get* pregnant. After four years of battling painful infertility and two straight agonizing and expensive years of fertility treatments, our IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) miracle was finally, finally conceived. So, I first failed at that. When it came time to actually have her, my body failed at that, too. I needed a c-section (and don’t get me started on that topic, with the way things are going in that department, we need a Fearless C-Section Momma blog). Is it any wonder breastfeeding failed, too?

All my friends breastfed. While pregnant, people would ask if I would breastfeed. Is that a trick question? Why of course I would! Duh! Who wouldn’t? Smarter, healthier kid? Come on! Besides, this was a VERY wanted child; we spent years trying to have her (not to mention thousands of dollars), so naturally we’re going to do everything “right.” Oh sure, we might need to supplement from time to time; I’ve heard that’s really common, especially in the beginning, and I’m okay with that. My husband and I were both raised on formula and we turned out to be pretty healthy and intelligent people, so a little bit won’t hurt her if it becomes necessary. Plus, I’ve read a lot lately that there’s really no such thing as “nipple confusion,” so I’m not worried. But oh, we’d ABSOLUTELY breastfeed. I’d pump, too, of course. I’d like to get a break from time to time; maybe take a long bath, run to the store solo, or sleep in. A “relief” bottle would be daddy’s time to bond with the baby. I had it all figured out.

So imagine my frustration, when in the hospital, she wouldn’t latch. AT ALL. A steady stream of several different nurses and lactation consultants came in to try to force my babe onto my boob. I sat with my shirt open, both breasts hanging out, and no less than two people at a time trying to force my gigantic, swollen breast into her tiny mouth. She just wouldn’t do it. None of the tricks worked, not the nipple shield, not even the SNS. I started pumping with that ridiculous torture device known as a hospital-grade pump. I was a milk machine. Oh, I made plenty of milk alright. Tons of colostrum; several ounces at one time. The nurse even remarked that I had produced enough colostrum for two other babies in the nursery. I felt so good about myself. Oh sure, we were having some minor bumps in the road, but at least my baby was receiving liquid gold (from a syringe). Except the syringe method was wasting an awful lot of milk; most of it seemed to run down her chin. The nurses suggested feeding her the colostrum from a bottle, yet she seemed to struggle with that, too. It was strange; I was making so much and she clearly wanted it, but couldn’t seem to figure out how to take it. Tongue-tied! That’s it! She must be tongue-tied! I read about that – super common. I asked the LC to check. They said they already did. “Check again, please,” I requested. Nope, she was not even slightly tongue-tied. She was, however, jaundiced and getting worse. Dehydrated and fussy. Hubby determined we just needed to get home where we could have some privacy and get into our rhythym. We made a deal for early release (48 hours!) if we’d come back every day for bilirubin checks. We agreed.

We got home and that’s when the screaming started. No, this can’t be. All the books say newborns are exceptionally sleepy the first several days. Mine wouldn’t sleep. She still wouldn’t latch, and we tried every different type of bottle and nipple to figure out which one she’d take. Every time we went back for a bili check, I’d see the LCs. They were woefully unhelpful and incredibly chastising. The only medical professional I had ever come to for help who treated me with suspicion; as though they thought I didn’t really want to do this. Each encounter felt confrontational; they seemed aggravated with me. I was in tears, and all they could do was tell me that “you can’t pump forever, you’ll dry up” and that I was going to get mastitis and clogged ducts if I didn’t put the baby to breast, among other ominous warnings about pumped milk not being as good as “fresh from the tap.” At the end of each session, they’d sigh and do what I call the Jedi Hand Wave: “She’ll figure it out,” as though they could simply will it to be with a wave of the hand.

I still tried to get her to latch at every feeding, but I had an overactive letdown reflex and if she managed to get any of the nipple in her mouth, it just made her choke (yes, I tried pumping first, but remember, I was a milk MACHINE – the stuff came squirting out like water from a garden hose with your thumb over it). It got to the point where I’d merely take out the breast, and she’d scream and turn away from it (how’s that for rejection for a post-partum hormonal new mother not getting ANY sleep whatsoever?). So I decided to pump exclusively, despite the LC’s and Internet’s warnings (cue guilt trip number three). Babies are smarter than we give them credit for, and she clearly figured out that the breast was not her friend. So I pumped. And pumped. And pumped. I wasn’t sleeping and was smashingly exhausted, given that my body was trying to heal from the c-section. She continued to scream. You. couldn’t. put. her. down. She was up every hour. She wasn’t doing ANYTHING the books and magazines said she should be doing, like eating every 2-3 hours and sleeping 2-4 hour stretches (she NEVER slept, unless you were holding her and she ate one ounce every hour). I never knew what that “milk drunk” satiated look looked like. She was NEVER content, NEVER peaceful. And I’d kill for a two hour stretch of sleep. Are the people who write these books idiots? Or is there something seriously wrong here? She would fight the feedings. She’d suck for a bit, pull off the bottle, then turn her head away and arch her back, all while screaming. For horrifying special effect, she’d often gag and choke, unable to breathe for a few terrifying seconds. Her lips would even turn blue. Then she started projectile vomiting; entire contents of bottles. Bottles full of the liquid gold I’d worked so hard to produce. She wasn’t gaining well. She also broke out in full-body rashes and hives. Several times a day, she had explosive, smelly diarrhea laced with mucous (and traces of blood, we’d later discover) that caused diaper rashes that looked more like chemical burns. I started cutting things from my diet. She continued to get worse. Even though I was producing plenty, we started supplementing a small amount (remember, I was okay with this), but it didn’t really help. We went to the doctor every few days; I desperately looked forward to the appointments. It was the only time we got out of the house. Friends were taking their babies to the mall, for walks, and I couldn’t comprehend how this was even possible. One friend with a baby the same age often called me lamenting how “bored” she was. I was flabbergasted because I was ANYTHING but bored. I was a veritable prisoner in my home. My outings were doctor appointments (to which the baby screamed the entire drive). I was usually in tears (wearing sweats and not having showered) and needing confirmation from some professional, ANY professional, that I wasn’t a fantastic failure at motherhood. I began to believe that my infertility was because God knew I’d be a horrible mother. He saw this coming. He tried to tell me. What people say about infertility is true, and their hurtful words echoed silently in my head: “It’s God’s will, some people aren’t meant to be parents.” We messed with nature and now I have a baby I wasn’t meant to have. Depression and despair began sinking in.

“Colic,” the pediatrician said. “You just have to wait it out.” But the reflux and apparent food allergies (milk protein and soy, we later discovered) were treatable. They apparently can exacerbate each other. She referred us to a Pediatric Gastroenterologist. While waiting for the appointment, we kept a journal of what I ate and how she acted (it never changed, despite my obsessive label-reading and eliminating foods one by one). We tried several different formulas; soy, rice added, sensitive. Still no dice. I knew NOTHING about formula, so I didn’t know about hypoallergenic formulas at the time (I couldn’t even PRONOUNCE Nutramigen). I remember standing in the formula aisle at the grocery store astounded by all the brands and choices and feeling completely overwhelmed and stupid. This whole thing strained our marriage (hubby was so over the attempts at breastfeeding, the constant pumping and washing pump parts, my crying, the baby’s crying, etc). He went back to work, and I spent my days hooked up to the pump, trying to rock the car seat with my foot while my child screamed; screamed in agony. From hunger. From the as-yet-diagnosed food allergies. From the reflux and esophageal irritation that was burning her throat like fire (we’d later find this out during a swallow study). To say I was a mess would be the understatement of the century.

One chaotic morning after hubby had left for work, I looked down at my screaming baby while the pump whirred rhythmically, splashing a substance into the bottles that was clearly harming her. It was then that things suddenly became clear. THIS was supposedly what was best for her? This? All this? I’ll save you the rest of the agonizing details and skip to the part where we finally tried a hypoallergenic formula sample given to us by the pedi GI, and within about 48-72 hours, the rashes, hives, and diarrhea gradually disappeared. She cried a whole lot less and stopped fighting feedings. Feeding her actually became a calm and enjoyable experience for both of us. She took more than just one ounce at a time. She slept a four hour stretch for the very first time in her life, after waking, literally, every 45-60 minutes around the clock. We tried a few different reflux meds until we finally found the one that worked. I quit pumping. And really started mothering. We finally bonded and I fell head over heels in love with my little girl. I started feeling like a good mother who truly was meant to have this miracle child. At nine weeks old (yes, this went on for nine long weeks), she finally smiled for the very first time.

And so did I.

Postscript from Amy:  At 15 months old, my daughter was diagnosed with Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), an exaggerated gag reflex, Sensory Processing Disorder, and poor muscle control of the tongue, cheek, and jaw. It took that long for a diagnosis because she wouldn’t/couldn’t eat solid foods (not even baby food). With the exception of the occasional cracker or Cheerio, she existed almost solely on the hypo formula up until that point. It was why she was literally incapable of latching and had so much trouble even with bottles. It took 18 months of Occupational Therapy to teach my child to chew and swallow properly. 

 I am relieved to report that despite having been formula-fed, my now-6 year-old is the healthiest in her kindergarten class, having NEVER had a single stomach bug, having suffered exactly ONE ear infection in her entire life (at the age of four), is in the 40th percentile for weight, and is reading at a second-grade level. So much for being dumb, sickly, and obese.

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Want to share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “Turning to formula was my first courageous act as a 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.

This week’s story comes from Michelle, a self-professed “foodie” who was dismayed to find that while food was a pleasure, feeding… well, not so much.

I love Michelle’s discussion of how food can be so much more than just calories. The act of eating is social, emotional… it can and should be a pleasurable act. In our society, though, we’ve turned it into something so fraught with judgment and anxiety – from our current obsession with childhood obesity in this generation, to the eating disorders that plagued our generation, we just can’t seem to get it right. This complicated relationship with eating and feeding begins with how we nourish our infants – I believe that by creating feeding experiences that are loving, happy, and full of laughter we will take a step in helping the newest generation have a better relationship with food. 

And I think that Michelle and her Sweet D are well on their way to doing just that. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

 

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Michelle’s Story: Foodie Becomes the Fooder

I love food. I’d even say I’m obsessed with food. It is sustenance, happiness, culture, adventure, and excitement for me. When thinking about Sweet D and exploring food with her when she gets older, I get very excited. In an ironic slap across my face, feeding her was hard for me. And eating was hard for her.

Just as I was instructed, I took the first possible opportunity in the delivery room to try to breastfeed Sweet D. It worked, but not great… but it was the first time for both of us.  As our time together continued, it became evident that something wasn’t going right. It shouldn’t have hurt that much and Sweet D would become furious with frustration after just a few minutes of trying to latch. I repeatedly turned down the formula offered by the nurses. We had the lactation consultants in the hospital come see us — they immediately checked her frenulum, that piece of tissue that connects your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. Hers was connected to the very tip of her tongue making it impossible for her to move her tongue as freely as was necessary for breastfeeding. I knew this was going to be a problem.

During those first few days Sweet D cried a lot. She was hungry and I was desperately trying to satisfy her. Because of the problems with her tongue, her poor attempts at latching really hurt me to the point where I was bleeding after only a short time on the job. I would nurse as long as I could stand it and would eventually have to cut her off because the pain was so bad. Neither of us could take it much longer.

I was nervous about my first appointment with our pediatrician the morning after we were released from the hospital. Everything I read online about her said she was very strict about breastfeeding. I didn’t know what she was going to tell me. By that first appointment, Sweet D had lost over 10% of her body weight. That’s the magic number that indicates the baby isn’t eating enough and something needs to change. I nursed in the doctor’s office as we talked about Sweet D’s tongue and my pain. “You’re definitely in rougher shape than you should be,” the doctor told me. I was surprised to hear that from her. I thought she was going to tell me it was normal. We left the office and headed to the ENT specialist who would snip Sweet D’s frenulum in an attempt to free her tongue and resolve this situation once and for all. I held my newborn in my lap as the doctor performed the quick procedure.

That afternoon I hit my limit. The pain was unbearable. Sweet D was screaming. She had become so frustrated that she wouldn’t eat. I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t take it anymore. My baby needed to eat and I couldn’t provide her with food as I had hoped. My husband called the pediatrician’s office and spoke to a nurse.  He explained the situation and asked what to do. The nurse said, “Uh… give her formula.”  Her tone implied she omitted the “duh!” from the end of her statement. I needed to hear my staunchly pro-breastfeeding pediatrician’s office say it was time for formula. Even with that seal of approval, I felt like I had failed, like I was doing something awful to my little girl. Formula. Anything you read about nursing will make you feel like feeding your baby formula is child abuse. Unfortunately, given our situation, I had read lots on nursing before delivering and now was feeling like a bad mother for turning to formula. But Sweet D needed to eat — I needed to feed my baby.  So I did.

I took a few days off from nursing to allow myself to heal. Then we brought in a lactation consultant. We got a pump. I wasn’t ready to give up on breastfeeding, but I also wasn’t ready to go back to it full-force. The lactation consultant was incredibly understanding. She wanted to see me succeed, but she knew the odds weren’t great. We worked together to come up with a plan: I was breastfeeding as much as I could starting with once each day and increasing; I was pumping at least 8 times a day for 10-15 minutes; and we were feeding Sweet D a bottle every few hours. It was exhausting.

My milk production suffered because of the initial delay in feeding. I was pumping every few hours to help boost my production and to get breast milk for Sweet D to have in her bottle but it didn’t improve much. And Sweet D’s ability to nurse didn’t improve much either After two bouts of mastitis, I turned to exclusively pumping. And after my third infection, I had to quit after two and a half months. The stress of it all was tainting my first months of motherhood.

I eventually felt better about my decision to give Sweet D formula, but I never felt great about it. I felt self-conscious mixing bottles in front of other people. Sweet D is 19 months old and I still feel like I have to defend my decision despite her being long off the bottle.

Sweet D is an incredible kid. Her teachers at daycare constantly tell me how smart she is and how much more quickly she learns than her classmates. And since the day she discovered it, she has been in love with her tongue. Every time I see her stick it out or use it to make silly noises, I think about how much trouble that little tongue caused her.

Now I can say that my only regret is that I read so much about breastfeeding before giving birth. I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do. I wish I hadn’t read everything that implied giving my daughter formula meant I was giving up, being selfish and choosing to start off motherhood as a terrible mother. In fact, turning to formula was my first courageous act as a mother. Given the choice I’d do it again and I should do it again.

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Feel like sharing your story? Send it to me via email – formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Preschool, Shmeeschool: Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting, First Edition

Today’s post is a bit of a departure for me, since it has absolutely nothing to do with infant feeding, or infancy, for that matter. And this is a good thing, because to be perfectly honest  it gets rather dull writing about babies. Babies are kind of boring. Preschoolers are much more interesting. Also more whiny, but that’s fodder for another post.

The reason I’m writing about preschool today is that I’ve joined an incredible group of research and science-driven parenting bloggers. It’s nice to feel I’m part of a group, rather than my usual position as the parenting world’s social media pariah – and I also appreciate that by joining this group, who will be doing a monthly blog carnival with rotating topics, I will be forced out of my comfort zone and inspired to write about a variety of parenting-related issues.

This month’s topic is Preschool. This is a subject which I don’t think much about; ironic, as my children are both in preschool. You’d think I would have at least done some thinking about what type of educational environment would be best for them, but when the time came to decide on a school, I didn’t feel I had much choice. There were very few schools in my area which were not church-based; being Jewish (totally secular, but still self-identifying) I wasn’t sure how I felt about my children learning about God in a way that didn’t feel kosher to me. Thus, we chose the one Jewish (secular, but self-identifying) preschool within a 30-minute radius and called it a day.

We were lucky, because that school turned out to have a warm, outdoor-focused, play-based curriculum. In other words, there really is no curriculum. The kids run around outside. screaming like banshees, riding trikes around the play yard sans helmets (oy), planting lemon trees, and creating Thomas the Train out of old boxes and paint. When holidays arise, they usually approach them by crafting some sort of makeshift art project (i.e., the “Star Wars”-themed Passover seat cushion my 4-year-old proudly brought home last month). It’s a haphazard, seemingly directionless environment, and I adore it (so much so that I’m willing to drive 20 miles to and from school every day, in LA traffic, with gas prices being what they are).

However, a few months ago, I started getting a wee bit nervous when I entered my son’s preschool classroom and discovered him doing a “Letter Book” with one of the teachers. That day’s letter was “C”; I was hoping they’d have him think of all the words that started with “C”, or talk about the different sounds “C” can make.

Instead, the teacher had him glue a “C” she cut out from construction paper onto the book. That was the extent of the project.

Now, my son, like many 4-year-olds,  can write the entire alphabet, and is starting to sound out words on the page when we’re reading together. He recently created a pair of paper “shoes” for his sister using nothing but tape, construction paper, and our (regular, non-”kiddie”) scissors, so there was no reason he couldn’t have at least cut the darn “C” out himself. So this project seemed a bit…well, for lack of a better word, pointless.

I started panicking a little. What were other preschools doing? (I didn’t know, but I knew you had to sign up for them before you even conceived.) Had I picked a school for my son out of laziness? (Yes.) I knew play-based curriculums were all the rage, but this wasn’t the sort of free-form artwork I’d envisioned. And maybe I’d picked the wrong environment for my intellectual, perfectionist child – my daughter was thriving at the same school, loving the social interaction and singing and craziness of it all. My son, though – he flourished with structure. He loved instruction and learning. Maybe this was the wrong school for him?

But through the panic, the uber-rational devil on my shoulder kept whispering “does it really matter? It’s preschool.”

Of course, I started looking into the research (a few years too late, but whatever) and found myself even more confused. The overall benefits of preschool have been all over the news lately, as Obama has announced a new plan to bring universal preschool to our nation’s 4-year-olds in “low and modest-income families”. The opposition has argued that this will be a waste of money and resources; a spokeswoman from the Heritage Foundation countered that “the administration should be working to trim duplicative and ineffective programs, and leaving the provision of early childhood education and care to private providers and, most importantly, parents.”

Taking away the politics for a minute, let’s consider the research being used to back up Obama’s assertions that funding universal preschool will make an impact on society, and what this research means for parents. The National Institute for Early Education and Research (NIEER) put out a position paper trying to explain the research, and it does seem clear that there is a small but significant benefit in early education, in both cognitive and social development, that lasted well into the school years – this effect was seen in a number of studies and meta-anaylses, across different populations and socio-economic groups.

Still, one must ask: How much of this advantage had to do with the children merely being surrounded by their peers? Was it the educational component of the curriculum, or simply having an adult who paid attention to them and attended to their needs? What were these kids’ home lives like? If it was more an effect conferred by social interaction, are parents doing kids a disservice by homeschooling preschoolers? (This would be relevant to the Heritage Foundation’s argument, because it might mean that a parent can give all the attention, education and creative play s/he can muster and it wouldn’t be as beneficial as sending a kid to a multi-age daycare).

The NIEER report does attempt to address some of these quandaries.  For example, there has been substantial research on whether preschool has more of a positive effect on disadvantaged children:

Generally, studies in the United States and abroad (where universal programs have a longer history) find that preschool education has larger benefits for disadvantaged children, but that high-quality programs still have substantive benefits for other children (Barnett, 2008; Burger, 2010).

They discuss a twin study which “finds positive impacts from attending preschool at age 4 across most of the socio-economic spectrum with effects declining gradually as socio-economic status increases” and another study from 1983 (almost as old as I am) that found “positive effects on achievement continued into the school years with very large effects for boys, in particular, found in the second and third grade (Larsen & Robinson, 1989.” even in higher socio-economic groups. But I still wonder – higher income is not synonymous with healthy home life. I’m not sure any of these studies really address whether the kids involved had parents around who were giving them the type of interaction, attention and play that they needed; that would again matter for those who choose to homeschool, or who didn’t qualify for public programs and yet didn’t have access to good preschools. Could parents make up for any shortcomings in their children’s early education?

The NIEER report also makes the point that the type of program matters. They cite the HighScope Preschool Curriculum Study, which randomly assigned 68 kids to one of three types of preschools:

 Both the HighScope and Nursery School approaches emphasized child-initiated activities in which young children pursued their own interests with staff support. The Direct Instruction approach, in contrast, focused on academics and required young children to respond to rapid-fire questions posed by teachers. (Source: http://www.highscope.org/Content.asp?ContentId=241)

They followed these kids through adulthood, and found significant differences in outcome. There wasn’t much difference in terms of IQ between the groups, but in terms of social development, the “direct instruction” kids fared the worst . And these results were… well, odd. For instance, the HighScope kids were more likely to be living with their spouses. (Crap- I should’ve asked about Fearless Husband’s preschool curriculum before we made it legal.) The Direct Instruction group were more likely to be involved in delinquent activity by the age of 15.

So what the heck does this all mean?

Obviously, my concerns, sitting here in my suburban Starbucks and obsessing over the quality of my childrens’ preschool curriculum have little to do with the concerns of the Obama administration or those criticizing the push for higher-quality public preschool. But I think all of us could use a dose of reality – these studies do not seem to show a definitive answer to what is going to help kids the most, in terms of both academic and social success. What does seem clear is that kids are helped to a small, but significant, degree when they are given some higher-quality early education. Child-led curriculums seem to fare better than having kids sit in chairs and firing questions at them (surprise) and having social interaction is a positive thing. Do with it as you will.

As for me? I’m sticking to my down-home preschool. The kids are nice, the teachers are warm, and my kids seem to like it.  I can work on the alphabet at home; what my son really needs is to learn to be free, to get dirty, take risks on the slide, and run around playing Power Rangers with other boys. He will enter elementary school thinking that school is a fun place where you can spend half the day wandering outside finding “treasures” of broken barrettes and rogue shoelaces in the sandbox. He might be in for a cruel awakening, but I’ll deal with that when the time comes.

Check out the other posts from the Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting Bloggers (all much more coherent than mine, I’m sure):

Picking a Preschool (Momma, PhD)

Universal Prekindergarten: Evidence from the Field (Six Forty Nine)

 

 

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