FFF Friday: “I felt like I did not have a say in the matter.”

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.

One of the criticisms we’ve been getting about #ISupportYou is that we are over-simplifying what breastfeeding advocates do; that women shouldn’t be made to feel better about or given less emotive information about formula use, but rather we should simply get angry at the formula-hawking system that failed us. We’ve been told that what needs to change is our formula friendly culture, and no one is really being pressured to breastfeed.
To those critics, I offer the following FFF Friday story, from Marnie. Read it and tell me that things do not need to change when it comes to how we approach infant feeding policy and advocacy in our culture.  Tell me she was booby trapped. 
Seriously, tell me. 
As moms, we need to stand together to say enough is enough to the insanity. There must be a middle ground. We can’t allow new mothers to live in the type of fear and pain that Marnie did. We just can’t. Things have to change, and soon. 
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
Marnie’s Story
I’ve been reading the FFF blog, and I cry over every story shared by every mum. Reading over my own story, I feel angry at myself for letting me go through this, but most of all I feel jealous of all mothers who breastfeed (I sometimes stare at them in public when their babies latch so easily and they look so happy) but I also feel jealous towards mother who chose to formula fed from the start who did not have to go through the disappointment of wanting to but not being able to do this supposedly natural thing. I used to think I felt guilty over not being able to breastfeed but I have realised that this emotion I am feeling is not guilt, but rather I feel left out, I feel that everyone around me is part of this wonderful breastfeeding club where I am not allowed in as I did not try hard enough.
I am originally from South Africa and moved to Auckland about 5 months before giving birth to my baby boy, now almost 10 months old. I always planned on breastfeeding,  I was breastfeed until I was over 2 years old and so were both my brothers.  My mum was part of La Leche League and absolutely loved breastfeeding us. She is the reason I tried so hard: I did not want to dissapoint my mother.
Isaac was born 12 days late, the day before I was scheduled for an induction.  I gave birth at a birthing centre in Auckland with the help of my midwives and only gas as pain relief. We had immediate skin to skin and my midwife helped to latch him for his first feed before I was even moved from the birth unit. Apparently I had a great supply of colostrum. The birthing centre is very pro-breastfeeding; every feed a nurse or midwife would come and help me latch him, every one of them showed me a different way and gave me new tricks. I thought it was going great, it did hurt but everyone said his latch was great. On the second day my nipples started cracking and bleeding. No one was very concerned. I kept on feeding through the pain, every 2 to 3 hours for 20 minutes each side. I asked for pain pills (my midwife told me she put something in my chart about pain relief I could have if my stitches gave me problems as I had a horrible episiotomy) but was told by the very helpful nurse that I’m not allowed. They also forgot to check my platelets as I was very dizzy and lost a lot of blood. I realised that even though this is a baby friendly hospital they were not mother friendly at all, and after that I rarely asked for help with breastfeeding and instead use Google on my phone. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
As we just moved countries a few months ago we lived with my parents and younger brother who came over with us. I had lots of support as my dad is retired so I basically had a full time helper. My mum and husband also had a few weeks off from work after the birth so I had so much help that I could completely on concentrate on learning to breastfeed.
My mom, the great breastfeeding advocate was shocked when she saw my nipples once I got out of the hospital but she assured me that it could only get better.  It did not. My nipples just kept on getting worse and I could never get a good latch, even though it looked great once I get him on he would take a few sips and would promptly lose the latch. At home I could take all the painkillers I wanted to without being frowned upon so I was in the max of two different types that were safe for breastfeeding.  I remember how I panicked if Isaac woke up for a feed before I had a change to take my pills. The painkillers made it bearable to feed a baby with almost no skin left on your nipples but it also made it harder to distinguish between a good and a bad latch.
In New Zealand maternity care under a midwife is free and she is responsible for you and your baby until he is 6 weeks old. I had a wonderful midwife who visited me every few days. She commented how bad my nipples looked but never once suggested that I should stop breastfeeding.  In those first few days she once asked me if I had any ideas on what I was going to do and if I really wanted to breastfeed, and in hindsight she might have wanted me to ask about formula. I was too scared of being judged as an unfit mother and in my sleep deprived state I thought that it was a trick question.
One night after probably a week or so of being home I could not get Isaac to latch. Earlier that day my midwife suggested that I try using nipple shields to see if that would help with the pain. Isaac had one feed with them which was great but after that he did not want to cooperate and I was in so much pain and so scared of him hurting me that my mum took him and I hand expressed. I expressed into a sterilized cup and my mum fed the milk to him with a spoon. We didn’t own one bottle so this was the best I could do. It got us through the night and I phoned my midwife the next morning and she suggested skin to skin contact as much as possible. Isaac and I spent a full day in bed with him in only a nappy and me naked from the waist up. A few hours later I got him to latch. Success, or so I thought. But I still had very painful nipples and a few days later I developed a red warm patch on my right breast. I phoned my midwife immediately and she diagnosed mastitis over the phone and left a prescription for antibiotics at our nearest pharmacy.  Two days later it was in my left breast as well. Luckily it was caught early and apart from being really painful (but nothing compared to how my nipples were feeling) and feeling a bit weak and feverish it was not too bad.
My mum and dad bought me an electric breast pump so that I could pump every second feed instead of having Isaac feed directly from me in an attempt to get my nipples to heal a bit. Before I could even use it we had another bump in the road. Isaac lost a fair amount of weight in the hospital about 8% but we were sure he would gain it back fairly quickly. After two weeks my midwife was worried when he was still not back at his birth weight. He had lots of wet nappies (or so I thought) but no dirty nappies apart from a few meconium once in the hospital. She asked me to pump after every feed and give that to him as a top up. Luckily I had a brand new breast pump, but I got almost no milk from it. The next day be had still not gained anything.  That is when she said that I would have to give him a formula top up. She made up his first formula bottle in one of the only two bottles I had that came with my breast pump. Isaac of course gulped the formula down. I cried afterwards as I thought how he was perfect when he was born and now I had let him starve and filled him with poison. Now I can’t believe how irrational I was and how I let myself be influenced by others. He had his first real wet nappy after that, a nappy that actually felt wet and full. Looking back at photos I can’t believe how thin he was, I just thought I had a naturally thin baby now I realise that he was actually starving.
My midwife refered me to a lactation consultant that I saw that same day. She helped me with my latch and gave a few tips to help boost my supply. At this stage my nipples was too far gone so I decided to pump for a few days and just feed Isaac my milk with a bottle. I thought I would get him back on the breast in a few days.  I had to give him formula top ups as well as I could only pump about half of the milk he needed.  My midwife got me a hospital grade rental pump so that I could pump both sides at the same time. Slowly my supply increased but my nipples were still not improving. After a week of no improvement I stopped using the lanolin nipple cream that I religiously applied after each feed from the very first feed. Within hours my nipples started improving. I continued pumping, too scared of breastfeeding to try to latch my baby again. I stopped resenting my baby for being hungry. After 3 weeks I could start bonding with him. This was also the first time that I could hold him close without being in pain. Before I struggled to hold him as I was in too much pain. I kept on pumping, still scared of giving him only formula.
Everyone told me how proud they were of me for doing this but I hated them saying that. I did not want to stand out, I wanted to be part of the breastfeeding club. This made me feel like a freak. I was not proud of myself, I felt ashamed, ashamed that I couldn’t breastfeed and ashamed that I did not have the courage to formula feed. I knew formula was okay, but somewhere deep within me I was so scared that formula was not okay. I cried whenever I saw a formula ad and it started with the words ‘breastfeeding is the best for babies’ or when I tried to read up on what type of formula to use and everywhere it just tells me how good breastfeeding is for my baby. I felt like I did not have a say in the matter.
I pumped for 5 months before I decided to stand up for myself. I realised that I have a baby but I have almost no relationship with him. My days consisted of pumping milk and changing diapers while my dad fed and played with him. My baby slept through the night but I had to wake up in the middle of the night to pump. One day I just couldn’t do it anymore and I stopped.
My son is healthy. He is intelligent.  He is strong. He is happy. And importantly his mom is also healthy and happy. And we have fun together as I’m not hooked up to a pump all the time. I used to believe breast is best, now I believe happy mom=happy baby.
I want more children but most likely I will formula feed right from the beginning.  I am scared of the judgment of this choice but I am even more scared of the disappointment in myself if I tried to breastfeed a second time and it does not work.
If you have a story you’d like to share for FFF Friday, please email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. Your voice, and your experience, matters. 

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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