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’s FFF Friday will probably cause a fair bit of controversy, but I think it’s extremely important to hear from women who made a conscious choice not to breastfeed, despite being educated about the benefits. And just like Nicole’s piece from last week, Amy’s story is brutally honest – and brutal honesty can sometimes offend. But in order for us to create real, positive change, we need that kind of honesty. We need women like Amy to say hey, this is my story, this is my truth, and I’m not asking you to approve of it, but simply to hear it, and accept that I have every right to make my own decision. It takes bravery and a strong sense of self to be on both the speaking and listening side of that type of conversation.
I am confident that the FFF audience has both those traits, in spades. So I’m going to let you all go to it, since my 2.5-year-old is getting uncomfortably close to an overly full cereal box….
Happy Friday, fearless ones.
I’m proud to say that I’m one of those 30% who didn’t try breastfeeding, and this is my story about feeding. Pre-pregnancy I viewed breastfeeding as archaic and unnecessary, something only modern hippies did. It was something that people did back in the day, but because they didn’t have a better option (sort of like why would you use an outhouse, if indoor plumbing is available?) It’s much easier to judge these things before you become pregnant (remember this was when your imaginary kids were always well behaved and clean). And I was surprised the first time I was pregnant how popular breastfeeding was, because I still couldn’t understand why you would choose to breastfeed. Then I started getting the books, the magazines, and visiting all the mommy-to-be websites. I learned how much better it breastfeeding is, and how really good moms always breastfeed. But I was still unsure – my siblings and I were all formula fed, we seemed healthy and normal enough, was breastfeeding really some sort of magic to have instantly better babies? Deep down though, I still felt breastfeeding was wrong for me, so I continued to prepared to formula feed.
But then, these thoughts ran through my head…But what about the cost? I was going to be on maternity leave for 12 weeks with only two weeks of paid leave at 60%, could we get by with spending $20-30 per can of formula? Even when I tried to research how much formula I would need at first, once again breastfeeding came up, because if I was a good mom I won’t need formula. In fact one site told me, that if I was adopting I could pump myself full of hormones so that I could breastfeed…is that even healthy? This made me a little suspicious, would pumping yourself full of hormones really be better? That’s when I decided to do a cost analysis for the the first 5 months of my baby’s life (3 months of maternity leave, 2 months to get our budget back in place (haha, as if this really happens after baby). I found out that I only saved $10, and I also found out that the idea of breastfeeding really upset me, made me nauseous, and I was almost in tears by the end of the cost analysis. That’s when I told my husband, who had been hearing the same breast as best propaganda, that I didn’t want to breastfeed, that it seemed unnatural for me. I felt it was worth the extra $10 to be able to enjoy motherhood and to not feel sick about feeding my baby. He was concerned about the health risks, so I promised him, that I would wait and see after giving birth how I felt, since maybe once you give birth you suddenly have the desire to breastfeed, and maybe that’s when it seems natural?
I arrived at the hospital at 6am on October 4th, 2011 to be induced since my son was taking his time (9 days late). After spending most of the day in between sleepiness, hunger (I’ve never been so happy to eat lime jello in my life), watching a lot of law and order, and starting the early stages of labor, I woke up to find two nurses and my doctor breaking my water. My son’s heart monitor had gone off and they needed to use an internal monitor. At this point I was at 2cm after using Cytotec for induction all day. I had started the systemic drugs, and was feeling pretty loopy. The doctor gave us two options, have a c-section now, or try the Pitocin, but probably have a c-section. I honestly felt drunk, I couldn’t make a decision I didn’t plan on having a c-section – I’m one of 5, my dad is one of 8, women in my family are very good at having babies, I was going to try to avoid the epidural, so I didn’t even think a c-section could happen to me. I told my husband to make a decision, and he said he couldn’t on his own, so I told him to call my mom. To my surprise, they opted for the c-section. After a bit of time, my 9.5lbs, 23.5 inch long son joined us and I instantly loved him. But that desire to breastfeed never came. Luckily, the hospital I delivered at did not judge me on my feeding method. I was asked breast or bottle, and then after choosing bottle, what brand. My heart goes out to those mothers who are forced to try one feeding method or another.
The thing that amazed me the most was the public assumption that I would breastfeed. Co-workers would let me know that our insurance would cover some pumps (I told them I was on my husband’s insurance to avoid this conversation . People would ask my how my son was taking to nursing, and I would quickly explain to them that he had trouble with regular formula, so they switched him to soy at the hospital.. When I returned back to work I was informed that if I needed to use the mother’s room to talk to HR to get a key (just to make this clear, they locked the door because they caught people napping in there, not to deter mothers who want to nurse.) It was so strange to me that others would assume that I was breastfeeding, especially those who had children.
A few weeks after my son was born, I joined a mommy support group sponsored by the hospital. We shared stories of birth, pregnancy, late night feedings, and general adjustment to our new lives. It seemed like everyone was breastfeeding, but I was not alone – two of my new mommy friends also formula fed. As the weeks went by, I watched many of my fellow moms struggle with breastfeeding and by the end of the six weeks many of them were on formula. It pained me to see them so upset that breastfeeding wasn’t working for them, I have a lot of respect for breastfeeding moms, it sounds exhausting. I didn’t realize how much guilt they would experience, since to me, formula was the best choice, and honestly, as long as your child is eating, does it matter?
Further along into my adventure into motherhood, I finally understood the guilt felt by these mothers. Not that I felt guilty for choosing formula, but I hated that some circles of mothers would make me feel less than. Talking to other new moms after a library story hour, when to their horror they found out my child was formula fed. Clearly I was uninformed, didn’t I know how amazing breastfeeding was? How was I going to bond with my child? Wasn’t I concerned that I was increasing my child’s chance of cancer, infertility, gastric problems, and ear infections? Clearly, I’m a terrible mother. Then slowly, the circle of moms got smaller, where I physically was no longer part of the circle. How could I relate? I couldn’t talk about how many ounces of milk I had in my freezer, my child’s favorite nursing position, or how I was going to nurse for 3 million years. I now understood why the moms who couldn’t breastfeed felt guilty, they were pushed out of circle, but not by choice. And apparently, formula feeding is a slippery slope, next thing you know I’ll give my baby fast food and cigarettes, because I can’t be trusted to make healthy choices for my child.
I hate that there is a group out there that has decided that formula feeders are lazy and/or uninformed. I am neither, I’m the one up at 3 am scrubbing bottles because in exhaustion we forgot to clean them before bed. I’m the one carrying six canisters of formula and a baby through Target. I’m the one making sure I have bottles filled with water and filled formula container along with diapers, wipes, toys, pacifiers, and a change of clothes. This was my choice, because breastfeeding was not the best choice for my family. I won’t have the luxury of finding it funny that I woke up in the middle of the night with a baby on my breast, because my husband stuck the baby on there when it woke him up. I will not get to gossip with all my friends about how amazing breast milk is on cradle cap, poison ivy, or eye infections. But I love cuddling, playing, and snuggling with child without having a barrier of the obligation to breastfeed – something that I felt would make me resent my child.
I’m pregnant with my second child, and this time I wanted to be prepared. I plan on choosing formula again, and I want to be able to prove I’ve done my research next time I get kicked out of a circle. I hope someday we can get to a point where we all realize that what’s normal is feeding your baby is normal and it doesn’t really matter where it comes from. That we stop indoctrination of moms with information about what is best, but give them the realities of the situation. The important thing is to feed your child, safely, and that no matter what you do, someday your kid will get sick. Food is not a magic health solution. You will bond with your child if you pay attention to him or her. Lastly, you are not less of a person because you made a different choice or had to give up your original choice. You are a good mom, because you meet your child’s primary needs of love, care, and comfort, not because of one parenting choice.
Have a story you’d like to share for FFF Friday? Email it to me at email@example.com.