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 brought news of more inaccurate, scare-mongering infant feeding information coming from the governmental level. It also brought a few choice Facebook comments from people who didn’t quite understand the purpose of FFF – one of whom asked the quintessential question, “Why can’t you just own up that you made the choice to feed the baby how you wanted and not blame it on a sign or nurses trying to help and give you facts?”
Well, sure. We could just “own up” to our own choices, and not give a damn that so many women are hurting, struggling, and hating themselves due to a campaign which has irresponsibly ignored the lived realities of many mothers; a campaign which prides itself on making women hold themselves up to certain standards, with no regard for what upholding those standards might do to their sense of self worth or to their quality of life. We could “not blame it on a sign or nurses trying to help (us) and give (us) facts”, but that would require us to be of sound mind and body, so that we are capable of resisting a specific, insidious type of coercion. And very few women are of sound mind and body immediately after giving birth, especially when that birth is traumatic or, due to current ideals about birth “experiences”, already feeling vulnerable and less-than because they ended up with interventions that were not in their birth plan.
I’m sick to death of the hypocrisy. Why is it “kosher” in today’s pseudo-feminist parenting blogosphere to rail against the medical system for disrespecting our birth choices or our later parenting choices, but when the issue is formula feeding, we ignore the patriarchal, paternalistic tone of public health messaging? I don’t doubt that the pressure to breastfeed has a negative effect on women’s mental health, and yet the only time breastfeeding is mentioned in discussions of perinatal depression is as a protective factor. How can we ignore the stories of women like Jessica – women who are fighting so hard to breastfeed, not because they want to, but because they feel they have to?
Things are getting worse, not better. This is not an issue of formula vs breast. This is an issue of maternal mental health, of women’s rights, and personal, physical autonomy. And that is why I, for one, can’t let it go – even though I am well past the formula feeding years. I don’t want to read more stories like Jessica’s, but they fill up my inbox every day, each one infuriatingly similar. These women matter. They matter at least as much as a few extra (hypothetical) IQ points, at least as much as one or two (hypothetical) ear infections. Because their pain is not hypothetical; it is real, and it is raw, and it matters.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
My breastfeeding vs. formula story goes back to even before I was pregnant with my first son. My older sister had just given birth to her second beautiful daughter and I remember hearing her say in passing that she never enjoyed breastfeeding but that it was so important she would stick it out for the minimum 6months that the doctors recommended for her. Her second daughter happened to have colic and acid reflux to boot, so the happy bonding breastfeeding experience was a far cry from her actual mind-numbing child crying filled days. However, she did stick it out and breastfed for 6 months. I remember thinking, “How on earth could you not absolutely love breastfeeding? It’s the most natural way to feed your baby and it is really only the best option to feed your child.”
I come from a long line of breastfeeding gurus. My sister breastfed. My mother breastfed all four of us. Her mother breastfed. I’m sure that her mother’s mother breastfed, going back generations. So, of course, when I was pregnant with my first son. There was no other option. I would be the best, most loving, breastfeeding mother on the planet. I would love it! And, not only would I love it. I would breastfeed until well past the first year of age. That was my blissfully, ignorant, and unrealistic goal for myself. So, when my son was born, set on my chest, and latched like he had been feeding his entire existence, I thought we were golden. Then he slept for 6 hours. I had nurses in my room every two hours trying to wake him up to get him to feed. Undress him to the diaper, latch, asleep. Get yourself and him completely naked, latch asleep. Cold water on the back and feet, latch, asleep. When he did finally decide to wake up to eat (on his own mind-you) he had so much trouble getting latched and staying latched that it took me nearly an hour, and four hands just to feed him.
“Don’t worry,” I told myself. I had gone to breastfeeding classes and they had said it could take up to 6 weeks for a newborn to get the hang of breastfeeding.
Week one: Trouble staying latched long enough to eat, and then when he is latched he falls asleep almost instantly so I’m constantly waking him up to feed him for the next hour. However, thankfully, no severe nipple pain yet. My mother would stand next to the bed and help me latch him for a half an hour and then would help me keep him awake.
Week 2-6: Tears of exhaustion and frustration as I try to get him to latch for 30 minutes before success and then he would eat!!
Week 6-12: Breastfeeding bliss.
Week 12-16: Knife stabbing, nipple ripping pain, that no doctor or lactation consultant could figure out.
There is a level of humiliation when you are having trouble breastfeeding, and you have to strip down to the torso and show the entire free-living world how you breastfeed your child. I caledl my local le leche league, who proceeded to tell me that it was probably a yeast infection and told me to go get some of this purple crap, that only stained my boobs and my child’s face and mouth dark purple, so to add insult to injury, I now had explain why my son’s mouth was purple, and it still didn’t work.
At the lactation consultant’s office, stripped down to the torso, with a pillow to help prop my son closer to my breast.
“Your latch looks beautiful.”
“Are you sure?” As my toes are cringed inside my shoes and I am biting my cheek to avoid screaming in that tiny enclosed space.
“Yes, it’s perfect. You aren’t running a fever, and there are no lumps in your breasts, so you don’t have an infection. Maybe, call your doctor and have him check for a yeast infection.”
Again, with the yeast infection theory…..
Doctor’s office. Now I have to explain to him why my nipples are purple and my son’s face is the same shade. No yeast infection. “Try this pain medication, maybe it will take the edge off enough for you to continue to breastfeed.”
Prescription and hopes, completely dashed against the rocks into tiny fragments. The pain is only getting worse and no one can tell me why. I am starting to dread those feedings, melting down in tears whenever my wee son would give any indication he was hungry. Back to the doctor. Once again, stripped down to have everyone inspect my latching.
“He’s latching perfectly.”
“It is probably a neuropathy.”
What?! “You can get neuropathy in your nipples?”
“You can get neuropathy anywhere there are nerves in your body.”
“So what do I do about this?”
“Well, I can give you a prescription for the neuropathy, but would require you to ween. Or, you could just ween him and that will probably clear up the neuropathy on it’s own.”
So my only options were to ween. I was completely heartbroken, but with my husband’s logic and my doctors recommendation, I weened my son at 4 months old, long before the “well past one year” that I had hoped and dreamed of.
I went out and bought the formula, gave him his first bottle, and cried the entire time I fed him. I was the worst mother ever, for not just sticking through the pain and feeding him what was surely best for him. I cried for that entire week I weened him to the bottle. I wept tears of regret and guilt for not being able to give my son “the best”.
Then, a month later, after my son had started to gain weight back and I realized that he was growing and happy and healthy, that formula was the best option for us. I was not in pain, dreading each feeding, and he was growing and the most bonded baby boy ever. I hadn’t lost anything, but gained my sanity, my body, my mind, and my boy back before I started down a very hard and destructive road. But I never, fully got over the little mommy guilt that says, “You didn’t try hard enough.”
Fast forward 2 years, my second son is born. I am determined to breastfeed him for the entire year, but knowing my past experience, this may be an upward battle. I was told from the beginning that he was tongue-tied, but no one ever said anything about this being a death sentence for breastfeeding if it was not taken care of. My doctor recommended that we don’t do anything for it, he will probably grow out of it. Exact same breastfeeding issues only this time, the excruciating pain came the first week home. Crying tears of failure, my husband loving says that we can ween him just like we weened my first born. No, I’m determined. I start looking up information about tongue-tie and discovered that it is difficult for a baby to latch properly to breastfeed effectively, causing him frustration and the mother pain. Wait a second, this was the same pain that I experienced with my first born and no one had said he was tongue-tied. (Come to find out, he is, just farther back where no one can see it).
I call my doctor. We are taking care of this tongue-tie. I am not failing this time. Tongue-tie snipped, and my son was nursing beautifully, but now he’s nursing every hour on the hour for 45 minutes at a time. Seriously?! Now no pain, but extreme, “sleep for 3 hours after breastfeeding” exhaustion, that cannot be allowed with an active 2 year old boy. This time, there is slow seeping depression. I can feel it creeping in. I am dreading feedings again, only for different reasons this time. My body, and my time are completely demanded of me, with the added bonus of acid reflux and gas making my boy fussy and unable to sleep except when attached to my chest in an upright position, and spit-up that could make the little girl in “The Exorcist” jealous. I recognize this place. I was here exactly 2 years ago, buying formula because enough was enough. Feeling the same guilt I felt then, trying to suppress the knowledge that I know where this ends. It ends with formula, and I am somewhat relieved.
Let your voice be heard – email me your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.