FFF Friday: “We received very little support during our hell…”

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 ate so much Tofurkey this week that I’m in a psychosomatic triptophan coma. Thus, I don’t have the brain power to write much of a intro to Z’s post. The one thing I do want to point out about this post (aside from it being fantastic overall) is what the author says about loving the concept of formula more than the reality. I bet a lot of parents feel this way, and I definitely could relate to this sentiment when feeding Fearlette. We had trouble finding the right formula for her; it took months of trial and error, and a hefty dose of frustration. But with FC, I’d say the opposite was true – I hated the idea of formula and had a difficult time admitting what a godsend it was for my son, and for me.

I think we have a hard time separating the substance from the idea when it comes to infant feeding, in general. We are breastfeeders or bottle feeders rather than parents feeding our babies specific types of food. We criticize the act of formula feeding with no thought of the substance of formula itself, and its potential to nourish a child. We talk of breastfeeding as a political act, a personal triumph, and a statement on our parenting prowess, and talk of breastmilk as a substance that, separate from the person who produced it, is more medicine than liquidated maternal love. It gets rather confusing for those of us who write about such things, let me tell you.

Anyway- hope you enjoy Z’s unique and brutally honest account, below. (And if you like what you read, be sure to visit Z’s blog.)

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Z’s Story

Exclusive breastfeeding was never an option for me. I’m transgender, and I don’t care to get into what that means here. The part relevant to this story is that it meant I needed chest surgery. I could never have survived a pregnancy without that surgery, and I doubt I would have been able to handle breastfeeding, either. The reason behind my surgery isn’t super relevant, there are so many reasons that people can need to have surgery before they have children, I’m mostly sharing it because not enough people are aware transgender people even can want to have babies or consider breastfeeding. And also because, well, mentioning it is the only way to really explain how I could have this experience despite not being a woman.

That surgery guaranteed that there was no chance I could produce a full supply, or much of any supply for that matter. Given the size of my assets, I had to get a bilateral mastectomy instead of the less invasive keyhole procedure that kept the nipples relatively in-tact and attached, allowing some breastfeeding success. Although I do want to mention that, despite my nipples being surgically removed and grafted back on, through the miracle of re-canalization I was actually able to produce a small amount of milk. Just a few drops two or three times a day- that I expressed into bottles because, hey, if my body’s going to go to all of that trouble, someone’s getting the benefit. I gave up doing this around 6 months. Occasionally I check and they’re still producing a drop or two at a time. I’m still not sure how to feel about that- on the one hand, it’s amazing that they can produce anything, on the other hand it’s a little disappointing just how little they’ve managed. I try not to think about what this might have meant for my pre-surgery supply.

Okay, so, I could not produce a full supply. But, surely, I wouldn’t have to resort to formula. In fact, a lot of people pushed us to use pasteurized breast milk- at $4/ounce. Right now my baby’s taking over 40 oz a day, that’s over $1000 a week. I don’t know where these people think I could get the money! I actually did look into milk sharing. We found a donor that we trusted, and used the supply that she gave us for the first month or so- but I just cannot feel comfortable with finding donor after donor, even though I occasionally look at HM4HB’s offers in the area and hover my mouse over the “message” button. It feels like too much of a gamble. One of the people I spoke to who did this did it during a time that there was a salmonella outbreak in formula- so formula wasn’t exactly safer in that case.

I also can’t really say that breastfeeding is a miracle cure. I was breastfed for 3 years. I have depression and anxiety, fibromyalgia, arthritis, stomach problems, and have since I was a child. My immune system is crap. My partner was also exclusively breastfed for at least 6 months and struggles with obesity, severe allergies, chronic ear infections throughout childhood, and a few other problems that breastfeeding is supposed to prevent. So, between us, we’ve checked off pretty much every problem that formula feeding is supposed to cause- and from breast milk. The “Breast is Best” proponents would argue that we would have been so much worse off with formula. I would argue that statistics aren’t guarantees, and there is far more that effects a person than just breast milk or formula.

Now, I have to be honest. I love the idea of formula in theory. The reality in the US is something I actually hate.  If we could afford it, we’d be importing. It took us 4 months to find the right formula (months I spent praying we wouldn’t need some of the prohibitively expensive ones, as our pediatrician said outright that babies never have problems with formula so we’d never be able to get it prescribed). We tried the soy, the sensitive, the ones with probiotics, nothing worked. We dealt with projectile vomiting, awful gas, a baby screaming through being burped, constipation so bad that watching my baby push reminded me of my own labor, diarrhea that meant a baby who screamed bloody murder immediately after filling a diaper multiple times an hour and diaper rash. I nearly had a complete breakdown because we couldn’t find anything right. It’s really hard to love formula after that. I don’t hate the concept of formula feeding. I hate how awful the reality was. And after ridiculous amounts of research into the ingredients and such in formula, I hate what formula companies in this country get away with putting in our baby bottles.

I finally figured out the right formula for what my baby needs, though, and 2 months later it’s a lot easier to be calm about the whole thing.

Despite how awful formula was on digestion, and the number of hours each day our baby spent crying, formula still wasn’t the end of the world. Although I was terrified the crying would cause stunted development- how can a baby learn and grow while screaming all day?- our baby hit all milestones roughly on time if not early. This kid has always grown like a weed- and I don’t mean getting fat, because the height-weight ratio is quite healthy. This baby went from the 10th percentiles at birth to the 75th. Both of us adults have gotten illnesses that knock us on our butts for over a week, even getting to the point that we needed antibiotics, meanwhile our baby always gets over the same illness in a matter of days with little difficulty. Apparently our anti-bodies are unnecessary. During the wonderful, but too brief, times between crying and sleeping we’ve always had a curious, social, smart baby that’s a joy to be around and who clearly loves us. Even on the best formula we’ve been able to find, our baby’s colicky- as were some of my exclusively breastfed cousins- so crying jags are still something we deal with. They aren’t nearly as severe, though.

We received very little support during our hell. My dad had no experience with exclusively formula feeding. My in-laws are in the UK. My mother and have a very strained relationship, again despite the wonderful 3 years of bonding that breastfeeding guarantees. Despite knowing about my situation and how breastfeeding was unlikely,  none of my health providers told me about how to formula and bottle feed- and also didn’t give me the support I needed to use an at-chest supplementer successfully. They were so attached to their dogma of Breast is Best, Everyone Can Successfully Breastfeed to acknowledge the reality of my situation and give me the information that was actually relevant, and also couldn’t be bothered to give me the support I needed to have a successful breastfeeding relationship. I actually got a lot of pre-natal support about the idea of using an at-chest supplementer, midwives and nurses and even a lactation consultant gushing about how every drop of milk I could give was a gift and that there are so many non-nutritive benefits of breastfeeding. Then the baby came, I wasn’t given the chance to breastfeed after birth by those midwives who’d claimed to be supportive and the same supportive lactation consultant who’d given us the supplementer told us to give up without even showing us how to use the damn thing. I was devastated. if these people had just said “It’s great that you want to try, but I’m afraid I have no experience with this and can’t help you”, I’d at least be realistic about what to expect. Being promised all of that support only to have it ripped out from under me at my most vulnerable? It was cruel.

Bottle and formula have both had a steep and unforgiving learning curve for us. No one told us about nipple flow (we had our baby on a medium flow for the first month- leading to projectile vomiting after every feeding). No one told us about anti-colic bottles (which completely stopped the need for burping, a process that had meant a minimum of ten minutes of screaming after each feeding). No one told us about allergies, sensitivities, intolerances or how to recognize them or what to do about them. Online information about problems like constipation were peppered with snide “Oh, that’s normal for formula fed babies- if you just breastfed it wouldn’t be a problem…”. I already mentioned how useless our pediatrician was.

In the middle of the worst experience of my life, when the only food I could feed my child was causing horrible problems, the only thing anyone could tell me was “Well, if you breastfed like a good parent, this wouldn’t be a problem”.  I now know that isn’t even true, after meeting people who had the exact same problems while breastfeeding.

I would like to say that I started on formula and never looked back- but I can’t. I started on the wrong formula with no guidance on how to find the right one, and spent 4 months feeling like I was poisoning my child, floundering and making matters worse, because no one could bother supporting a lowly formula feeder. Being transgender didn’t even come into it, a lot of the healthcare providers didn’t know and still weren’t any help. It’s hard to shake the feeling that these people think that if you can’t give your baby The Almighty Breast, you don’t even deserve to have a child, as if breastfeeding is the Be All End All of parenting.

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Ready to share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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4 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “We received very little support during our hell…”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. Your baby’s feeding issues sound terrible for both parents and baby. And yes, this could have happened on breast milk or formula. The problem could be genetic if you or your partner were proneto stomach or digestive issues. Who knows? Perserverance. That’s what you have. And it made you a good parent. We all need to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect parent.

  2. Wow, you expressed pretty much exactly what I went through. I’m not transgender, but had a breast reduction operation when I was 19 years old. I’ve had two daughters at age 33 and 39. It’s incredible how little support there is for post-reduction mothers. I tried breastfeeding with both of my daughters, but due to intense frustrations with breastfeeding my first daughter for her first five months, the second time around I was determined to do it for only a few days.

    The pressure to continue breastfeeding, from the nurses, lactation consultants and my mother-in-law was intense, especially this last time (my youngest was born in Sept. 2013)! I really did not want to breastfeed, but was strong-armed into doing it for nearly three weeks. Once my otherwise wonderful and helpful MIL left for home, I relaxed and did exactly what I felt like doing, which was to switch totally to soy formula (we’re all allergic to cow’s milk).

    But it really makes me angry that these professionals ignored my protestations against breastfeeding: that it didn’t work well for me, was way too stressful, and I didn’t want my second daughter to be hospitalized for jaundice like the first one was (because I was advised to exclusively breastfeed, even after reduction surgery).

    I finally had to ask specifically for bottle-feeding information, which consisted of a paltry one-page flyer from each source I asked. There were no details about nipple sizes, choosing bottles, and other issues you mentioned. Breastfeeding mothers get entire, complex, thoughtful books like, “Defining Your Own Success,” for BFAR (breastfeeding after reduction) moms, and “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.” Somebody at least needs to put together a little bound book for those of us who choose to or need to use formula for our children.

    I did really love breastfeeding both of my daughters, as far as the sweet bonding went. There is something to be said for providing sustenance from oneself directly to one’s child. But there’s also so much to be said about being able to look directly into my daughter’s eyes while she eats, to actually not fear that she will starve or become underweight or sick.

    I’m a much better mother when not stressed, and my husband is a much better father when we both are not so stressed!

    Thanks for posting your story. These experiences need to be heard! So glad I found this site.

    Best wishes and health to you and your family!

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