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 is Fearlette’s birthday, so I’m obviously thinking a lot about her birth. For those of you who were around 3 years ago, you’ll remember how I opted to formula feed her pretty much from the start. It was a decision I have sometimes felt sad about, but never second-guessed. I feel sad that I missed out on nursing her – something I really wanted to do – but do not regret making a choice which, at the time, was the only way I could guarantee her a mom who was fully present. Time is like Photoshop; it’s so easy to gloss over the imperfections and idealize events that happened in the past. But even five years later, I have a clear memory of what it was like to be failing to nourish my first born. I can still feel the pain in my breast; tiny lightning bolts from the neuropathy that plagued me while he tried, unsuccessfully, to latch. I can still hear the bwaomb-bwaomb-bwaomb echo of my own heartbeat, pounding in my ears, drowning out my child’s desperate, angry cries.
But Fearlette’s birth brought other memories. Memories of her sweet mouth, her scent, the feel of her snuggled against my chest. Memories of laughter and funny photos and the first time her eyes focused on mine. These memories may have happened if I’d nursed her. But formula allowed me a sure thing. The right medications, the right mindset. I can’t regret that, even if I feel sad that I wasn’t able to have the breastfeeding relationship I wanted.
And this is why I chose to publish Lisa’s story tonight, in honor of my little girl. Because, like Lisa says, I was a better mother to her because I bottle fed. And the more of us who stand up and admit this, the less of us will waste our time feeling inferior, guilty, and abnormal.
Happy Friday, fearless ones (and happy birthday Fearlette),
I like to think of myself as a “naturalist”. I have lots of hippie friends, I eat granola in the morning (which I make myself), I opted not to take the free prenatal classes provided by the government and pay out of pocket for a series of classes provided by a doula, I was committed to having a natural birth, I camp, I believe in yoga, you get the picture. So as my due date fast approached, I didn’t even given breastfeeding a thought. Actually, I did give it a thought, only it was, “Of course I’ll nurse, why wouldn’t I?”
Enter my beautiful son. One week early. Best day of my life. And guess what? I caved. I had an epidural, they gave me the drugs, I had a great delivery, I had a son! Then over the next 24 hours my little guy latched like a champ, pooped like a champ, cuddled like a champ and was just perfect. Me, on the other hand, was elated, but physically damaged. I had 15 stitches due to an episiotomy (which my doula friend would have been appalled by, but it was a procedure that my nurse said probably saved me a dreaded 3rd degree tear), I had raging hemmerrhoids caused by my all-star pushing. I was exhausted and in pain.
We got home and it was difficult to sit down due to the pain. When my girlfriends came over and reassured me that these first few days would be okay because I could “just sit in bed and have your hubby bring you the baby to nurse every hour”, I thought, “sitting is absolute torture right now!” I couldn’t sit comfortably in the glider I spent my life savings on, our leather couch was simply unbearable, the bed we just bought to help with my back pain was so high off the ground I had to grit my teeth just to roll into bed for a 20 minute nap. I was scared to drink too much because going to the bathroom was excruciating (from all the above ailments, especially the episiotomy), and I wasn’t eating right, my appetite that was hearty all my pregnancy was now reduced to nothing. So the water and oatmeal that would have boosted my milk supply was not getting into my body. The time sitting down I needed to let my boy latch and eat was beyond difficult. Everyone and their mother was dropping in to visit, me putting on the fake smile, my breasts everywhere, milk barely dripping out, the baby crying, my hubby helpless, the constant advice, the barrage of gifts and phonecalls.. AHHHHHH!!! It was overwhelming, awful. It was a time I don’t want to rememember. It was probably the most sad I’ve ever been, the most isolated I’ve ever felt, even amongst the throngs of people in and out of my house.
And even with my little guy’s champion latch, he wasn’t getting much. I would pump then feed, feed then pump, hot shower and feed, massage my breasts, poke my breasts, literally squeeze them until they were bruised and still, the guy was starving. Now I’m not a small lady- I’m tall, relatively athletic, healthy, hearty. My boy at 7lbs, 7 oz wasn’t a tiny thing, but he became one. His eyes yellowed with jaundice and looked vacant, his arms became little sticks and he became lethargic. I was feeding for 1.5 hours, sleeping for 30 minutes then waking again to feed. Still he wasn’t thriving. I went to the doctor and she was concerned about his weight. In my head was my doula friend- “it’s okay if they lose weight! Don’t let anyone tell you you have to supplement. He will thrive eventually. This is the best way”. I believed most of what she said until I looked at my skinny little angry, starving baby. I went home, my hubby mixed up some sample formula, heated it up and stuck it right in his mouth. Chug. Chug. Chug. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. He looked up at me and smiled with his eyes, and didn’t break the latch with the bottle until it was gone. He slept. He was satiated. I was happy. My husband was happy. I slept. Relief…
I did keep feeding him with my breast…. 1.5 hours here, 2 hours there. I’d pump in between, I’d wake up at night to pump, I’d pump one boob and feed with the other, I’d hand express and catch it in a cup. I was a breast milk super woman! A superwoman who could never nurse until my boy was full, and a superwoman who could only pump no more than 2 oz each time. But yet I wouldn’t stop. I got 2 bouts of Mastitis, was on meds. Meds made my milk taste funny apparently, and little guy hated it. I pumped and dumped. It cleared and he latched well again, but by then my supply was comically low. My hippie friends said if my supply was low, just to nurse for comfort. Let him suck for an hour, get up, heat a bottle, let him drink and then give him my breast again. I did that for weeks. I still pumped, too. It was, plain and simply, exhausting. I brought my breast pump everywhere, including two weddings. All for 2 oz of milk that I mixed with formula.
Then it went from exhausting to completely unsustainable.
How could I do this for a year? How would I ever make dinner, cuddle with my hubby, see my girlfriends or go out ever again? I’m social, I’m active. But I started to retreat. I didn’t want to go anywhere where there was other moms because explaining my feeding choices and schedule was exhausting. I would go for drives because I knew he would sleep, and then go home and start the 3 hour feedings process again. As my stitches started to heal and the ‘roids gone, I DID feel more able to sit for longer periods of time, but I started to question how good this was for my son’s development. He would eat and sleep, eat and sleep. He was never “playing”, I feel like I never saw his face because it was stuffed on my boob for hours on end. I wanted him to smile, I wanted him to be full, I wanted to not hear the drone of my breast pump, I wanted to be liberated from this schedule.
That’s when it hit me. Liberation. Freedom. Choice. What the heck was I doing to myself? I fancy myself a feminist, but I’m deliberately putting myself in the most restrictive of situations as possible. I wasn’t being myself. I was straight up lying to other women to save the “embarrassment” of not exclusively breastfeeding. I was my own worst nightmare. But what came most abundantly clear to me 3 months post-partum was that I wasn’t enjoying my son. I wasn’t bonding like they said I would, I wasn’t overjoyed at giving him this “gift” of breast milk, I was resentful at myself for being such a failure. I was a faulty human, I thought. I was weak. I was a quitter. This is what was going through my head. I battled with it constantly.
So I stopped. Cold turkey. I asked my hubby to collect my breast pump supplies and put them away. And never looked back.
Guess what? My son didn’t notice. He loves the formula, and I love that I can see his eyes while he eats. I love sneaking around the corner and seeing my hubby tell him ridiculous stories while feeding him. I love how I can easily leave him with his grandparents so I can go to the gym (returning to the gym has done wonders for my sanity, by the way- this, above all, has been such a welcome advantage of being boob-free). I love seeing the joy of my sister, who is having trouble conceiving her own little one, feed my son and adore him. I love how he’s thriving. I love how he’s happy. I love that I cuddle with my husband during those moments where previously I’d be pumping. I love going for walks with the time I used to spend sitting endlessly while he sucked and got almost no milk. I feel human again.
I’m a better mother now that I bottle feed. And no lactation consultant, nurse, blog, google search, friend or medical study can tell me that breast feeding trumps being a better more active, lively, loving, doting and happy mother.