Guest Post from Jessica of The Leaky Boob: Tough Love

I’m cross-posting this excellent piece from Jessica Martin-Weber, creator of The Leaky Boob, because… well, I think that will be obvious once you read it. THIS is what #ISupportYou is about. THIS is what the FFF community stands for. Working together to ensure that all mothers are supported. Not pushing breastfeeding on those who don’t want to; not cutting down breastfeeding to make ourselves “feel better’ about formula feeding; not advocating for one method over another…. It’s about helping mothers feel confident and educated and celebrated for doing the best they can for their families and themselves. Jessica is a wonderful example of what true breastfeeding support can and should be. and the fact that she is taking a stand against someone who is harming both her community and ours (and of course, they often intersect, since so many of us are not firmly entrenched in specific “camps” like some would have us believe) is seriously awesome. 

So enjoy.  And share. 

– The FFF

***
by Jessica Martin-Weber

Sometimes tough love is necessary, sometimes people getting in your face, calling you names, and yelling at you totally works as motivation. Usually motivation to punch them in the throat but hey it’s motivation. Entire “reality” TV shows have been built on this premise: you can scream troubled teens onto the right path, personal trainers can belittle overweight individuals into exercise and healthy eating, and business moguels can rant apprentices into savvy executives. In spite of all the studies that show that shaming doesn’t actually provide any kind of lasting intrinsic motivation, countless parents, self-help gurus, educators, and others in positions of influence and authority resort to shaming in a desperate attempt to inspire positive change. Sometimes tough love really isn’t tough love, it’s a power trip down false-sense-of-superiority lane.

Even those purporting to support families. Birth, breastfeeding, and, ironically, gentle parenting advocates, far too often resort to shaming other parents. Because that makes sense, something negative is going to have a lasting, positive impact. Undermining parents’ confidence surely is going to result in change for the better, right?

Wrong.

It may get your website page views, it may increase your “talking about” numbers on Facebook, it may even get people pinning your content on Pinterest. But helping people? Not likely. Inspiring them to do something different? Maybe but that may just be to ignore any information or support because it all starts to feel like an attack. I’m not talking about guilt here (though wishing guilt on people is just nasty) but rather intentionally belittling, mocking, and dismissing others in order to induce shame and build a false sense of superiority. Guilt is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that what they did was wrong, shame is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over their personal ability of perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that who they are is wrong. Shaming is intentionally trying to make someone not only feel guilt but to internalize it as believing that somehow they are bad/lazy/stupid/unloving/pathetic/unloveable/worthless as a result. Ultimately, shaming comes from a desire to see someone feel bad about themselves.

It’s disgusting. And it doesn’t work to motivate people to change their actions. It isn’t education, it isn’t support, it is really nothing more than abuse.

I’ve shared before that I’m not really passionate about breastfeeding. I mean, I am, but I’m not actually passionate about breastfeeding. What I am passionate about is people and personally, I don’t see how you can actually be passionate about breastfeeding but not be passionate about people. To do so would mean that you care less about people than you do about being heard as right. Do you know what happens with that kind of passion? It hurts people and detracts from the message you are trying to promote. That kind of passion becomes easy to dismiss at best, damaging at worst.

The Leaky Boob isn’t about that kind of passion. The information, images, stories, and interactions we share are meant to inspire and encourage people. While we can’t control nor are we responsible for the emotions of others, we don’t intentionally try to manipulate others’ feelings. Underlying everything at TLB is respect and the belief that with genuine support and information, women are perfectly capable as mothers to make the best decisions for their families based on the information and resources available to them in their individual circumstances. We don’t assume to know what that looks like for anyone.

So it was with horror that we discovered an image of one of our own volunteer admins originally shared on The Leaky Boob Facebook page and then on theleakyboob.com had been turned into a vehicle intended to shame, belittle, and attack certain mothers. An image that was shared to inspire and encourage, to give someone the platform to share their own personal story and breastfeeding journey, had been used as a vile expression of superiority intended to hurt others. Words were applied to this image communicating the very opposite of what TLB and Serena, the woman pictured, stand for as a community. Without permission, Serena’s image was used to spread a message she in no way condones aligning her with those that would bully others.

This message is not approved TAP serena

I’m not going to lie, I am incensed. For my friend, for my community, and for those hurt by this image, I am outraged. Disgusted.

The person that perverted this image stole Serena’s photo and manipulated it in order to send a shaming message to formula feeders. In a statement to me Serena expressed that she felt violated and used. Not only that, but as a woman that has both breastfed and formula fed, Serena’s own image was used to attack a group of women to which she belongs as well.

When I opened FB this morning to a message from a concerned friend with a link to this meme I was shocked. Shocked that MY photo, a photo of a tender moment, could be used in such a hateful, disparaging way. To see that it was posted 28 weeks ago only makes it worse. All this time MY photo has been circulating with such a hurtful message, a message that I would NEVER propagate. Belittling or negating someone else’s breastfeeding issues or choices is not beneficial for anyone. As mothers we all do what we believe is best for our children. Even though our opinions may differ due to choice or circumstance. I am not a breastfeeding martyr, I have used formula in conjunction with breastfeeding when needed. What was important was that I was able to mother my son in the way I wanted to, due to the SUPPORT I received. Support is something that was lacking in the making of this meme. I do not condone the use of my photo in this way. ~Serena Tremblay

 

As far as we can tell, the image was originally posted to The Alpha Parent’s Pinterest board “Dear Formula Feeder,” don’t go check it out, it is a virtual collection of putrid hate filled shaming refuse. Nobody needs to see that. There has been no response to our two email attempts requesting the image be removed and destroyed (and never shared again) and so Serena has followed Pinterest guidelines to have the graphic removed. We have tried to utilize respectful means and the proper channels to have this image removed and do believe that Pinterest will not allow the copyright violation to remain. Still, simply having that image erased from Pinterest won’t be enough. It has been seen and discussed in some circles, it’s message cutting and hurting and not helping anyone. The Leaky Boob stands behind Serena that this graphic is not a message we condone. The Leaky Boob, including Serena and all the volunteer admins hold to a very different set of values:

TLB creed

It is rare that I single anybody out for how they run their own website and social media presence. I respect that there are different styles and a variety of people are attracted to those style distinctives. I don’t have to get it or agree. But this has gone too far. Stealing an image and putting words to it that are directly opposed to the intent of the owner of the photo. Standing against the oppression of others is part of my passion for people, so I have raised my voice to express concern and even outrage when I have seen supposed breastfeeding advocates resort to shaming in general and specifically with this same offender. It is not the first time I have vocally opposed messages coming from The Alpha Parent and I agree with Amy West’s assessment of TAP’s “brand” of support. This time though a line has been crossed and while I have long not tolerated any abusive messages in the name of “supporting breastfeeding” within The Leaky Boob community, now I am taking stand against any and all expressions of shaming in the name of breastfeeding advocacy outside of my own little space.

Why am I sharing this with you? What can you do about it? If you’re reading this and have made it this far you probably care at least a little about how babies are fed, the information moms receive, have an interest in parenting support, or at the very least watch online interactions with a passing interest. To those ends then, consider how you are promoting shaming messages targeting others. Here are some simple steps you can take to not contribute to the type of interactions that do nothing to make our world a better place.

  1. Don’t share or spread memes that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone. This isn’t just a breastfeeding/formula feeding issue. This is a human issue.
  2. Before you use an image, be sure you have permission and don’t create memes and graphics that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone.
  3. Question every image you see and the message attached with it, particularly online. Everything may not be what it seems.
  4. If you “like” or follow any personality that regularly engages in such messaging, unlike and unfollow them. Take away their audience and don’t align yourself with the hate they are communicating.
  5. NEVER share materials, even if they seem supportive, from a source that you can not verify as free of mocking, belittling, or the promotion of shaming. Many of the breastfeeding support and education sources I follow share materials from The Alpha Parent because some of her content, particularly her older stuff, is pretty decent. Every time I see one of these resources share content from her I cringe, it’s like leading lambs to the slaughter. I loved her “anatomy of the toddler brain” post from a while back but there is no way I’ll share that with my audience, it would be irresponsible of me to do so. Share responsibly.
  6. Ignore them. It is tempting to take a stand and engage in heated arguments with those that thrive on putting down others, particularly online, but truth be told, ignoring them is far more effective in shutting them up. Don’t engage.
  7. Consistently share and interact with messages that promote true support and eventually the attraction of the fight will fade. Offer supportive support and if you find you are tempted to go on the attack, ask yourself why and what insecurities could be motivating you to do so.

I won’t be linking to The Alpha Parent here but I do encourage you to look through your social media channels and remove The Alpha Parent from your playlist if she is there. My intent is not to shame The Alpha Parent or cause her any harm and I hope that she finds her own happiness that doesn’t depend on a false sense of superiority. I hope we all can.

 

 

Mean People Suck

Back in the 90’s, sick before the age of memes, bumper stickers were the best of sending the world (or at least the person stuck behind you in traffic) a message about your political leanings, philosophy, or the status of your child’s “Good Citizenship” in school. People got seriously creative with these little strips of adhesive, but there was one that seemed to be strike a chord with the folks I typically associated with. The Birkenstocks-wearing, Ani-DiFranco-listening, liberal-arts-major types. The message that seemed to be stuck to the back of everyone’s used Volvo was this:

Mean People Suck

 

Catchy, isn’t it?

 

But what I’ve realized in my late thirties is that mean people do more than just “suck”. The screw things up for the rest of us, in serious, systemic ways. They are the cops who brutalize minor offenders based on the color of their skin; the politicians who refuse to see the human side of their voting record, the instigators of road rage. And in the parenting world, they are the women who perpetuate the mommy wars (such a stupid and patronizing term, for a stupid and patronizing problem).

 

The thing is, mommy “wars” may be stupid, but their effect is far-reaching and profound. They make us believe we need to take sides, choose a team, thus dividing us and making it ridiculously easy to conquer us. And by conquering us, I mean keeping us from fighting collectively for better family leave, better maternal health care, better resources and options for our children and ourselves. We’re so busy trying to prove we’re an Alpha Female, conveniently forgetting that alpha males are generally assholes.

 

Speaking of Alpha Females, there’s a woman who has built up an impressive following on the Internet who I’ve tried to avoid giving airtime for the past year or so, after a few run-ins that made it clear her only motivation in life is to fight. I’ve tried thinking about her in a new-agey way, considering what made her the way she is, and trying to feel sympathy for her anger and vitriol rather than letting her make me act in turn. But when Jessica from the Leaky Boob – a woman I admire greatly and am proud to consider a friend – reached out to me about this Alpha person’s latest assault, I agreed to speak up.

 

I agreed to speak up because my friendship with Jessica is based on everything that this other person is trying her damndest to destroy. Jessica runs one of the most respected and beloved communities for breastfeeding women. I run a modest but pretty vocal community of people who take issue with the current state of breastfeeding promotion (as well as people who are totally cool with breastfeeding promotion, but ended up using formula for whatever reason and are willing to put up with the constant drama and debate because they have few other communities where they feel safe asking questions about formula feeding). We’re part of an informal community of breastfeeding advocates (and me, although I do consider myself a breastfeeding advocate, albeit a strange hybrid of one) where we discuss ways to better serve all mothers and provide REAL support and education. It’s actually really awesome to see how women can work together to find solutions even when they come from opposite ends of the parenting spectrum.

 

The Alpha individual operates on the premise that working relationships (and friendships) like this cannot – or should not – exist. Her page and blog are consistently dedicated to making fun of those who haven’t lived up to her own personal standards. Her work wouldn’t be worth mentioning at all, except for the fact that she has gotten the seal of approval from several notable breastfeeding researchers and advocates, including James Akre, who writes regular (and strikingly misogynist) guest posts for her blog. The woman knows how to get page views and Facebook likes. You have to admire her for that.

 

But in the immortal words of Stan Lee (and as I keep telling my Marvel comic-obsessed son), with great power comes great responsibility. And when someone with a fair share of public attention does something incredibly harmful, not only to a movement (those invested in creating a more supportive environment among mothers) but more importantly to an individual, that is an abuse of power, and seriously irresponsible.

 

Here are the facts: The blogger in question stole a photo of a woman in an emotional moment and used it to promote her recurring message that formula feeding parents are lazy and un-invested in their children. The photo was of a woman hooked up to wires, looking at least semi-unconscious, with a baby being held up to her breast. The blogger superimposed the word “obsessed” on the photo, meant in a “positive” way, as in, yes; this woman was obsessed with breastfeeding, which was a good thing because it meant she was properly dedicated. Unlike the rest of you nitwits.

 

The thing is, that was the antithesis of what this photo meant to the mom featured in it. This was, for her, a memory of something she went through with her child. I don’t know if that memory was positive or negative or something in between, as most postpartum memories are when something goes awry. It’s not my business to know. It’s hers. She didn’t intend for her image to be used this way. We don’t know the backstory behind the image, which I’m sure is human and flawed and beautiful and complicated.

 

But bloggers like the Alpha person are not complicated. They are simple. They are mean. And mean people suck.

 

They suck the life out of images like this; make them fodder for a contrived mommy war. They suck the life out of breastfeeding advocacy efforts, because they perpetuate the myth of the “breastapo” by becoming a caricature of that concept.  They suck the joy out of parenting, by making it a competition. They suck the intelligence and nuance out of what could be a productive debate between people who genuinely care about maternal and child health. And they suck the energy out of bloggers like Jessica and myself, who resent that we feel forced into a corner and made to confront this type of bottom-feeding behavior, when we could be focusing our collective efforts on something more productive.

 

Alpha types will always exist, these parasites that feed on fear, loneliness and feelings of inferiority. But parasites can be stopped if their food source is cut off. That’s why we are asking both of our communities to stop engaging. Don’t be a food source. Don’t visit her site. Don’t comment on the Facebook page, even if it’s to fight back against the hate. Just don’t engage.

 

If you see people you respect at risk of an infestation, let them know the true nature of the beast. Speak up when respected advocates are partnering with her or linking to her work. Let those around you know that this type of behavior does not advocate breastfeeding; it advocates bullying, shaming and hate.

 

And if you see one of her memes, post one of your own. One from a time before the internet allowed the best and worst of humanity to be distributed worldwide: Mean People Suck. Because they do.

 

Mean-People-Breed-Bumper-Sticker-(5567)

FFF Friday: “I did not want to fight with my son to breastfeed.”

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. 

Caley should be considered a “breastfeeding success”, by any standards. She nursed for 4 months. She “persevered” through numerous challenges that no sane person would have faulted her for if she’d decided to throw in the nursing cover. She went to LLL, saw lactation consultants, and lived in an area where breastfeeding was the norm (not to mention being a second-generation nursing mom). She did everything “right” (and please note the use of quotation marks, because I obviously don’t believe these words have any place in discussions of infant feeding).

And yet, she still feels like a failure. 

I’m not sure how anyone can read these stories and not feel that something is seriously wrong with our current system of promotion and support for breastfeeding. As Caley so wisely says, those at the other end of the nursing spectrum have it just as bad; worse in some ways. Call me a cynic, but I don’t see public health messaging or advocacy groups chilling out on the fear-mongering or zealotry anytime soon – mostly because it’s sort of their job to be over-zealous and talk in foreboding generalities, in order to be heard. But I’m starting to think it doesn’t even matter. Imagine if all moms who felt marginalized and ignored, left behind or labeled, could stand up together to fight this nonsense? If women stopped flinging accusations at each other and started flinging heavy stuff at the systemic barriers that hurt us all? 

A girl can dream. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Caley’s Story

 

My mother was an active La Leche League member and a so-called “extended” breastfeeder. Between two daughters, she breastfed over six years. Like choosing not to breastfeed, the choice to continue over 1 year, past the exact recommendation of the AAP, is also judged suspiciously and often negatively. (You may have seen the recent TIME cover on attachment parenting and the ensuing controversy.) But, that side of this “feeding wars” discussion is for another time and place.

I breastfed my son Finn for 4 months. While those early months are certainly significant, I do feel like a breastfeeding failure and sometimes, though less and less with each month, a failure at mothering. With him approaching one year, I’m still sensitive about the decision to stop breastfeeding. I still feel that annoying urge to explain myself. In addition to having a veritable breastfeeding champion for a mother, I gave birth in the combatively liberal Bay Area, surrounded by women who breastfed, cloth diapered, co-slept, wore their babies and practiced other cherished tenets of “natural parenting.”  I am also a perfectionist, who took the “breast is best” mantra very seriously to heart.  So, in short, the decision to stop was very, very hard.

Shortly after Finn was born, I tried to nurse him for the first time. Despite the efforts of my doula and several enthusiastic nurses, much nipple talk and that borderline degrading boob pancaking, Finn was not able to latch. Begrudgingly, a nurse produced a nipple shield while I was being stitched back together . She was the first of several people during my hospital stay to tell me how much they HATED nipple shields. Their implication was that the shield was unnecessary or unnatural.

Finn was born in the early morning on Saturday. Later that same day, a lactation consultant (self-proclaimed shield hater #3) came by my recovery room to help me latch Finn. She stayed for HOURS, trying and trying for that latch. I was deliriously tired and by the end, Finn was too exhausted to nurse with the shield. When the lactation consultant was leaving, I sighed and said, “I think that’s enough for today,” meaning struggling to make Finn nurse without the shield. She laughed at me derisively and told me to try again in an hour.

The first night of Finn’s life (Sat), he “cluster fed” for about 4 hours straight. The attending nurse (shield hater #4) also tried to help him latch without the shield to no avail. When he was done nursing, I slept and let him sleep, for almost 5 hours (a big no-no, I was told, but we were both exhausted). We checked out of the hospital the next day (Sunday). On Monday, he “cluster fed” nursed for about 8 hours continuously beginning in the late afternoon. Around 2 am, shaking with exhaustion, I asked my mother to take him for a few hours. I had not yet figured out how to sleep while nursing. I thought I was going to die.

On Tuesday, after all that enthusiastic nursing, my milk came gushing in. I was absolutely bursting. But, at Finn’s first pediatrician appointment on Tuesday, I was told that his bilirubin levels were dangerously high. I, of course, blamed the “unnatural” nipple shield and myself for my breastfeeding ignorance and for letting him sleep for those longer stretches after his cluster feeds. More frequent nursing (ha!) was encouraged to flush out the bilirubin. A lactation follow-up confirmed that cluster feeding was completely normal (even for 8 hours?). The lactation consultant bragged that she nursed her son every 1.5 hours around the clock until he started solids. She suggested I use a pacifier if I needed a break. But, Finn would not take a pacifier.

For the next few months, Finn nursed hourly, with those marathon, continuous cluster-feeds happening for 4-8 hours straight every single night. I learned how to nurse lying down and would fall asleep for 45 minutes, waking to change sides. The experts told me this behaviour was normal, though I often marveled how it was physically possible. Though, I was certainly not in ideal postpartum health. Unbeknownst to me, I had contracted a kidney infection during labor. I simply attributed the extreme back pain and hot/cold flashes to just having had a baby, and a “high-need” nurser at that. Returning from Finn’s 2 week appointment with my husband, I could not get out of the car. I was running a fever over 103.

That night we introduced the first bottle (of pumped milk) and I passed out on supposedly breastfeeding-friendly vicodin. I should note here that I had to ask for painkillers, despite hardly being able to walk. What’s up with that? The antibiotics did their work on the infection, giving me a few glorious days without pain, before ushering in breast thrush. The surface thrush was easy to cure (and luckily was never passed to Finn), but the thrush that worked its way deep into my milk ducts lingered, giving me shooting, glass-in-breast pains for months. Months. Despite 3? 4? rounds of medicine. The pain only really stopped once my milk dried up post-breastfeeding.

I managed to wean Finn from the shield in the first few weeks. But that little victory was short-lived. At about 5 weeks, he became fussy at each and every nursing session (unless he was very, very sleepy). Initially frantic to nurse and impatient for my milk to let down, he would then become frustrated about 3 minutes later (post letdown). He would clamp down on my nipples, yank me from side-to-side, claw at my chest, kick and fuss. Except for the sleepy middle of the night feedings (and often not even then), nurse sessions felt like a battle. And Finn was still nursing every 1-2 hours, and almost continuously in the evenings. I met with a string of lactation consultants, who advised different positions and techniques. I read books, searched KellyMom.com about a million times each day, and went to La Leche meetings. At one meeting, the La Leche leader suggested the problem was me, that my tension/anxiety was making Finn not want to nurse. She suggested I nurse Finn in his sleep. I really, really wanted to punch her in the face.

When Finn was 3 months old, a paid lactation consultant suspected he had a posterior tongue tie and referred us to THE tongue tie specialist in the Bay Area, who confirmed the tie. Though we were both initially opposed to clipping Finn’s tongue, this specialist convinced us, warning us that his “tight tongue” would likely cause additional problems later with solids and speech. Because of Finn’s age and the nature of his tongue tie, the chances the clip would help with breastfeeding were something like 60/40. The procedure was surprisingly non-invasive and Finn was just fine within minutes.

After the clip, Finn choked on milk much less often and could take a pacifier for naps. Unfortunately, his nursing behaviour was the same, having been learned and cemented into habit after months of frustration. Hoping that he just needed time to adjust, I kept breastfeeding for another month.

Then, one day, I simply made the decision to stop. Breastfeeding was the center of our shared universe and it was not a happy one. I did not want to fight with my son to breastfeed. I did not want to see, touch or talk about my boobs any more. And I certainly did not want to be in pain any more. Finn was immediately happier on the bottles and could go longer stretches between feeding sessions, finally giving us the time to interact in other ways. I pumped until my milk supply plummeted (three days) and then we started formula with no ill effect. In his young life, he’s been sick exactly once, a minor cold that lasted 2-3 days. He’s big for his age (97th percentile), but taller than he is heavy (91 percentile for weight). He’s healthy, active and has a hilariously spirited, mischievous personality.

***

Stand up. Start shouting. Be counted. Send in your story today: formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

FFF Friday: “I was resentful of the pump and my physical experience with motherhood.”

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. 

We’ve been discussing the relationship between breastfeeding and postpartum depression over on the FFF Facebook page, and it’s been intensely triggering for me – and for many of you as well. The thing is, people just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that women are complex, varied individuals. While it may be true that breastfeeding is the biological norm, that does not mean it is emotionally or physically easy or rewarding for all people. And we’re not just talking about women who have been diagnosed with IGT or some other physical impediment to lactation. In Jennifer’s case, there were a variety of situational factors (and boy, did she hit the shit jackpot with her birth experience) that may have contributed to her breastfeeding problems. On paper, one might suggest (as an OB/GYN who engaged in a twitter conversation with me did, just this very morning) that the problem here is not breastfeeding but a lack of adequate breastfeeding support. 

But that would be ignoring the stark reality of Jennifer’s experience. How many women went through exactly the same crap that she did, with exactly the same history, tolerance for pain, and breaking point? I’m betting she’s unique (in many other more positive ways, too – she also sounds like a fantastically smart and insightful person). We are all unique. There is a certain sameness to many of these FFF Friday tales, but each one is told through a different lens. And this is what is missing in ivory tower conversations about breastfeeding and formula feeding and the decisions mothers make: the admission that what is right for one woman may not be right for another. That what causes depression in one may cause elation in another. We are not just our biology. And that’s okay. Evolution and a modernity that allows us options doesn’t have to be a negative thing. 

And regardless, when the decision is between a mother who cannot bond with her child – one who is physically and emotionally faltering – and a can of formula, I will choose the formula every time. It may not be the biologically appropriate choice, but it can still be an appropriate choice. Funny how so few people can make that distinction. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones, 

The FFF

***

Jennifer’s Story

Sometimes I don’t know where to begin with telling my FFF story. I’m not entirely sure what exactly caused my problems, though it could be any number of things.

I had wanted to breastfeed. I really, really did. I’d read everything about its benefits, my late mother had breastfed me when I was a baby and I wanted it to be part of my overall plan: midwives, doula, home water birth, breastfeeding, cloth diapers. I have a crunchy side to me and my pregnancy really brought it out.

I believed the hype, that all women can breastfeed. I doubted women who claimed otherwise and had all my bras and nursing tops ready.

My pregnancy stunk. I was in good health, but plagued with heartburn from start to finish, and developed acid reflux. My small breasts, although sore and slightly swollen at first, never really grew, much to my disappointment. Apparently pregnant women experience leaky breasts, something that never happened to me.

Something else that never happened was labour. I went 43 weeks without a sign labour was forthcoming. My cervix was tightly shut and eventually I had to throw in the towel. It was sucking the damn life out of me. I had long ago stopped being able to lie down without vomiting and my baby was getting incredibly large inside of me.

I wanted a C section, convinced an induction wouldn’t work. Inductions seemed to be for women on the verge of labour, not those nowhere near it. I was denied my C section by the OB I was transferred to, and was started on Cervidil, supposedly very gentle. I burned internally for 12 hours. 0 cm dilated.

Four hours after the Cervidil tag was pulled out (and having to repeatedly decline an internal check due to pain, telling the resident to wait until the burning stopped), I was given a Foley catheter, and morphine so that I could sustain a new pain. Well, that got me to 4 cm, so they broke my water.

They wouldn’t allow me to walk around to kick start labour, preferring to keep me in bed and hooked up to fetal monitors (and check my vitals every 20-30 minutes. They woke me up to do this. I was very sleep deprived.) The whole time the nursing staff was freaking out due to my advanced gestation, despite all ultrasounds and non-stress tests showing excellent health.

I was then given oxytocin against my wishes. I needed an epidural after three hours of terrible pain. By morning, I’d been induced for two days and they wanted to insert internal monitors. No effing dice. So over it. I asserted I wanted a C section and it was granted.

The procedure was scary, but I had my baby in under an hour. His health was perfect and he was 9 pounds, 13 ounces. After the shakes were over, I held my baby skin to skin and he latched immediately. I was overjoyed with this one thing finally going right.

I fed him like clockwork, and he was getting plenty of colostrum. I was exhausted, but never allowed to sleep. If my baby didn’t want to nurse, then the nurses were coming in to wake me and take my vitals. I soon developed hives and no one knew why. Benadryl helped, but I had to keep taking it.

My son was losing weight, but my midwives were okay with it because they’d be checking up with me at home. He was down 10% when we left the hospital. My milk hadn’t come in.

The next visit, I was emotionally wrecked, and he was down 12%. There was something reddish in his diapers, signalling dehydration. They recommended formula and said to keep him on the breast to ensure my milk would still arrive. At home I drank Guiness and took tincture and did my best while still trying to recover from surgery, pregnancy and exhaustion.

I soon developed chills and a fever, so I was told by my midwives to go to the ER. I was examined and scheduled for an ultrasound before I was thankfully sent home to sleep. I could have stayed in the ER till morning and have the ultrasound bright and early, but I’d had enough of hospitals, was out of my mind with how tired I was, and there was a woman dying beside me. We had listened to her Last Rites. All the while my baby was at home being fed formula by my aunt who had come to stay with me.

The ultrasound that afternoon showed a uterine infection. I was admitted to the hospital, told my baby could come, that we were going back to labour and delivery and I’d be put on IV antibiotics for a couple days. A low and desperate “No….” escaped me. I was devastated. The week my son was born was turning out to be the worst week of my adult life. I kept thinking about how I was going to care for my baby back in L&D during the day while my husband was at work.

We didn’t go to L&D. We were instead sent to a post-op recovery wing that was built in the ’30s. No room for my baby, or a companion. I freaked out. I was five days postpartum and post-surgery. Now I would be left alone in a scary hospital room with only a communal bathroom and most importantly, away from my son.

The nurses were terse at my horrified reaction. I was sobbing. My husband battled the staff to at least give me a private room, and he and his father brought me what I’d need, including nursing tincture and an electric pump.

I wasn’t as diligent with either of those things as was recommended because I was so frazzled and depressed. But I still went at it, and realized that my milk had unceremoniously come in. No engorgement, no real amount. Maybe two ounces in one day’s worth of pumps. My left breast was especially pathetic. Most of the milk came from the right.

My time in the hospital was surreal. I had just had a baby and was alone most of the day. I had a friend visit me, letting me know formula was totally fine. I wasn’t ready to face that yet. My husband brought the baby to see me and I had mixed feelings. I didn’t feel like a mother. I wasn’t feeding him, I hadn’t seen him in over a day and he was only 6 days old at that point, so a sixth of his life had gone by without me. My midwife was very worried about me developing depression. So was I.

When I was discharged, my son was eating 4 ounces a feed. I was put on Domperidone and given a tube to insert into my son’s mouth while he nursed, to teach him that my breasts were in fact a food source and not the empty things he’d grown used to. It worked, sort of. He would sometime nurse, sometimes hold out for the bottle. And then I’d pump. It was a slog. Thank god for my aunt, who stayed on an extra week to help me. Without her, I surely would have developed PPD.

The feeding/pumping cycle went on for months. I added Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle to my routine. I got up to about 7 to 10 ounces of milk pumped per day, with one successful morning breastfeed. The rest was formula. I wasn’t bonding with my son. I was resentful of the pump and my physical experience with motherhood. Despite the fact he started sleeping through the night at eight weeks, I didn’t look forward to each new day.

Then he started rejecting my pumped breast milk. Even though I stored it correctly, it would occasionally go off and I’d have to dump what amounted to a full day’s efforts. If it smelled fine, I’d hide it in his formula so he’s still get it. Nope. He caught on and started rejecting those bottles too. Turns out if it’s not straight from the tap, he wasn’t interested. And he was only interested in the tap in the morning.

Having your baby not even want your pumped milk is a new level of rejection. That’s when I said no more. Screw this. I stopped pumping. I had hit my brick wall. I was ready to cede to the inevitable: formula feeding. I finally experienced engorgement, at the end of the first day off the pump. It wasn’t painful, but I leaked and there was definitely firmness and fullness. It was like a cruel joke, to at last know what it meant to have enough milk in my breasts to feed, only through the process of saying goodbye to it. It had taken almost a whole day for my breasts to fill and that was the best I could do after everything I’d gone through. I decided to keep the morning feed for as long as my body would allow it.

Since I stopped pumping I’ve started loving my son more. I see things now that I was missing while pumping away. He is an amazing baby! Every day is getting better. I’m happier, my son is calmer, and my maternity leave no longer feels like a prison.

I don’t know how long the morning feed will last. Eventually his needs will go up and my body may well not adjust to them. But oh well. Despite having been breastfed, myself, I had four ear infections in my first year of life, followed by tonsillitis. I had double pneumonia in my childhood, and kidney stones in my teens, and appendicitis in my early 20s, and I have IBS. So I’m pretty sure you can’t breastfeed your baby to a life of good health. Like so much else, life is luck of the draw.

I’m not having another baby. I hit the jackpot with the one I have and he is my dream child. I’m also selling the pump. How very therapeutic that will be.

So, out of my plan (home water birth, breastfeeding, cloth diapers) I got 1 out of 3. I accept this. And what caused my problems? Was it the C section and infection? Was I too exhausted from the experience? Do I have hormonal problems that A. Didn’t allow my breasts to change and B. Didn’t send me into labour? I have no idea. I just know it didn’t work and it’s not my fault.

I’ve had to weather a little subtle criticism over the formula, but whatever. Kid’s gotta eat.

***

Want to share your story with the FFF audience? Email it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

An open letter to Chris Bingley: Your wife deserved better.

This is an open letter to Chris Bingley in honor of his wife, Joe Bingley, whom he lost to severe postpartum depression. 

Dear Chris,

I read about your beautiful wife Joe’s battle with postpartum depression, and I wanted to say… oh hell, I don’t know what to say. Because I’m afraid my anger about what happened to your wife will just feed your grief, and that is the last thing I’d ever want to do.

I write about the pressure to breastfeed, and what it is doing to women, and I hear stories every day that mirror what Joe went through. Women who suffer from a growing desperation, an inner knowledge that something isn’t right, even when everyone around them is willing it to be so; even when everyone around them is telling them it will all be okay if they just get some sleep, get some help around the house, or get over the “hump” of the baby blues.

And these women – more often than not – are seen by an array of healthcare professionals as they try to dig themselves out of this tunnel. The stories I hear have a common refrain – all they cared about was if the baby was breastfeeding. I came second. And all I heard was that breastfeeding was the most important thing a mother can do for her child and I was failing at that. This was my refrain, 5 years ago. I sang it and sang it until someone listened, until thousands of other women answered it with a song of their own. And our collective voices are rising, growing stronger by the day, shouting our song, screaming that we deserve more, that Joe deserved more, and that we will. Not. Let. This. Happen. Again.

PPD is a strange and mysterious beast; it’s not always tamed easily, and it feeds on different aspects of different people. For some, breastfeeding is a lifeline, the one thing they can do “right”. For others, it is the sandbag strapped to them as they are already sinking. But the problem is not breastfeeding. The problems is that we are so focused on breastfeeding that all of resources and energy are going to this one aspect of postnatal care – that we have forgotten that the mother’s mental and physical health should come first. I know most people will think that is a terrible thing to say – because doesn’t the baby’s physical and emotional health matter? But what they are forgetting is that a mother’s mental and physical health can afford to be a priority because there are other options to ensure the physical and emotional needs of the baby. Formula or donor milk can suffice. A father’s loving embrace, or a grandmother’s or aunt’s or uncle’s, can fulfill all needs until a mother is well. We are lucky to live in a time where moms can get well without sacrificing their babies’ well being.

But we are unlucky to live in a time where people are unwilling to see things this way.

Joe should have been helped. The professionals who she encountered should have looked at her face rather than her breasts. They should have seen she was sinking; they should have insisted that either a lifeline be thrown or a sandbag removed. There should have been protocols in place for her prenatal, delivery and postnatal care so that she was   screened for and treated for PPD. There should not have been so much pressure put on her to breastfeed; she should have been told that all that mattered was her health and happiness, and that her breastmilk or lack thereof had nothing to do with her worth as a person or as a mother.

I didn’t know Joe. I wish I’d had a chance to. I wish she could be one of the voices in our choir of healing and hope. That she could yell with us and demand better of our governments, our healthcare providers, and our society, so that no woman would be left to drown; so that no woman would ever have to sing that stupid refrain again.

Because I’m sick of the same old song. And I’m sure Joe would be, too.

Sending love from across the pond,

Suzanne Barston, aka The Fearless Formula Feeder

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