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 received the following story from Hope during the #ISupportYou campaign last summer, and it broke my heart. I know it’s difficult for people to accept/believe/admit, but when you live in a community where breastfeeding is the norm, feeding your baby a bottle can be just as terrifying as attempting to nurse in public on a plane. True, you won’t be asked to leave or to cover up – but that doesn’t mean the shame, embarrassment, and vulnerability isn’t as powerful.
When my article on supporting formula feeding moms was posted on HuffPo this week, I saw many discussions stating that bottle-feeding parents didn’t need/deserve support, and why wasn’t HuffPo posting articles on how to support breastfeeding moms? (Incidentally, they have posted these. Many of them. Daily.) I also saw comments marveling at how ridiculous it was that this was even an issue.
It never ceases to amaze me that people can be so opinionated about situations they’ve never been in. And even if you have been in a similar situation, you can’t possibly know someone else’s emotional baggage, tolerance for shame, triggers, and so forth. Telling someone they don’t deserve support and understanding is ridiculous. Breastfeeding moms need support. Formula feeding moms need support. It’s great to see a campaign showing how men can assist and support their breastfeeding partners getting so much positive attention, but wouldn’t it be nice if showing a man lovingly bottle feeding his baby wasn’t met with rapid backlash?
There’s room for all of us at this party. Squish over to the left, and pass the mom next to you that basket of tortilla chips, no matter how she fed her kid. Being a mom is flipping hard, and we ALL deserve support. Hope certainly did, and I wish she’d been given it.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
It was 5:30 on a June morning last year. I was sitting up in the hospital bed, extremely groggy. I had just gone through an excruciating labor which involved 4 ½ hours of pushing, a third degree episiotomy, the loss of a lot of blood, and my body going into shock as a result. I was holding my daughter, but I don’t recall when she was placed into my arms. At that point she was 3 ½ hours old. This is my first recollection of being a mother and where my struggle with feeding my baby began.
The nurse who had helped deliver my baby was trying to teach me how to nurse, but my daughter, who you could tell was hungry, refused to turn her face toward my breast. When her mouth was placed against my nipple and her lip rubbed against it she would scream even louder and try to push away.
I had been at this now for 45 minutes and I was feeling horrible for my hungry baby who just wanted to eat, so while it broke my heart to do so, I requested a bottle of formula. The nurse in a disgusted tone replied, “I’m not letting you give up! You said you wanted to breastfeed, so that’s what you are going to do!” Again I pleaded with her, but again she refused. My daughter was still in my arms, screaming, pushing herself away from my breasts the best that she could for a baby who had just entered this world a few short hours prior. With tears streaming down my face, I turned to my husband and said “Go down the street to Walmart and buy some formula!” As my husband grabbed his hat and his keys the nurse ran out of the room and reentered with a bottle of formula for our daughter.
Later that morning the hospital lactation consultant came in. She too was surprised by the way my daughter physically fought my breast. She gave us the advice to just continually offer her the boob prior to every bottle feeding. During the remainder of our stay in the hospital, I had heard comments from several nurses to the effect of “You’re just not trying hard enough” or “You WILL learn how to breastfeed on my watch.” Those comments stung deep. I was trying, and I continued to try even after leaving the hospital. I continued to follow the hospital lactation consultant’s advice. For the next week, every two hours I would offer her my breasts, she would refuse, and I would hand her off to my husband to formula feed, while I pumped. But despite all that pumping, no milk was collected.
That entire week after our daughter was born, I felt sick, but I had just chalked it up to all the hormones and the rough labor and delivery that I had gone through. Then early one morning I woke up sicker than I had ever been in my entire life. I was running a 105.8° fever. My husband didn’t waste any time by driving me to the hospital or calling an ambulance. He drew up an ice bath in our own tub and forced me to get in it. Only after I was in the tub, did he take the time to call the doctor, who told him he did the right thing. He was instructed to leave me in the bath until my temperature dropped to 102° and only then was I to get out of the tub and go in to be seen.
Once at our base clinic, a series of tests were performed on me which included multiple ultrasounds and a lot of blood work. Apparently a sliver of placenta was still stuck to my uterine lining. It was so small that even though they had inspected the placenta after my daughter was born, that couldn’t tell that there was piece missing, but it was enough to convince my body that it was still pregnant as it started to rot within my uterus. I sat there as the doctor explained all of this to me and how that had been what prevented my body from producing milk. She even explained that the reason my daughter had been pushing herself away from my breasts, was because since there was no milk, there was no scent of it, which is essential for a baby to realize that “this is food.” There was some glimmer of hope though. She explained that some women who suffer from placental uterine infections are able to start producing milk after their DNC is performed. She wrote me a referral to a private lactation consultant to come visit me at home, but told me that if I did start to produce any milk, that I would have to just pump and dump until a week after all of my antibiotics were complete.
I spent the next three weeks meeting with the lactation consultant and being a slave to the pump. Every two hours, whether my daughter was eating or not, my breasts were hooked up to the pump. But not a single drop of milk came out. With every session of pumping, I became more and more depressed. A few days after my daughter turned one month old I had had it. I could no longer do it. I could not take the mental anguish of pumping one more time only to have an empty bottle at the end. I was so embarrassed by what I perceived to be a failure as a mother that I had my husband make the call to the lactation consultant. When he told her that I was done, she said she was relieved to hear it, because while some women who suffer those infections are able to start producing milk, a lot of women aren’t, especially those whose infections were as bad as the one that I suffered from. She had seen how much I was struggling with this emotionally as well, but as a lactation consultant she was not allowed to tell me to just give up. Her words were encouraging, however, my embarrassment did not subside.
Everywhere I turned it seemed that the concept of “Breast is Best” was being thrust upon me. A week after I stopped pumping was the start of Breastfeeding Awarness Month. The internet was flooded with messages about how much better breast milk is for babies than formula. I even saw one of my friends on Facebook post something about how moms who don’t breastfeed their babies don’t deserve to keep them. I refused to leave the house on August 15th. I did not want to see the abundance of mothers breastfeeding in public that day just to make a statement. It was not because I didn’t support them in their efforts to feed their children, but because seeing that many of them would remind me of just how much of a failure I was.
It wasn’t just Breastfeeding Awareness Month that bothered me though. Mostly it was the words I heard from others and their reactions. People often would say to me “I assume you’re breastfeeding.” I never minded when someone asked “Are you breastfeeding?” But to make the statement saying that they assumed I was made it seem as if that was the only right way of feeding my children. Some people, even told me that I was poisoning my daughter. Sometimes they would say it to my face and other times it would be a conversation that I overheard. I recall one time as I was standing in the checkout line at our base’s Commissary while my groceries were being rung up and bagged. The first bagger started to put the canister of my daughter’s formula in a bag with the laundry detergent and toilet bowl cleaner. After the bagger standing next to her corrected her and told her to put it in a different bag she said that she thought it was a chemical. The second bagger then responded “It might as well be a chemical. My wife and I never trusted formula. She nursed all of our children until they were two and could drink milk. I don’t understand why anyone would give their baby this man-made powder.” I could not believe that they were talking like that right in front of me. I was devastated. I had no other choice, but to trust that “man-made powder.” It was either that or let my daughter starve, which I definitely couldn’t do.
If it were up to me, I would be one of those mothers like I saw at the local early childhood center or the squadron playgroups that would just whip their boobs out whenever their baby was hungry, but I couldn’t. There was nothing in them to feed my baby. Those that personally know me knew the situation and were for the most part very polite about it when I would need to make a bottle for my daughter. But having heard so many rude remarks from total strangers, I was completely embarrassed to give my daughter a bottle in public. Often times I would hide in a corner to feed her. I dreaded running out of water and having to ask a waitress to bring me some so that I could make another. There were times that I even thought about taking out my nursing cover and putting it on so that it would hide my baby and her bottle and maybe people would think that I was actually nursing her instead. However I had packed it away with my pumps and never had it with me. I knew it was a silly thing to want to do, but that’s how self-conscious I was about feeding my daughter in public. I was tired of the comments and tired of the stares. I don’t know exactly when it was that I no longer felt the need to hide when feeding her a bottle in public, but eventually it did happen. However, the pain and embarrassment did not subside.
Around the time my daughter turned four months old, I found out I was pregnant again. I talked to the doctor and was told that having had that infection as severely as I did, that I ran the chance of not producing milk again when the second child was born. Not wanting to set myself up for disappointment, I convinced myself from the beginning that it just wouldn’t happen, that once again I would not be able to breastfeed my baby. When my son was born I was thrilled to be able to breastfeed. Things went well at first, but then he started refusing to open his mouth all the way and it became difficult to feed him no matter if I was nursing him or he was given a bottle. We started having to supplement him earlier than we had wanted just to make sure that he was able to get back to a healthy weight and he was taking in enough calories to handle the heart murmur he has.
I have an extremely active and advanced 13 month old daughter who needs the attention of her mother. At the same time, I have a seven week old son, who takes nearly 10 minutes to latch on. Then once he latches on I have to remain pretty much perfectly still or he detaches and we have to start the process all over again. I find myself resorting to feeding him formula during the days while my husband is at work, because even though it still takes him nearly 10 minutes to open his mouth wide enough to get the nipple in he doesn’t lose it as easily as he does my breasts. It makes it much easier to care for my daughter at the same time if I feed him formula from a bottle. If my daughter is napping or when my husband gets home in the evenings I make my best effort to put my son to my breasts. I don’t have the chance to pump during the day, because my daughter is so interested in the pump and wants to play with it that the only time I am able to pump is in the middle of the night while my husband feeds our son bottles.
I am not ready to give up on breastfeeding altogether though. I felt so guilty about not being able to breastfeed my daughter when I didn’t produce anything, that I think I would feel even guiltier giving up breastfeeding my son when I actually am producing milk. At the same time, I know it is what would be easiest for my family. I cannot completely ignore my daughter during the entire hour or more it takes of being completely still in order to nurse my son, especially since my husband is a military officer who is working long hours as he prepares to deploy soon. Once he is gone, I will have no one here at all to help out with my daughter in the evenings while I nurse our son and I will have to be the one to feed our son in the middle of the night instead of him, which will take away my only chances to pump. I realize, that breastfeeding probably isn’t what works best for our family this time around either, but I just can’t seem to shake that guilt of not being able to breastfeed my daughter. I fear the feeling of becoming a failure as mother for a second time.
What a wonderful thing it would be if we could all just support all mothers trying to feed their babies, so that none of us have to feel that failure and none of us have to be embarrassed. As mothers, we are all just trying to do our best to care for our babies and make sure that they have the nourishment they need to survive and thrive in life. To the mother out there that is pulling your breast out in public to feed your baby, I support you and I wish I could be you. To the mother out there that gives your baby nothing but that “man-made powder,” I support you and I was you. To the mother out there that gives your baby formula as you also try to maintain your supply of breast milk, I support you and I am you.
Hope recently sent the following update:
“Shortly after I wrote this story my son was diagnosed with a condition where his body won’t digest proteins in their natural form. No matter what kind of changes I made to my diet he would not be able to digest them. We were forced to put him on a special formula where the proteins were already broken down for him. The reason he had fought feedings so hard was because it literally hurt him to eat. It was amazing the sudden change that occurred in him. He went from being a malnourished baby that was always crying from pain and hunger to a happy healthy baby. I continued to pump for another month until my milk supply dwindled to nothing with the hope that he would out grow the condition and would be able to accept the milk, though he still hasn’t. Even though he did become a exclusively formula fed baby he is now an 8 month old who is developing right at the level that he should be. As much as I dreamed of being a breastfeeding mom, I am so thankful for formula, because it saved the lives of both of my babies.”
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