“I’m a mom who tried to breastfeed but had to switch to formula. It isn’t an unusual story but when it is your own story, it feels anything but ordinary. It’s painful and heartbreaking and exhausting and lonely.” This is how Mandy’s story begins, and I wish I could fit these sentences on a t-shirt. It pretty much sums up why I keep FFF going – even as I blog less and less, and focus more on advocacy, practical and policy work, I think it’s vital that this space exists to publish your stories. Because every one, no matter how similar it is to the last, matters. It’s yours. Yours alone. But in telling it, maybe you- and those reading it – will feel a little less lonely.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
I’m a mom who tried to breastfeed but had to switch to formula. It isn’t an unusual story but when it is your own story, it feels anything but ordinary. It’s painful and heartbreaking and exhausting and lonely. Your friends and family have so many words and tips to offer but so little helps. Your modern female mind betrays you and tells you that you are less of a woman—less of a mother—because you cannot breastfeed, though you know that thought is irrational and untrue. For me, it is a thought I struggled with long after the last drop of breast milk fought its way out.
I had my first baby in 2011 and when the stick turned blue I immediately enrolled in the University of Google and learned everything I could about pregnancy, labor, delivery and, of course, breastfeeding. Breastfeeding was the obvious choice and I had no question about whether or not I would. I even got annoyed with people who asked which I would do, (aside from being annoyed simply because that is a rude question). Why would I even consider formula when “breast is best,” right? And how much easier could it be? You have a baby, they latch on, the milk comes in and that’s that. I even remember the lactation consultant reassuring an expectant mom in my breastfeeding class who asked, “What do I do if I don’t make enough milk?” that you WILL make enough milk. Your body will ABSOLUTELY make enough milk for your baby. Supply and demand. Very simple.
I’d like to smack that lady.
My daughter was born and she latched on but I waited and waited and no milk ever came. Well, no more than an ounce every three hours. I was an overwhelmed first time mom and nursed less and less until eventually I stopped trying altogether and I switched to formula exclusively after three weeks Boom…formula baby.
When my daughter was 3 months old I became pregnant with my second baby and I was hell bent on breastfeeding! I had been recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I was certain that had to be the reason for my previous struggle and now that I was controlling it with medication, I’d have no problems with milk supply. I even had dreams about freely flowing breast milk and hoped it was a sign that buckets of liquid gold were in my future. I knew that I sort of fit the profile of someone with insufficient glandular tissue but tried to put that possibility out of my mind since there is really nothing you can do to overcome that. I was going to remain determined and hopeful.
When baby girl number two arrived, she was nine pounds of cuteness and latched on to the breast with the expertise of a baby twice her age. I was more than proud; I was teeming with hope! This time I was careful to nurse on demand and pump right after nursing to increase my supply to no avail. I still only produced a maximum of one ounce every three hours. As my big girl got bigger she just began to get frustrated at my out-of-order breast but I just couldn’t give up on it. To complicate things further, her stomach and palette seemed to not tolerate any of the five different formulas we gave her. She seemed to only tolerate breast milk and I couldn’t make any. For about five months I received pumped breast milk from dear friends and trusted donors while I continued to pump around the clock to get my measly ten ounces per day and, of course I supplemented with formula.
Through thousands of tears over six months I told my husband I would stop when she and I were both ready because the round the clock pumping was killing me. Eventually my supply of frozen donations began to wane and she was getting more and more formula. She was doing better with her soy formula and starting to try solids and doing well with that too. And I was emotionally ready. I clearly remember sitting in my “pumping chair,” one day and just deciding that I was spending more time than it was worth for eight to ten ounces a day, pumping. I cut back slowly on my pumping sessions until I was not pumping at all and she was on formula exclusively. Boom…formula baby number two.
But this time I felt a freedom in the change. For one, I knew I’d done and tried everything possible: power pumping, fenugreek, Reglan, Domperidone, lactation cookies, oatmeal, water, visits to the lactation consultant, (side note: you know it’s pretty hopeless when the lactation consultant says, “you know, formula isn’t that bad”). I did everything and I felt good switching to formula. I didn’t have the shame I had before. I still have moments of regret or sadness that it didn’t work but I do not feel like a failure as a mother. When I see my friends nursing their babies or pumping an abundance of milk I am a little sad and jealous but overwhelmingly, I feel happy for them because I know the struggle. And when I see a friend choose formula with less internal struggle than I had I am happy for them as well.
I go back and forth on whether or not our family is complete with only our two children, but when I contemplate a third or fourth child, I cannot help but think of what my feeding choice would be. I say with absolute freedom and confidence that I would start out of the gate with formula. My body does not make a full supply and the struggle to get what I can is too gut-wrenching to go through it one more time. I actually fantasize about being in the hospital room and requesting the formula for my imaginary baby with pride and confidence. I imagine getting to know my newborn without the stress of trying to force my body to make milk that it just cannot make. I am not sure if that little daydream is enough to have another child but it makes my heart happy. I wish everyone could feel that confidence in their feeding choice from the get-go whether they are a fearless formula feeder or a courageous nursing mommy.
Have a story you’d like to share? Email me at email@example.com