It’s been a long time since I felt hopeful about the state of breastfeeding promotion, but tonight, I do. That’s because for once, women spoke up and were actually heard. We had the strength to say, enough. And I hope – oh god, do I hope – that this is the beginning of the end. The end of inexcusable abuse in the name of public health, the end of ignoring the lived realities of women, the end of treating formula feeding parents as second-rate, the end of misleading rhetoric and misrepresented research. The end of sitting back and letting women go through what Lo went through. This is not okay.
Say it louder. Keep saying it. Because people are starting to listen.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
I gave birth to my first child on December 1, 2013. He was born via c-section at 41 weeks after a failed NST, subsequent induction, and 24 hours of grueling labor. The labor took everything out of me physically and emotionally. I was a mess, experiencing terrible side effects from the epidural, delirious, thirsty, swollen with fluids from the IV, flushed, my cervix was swelling and my blood pressure was rising. I have a complex anxiety disorder and suffer from panic attacks and medical environments are a major trigger for me, so on top of all of this I was basically shaking and petrified for the duration of the experience. It was pretty much the opposite of the kind of birth I’d hoped for. Thanks to my exhaustion, the side effects from all the drugs, and my own anxiety, I was totally out of it when Arthur was born, weighing in at 9lbs and 13oz (no wonder he wouldn’t come out!). I was able to look at him, to touch his cheek briefly as I lay flat on my back in the OR, but mostly I was drifting in and out of consciousness in a morphine and fentanyl-induced haze.
After we were transferred to the postpartum unit and set up in our recovery room, the pressure to breastfeed was on. I had not even fully regained consciousness when the nurses descended upon me, roughly pinching and squeezing my breasts, forcing colostrum out my nipple as I slumped over repeatedly, unable to keep my head up or my eyes open. They told me it was the hormones, the oxytocin from expressing the milk making me sleepy. It wasn’t — it was the morphine and the extreme physical exhaustion. I remember that it hurt tremendously, and I remember that I just wished someone would give him a bottle of formula so that I could know that he was full and comfortable, and so that I could rest. I clearly remember feeling ashamed that I felt this way, and afraid to express it for fear of being reprimanded.
After learning that Arthur was jaundiced and that his blood sugar was a little low, we did decide to offer a bottle which the nurses reluctantly provided. Despite the fact that my baby was comfortable and eating well, and despite my own exhaustion and an extreme amount of pain thanks to the surgery, the staff continued to “encourage” me to breastfeed, bursting into the room and shoving him onto my breast every 1-2 hours, allowing me no sleep.
By the following morning I was truly at my wit’s end. My emotional and physical reserves were completely obliterated — I cannot overstate the extent of my exhaustion and pain. My sweet husband was finally passed out in a deep sleep on the small sofa beside my bed, and Arthur was sleeping in the bassinet when the Lactation Consultant arrived. As soon as she entered the room, I told her that all three of us were trying to get some much needed sleep and that it wasn’t a good time. Instead of leaving, she came around to the bed and sat down. Noticing the half empty bottles of Similac scattered around the room, she began preaching to me about the importance of breastfeeding and the inferiority of formula. I was too tired and too vulnerable to fend her off. Her ranting woke the baby, who began to cry. She continued to talk over his screams as I sat helpless in the bed, sick and swollen and unable to get up to tend to him without assistance. My exhausted husband, bless his heart, remained asleep through all of this, so I was on my own. Finally as I began to attempt to scoot myself over to the edge of the bed to try to get to my screaming child and/or my sleeping husband, feeling as if I were being stabbed repeatedly in the gut, she looked at me and snidely remarked, “You know, giving him a bottle won’t make him stop crying.” This was honestly the lowest point in my entire postpartum experience. I don’t even remember what I said to her, but I do know that she left the room and that I broke down sobbing and hobbled over to my husband — the most excruciatingly painful three steps I’ve ever taken. I was crying hysterically and I had to shake him repeatedly to wake him from his deep sleep so that he could tend to Arthur. I have rarely felt so helpless or so belittled as I did in those moments when this stranger invaded my space and began criticizing the choices I was making as a new mother, when I was literally the most physically and emotionally vulnerable I’ve ever been in my entire life. Her comment to me implied the assumption that I was only interested in shutting my baby up so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. Judgmental and rude at best.
It is astounding to me that these “professionals” do not realize that a woman who has just given birth — especially in the case of a traumatic birth or unplanned c-section — absolutely NEEDS just as much compassion and gentle care as her new child does. I felt like I was an afterthought — my wellbeing was an afterthought. The message I received was that the only thing that mattered was that breastfeeding was established. Nothing about making sure mom gets some sleep. Nothing about making sure baby isn’t hungry. Nothing about making sure mom is okay emotionally after her ordeal. Only the colostrum, the all-important colostrum. Nothing about whether mom is comfortable having strangers hovering over her, breathing into her face, leaning on her as they squeeze her breasts and squash her nipples despite her cringing and timidly expressing that yes, it hurts (right at that moment, everything hurt).
Fast forward two months. Arthur is a giant, gorgeous, happy, formula-fed baby. We did combo feed for the first eight weeks, and it was really nice and went relatively smoothly. But I’m ready to do formula full-time now. With my history of anxiety, I need to take care of my mental and emotional health, and for me that means being able to get back on various herbs and supplements and regaining my physical autonomy, especially after the difficult recovery from the surgery. When I give my baby a bottle I hold him close to my body and he looks into my eyes and often smiles. He makes the same sweet, contented noises and pushes his little feet against me the same way he did when he was at the breast — exactly the same way. I’m recovering well and love being a parent. My anxiety is well under control. My husband enjoys participating in the act of feeding our beautiful son. We are a happy, loving family and we have chosen formula because it works for us.