I took FC to the park this morning. While he ran off to collect sticks with a few of his friends, I chatted with another mom, who’d just had her second child 8 weeks ago.
I certainly didn’t bring up feeding (I never do). But it came up anyway (as it always does). She mentioned that breastfeeding had been a bit challenging, and I listened for awhile before casually mentioning that this was “sort of what I do.” That opened the floodgates, and she began telling me a story which would make a perfect contribution to FFF Fridays.
After we talked about it for awhile, she said that it was really nice to hear that what she was doing was okay (supplementing) and that she was right to prioritize her mental health. Apparently, the nurses and lactation support staff she’d encountered thus far had made her feel the opposite. “Even when I tell other moms, they just tell me to ‘keep going’,” she said with a sigh. She knew they meant well, but at the moment, that wasn’t the type of support she needed.
It was only a brief encounter, but it was the perfect end to #ISYWeek, for me. It felt really good to know that I truly supported another mom today – a stranger – in a way that made a difference. It wasn’t a big deal, and it certainly wasn’t newsworthy. It’s not even something worth blogging about, really. But that, I think, is what we’re lacking right now – these face-to-face, tiny moments of true support, of building each other up and making sure each of us is being heard, is being seen. True, individual, basic support, free of parenting politics, free of drama. That’s what Kim and I wanted to achieve with #ISupportYou. And today, I felt like I did achieve that, if only for 5 minutes, if only with one person.
I chose Elizabeth’s FFF Friday story to close out I Support You Week, because even in her attempt to exorcise her own feeding demons, she’s thinking about other moms. She’s thinking about the women who may need what she needed. That means so much, especially in the bottle feeding community, because we haven’t really had a community – but I’d like to think that’s finally changing. I am so grateful that Elizabeth got the support she needed, and even more grateful to her for paying it forward. I hope we can all do the same, so that our voices are heard by those desperate to hear them.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
When I was pregnant with my first son, and people asked me if I planned on breastfeeding (which, in hind sight, was such a personal and nosy question, but I got asked it a lot!), I genuinely answered “I’m going to try, and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t that’s okay.” My dad is an obstetrician, and I had heard him caution several times that he felt that expectant moms who set too stringent of plans for themselves were more likely to fall prey to post-partum depression and anxiety when things didn’t go according to plan — such as having the birth proceed in a particular fashion, or being absolute about breastfeeding (as an aside, he was not at all saying that these were the only reasons that a new mom might suffer from post-partum depression, just that he saw an increased incidence when rigid expectations were set, and then reality fell short of meeting these expectations). So I really believed that I would give breastfeeding a shot, and if it worked, great! And if it didn’t, we would use formula, which would also be great!
For the first several weeks, breastfeeding went well. Sure, there were some early hiccups with figuring out the latch and a little discomfort. And, I never was very comfortable with feeding my baby in public (a self-imposed self-consciousness). But my baby was thriving, and that’s all that mattered.
After about a month, though, I noticed that in the evenings my baby was wanting to nurse constantly. I understood this to be normal cluster feeding. Except that my baby was getting angry, and I realized that he just wasn’t getting as much milk as he wanted or needed. I spoke to a lactation consultant, who told me that my supply would catch up in a few days. Except that it didn’t — the evenings just got worse. I continued to speak to lactation consultants, and constantly ended the conversations feeling like I was doing something wrong — if nursing wasn’t working, then it was clearly due to some error or omission on my part, because nursing was “natural” and it’s “not that common for a mom to not produce enough milk.” There were a number of things going on that, in hindsight, probably affected my supply — I got a horrible cold around this time, my husband was recuperating from knee surgery and wasn’t mobile which added to an already busy, stressful, and sleepless time, and my gallbladder started to act up — so I was in a fair amount of pain (and ultimately had to have surgery myself).
Despite the chastising from the lactation consultants that I should just try harder (not the exact words, but that’s how it sounded to me), we decided that my husband would feed our son a bottle of formula at bedtime while I pumped. We were all happy with the situation — my son had a full belly and stopped fussing as much, and my husband really came to enjoy the bonding time he had with our son every night. And while I didn’t love pumping, I was happy that my son seemed to be happier.
Then I went back to work. My plan was that I would breastfeed first thing in the morning, pump at work, breastfeed when we first got home in the evening, and my husband would give my son a bottle before bed (while I pumped again). My son, however, had other plans — once he started having bottles all day while I was at work, he had absolutely no interest in nursing. So rather quickly, he became exclusively bottle fed. I figured I would still pump, and supplement with formula when needed. Great plan, right?
Except that it wasn’t. My body did not respond well to pumping at all, and my supply immediately started to dwindle. I started talking to lactation consultants again and researching online how to increase my supply. Despite my early “laid back” approach to breastfeeding that I would try, but not stress about it, I became obsessed with my supply. I ate the oatmeal, I took the fenugreek, I drank the herbal tea, I had a Guinness at night…I tried everything. All the while, I was pumping more and more every day, and producing less and less. I was getting jealous of my husband’s bedtime routine with my son, because I felt like I was just chained to the pump while he got to spend quality time with our baby. My work began to suffer because of all the time I was devoting to pumping during the workday (I will note, my job never hassled me about the time I spent pumping, but I knew it was affecting my ability to be efficient and meet deadlines). On the weekends, time with family and friends was interrupted by my fixation on scheduling pumping breaks. My life revolved around the pump — and constant thoughts that I clearly just wasn’t trying hard enough.
I blame my obsession largely to the messages I was receiving while trying to increase my supply. A lactation consultant told me that I should consider pumping as a gift to my child and should keep trying; a message board commenter noted that my resentment of pumping was “selfish” because it was what was best for my son. Websites devoted to breastfeeding made it seem like formula was poison, and that if I was a good mom, I would figure out how to continue to provide breastmilk. Even the back of the formula canister stated that breastmilk was best. Everywhere I turned, I was made to feel like I was failing my son, and failing as a woman and a mom — after all, wasn’t producing milk perfectly natural? And so my obsession continued. I think this had nothing to do with what I personally thought about formula, and more about societal pressure to breastfeed.
By the time my son was nearly five months old, I was pumping for at least three hours a day, and sometimes not even producing enough for one bottle — TOTAL. Around this time, I had the opportunity to take my baby with me for a long weekend to visit my brother and sister-in-law. I had unloaded everything from the car but my pump (I really resented that thing, so I don’t think that was accidental!). It was nearing time to pump, and as I got ready to return to the car to get the pump, I shared my frustrating experience with my lovely sister-in-law, who also happens to be a pediatrician. I hadn’t said anything to her before, because I just assumed she would tell me “breast is best” and tell me to keep trying. But instead, she looked me in the eyes and said very simply “It’s okay to stop. You are a good mom.” And I just started to cry — I so badly needed someone to give me permission to stop pumping (and obsessing), and to tell me that I wasn’t a failure. I never got the pump out of the car that weekend, and it was so liberating and freeing to actually spend quality time with my son, and to feed him his bottles (instead of handing him off to someone so I could pump), and to just be.
I just welcomed a second son to the world about four months ago, and I was very nervous about how I would feel about feeding him this time. I decided to give breastfeeding a shot again, but am trying to be very aware of not letting myself cycle down into obsession and depression if it doesn’t work out. So far, it’s been just fine. I am back at work, but my son still choses to nurse when I’m around (in fact, he has the opposite problem of his older brother — he refuses a bottle if he senses that I am in a ten mile radius of him!). Pumping is going okay, but I also supplement some with formula. When I pump, and feel those anxious feelings return if I don’t have a great session, I gently remind myself that it’s okay. And I have promised myself that if I am not producing a good amount of milk through pumping, I am going to stop – I will not make myself jump through all those hurdles like I did before, because it negatively impacts my sanity, and in turn, negatively impacts my relationship with my children. The best thing I did for my relationship with my first son was to turn exclusively to formula, and I will not hesitate to do it again with my second.
This is long, but it is cathartic to write it all out (I have tears running down my face as I type). I’ve carried around the guilt and anxiety of my experience with breast feeding my first son for too long. Even as a currently-breastfeeding mom, I still bristle when I read or hear “breast is best.” Because while breast is best for some moms, it’s not best for others, and feeling shame, anxiety, and frustration over how to feed a baby is not stress that a new mom needs. What I also hope is that if anyone reading this is a new mom, and my story resonates sounds at all familiar, you will listen when I tell you that it’s okay to stop. It’s okay to switch to formula. As silly as it sounds now, I needed someone to give me permission. My angel of a sister-in-law did that for me, and it was such needed relief. She freed me from a vicious emotional downward spiral that impacted just not me, but also my son and my husband. And so, if you need that permission like I did, please let me give it to you:
It’s okay to stop. You are a good mom.
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