FFF Friday: “Motherhood and martyrdom aren’t the same thing.”

The stories I receive for FFF Fridays tend to fall into three categories: those who never wanted to breastfeed, those who couldn’t breastfeed for physiological reasons, and those who ended up formula feeding due to situational and/or emotional reasons. 

I want to make one thing very clear: in my mind, they why’s shouldn’t make a difference to anyone but you. Choosing formula or having the choice made for you only matters because of how it affects your experience (ie, are you grieving the loss of the breastfeeding relationship, or do you feel relief after a traumatic experience with it). It does not in any way affect how I see you, or how anyone else should see you, or how you should see yourself. It does not make you a bad mother. It makes you a formula feeding mother. That’s it.

Still, I also think it’s important for people to voice their feelings and their personal truths. So if someone needs to explain how they “had” to choose formula, that’s okay. In a perfect world, no one would feel like they have to give an excuse. In a perfect world, like Kate says, no one would ever ask “why”.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, so there’s FFF Friday.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Kate’s Story

To everyone who would like to know how I will feed my next baby:

Firstly, it’s good to know you’re interested. I worry about how you’ll respond to my answer, which might be delivered at you with a one-word sentence: “Formula.”

I might not say any more, because this is a hard one for me to discuss.

It’s a difficult decision to talk about because we live in an era where our choices as mothers tend to be driven by particular ideologies. As it happens, I do subscribe to the “Breast is best” ideology in theory. It’s a tired old aphorism which has often been quoted at me by well-meaning individuals oblivious to my own circumstances. Sure, perhaps breast is best in a scientific sense, or in a health and wellbeing sense. Very few would dispute this.

Unfortunately, due to the gap between ideology and reality, breast was not best for me. Breast was not even possible for me. Most importantly, it didn’t work for my baby, and probably won’t be for any future babies.

I started off wanting to breastfeed. Apparently, 97% of Australian women do begin this way. (This is possibly related to the way it is relentlessly promoted by grim Nazi-style midwives, and the cruel manner in which formula feeding is openly belittled. Am I a bad mum for ‘choosing’ formula? No, I’m not – but it wasn’t really a choice, as you’ll discover.)

Here’s what breastfeeding did: purely and simply, it starved my baby. Initially, she wasn’t even going to be allowed home from hospital because she had lost too much weight. My breasts bled each time I tried. Nurses alternately (and incorrectly) attacked me for not ‘latching on’ correctly and then suggested that my baby might have a tongue tie. (They were correct about this, as it happens. I have nerve pain to this day because of a problem that wasn’t diagnosed until it was much, much too late.)

So I saw a lactation consultant. (If breastfeeding is so natural, why are there so many professionals whose job it is to help us with it?) I didn’t get any answers. She was brusque and frustrated. “Just try harder” was her general advice. New mothers are in an incredibly vulnerable situation, and of course you want to take all advice on board. So I tried harder. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was both time-consuming and ultimately disheartening.

My baby couldn’t sleep because she wasn’t being fed. I couldn’t look after my baby because I was too busy hooking myself up to a breast pump. Night after night, every couple of hours, and I still couldn’t produce enough. I sat there, freezing and crying in the dark with shrivelled up, hideously bruised breasts – one on a pump, the other attached to an unhappy infant.

My baby cried constantly.  I couldn’t look after her – I didn’t even have the time to take care of her and be the inadequate labouring milk-producing machine I had reduced myself to becoming. I didn’t play with her. I didn’t even have time to eat properly. All was sacrificed to the ultimate goal of the “liquid gold” I had been promised. I was a mental wreck – I felt shivers of pure panic whenever she woke up, because waking meant feeding. There were nights where she would latch on for an hour and sleep for 15 minutes.

The milk bar was closed, against the wishes of its owner.quotescover-JPG-53

Later on, I was to realise that the combined effects of gestational diabetes, a caesarean birth, my baby’s tongue-tie and a condition called insufficient glandular tissue had all conspired against me. The fact that I feel compelled to give a medicalised explanation implies that I still feel defensive about the whole business. Well, you’re the one who asked about it.

I’m not sure why we all feel free to inquire about every mothering decision, especially given that, regardless of how I feed, I’m still Top Dog in my baby’s life. No one has as much of an interest in her as I do. I have the legal and moral right to make decisions about what works for both of us.

The first time I fed my daughter formula was possibly also the first time she slept properly. She didn’t look cross and anxious as she had before. She knew I cared about her enough to make sure she was nourished.

As opposed to putting myself first. Realistically, why was I breastfeeding? I thought it was expected. Most people I know could do it without too much worry. I didn’t want the judgements that came with formula feeding. The worst reason to do anything is to satisfy others. But, at the time, I thought I had to live in this miserable manner. I looked in the mirror and saw a tired, stressed martyr in those days.

Here’s the secret: motherhood and martyrdom aren’t the same thing. I’m Catholic, so I know a few things about martyrs. They all make amazing sacrifices for strong beliefs. They generally go against the grain of their times and are individual and counter-cultural in the way they live and die.

You can’t be a martyr to breastfeeding! Nor can you base your decisions on the expectations of others. The only person whose opinion I care about other than my own is my husband’s, and he supported me because he was the only one who saw and appreciated what breastfeeding was doing to me.

So, whenever I’m blessed with another child, it’s straight to the bottle. I hope my next child will smile and laugh as much as my little girl now does. She’s great. She’s never been sick. No one’s going to look at her in a year’s time and know how she was fed.

I am immeasurably angry that I live in a society which seeks to define my worth as a mother by how I can or can’t use my breasts.

For those who struggle with breastfeeding and don’t give up, I have only admiration. I wish them success, though not at the expense of their own health or their relationship with their baby. For my own sanity, I had to realise when it was time to put the whole experience in the ‘too hard’ basket.

I hope that answers your questions.

Most importantly, I hope it also makes you realise that you were wrong to ask questions in the first place

***

Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

My honest reaction to The Honest Company’s new formula

So there’s a new formula on the market.

Honest-Company-Formula-DHA

This should be good news, right? Especially as this particular formula brand (The Honest Company) is trying to corner the organic, natural-minded formula feeder market, which is steadily growing. I’ve heard from many FFFs who import a British organic formula because it’s the only one that suits their needs; this is certainly not cost-effective or efficient, and it’s spectacular that these parents now have a Stateside option.

Unfortunately, most of the formula feeding community (including me) learned of this new product via an article on PopSugar which only served to infuriate a good deal of its target audience.

“When you’re trying to feed your baby, you’re riddled with emotion, shame, judgement . . . all these extra layers,” Christopher Gavigan, the company’s cofounder and the creator of the formula, told us. “We acknowledge that breast milk is the most nutritious form of food on Earth, but if you look at the research, the majority of moms will end up doing some combination of feeding, whether it’s a choice or because they have to. It’s a growing reality around the world. And in that reality, parents have to be able to choose something.”

Um, I’m no marketing genius, but since when has “well, we know you feel really shitty about using this – and you SHOULD – but since you have to do it, you may as well choose us” been an effective marketing strategy?

One could argue that for moms who just need to supplement a little, or who are still feeling awful about their “failure” to breastfeed, this self-flagellating attitude might be welcomed. But that doesn’t mean it’s helpful. I wonder about the impact of this language on moms who already worry enough about nutrition to shell out $30/can for formula.

This product launch is also causing drama because Gavigan implies that other widely-used commercial formulas are sub-par:

What he came up with was a formula carefully modeled after breast milk, nutritionally complete, easy to digest, and meticulously blended using ingredients sourced from trusted organic farms. It’s free of gluten, GMOs, flavorings, steroids, growth hormones, and pesticides. And it’s the only formula on the market that has chosen to leave out hexane-extracted DHA (while the fatty acid is known to help with baby’s brain development, the synthetic forms don’t meet safety standards).

While there are many who don’t feel comfortable with hexane-extracted DHA (and I’m thrilled they have a new option, because all parents deserve to feel comfortable with what they are feeding their babies), it’s patently false that the forms used in other formulas don’t meet safety standards. They may not meet Gavigan’s safety standards, or the Cornucopia Institute’s standards, or European standards, or YOUR safety standards, but they do meet the safety standards formula companies must adhere to. Speaking of which, I highly doubt this formula’s ingredients closely resemble breastmilk any more so than Good Start’s. Every formula company wants to get as close to breastmilk as possible. That’s sort of the end-goal. If Honest Company has cracked the code, I think we’d be seeing articles in the Wall Street Journal, not PopSugar.  (Also, for the record, Baby’s Only also has a hexane-free option, although they market it as a “toddler formula” because they believe babies should be primarily breastfed for the first year. But it really is an infant formula. Which is weird. But whatever.)

That said, it is plausible that they have sourced all their ingredients from trusted organic farms. That’s probably where the hefty price tag comes from.

Yet, while Gavigan’s quotes in the Pop Sugar article left a lot to be desired, whoever designed the company’s website is a genius. In the introduction to their feeding section, they state:

No breast versus bottle, no right or wrong: We believe how parents choose to feed their babies is a personal process based on the needs of their families. We know it can be quite an emotional decision. That’s why we’re here not to judge, but rather to support parents with a range of researched information and safe, premium products that empower every family to make the best choices given their unique circumstances.
We’re aware that breast is best, but we also understand that families may choose or require other options. No parent should have to feel guilty for choosing to feed her or his baby one way or another. Parents have been nourishing their children in all kinds of ways since the beginning of time as we know it. With Honest Feeding, The Honest Company hopes to represent the next step in the evolution of nourishment as we help you lay the foundation for a safe, healthy and happy future.

 

Freaking amazing, isn’t it? And even better, they have a section called “Transparency” where they take you through the ingredients in their formula, where they are sourced, etc. The old guard formula companies could learn a lot from this approach. It’s beautiful.

Problem is, I don’t know if what’s on the site is merely lip service, and the “persona” of Honest as a formula company will be closer to the PopSugar representation. I really, really hope that Gavigan was just misquoted.

Regardless, when I posted about this new formula on the FFF Facebook page, all hell broke loose. Some echoed Gavigan’s feelings about currently available commercial formulas, saying that what was available was “garbage”. Others understandably balked at this suggestion. Feelings were hurt, insults were hurled, and I ended up turning off the computer and watching Law & Order SVU because it was less frightening.

(**This is what we’ve come to. We’re so reactive, because we’ve been forced to live in fear, under this heavy, smelly cloud of judgment. It puts us in bad moods, makes us jumpy and defensive, and who can blame us? You spend too much time under a smelly cloud, and you start to kind of stink, too. I know I do.** )

So where do I stand on this new product? First, it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s not my baby. It’s yours. And what mattered to me when I was choosing formula doesn’t have anything to do with what matters to you. My kids couldn’t tolerate anything but expensive hypoallergenics, and I was so relieved to have a way to feed them that allowed them not to starve or bleed from their GI tract that I wouldn’t have cared if the ingredients came from the seventh layer of hell. If organic, hexane-free formula is important to parents, then I damn well want to see organic, hexane-free formulas on the market. We should have more options, overall. That doesn’t mean formulas differ in how they will nourish your baby – they all meet the same nutritional standards and your baby will grow well on all of them, unless s/he has a special need/allergy/intolerance that necessitates a specialty formula. But there’s enough “noise” out there when it comes to our food (not that I condone or agree with this noise, but that’s not really here nor there) to make any new parent anxious, and when you’re already feeling anxious about not breastfeeding, the last thing you need is more anxiety.

One more thing I want to address, in this convoluted post: On Twitter, a lot of pediatricians I respect and who have fair, balanced perspective on formula use, surprised me with their reaction to this new formula. I share their skepticism on the marketing claims, but I worry about this attitude of “no formula will ever match breastmilk, so why even try?” That’s fatalist and scientifically pessimistic. There is always room for improvement. This may mean more options, better safety protocols, more transparency from the formula companies  And yeah, someday, it might mean making a formula that is even closer to breastmilk, at least in terms of certain specific aspects of human milk that we could potentially recreate in a lab. It’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Sometimes, I think that our desire to promote breastfeeding denies us the opportunity to do better for our population as a whole. As Gavigan rightly points out, many parents use formula. That will not change, at least not in our lifetimes. Throughout history, babies have been fed with drinks and foods other than breastmilk, much earlier than the currently advised 6-month mark. Providing the healthiest alternative possible should be a major goal. Dismissing formulas as “all the same” translates to “all junk” in the hyper-alert minds of loving parents. That’s not the message we should be sending, and more importantly, it’s not true.

Here is what it comes down to: No formula is “better” than another, nor is any parent “better” than another. We make choices; sometimes those choices are made for us, for financial or health reasons. The beauty of having options is that we feel we can exert some control over our babies’ health. The downside of having options is that we feel pressured to make choices that can exert control over our babies’ health.  And it gets even more complicated, because no one can agree on what is “healthy” half the time. Depending on whether you read Food Babe or Grounded Parents, your definition will vary.

But here’s what it also comes down to: We can’t confuse innovation, marketing and development within an industry with the politics of infant feeding at large. It’s the difference between arguing whether parabens should be in skin care products, and proclaiming that no one should be using anything but water and olive oil to clean their faces in the first place. It’s telling a car company that they shouldn’t be talking about their safety ratings, but rather encouraging people to walk.

It’s good to talk about these things. And no one should feel they have to sugarcoat or keep mum about issues that concern them. But if we could all just be realistic, be wary, and be kind, it would make for a much more palatable and productive discussion.

Honestly. It’s that easy.

FFF Friday: “I had come to believe that formula was poison…”

If I could nail down one thing to blame for the pain formula feeding parents feel, it would be the nature of infant feeding literature. The words they use, the images, the phrasing…. it’s not the “facts” that are given but the bastardization of those facts; not the purpose of the public health campaigns but the insidious ear-worms they become. Those words haunt us, and taunt us.

Changing the way we support and inform new parents could make all the difference. And it’s so freaking easy. It doesn’t need to be researched or number-crunched. You wouldn’t even need particularly smart copywriters. Just be honest, emotionally neutral, and understanding that people are people, not statistics. Done and done.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

*** 

Emily’s Story

In December 2012 we decided we would come off the pill and try for a baby. Two years and two miscarriages later our son came into the world, on 9 December 2014.

I was always unsure about breastfeeding. I’d heard a few stories about it being hard and painful but I decided I would go for it and see what happened.

I was very casual about the whole thing. I knew that breast was best, I had been given countless leaflets and advice leading up to the birth to tell me so, but I wasn’t going to put any pressure on myself. Oh no, I was cool, calm and well in control of the notion.

Until my son arrived.

It was a tricky birth, natural, with an early dose of pethidine, more gas and air than you could shake a stick at and a helping hand from a ventouse cup, but he came out alive and screaming.

It was amazing. He was perfect. The most perfect little thing I had ever seen and I immediately fell into mother mode. I wanted him on my skin straight away and I never wanted to let him go.

When we were moved into our room the midwife came in and told me it was time to try feeding him with my breast. No one asked me if I wanted to use a bottle, I was just guided through what to do. He latched on perfectly and I was told I was a natural.

I sat there, with my son feeding away off me and I felt like this made up for all the hard work I had to get him here. The miscarriages and the traumatic pregnancy (I had severe SPD and was in a wheelchair for the last few months) were all worthwhile, as now I was giving my son the absolute best start in life.

Because the birth was a little tricky I was kept in for a few days and as such my son was more closely monitored. His sugar levels were low and he needed a lot of heel pricks, he became jaundiced and slept, a lot.

At no point did anyone suggest I try a bottle to top him up. I just kept being told that I was doing a great job. They even sent in their breastfeeding expert to sit with me, who confirmed this.

It was at this point I noticed he had tongue tie. I had heard about this from a friend so I knew what to look out for. I pointed it out to them and they arranged for him to have a snip that day, day two.

He came back having apparently not even noticed it was done and I clamped him to me to try it out. It felt different and yes, I nodded that this should be it. I had convinced myself it was better.

We were discharged on day four and I went home, carrying on feeding my son from my breast, believing that everything was OK. By this time I was becoming determined to breastfeed my baby. The message I was reading on all the sites I googled to help me was that if I didn’t breast feed him he would likely become obese, suffer allergies and even a higher risk of cancer! There was no way I was going to allow that to happen to my precious bundle.

The community midwife came to visit the day after and we were sent back to hospital on day 7 as he had lost 11% of his birth weight and he was severely jaundiced. It was absolutely horrific.

My son spent the whole night in a UV incubator by my bedside. I was only allowed to pick him up to feed him. I wasn’t even allowed to hold him if he cried.

I spent the 24 hours we were in hospital on a strict routine of hourly pumping and feeding. I was distressed, convinced I had starved my son by not being able to feed him properly. I felt like I had already failed him as a mother.quotescover-JPG-67

I wasn’t pumping enough milk. The staff told me that that was probably the issue and that I needed to calm down and wait for my milk to come in. It was probably delayed from the birth. In the meantime it was suggested that I top up with formula.

I point blank refused. I had been told by breastfeeding supporters that I mustn’t do this as it would affect my supply. I had read all of these messages from government campaigns. I had a close group of friends who had all had babies around the same time, who were breastfeeding advocates. I had come to believe that formula was poison and I was not going to give up without a fight.

The UV lamp did the trick and all the pumping and feeding meant that he gained a little weight. Enough for me to be allowed to go home, with the agreement that I would see the community midwife daily.

On one of these visits she pointed out that he was still tongue-tied. I hadn’t realised, but it was actually pretty bad still. He was booked back in for another snip at two weeks old and we all felt sure that this would be the end of it.

I spent the next few weeks desperately reaching out to everyone to get help to feed him. Friends, peer suport, midwives etc. Everyone praised me and encouraged me to keep going, even though Hugo’s weight gain was very slow.

My husband, normally a placid, gentle man was determined I keep going and during one conversation we had about possibly stopping he became quite cross and insisted I continue to breastfeed our son. He had also been made to feel as if breast was best.

On Hugo’s four week birthday I went into clinic to weigh him. I had previously been given another week to get some weight on him or my midwife was going to insist I switch to combi or formula. I was a wreck that morning. I knew that this journey was going to come to an end and I was right. He had hardly gained a thing that week and I broke down in hysterical tears.

I was led to a private room and she asked if I had a bottle and some formula. I had come prepared and she made the bottle up for me to feed to my son. As I held him in my arms and looked down at his face, I realised that this was the first time in weeks I had properly ”looked” at him. I watched his little lips work around the teat of the bottle and saw him gulping up this golden liquid that was going to make my son get fat and healthy and I felt euphoric.

I felt uncontrollable love for him and right then, as I fed him this wonderful stuff, I knew I was the best mother in the world because I was finally able to put my son before me and do what is best for my son. All the stresses and worries of the first few weeks just washed away and I felt amazing! Breast is not best, a well fed, happy, healthy baby is best!

I don’t disagree with promoting breast feeding. What I disagree with is the wording of these campaigns and the pressure they put on a mother to breastfeed. There is something very wrong with our world if we are not able to support a woman, no matter what her choice of feeding is, who just wants to feed her child!

***

Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “The best choice for us was actually formula.”

As Emily has observed, many of the FFF Friday submissions start with the words “I always wanted to breastfeed.” I know I’ve personally said those words too many times to count. 

But that’s not the only story out there. There are many women who feel as Emily did, and that is just as important and valid to talk about – perhaps more. There’s this idea out there that as long as a mom “tried to do her best”, she should be immune from judgment. This is, in many way, just as judgmental and limiting a script as any other uttered in the infant feeding discussion.

What is “doing your best”? Is it martyring yourself, like so many of us have, in the name of exclusive breastfeeding? Is it having a medical excuse? Being *this* depressed, *this* sick, *this* abused?

Or is doing your best really doing the best you can as a parent, in the best way you – as an individual – think you can?

I prefer the latter definition. By that logic, we’ve all “tried to do our best”. Sometimes our best does not mean breast.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

*** 

Emily’s Story

I’ve heard a lot of formula feeders start off by saying “I always wanted to breastfeed.”   My story starts with “I never wanted to breastfeed.”  I remember not being comfortable with it when I was a child and never did feel comfortable about it, even when I considered it as a logical adult.  The thought of having a baby or machine sucking on my nipples just made me cringe.  Some have made assumptions that I was sexually molested or have daddy/mommy issues (I wasn’t and my parents are awesome, thankyouverymuch), but there really isn’t some reasonable answer to why I feel that way.  And no, I don’t consider boobs to be only sexual objects.  It just is what it is.

My son had been an unexpected surprise.  I was still waffling about if I wanted to have kids at all when I found out I was already pregnant, and up until he was a couple of days old I was unsure how I felt about him (and then, of course, I fell madly in love with him).  When I was reading about how freaking amazing breastfeeding is I was filled with dread.  I deeply feared that I’d have to endure it, but then as I was considering the bonding aspect of it, it occurred to me that with being already unsure about him the last thing I needed to be doing was giving myself more of a reason to experience negative feelings for him.  Whatever else I felt, I had determined that I was going to do right by him.  Nothing I read in true scientific studies suggested that he wouldn’t be perfectly fine on formula, and I was truly terrified that I’d end up hating him if I made myself breastfeed him.  That’s not doing right by a child, I don’t care if breastmilk really is all that and the cure for the common man-cold.  It made sense to me that the best choice for us was actually formula.

recite-mk563q

People I know and encountered in real life didn’t give me any grief about it- in fact the nurses at the hospital asked me which way I was going just so they’d know to send me either a lactation consultant or some of those spiffy 2 oz. premade nurser bottles.  They even gave me a few extra packs of those to take home.  It was only when I got online that I was immersed into the dreaded mommy wars.  You go on to these mommy communities because, let’s face it, it is possible to get a lot of really good advice about everything from getting those darned teeny socks to stay on a baby’s feet to a plethora of breastfeeding info.  It is my habit to research the heck out of things, especially when it comes to my children.  Seriously, it took me two weeks to decide on a convertible carseat when my son was outgrowing his infant carrier.  I’d already researched breastfeeding on my own for well over a month during my pregnancy, but with these communities I know way more about it than I really ever needed to.  The most insulting assumption was people saying I must be one of those moms who doesn’t give enough of a damn to educate herself, if I chose formula from the get-go.  The very idea was just unfathomable to them.  2 and 2 do not go together, you can’t love your baby if you never even tried.  The only time I ever felt regret for not breastfeeding was from these women.  It was not all of the moms there, but just a handful were more vocal about how strongly they believe in the importance of breastfeeding.

Sometimes, for an hour or two, I’d fall into their trap about not loving my son enough to sacrifice my feelings on the altar of motherhood and do it for his sake.  Then my son would low-crawl over to my stack of magazines and giggle as he happily shredded them, and I’d move on to the next topic.  Something like, “What solids have you done so far?”  Every once in a great while I’d read how a mom who felt as I did succumbed to the pressure to do it, and what she’d describe is exactly what I knew my experience would have been.  Resentment of her child every time she had to lift her shirt up, the cringing, discomfort, distaste, and dread in between feedings- in other words, she was almost completely devoid of the joy of having a baby.  The joy that that was always there in my own breastfeedingless experience.  It makes me immeasurably sad that there are those who would say that breastfeeding is more important than that, and if you really love your baby those terrible feelings are just something you’ll live with.  Why the hell do we lend any credence to people like that, anyway?

These days both of my kids are too old for me to care about what people think of my choice.  I do still get to enjoy the occasional shock and outrage when I answer The Question simply with “I didn’t want to.”  No remorse.  No trying to explain it away.  I really don’t give a crap anymore about what my kids ate the first six to twelve months of their lives.  They are alive and vibrant, and they know that they are fiercely loved.  My son just started tae-kwon-do and my daughter is trying out preschool ballet and her first fall soccer this year.  He is sweet as can be and she is my diva.  He loves video games and is fascinated by his father’s military career, and she will throw on cowboy boots with her princess dress and go ride their Powerwheels 4-wheeler.  We are taking him to an air show two states over just to nurture his dream of becoming a jet fighter pilot.  To bystanders they are the same every day kids as every other kid, and everything, all that truly matters in my world, to me.   I am not usually one to be able to not care what people think of me, but the happiness my kids bring me enables me, in this case, to rise above it.

 ***

Want to share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

 

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