I don’t know quite what to say about Ashleigh’s story (below), except that I’m sorry.
I’m sorry things haven’t changed. I’m sorry that this situation gets more ridiculous by the day. I’m sorry we are arguing over the perceived dangers of formula advertising in resource-rich countries when we could be focusing that attention on the very real dangers of postpartum depression. I’m sorry feminism – or, rather, those who dwell at the intersection of feminism and motherhood – has failed to see the full scope of the infant feeding issue, essentially turning its (their) back on women for whom the Patriarchy is not a formula company, but rather those who insist on reducing women to biological functions. I’m sorry I haven’t made a dent in this fucked up discourse. I’m sorry you are hurting. I’m sorry. I’m just so damn sorry.
But here’s hope: we grow in numbers by the day. We’re listening, Ashleigh. We’re here to say yes, we’ve been there, it’s okay, we’re sorry. And we will keep saying these things – we’ve been there, it’s okay, we’re sorry – until our voices are loud enough to vanquish this particular, unnecessary nightmare of motherhood back under the bed, with the dust bunnies and dead bugs. Where it belongs.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
The line turned pink, finally. After almost a year of trying to conceive I was finally pregnant. After a year of watching friends and family find themselves pregnant, I was finally pregnant. I was finally pregnant. I tested 7 days before my missed period, I was BARELY pregnant. Those next few weeks were, at the time, the hardest few weeks of my life. I was in a constant state of fear of miscarrying.
At about 5 weeks pregnant I had some slight nipple tenderness, I thought, “ahh finally! My first physical sign of pregnancy, breast growth!” Yeah that lasted all of two days; looking back I’m fairly certain my nipples were tender because I opted not to wear a bra with my scratchy “UNLV Alumni” T-shirt. By 6 weeks pregnant I was questioning the health of my baby on mommy boards via pregnancy apps, wondering why my first pregnancy symptom not only wasn’t getting more intense as the days passed, but that it had stopped all together (eventually I found myself in a bout of morning sickness that lost me 15 pounds).
Why. Weren’t. My. Breasts. Growing? Why? Why weren’t my breasts tender? Why? I brought it up at all my early OB appointments, was assured over and over and over that breast size did not dictate milk production nor the ability to breast feed (you’re right, size doesn’t, but other things do) – and that it was still early enough in my pregnancy and by the time I delivered my breasts would be full of milk and ready to feed my baby.
Months pass, still no growth. Still no tenderness. Still no colostrum. Still the same ‘ol “no-boobs”, as I’ve always referred to them as. I start scouring the internet for answers, since none of the doctors at my office had any answers besides the infamous “you will be able to breastfeed without question, ALL women can breastfeed!” I started questioning the incredibly offensive and demeaning saying “every woman can breast feed”. From early on, despite my denial, I knew deep down that every woman, in fact, couldn’t breastfeed, and I knew that I was going to be one of those women.
Words cannot explain how badly I wanted to be able to nurse my child. I was borderline sanctimonious about it- not because I wanted to belittle others or make them feel lesser, but because I believed the lactivist propaganda, I fell for their lies, for their tricks. Some days I think my sanctimonious opinions about “breast is best” is the reason for my failure- it was karma, the universes way of laughing in my face for even thinking for a second women who didn’t want to breastfeed or didn’t succeed at breastfeeding just weren’t trying hard enough- a feeling I am so deeply ashamed to admit that I almost didn’t write it here.
My research let me to a little something galled IGT- insufficient glandular tissue. Yup, that sounds about right. I do copious amounts of research on IGT, information, pictures, markers; I had almost every marker. Then one morning before work, because I’m a smart person, I finally cave to looking at pictures of what IGT breasts may look like- something I was avoiding out of pure fear: the pictures matched my body. Moments later, 32 little kindergarteners pile into my classroom, me with tears in my eyes, coming to the realization I was not going to be able to nourish my child. I was going to fail her. ..But no. I WILL BE ABLE TO BREAST FEED, DAMNIT!! I WILL! I WILL TRY HARD ENOUGH. Again, denial. From then on I started searching phrases like “breastfeeding with IGT” “Does no breast growth during pregnancy mean I won’t be able to breastfeed?” I found a few articles of women who were successful with the markers, or the lack of changes I experienced during pregnancy. I was going to make it. I was going to try hard enough. Here I am 8 months pregnant and can’t even fill up an A cup, yeah okay, keep lying to yourself honey, they’ll grow, you still have time. Friends assured me, even though they were stunned by my lack of growth during pregnancy, that I would absolutely grow immediately after birth (yeah, that didn’t happen either). I turn to my husband for comfort, who was deployed my entire pregnancy, and expressed my fears… he thought I was crazy. Of course he did, he wasn’t here to witness the momentous failure my breasts were. He thought I was exaggerating, I wasn’t. He did make it home 8 days before the birth of our daughter, he told me my breasts had grown, he lied to make me feel better- I did appreciate the sentiment. Every appointment up until moments before I delivered I discussed my concerns about not being able to breastfeed with my doctors, I was ignored, as usual.
Our baby was finally here, a beautiful 6 pound, 4 ounce baby girl. I developed a fever during labor and had a slight postpartum hemorrhage after delivery, and was unable to feed my daughter for almost 2 and a half hours after birth- I do partially attribute that delay in time to my epic failure of nursing. Even hours after she was born I was barely able to squeeze but a few drops of colostrum- I was given a hospital grade pump and nothing came out. My baby was unable to latch, and I was unable to produce. But the nurses, again, assured me my milk would come in fine, and that my baby would be able to eat, “her tummy is small, she only needs a little”.
I was given syringes to collect what few drops of colostrum I could manage to hand express from my breasts, I’d fill up maybe 1/5 of it, over an hour… that’s supposed to feed my baby? According to hospital staff, yes. I didn’t respond to a pump, I didn’t respond to hand expression, I didn’t respond to my baby’s suckle. My body was broken. I was NOT going to be able to nurse my child. It was official, it was certain.
We returned to the hospital 2 days after being discharged for my daughters 5 day old appointment; she was a whopping 5 pounds 5 ounces. My baby had lost 15% of her birth weight. I was devastated, I started crying uncontrollably right there in front of the hospital staff. We were given formula and a syringe with a tube to supplement- no bottles of course, you don’t want baby to get nipple confusion.
8 days after birth, yes 8, my “milk” finally came in. I woke up one morning with slight pain in my breasts- this was great!! I have milk! I pumped a whole 2 ounces- combined of course- and was slightly discouraged- my mom looked on the internet and assured me that was normal. I sent a picture to a friend so proud of all the milk I’d managed to pump, and got a response of “that’s all you got?” I know she wasn’t trying to rain on my parade or make me feel bad, but it did. I wanted this, damn it. I wanted to nurse my child.
We decided to only supplement 1.5 ounces of formula a day, a decision today I regret whole heartily. My baby was struggling to stay on the charts, she was the 0 percentile… is 0 even a percentile? For her, it was. Fast forward a month, after round the clock nursing sessions that lasted up to an hour, pumping every two hours, and many many lactation consultations, we finally started giving her bottles. Up until that point I was nursing every 2 hours and pumping the off hour… it was horrible. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I wanted to give up, not give up, stop, but my husband made me a promise that he wouldn’t let me, a promise I forced him to make- I know he was trying to support my decision and respect my wishes, but I had had enough.
Once the bottles started life got easier. At first it was one a day, we eventually went up- combo feeding worked for us, until it didn’t. When my baby was 6 weeks old my in-laws came for their first visit (they live across the country), the can of formula was on the counter- I overheard my MIL say to my husband “you know, you really shouldn’t be giving her formula, that’s not good” he responded with “well we are, because it’s what works for us”. Shamed for formula feeding in my own home. Shamed for trying to keep my baby alive in my own home. I tried, I tried to EBF, I couldn’t, I was starving my baby- I’m sorry my sweet girl, mommy is sorry.
At just before 5 months we weaned her completely from breast feeding. She was over it, mommy was too hard to eat from and she was too hungry to work that hard for it. She rejected my breast. Refused me. She preferred bottled formula over mommy’s breast. Do you know how painful that is for a woman? I couldn’t force her to nurse if I tried, she wanted food, and I couldn’t give it to her.
Fast forward to today, my sweet girl is just 2 weeks away from turning 1 and I have found myself obsessed with the notion of relactation… its unhealthy. I’d never planned on breastfeeding past a year anyway, but here I am convinced that if I try harder this time I’ll be able to do it, I’ll be able to produce. Even when looking back and remembering how many days I felt like dying because I couldn’t nourish my child. I wanted to die. Or to run away and never look back because I felt like my child deserved better than me and that I wasn’t worthy enough to be her mother, all because I couldn’t succeeded at breastfeeding? Yet I’m still partially obsessed with relactation????
Breastfeeding destroyed me psychologically. Destroyed me. It took my happiness, it took my feeling of worthiness, it prevented me from fully bonding with my child, it contributed deeply to my postpartum depression, and it made me want to die. I no longer wanted to live, and that is terrible. Even today, on the days I forget to take my medication, I find myself in fits of tears over the loss of what should have been, but wasn’t, because of my broken body. I shouldn’t feel broken, but I do. I shouldn’t feel unworthy of motherhood, but I do. I shouldn’t feel like I failure, but I do. I shouldn’t fall into spells of depression and self-loathing all from seeing a photo of a friend breastfeeding, but I do. I shouldn’t feel a deep despair simply from noticing another woman’s breasts grew during pregnancy, but I do. Breast will never be best when it makes a mother feel like that… when it makes a person feel the way I did, the way I still do. My identity has become reliant on my lack of ability to breast feed, and it shouldn’t. I am a good mom, even if I did formula feed. Every day for the rest of my life I will struggle with the feelings of guilt and shame, and I hate that. But as long as there are lactivists who shame and humiliate formula feeding mothers, there will always be that feeling of incompetence in my heart- and its truly not fair.