I often wonder about this idea that “before formula was invented, everyone breastfed.” It’s pretty illogical, when you think about it. Women have died or become ill after birth throughout history. There haven’t always been SNS tubes or baby-friendly hospitals; if a woman could not breastfeed her child, all she could do was hope there was a friend or relative around who might wet-nurse her child. But if there wasn’t someone available for the job, you were left with some pretty dismal options.
Wet-nursing and donor milk are great options for some, but they aren’t feasible or, for that matter, appropriate options for everyone. This is what formula is for, and it’s inconceivable to me that anyone would see it as anything but lifesaving.
In Katie’s case, formula was a “necessary evil”, something she’d wanted to avoid. I see this aversion everywhere – women who are at their wits end, needing to supplement, but adamantly opposed to the idea. And I wonder: is this truly coming from their own desires, or is it the influence of the media, doctors, friends, books and magazines that make them feel like anything other than exclusive breastfeeding is failure? Formula can save breastfeeding relationships. It can save sanity. It can save babies, and it can save their mothers.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
It’s just been a few weeks since I had my son. One would think that’s too short of a time to have a FFF story, but I felt I’ve been through such a journey in the past few weeks that its even enough for a lifetime. My story starts in the hospital. I had to make my first hard decision within the first few hours of his life. When I gave birth, I was seconds away from being rushed to the OR because they could not find the source of a bleed in my uterus. They luckily found the source of the bleed (12 huge blood clots) and I was saved from surgery. But all the medication they gave me, along with the blood loss left me with my head in a bucket puking for the first hour of his life. All the while the nurses saying, “He’s getting hungry. We should really put him to breast within the first hour.” I asked for some nausea medication and tried to rally in order to feed my baby, but in the end it wasn’t enough, as there was yet another problem.
I had gestational diabetes throughout my pregnancy. It was very well controlled with diet- I never had to go on any medication to control it. So when in the first few hours of his life, his blood sugar was quite low, I was so upset with myself and so confused as to why he had problems. The nurses did tell me, sometimes babies just have low blood sugar. Especially because your diabetes was well controlled, it probably is just the way it is and doesn’t have much to do with that. But of course I felt terribly responsible. As a result of my blood loss, and his low blood sugar, I had no choice but it give him formula in the first hours of his life.
Now I can tell you, as so many other moms on this website, I never even had the thought of formula feeding. It never even crossed my mind. I knew that if there was one thing that I did- it would be to breastfeed. Like so many others I was so dead set on it. My labor was long and hard- 36 hours with little dilation, a lot of Pitocin, a sunny side up baby, an epidural that gave up at the end and massive blood loss- nothing had gone right for me. Everything that I didn’t want to happen, did. So after all of that, I knew that if nothing in labor worked out for me, that breastfeeding would. And it would be worth it. So when they had to give him that first bottle, I cannot tell you the heartbreak I felt. I had dreams of breastfeeding my whole pregnancy- seeing him suckle at my breast gave me such satisfaction. I couldn’t wait to do it. So the devastation I felt was great. I know now this was the beginning of my postpartum anxiety and depression.
But of course my trouble didn’t end there. Because of the blood loss, my colostrum didn’t come in for 5 days. Those were 5 days that I had to formula feed my baby…..totally unplanned. In the hospital I was so desperate to have that breastfeeding bond with my son, and to not have him get hooked on the bottle instead of the breast, we actually put him to breast and snuck formula in his mouth with a small tube. I was so sure that once my milk came in, we’d have no more problems. Until then, I would pump every time I fed him and I would force my milk to come in that way. So I did- every 2 hours I would feed the baby for a half an hour, then pump for another 20 mins.
But yet I still had more problems. Even with the pumping every two hours, I barely got anything. No where near what my low blood sugar baby needed to survive- on top of that he developed jaundice and desperately need to food to recover from that. This is when the anxiety and depression really hit. The small amount of milk I saw myself produce got me into a vicious cycle of anxiety and depression each time I pumped. The lack of sleep added to that so much so that it wasn’t long before I had a breakdown. I resented my baby, I resented my breasts. I was up for three days straight and I couldn’t even look at him. There was no bond. And I knew that the anxiety I was feeling was making it impossible for my body to make the milk it needed to. I knew then that the anxiety I was feeling wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t just from not being able to feed my baby. I called my OB and she had me make an appt. with a psychologist, and in the meantime gave me some anti-anxiety pills. But of course with these pills, that meant absolutely no breast feeding. I could pump and dump of course until I got on something more permanent. But in the end, that’s when I decided that a healthy, more rested mom was better than a detached, anxiety ridden, sleep deprived mom. That’s when I finally made the decision to let go of not only pumping, but the idea of ever breast feeding my child.
And thank god for the support I had. Of course there were a few who said, well you can still pump and dump, and try and get your supply back, but for the most part my support team said that whatever way you feed your baby is your business. And formula is not the devil. Even my OB said to me, “I struggled like you did Katie and looking back, I feel like I didn’t need to do that. I felt like a martyr. I wish someone would have told me that it’s ok to formula feed.”
In the end I feel my choice was the right one for me. It saved my sanity and in the end, brought me closer to my child. But I know the pain of making this choice. It consumes you to a point where I’ve never been before. It’s a deep guilt that is probably quite unique to this decision. But in the end, I have come to terms with my decision. And I know that my baby is thankful for me to be able to let go of the guilt and sadness and just love him.
Feel like sharing your story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org