FFF Friday: “Please don’t ask.”

Very often, reading your FFF Friday submissions, I think I could seriously just retire from doing this and leave your stories up here as an archive, and it would be just as effective. Because your stories are so powerful, that they speak for themselves – and all the rest of it just becomes unnecessary background noise.

Fawn’s story, below, is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It pretty much sums up everything I’ve tried to say in the past 7 years, in a much more concise and artful way. So.. here you go. One of the best diatribes ever written on this issue, in my opinion.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Fawn’s Story 

Two weeks ago, I was foolishly optimistic enough to believe I wouldn’t have reason or need to write this.  It’s frustrating to find out that my optimism was misguided naiveté.

I am a mom of four.  I have a brilliant six year old son, a hilarious four year old son, and a beautiful pair of newborn identical twin daughters.  After each birth (and frequently leading up to them), I have been surprised by the number of people who feel the need to ask about our feeding situation.  I’ve been here before; I’m not sure why I thought maybe people wouldn’t ask this time around.  But they do.  And it catches me off guard every time.

So it’s been on my mind lately.  And do you know what my well-considered answer is?  My answer is, “Why do you need to know?”

If you are not my doctor, or my babies’ doctor, why do you need to know?  Are you asking because you’re looking for an ally for whichever side of this ridiculous battle you’re on?  Are you asking out of concern for my babies?  Are you asking, because you’re about to offer to buy some formula?  If it’s that last one, ask away, please, and thank you for the help… if it’s for another reason, please reconsider asking.

If you’re asking because you imagine there’s some sort of right vs. wrong, and you need to know which side I’m on, please don’t ask.  I have more important things to worry about than how other people feed their children.  I trust them to make the best choices for their families, just like I do my best to make the best choices for my own family.quotescover-JPG-94

If you’re asking out of concern for the health of my babies, please don’t ask.  Do you really think you’re more concerned about my children’s wellbeing than I am?  Do you think you know more than our doctors or I do, or that I’m incapable of doing the same research you’re capable of?  Please understand that I am a relatively intelligent person with very reliable reading skills.  I have the same access to the internet that you do, and I have had plenty of time to scour PubMed and other sources for actual scientific research. Don’t insult my intelligence or my love for my children by implying that you care more for them than I do.

If you ask about our feeding situation, and I do let you know that yes, we use formula, please don’t try to convince me otherwise.  See the above paragraph, please.  That should suffice.  But if it doesn’t…

Do you want me to describe for you, in detail, what it’s like to watch your firstborn son cry nonstop for days, until he’s exhausted, and unable to even wake up to eat? How it feels to watch him slowly wither and grow weaker as his tiny little body gets even smaller and lighter?  And then, what it’s like to be nursing, and pumping, constantly around the clock, under the watchful supervision of the lactation consultant.  She’d cheered his beautiful latch even in the hospital!  How, in exhaustion, at twelve days old, we went into her office to weigh him before and after, to discover he was getting almost nothing to eat.  Well, how often did I feel let-down?  How long had I experienced engorgement? I wasn’t sure, perhaps because neither of those things ever really happened.  At this point, our six-pound, twelve-ounce newborn had lost nearly a pound.  There in her office, he turned blue from being so thin and pale, and she scooped him up, grabbed me by the hand, and rushed us downstairs to the emergency room.  I can tell you about how tragically sad it is to watch an ER doctor hold your tiny baby down while they do their best to draw blood from his miniature arm.  Is this what you want to hear, when you ask me why we’re using formula?  I pumped for him for six weeks.  It was six weeks of tears, sorrow, and feeling like a failure, as I sat for an hour at a time to wind up with maybe an ounce of “liquid gold” to give my baby, while other people were getting to actually spend time with him and enjoy him.  I would give anything to go back and have the chance to really enjoy him during that time too.  To offer him a mama that is present and happy.   But at least he got the important part of me.  Right?
Have you seen the sunken eyes and cheeks of a baby that’s slowly being starved?

Should I then go on to tell you how I researched while expecting my second-born son?  How I was determined to get it right this time, this thing that supposedly everyone can do, if they just try hard enough?  I was not a new mom; I knew better than to assume breastfeeding would just happen naturally.  It took work.  I spent months reading everything I could about nursing positions, latches, tongue ties, proper diets.  I would set myself and my baby up for success.  I looked forward to the lactation consultants visiting us in the hospital; I had a number on hand for another IBCLC in case we needed her later.

We needed her later.

Did you know that different babies respond differently to intense, long-term hunger?  This baby didn’t cry.  Or sleep.  He attempted to nurse, literally, around the clock.  And we let him.  For days, he and I slept, ten minutes at a time, every few hours.  The rest of the time, we were topless, sequestered in the bedroom, while he did everything he could to be nourished from my body.  When he began to literally nurse my nipples off, we had the IBCLC over as quickly as we could.

I started supplements to increase my supply.  I drank water.  I ate oatmeal.  We weighed him before and after feeds, and he continued to lose weight.  Eventually our IBCLC resignedly informed me that there was not a lot left that we could try.  I was so thankful when she gave me permission to “give up;” I was tired, depressed, and feeling the struggle of following the same road I’d followed the first time around.  Even with education and support, it just wasn’t working.  I refused to put this baby through what the first had suffered through.  I decided that he deserved a present, happy mom.  And he got it.

Our twins are now eleven days old.  They are vibrant and beautiful.  They are also 34-week preemies.  So far, they’ve spent their entire lives in the hospital, finishing up their development and growing.  It is emotionally trying to be a parent of NICU twins; I cannot imagine what would happen to my self-esteem if I was trying to pump for them.  I know what my body can and cannot do.  I also know that this experience is hard enough for me without failing to feed them properly.  They are thriving on formula under the care of the amazing NICU nurses, and my husband and I (and assorted grandparents) bond with them by giving them bottles and snuggling them every day, as often as we are able.  We are so in love, and we cannot wait to bring them home!

When you second-guess the decision my husband and I made to formula feed them, you send a pretty offensive message.  You’re implying that we don’t care enough about our babies to do what you think is best for them.  You don’t know our history, and I shouldn’t have to relive it by having to explain it to you.  It’s not your business. It was painful enough when it happened; I’d rather not dredge it all up to random acquaintances and strangers who feel entitled to ask.

I thought I was impervious to comments and judgements about our family’s formula use, but I’ve discovered I’m not.  If you’re not directly responsible for my family’s medical care, please don’t ask.  That goes for every mom and baby, everywhere.

***

Feel like sharing your story? Email the FFF – formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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