About Suzanne Barston

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.

FFF Friday: “If you love your baby then you are giving her all the food she needs for her soul…”

Jessica, whose story is below, brings up a point I’d never thought of: we hear so much talk about “normalizing breastfeeding” (something I agree is important), but also much criticism of sites like this that share “negative” experiences of breastfeeding. “Mommy guilt is a powerful poison, and it took reading other women’s stories to help normalize my own,” Jessica writes. She’s right, of course, and I don’t know why I never looked at it like this – sharing our feelings normalizes them, which makes us feel less alone, less flawed, less confused. So keep these stories coming – because you never know who might be reading yours and thinking, “Finally. Finally, someone gets it.” And that’s powerful stuff.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
The FFF 
***
Jessica’s Story
It wasn’t until I first stumbled upon “Fearless Formula Feeders” that I finally felt like my breastfeeding experience was “acceptable.” Mommy guilt is a powerful poison it took reading other women’s stories to help normalize my own. I read the personal story of a public health nurse who promoted breastfeeding herself but then wasn’t able to nurse her son. Like her, I was a family physician in my third year of residency and I championed breastfeeding among all my pregnant patients. If they were planning on bottle feeding I chided them gently, relaying how “breast was best” and it was free, natural and had benefits ranging from raising IQ to preventing obesity, diabetes and asthma. So I think the universe was trying to teach me a lesson in irony and empathy when I had my son, Silas, one cold November morning.
I’d had a pleasant and uncomplicated pregnancy despite working many 30 hour call shifts in the hospital, so I assumed that mothering, especially with my medical background, would be similarly manageable. But within two days of delivering, I felt a cloud of anxiety, guilt and dark depression sweeping over me. Over the next several weeks my husband and I pushed through the fog of sleep deprivation and adjusting to our new life as parents. Breastfeeding was not going well either. My nipples were cracked and bleeding, Silas never seemed satisfied after a feeding, and despite several appointments with lactation consultants, many phone calls to La Leche League and help from my mom (who breastfed all three of her kids), it still felt hard. I tried reading books ranging from “Baby Wise” to “The No Cry Sleep Solution” but it just felt like a cacophony of contradictory advice – “get your baby on a schedule,” “wear your baby,” “never let your baby cry,” “sleep when you baby sleeps.” Many tears were shed — in fact I cried every day for the first 13 days and on the 14th day I cried because I hadn’t cried yet!
My feelings were so discordant — on the one hand I knew I had to love and protect this little creature we brought into the world, but at the same time I mourned our loss of our independence - sleeping in, going on long runs, eating out, hiking.  Now we had a baby who was constantly needy, constantly demanding my physical and emotional energy. It was also difficult going from an intellectually and emotionally stimulating job as a medical resident to a 6 week maternity leave feeling like a glorified diaper changer. What was my identity? Why did I have such cabin fever? Why wasn’t I overcome with love for my “bundle of joy?” I remember getting a card from a friend that said “A new baby – how fun!” – and just wanting to rip it into shreds and scream! I walked around in a daze looking at other moms and feeling incredulous that people procreated, not just once, but twice, or three times! I was angry and envious of these women because it meant that they got through it, even enjoyed it, and did it again—and what kind of a defective mom did that make me?
Looking back, one moment stands out to me as the moment I knew I couldn’t go on breastfeeding. It was around 5 AM after a rough night and I had just fed Silas an hour prior. Silas was now crying as my husband tried to comfort him in the next room and I lay in bed wishing myself back to sleep. Finally my husband knocked, came in the bedroom and said, “I’m sorry honey, but he’s hungry again.” So I put my baby up to my breast and the tears just started flowing – it felt like he was sucking the life out of me. And at the risk of sounding extreme, at that moment nursing him truly felt like an abusive relationship. Silas may have been getting my “liquid gold” breast milk but there was no love in my milk and the actions were perfunctory and even resentful.
And yet despite this, I felt so much pressure to keep nursing – as a professional, as an educated woman who wanted the best for her baby. It was hard to see Facebook pictures of women from my Hypnobirthing class breastfeeding their babies in a sling while hiking the Rocky Mountains, or to hear comments from my medical school friends about how their child “never drank a drop of formula until he turned 1.” And yet while I felt some judgment from these women, no one could be a harsher judge than me. I was my worst enemy, internally beating myself up for being an inadequate mother who didn’t relish breastfeeding her own child.
It wasn’t until I had a 3 week follow up appointment with my midwife that I allowed myself to entertain the thought of really stopping. After spilling my heart to my midwife she said, “Jessica, breastfeeding is not always right for every mom and baby.” And that completely logical comment just blew me out of the water. I had so internalized the mantra that “Every baby was born to breastfeed” that the idea that there may be an exception to this (outside of ignorance, maternal death, extreme prematurity or a major anatomical defect like cleft palate) had not once entered my mind.
A few days later, I developed a bad case of mastitis. I exclusively pumped for a few days and then finally I just saw the insanity of it all – the depression, the deep fissures in my nipples, the sleepless delirium, the obvious fact that Silas was happier drinking from a bottle – and I gave myself permission to stop breastfeeding. For two days I let my breasts expand and engorge as I let go of all the preconceived notions I’d been clutching so dearly. I knew that I would be a happier, healthier mom with more love and energy for Silas if I gave up breastfeeding. Oh the blasphemy! But this revelation felt so freeing. Breastfeeding was not right for me and Silas, and I was finally able to say this out loud.
And then a funny thing happened. My parents and sisters arrived for Thanksgiving. And suddenly there were many hands to help cook, clean, hold a crying baby at midnight, speak words of encouragement, and make this desperate new mom laugh at her overblown emotions. And suddenly I had renewed energy and motivation. If I couldn’t breastfeed then I was at least going to pump milk for my baby. And so I became an exclusive pumper for 2 more months. But after weaning for a couple days my milk supply was never back to normal, and pumping in random corners of the hospital, parked cars and various doctor’s offices during my residency rotations was not conducive to continuing. So when I finally put the pump away for the last time, I felt more relief than guilt.
If you’d told me I’d have another baby after Silas was born, I would have raised my eyebrows. Those first couple years were hard, and I struggled with a lot of “mommy guilt” being a busy working mom and comparing myself to other moms who stayed home with their kids, or wrote poems about how their true selves weren’t born until their kids were born, or had 6 kids because they just loved babies so much. But with time I realized that Silas truly was an amazing person, and he adored me just for being his mom, and I was the best possible mom for Silas. You see, the mind tricks you into thinking that guilt is a motivator when it actually just makes you feel like a pile of cow dung. And so I let go of false expectations, I let go of comparing, I let go of trying to be the kind of mom I should be and just started being the mom I was.
So we took the plunge and got pregnant again when Silas was 3. Of course I had some concerns about the postpartum period, and being a type A personality I got organized right away – I increased my dose of antidepressant, took fish oil and probiotic supplements, hired a postpartum doula, planned on placental encapsulation, tracked down nearby breastfeeding support groups, and scheduled my parents to arrive right after we came home from the hospital. When my daughter first latched after she was born I thought I would cry and be overcome with mixed emotions. I wasn’t. She nursed for 45 minutes straight and because I had the perspective of having been through it once before, I knew that whether breastfeeding worked out or not, I was a good mommy.
My postpartum experience was completely different the second time. I almost felt “blissed out” despite still dealing with issues like bleeding nipples, my daughter’s tongue tie, and lack of sleep. Maybe it was all the preparation and emotional support I’d lined up. Maybe it was because I wasn’t a shell shocked new mom giving up her autonomy and identity for the first time. But between Netflix episodes of “Homeland,” warm meals prepared by our doula, and snuggling with our beautiful daughter, I felt normal.
We are now 10 months into breastfeeding and going strong. I pump at the office, I nurse at home. It’s a special relationship, but the most special part is not putting boob to mouth, but that I’m able to enjoy our relationship without the fog of depression. Breastfeeding happened to work out this time, but I do not judge anymore. If you love your baby then you are giving her all the food she needs for her soul, regardless of the type of food you put in her mouth. Looking back on my experience with Silas, I don’t think it could have been different. I don’t think that breastfeeding was right for us, and I love and accept my relationship with both of my children. My experience has also deepened my compassion and understanding with my patients, and I’m a better mom and doctor for it.
***
Share your story – email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

A World Breastfeeding Week Plea: Stop celebrating, start collaborating

Usually, I’m all over the place this week. Getting quoted in the requisite “it may be breastfeeding week but gosh darnit some women still find exclusive breastfeeding super hard” articles. Posting my own stuff here on the blog, or over on HuffPo. Talking about #ISupportYou and pissing off hundreds of people in the process, because they see it as a veiled attempt to “steal the thunder” from World Breastfeeding Week.

But this year, I’m all but invisible.

Part of this was unintentional. I’ve been going through some stressful career-change mishigas, dealing with the inevitable gaps in childcare that occur between camp and school, entertaining a ridiculous number of visiting extended family members. I’ve been too exhausted to blog, or talk to media sources, or self-promote (because let’s be honest – that’s a part of what all of us parenting bloggers do. Even the most altruistic of us. Even those of us who don’t depend on hits or advertising or who never make a cent off their blogs. We write because we want to be heard; we pray for bigger audiences, book deals, evidence that we’ve made some sort of impact. I happen to be rather shitty at this, which is why I don’t blog much anymore. I don’t have the stomach for that part of the job).

Another part of my conspicuous silence has been intentional, however. Probably more than I care to admit. See, I’ve been focusing my efforts on the supportive stuff. Reaching across the aisle, trying to understand all facets of this debate, and hoping that by creating better resources for all moms, I can help stop all the guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. I know that breastfeeding is important to many, many women. I want those women to succeed, and feel happy and proud and supported. So this year, I wanted to try and stay out of World Breastfeeding Week drama like I try and stay out of my kids’ sibling squabbles.

Yeah. Because that works so well with my kids.

The problem is, I also want formula feeding mothers to feel happy and proud and supported. And for some reason, it’s not okay to want both of these things. It’s ok to pay lip service to it, to claim #ISupportYou and tell formula feeding moms that celebrating breastfeeding isn’t about them. But if you actually do the work you need to do to ensure that non-breastfeeding parents are supported, you are violating WHO Code. You are taking attention away from the women who “need it”. You are stealing…. what? Resources? Sympathy? One-up(wo)manship?

I tried to stay out of it. I really did. I held my newly-minted CLC certification close to my non-lactating chest and bit my tongue.

And then the articles came, and came, and came. And so many this year were not about the benefits of breastfeeding, but rather how hard it was. Or how hard it was NOT to breastfeed. How this mom felt like she was poisoning her baby, or this one felt like she’d be booted from the “mom club” because she didn’t wear the EBF badge.

So much guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt. None of it is stopping. There’s more this year than ever before.

Then this happened.

https://www.yahoo.com/health/olivia-wildes-breastfeeding-photo-causes-a-stir-93893024387.html

https://www.yahoo.com/health/olivia-wildes-breastfeeding-photo-causes-a-stir-93893024387.html

And I heard my community inwardly wince. Not for the reasons you might think. Not because they didn’t think it was a beautiful image, and not because it glamorized something that had been messy and painful for most of them, although those certainly were thoughts that some of us had to squash down into that endless pit of mother-guilt. No, it was because it was yet another image of a breastfeeding celebrity, with headlines and stories that spoke of her bravery for normalizing nursing, and comments all over the place about how breastfeeding was finally being celebrated.

I think, for many of us, it was the “finally” that did it. For many of us, it would seem far braver for a celebrity to do a shoot with her bottle-feeding her kid with a can of formula in the background. We have only seen breastfeeding being celebrated. There’s so much partying going on, and we feel like the crotchety old neighbors calling the cops with a noise complaint. But you know, it’s late, the music is loud, and we’re tired.

Now, just to be clear – I’m talking about breastfeeding being “celebrated” That celebration doesn’t do us much good. It does not mean that it is easy for moms to nurse in public. Obviously, it isn’t. Or that lactation services are plentiful and accessible to all. Obviously, they aren’t. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but that doesn’t stop it from being difficult for the new mom in the hospital, whose birth didn’t go as planned. Or the one who has to go back to work 2 weeks postpartum. Or the one with a job not conducive to pumping. Breastfeeding is celebrated, but not when you’re overweight. Or when you’re nursing a toddler.

Idealized images in the media of what breastfeeding looks like do not normalize nursing. In fact, I’d argue it fetishizes it – not for men, so much, but for women. Now, we don’t just have to feel inadequate for not fitting into size 2 jeans a month after giving birth, but we need to feel inadequate if we don’t meet the feeding norm and make it look gorgeous and natural and easy.

Please do not misread what I’m saying here – talking about breastfeeding, supporting breastfeeding, and implementing changes to make breastfeeding easier for those who want to do it are important, admirable, and necessary goals, as far as I’m concerned. But the comments I saw coming from my community after this photo hit the news were not about any of these things. They were from women feeling totally drained, frustrated, and alienated after a nearly a week of hearing how inferior their feeding method was, who were sick of being told they were defensive or that they feel guilty if they tried to stand up for themselves. This story was the last straw. It’s weird, when you think about it – it wasn’t the piece on the risks of formula, or the memes about the superiority of breastfed babies – what broke the camel’s back was a seemingly innocuous spread of a gorgeous, confident actress proudly nursing her baby.

This is what perpetuates the cycle of guilt/anger/resentment/confusion/hurt: our lived experiences are so damn different, that it’s like we’re constantly talking at cross-purposes. The nursing mom who is the only one in her small town not using a bottle sees a photo spread like this as thrilling, victorious, self-affirming – as she should. The formula feeding mom living in Park Slope who carries her formula-filled diaper bag like a modern-day hairshirt sees the same spread as just another celebrity being held up as a pioneer, when she’s only doing what’s expected of a woman of her stature – as she should. Both are right. Because both are personal, emotionally-driven responses.

Earlier this week, I said that deciding how to feed your baby is just one of a myriad of important parenting decisions. But somehow, it’s become the most important one. We cannot expect formula feeding moms to support their breastfeeding sisters when they don’t receive the same support. We just can’t. It’s not fair, and it’s not realistic. I feel like that’s what I’ve been asking of all of you, and somehow I just woke up to that fact.

Why are there still articles talking about how shitty we feel for not breastfeeding, instead of articles talking about what’s being done to change this? Where is the news story about the doctors who are saying enough is enough (because I know they are out there – many of them contact me, and I appreciate these emails, but I wish they were able to say these things publicly without fear of career suicide)? Where’s the NPR program about ways we can improve breastmilk substitutes so those who cannot or choose not to nurse aren’t left hanging? Where’s the Today Show, The View, The Katie Show, doing segments on why women are REALLY not meeting breastfeeding recommendations, instead of segment after segment on how brave so-and-so is for posing nursing their newborn on Instagram, or talking to dumbasses on the street about the “appropriate” age for weaning?

When we stop “celebrating” and start normalizing and supporting and being realistic about how different life can be even just a street away, maybe World Breastfeeding Week can have it’s proper due. Maybe we can actually talk about ways to help women in the most dire straits feed their babies as safely as possible – clean water, free breast pumps, free refrigeration, access to donor milk.

I want to be able to be silent during World Breastfeeding Week. It shouldn’t have to be “overshadowed” by emotional, personal pieces about breastfeeding “failure”. It shouldn’t be a time for articles about not making formula feeding moms feel “guilty”. These words shouldn’t even be part of our infant feeding lexicon, for godsakes. Failure? Guilt? For what?

This year, I want us to stop celebrating, and start having some calm, productive conversations with people outside your social circle. For many of us, the celebration feels exactly like high school, when the popular kids had parties and we sat home watching Sixteen Candles for the thirty-fifth time. That’s not to say breastfeeding isn’t worth celebrating, but the end goal should not be one group feeling triumphant and the other feeling downtrodden. Formula feeding was celebrated for decades too – and that celebration made the current atmosphere of breastfeeding promotion necessary. Please, let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s move on. Rip down the streamers, put away the keg, and open the doors to the outsiders looking in. You never know – they could end up being the best friends you’ve ever had.

 

FFF Friday: “Maybe My Better Isn’t Your Better”

Today, World Breastfeeding Week begins. There’s a lot of good that comes out of this week, but it can also be a painful, triggering seven days for those who have struggled with their infant feeding decisions. 

That’s why I was excited when this FFF Friday landed in my inbox a few months ago, because I knew it would be the perfect entry for this week.  Carly’s piece isn’t about breastfeeding or formula feeding. It’s about the terminology we use to discuss parenting choices; our inability to look outside of ourselves and our experiences, our beliefs. 

I hope people take this one to heart. I honestly believe if they did, we could stop discussing the same, old, tired issues and move on to the real work of supporting parents in concrete ways. 

It’s something to dream about, at least, on this late World Breastfeeding Week eve…

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Maybe My “Better” Isn’t Your “Better”

by Carly Ceccarelli

“When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou

I tried to dig to the bottom of the context of this quote and was instead bombarded with legions of posts from various blogs, online groups, and message boards regarding choices in parenting and how many use this quote as not only their parenting compass, but a ‘gentle’ way of recommending that what you are doing with your child is hopelessly, utterly wrong.

Have you ever considered…..maybe my “better” isn’t your “better”?

I have been through so many seasons in life. Haven’t we all? Fortunately, I have gained some perspective from those. I have been broke and living off of fish sticks and canned ravioli.  I have been a working, single mom with not exactly a load of free time or patience. I have been a stay at home mom to an intense baby that taught me more about lacking free time and patience than being a working, single mom ever did.

As a result of seasons, we make choices. My current season is being at home full time with two children under two years old. That intense baby is now a very mobile, intense toddler.  My experience with him greatly impacted my choices with his younger sister.  Having to be a present and attentive parent to two children simultaneously impacted my choices with both children. Only having two arms and two legs impacts the choices I make every day.  Yet I am bombarded with what I “should” choose because this person or that person knows that I “know better”.

I do know better.

I know better that, for me, these are the choices that are in line with the goals my family has, all people and categories of impact considered.  I have a diverse group of friends who are all over the spectrum regarding their choices, based on the goals THEY have within their familial units.

I had all of the answers, too. I understand the need to spread the gospel of my amazing experiences and informational finds, because, heaven forbid, that person doesn’t have access to Google and would “miss out”.  I realize how very wrong I was. I realize now that there isn’t one answer for everyone in any category, and that I am showing more wisdom when I am silent because I don’t know everything, as opposed to saying something because I believe I do.

FFF Friday: “I imagine getting to know my newborn without the stress of trying to force my body to make milk…”

“I’m a mom who tried to breastfeed but had to switch to formula.  It isn’t an unusual story but when it is your own story, it feels anything but ordinary. It’s painful and heartbreaking and exhausting and lonely.” This is how Mandy’s story begins, and I wish I could fit these sentences on a t-shirt. It pretty much sums up why I keep FFF going – even as I blog less and less, and focus more on advocacy, practical and policy work, I think it’s vital that this space exists to publish your stories. Because every one, no matter how similar it is to the last, matters. It’s yours. Yours alone. But in telling it, maybe you- and those reading it – will feel a little less lonely. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Mandy’s Story

I’m a mom who tried to breastfeed but had to switch to formula.  It isn’t an unusual story but when it is your own story, it feels anything but ordinary. It’s painful and heartbreaking and exhausting and lonely.  Your friends and family have so many words and tips to offer but so little helps. Your modern female mind betrays you and tells you that you are less of a woman—less of a mother—because you cannot breastfeed, though you know that thought is irrational and untrue. For me, it is a thought I struggled with long after the last drop of breast milk fought its way out.

I had my first baby in 2011 and when the stick turned blue I immediately enrolled in the University of Google and learned everything I could about pregnancy, labor, delivery and, of course, breastfeeding. Breastfeeding was the obvious choice and I had no question about whether or not I would. I even got annoyed with people who asked which I would do, (aside from being annoyed simply because that is a rude question). Why would I even consider formula when “breast is best,” right? And how much easier could it be? You have a baby, they latch on, the milk comes in and that’s that.  I even remember the lactation consultant reassuring an expectant mom in my breastfeeding class who asked, “What do I do if I don’t make enough milk?” that you WILL make enough milk. Your body will ABSOLUTELY make enough milk for your baby. Supply and demand. Very simple.

I’d like to smack that lady.

My daughter was born and she latched on but I waited and waited and no milk ever came. Well, no more than an ounce every three hours. I was an overwhelmed first time mom and nursed less and less until eventually I stopped trying altogether and I switched to formula exclusively after three weeks Boom…formula baby.

When my daughter was 3 months old I became pregnant with my second baby and I was hell bent on breastfeeding!  I had been recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I was certain that had to be the reason for my previous struggle and now that I was controlling it with medication, I’d have no problems with milk supply. I even had dreams about freely flowing breast milk and hoped it was a sign that buckets of liquid gold were in my future. I knew that I sort of fit the profile of someone with insufficient glandular tissue but tried to put that possibility out of my mind since there is really nothing you can do to overcome that. I was going to remain determined and hopeful.

When baby girl number two arrived, she was nine pounds of cuteness and latched on to the breast with the expertise of a baby twice her age. I was more than proud; I was teeming with hope! This time I was careful to nurse on demand and pump right after nursing to increase my supply to no avail. I still only produced a maximum of one ounce every three hours. As my big girl got bigger she just began to get frustrated at my out-of-order breast but I just couldn’t give up on it. To complicate things further, her stomach and palette seemed to not tolerate any of the five different formulas we gave her. She seemed to only tolerate breast milk and I couldn’t make any. For about five months I received pumped breast milk from dear friends and trusted donors while I continued to pump around the clock to get my measly ten ounces per day and, of course I supplemented with formula.

Through thousands of tears over six months I told my husband I would stop when she and I were both ready because the round the clock pumping was killing me. Eventually my supply of frozen donations began to wane and she was getting more and more formula. She was doing better with her soy formula and starting to try solids and doing well with that too. And I was emotionally ready. I clearly remember sitting in my “pumping chair,” one day and just deciding that I was spending more time than it was worth for eight to ten ounces a day, pumping. I cut back slowly on my pumping sessions until I was not pumping at all and she was on formula exclusively. Boom…formula baby number two.

But this time I felt a freedom in the change. For one, I knew I’d done and tried everything possible: power pumping, fenugreek, Reglan, Domperidone, lactation cookies, oatmeal, water, visits to the lactation consultant, (side note: you know it’s pretty hopeless when the lactation consultant says, “you know, formula isn’t that bad”). I did everything and I felt good switching to formula. I didn’t have the shame I had before. I still have moments of regret or sadness that it didn’t work but I do not feel like a failure as a mother. When I see my friends nursing their babies or pumping an abundance of milk I am a little sad and jealous but overwhelmingly, I feel happy for them because I know the struggle.  And when I see a friend choose formula with less internal struggle than I had I am happy for them as well.

I go back and forth on whether or not our family is complete with only our two children, but when I contemplate a third or fourth child, I cannot help but think of what my feeding choice would be. I say with absolute freedom and confidence that I would start out of the gate with formula. My body does not make a full supply and the struggle to get what I can is too gut-wrenching to go through it one more time. I actually fantasize about being in the hospital room and requesting the formula for my imaginary baby with pride and confidence.  I imagine getting to know my newborn without the stress of trying to force my body to make milk that it just cannot make. I am not sure if that little daydream is enough to have another child but it makes my heart happy. I wish everyone could feel that confidence in their feeding choice from the get-go whether they are a fearless formula feeder or a courageous nursing mommy.

***

Have a story you’d like to share? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

FFF Friday: “I’m glad I have recourse to something other than what’s ‘natural’”

“Intuitively and rationally, it makes no sense that this poisonous smelling, lab-created powder has been so much better for my daughter, has made her happier and healthier.”

Sarah’s story will resonate with many of you, but I think those who dealt with food allergies/sensitivities will find it especially powerful. I remember feeling the same way – how could something made in a lab make my baby so much happier than what my body created? It’s a tough question to toss around in a newly postpartum brain, one that is already confused, conflicted, and overloaded. I believe that a large part of the link between depression and early weaning isn’t simply the hormones at play, but rather these very emotions. We are taught that our bodies create the perfect food for our babies, but what happens when this isn’t true? What happens when our babies wretch, cry, writhe and bleed, despite all of our best intentions? 

I’ll tell you what happens: it’s devastating. 

And then, what happens when you switch to formula? If your baby is happier and healthier, you feel guilt. You feel regret. You feel anger. You feel jealousy. And then you feel like shit, because you should be feeling relief and gratitude that your baby is finally thriving. 

It’s a mind-fuck. And that’s before you make the mistake of going online, where a thousand bloodthirsty strangers will tell you that you could have tried harder, done it differently, made a better choice.

And we wonder why there is a high incidence of postpartum depression in women who are formula feeding.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Sarah’s Story 

I want to begin this story with my first child, who was exclusively breastfed – not because I’m hoping for the Nobel Prize in Breastfeeding – but to illustrate how unusually challenging breastfeeding was for me (and my whole family,) how committed to it I was (and am,) and yet how much I know I’ll be judged ‘round these parts for publicly feeding my second with a bottle full of formula.

My first was born at home in the major metropolitan area we lived in at the time.  I was the only person I’d ever known who’d chosen a home birth, and I was a crunchy curiosity among our friends and family for this and for things like choosing to use cloth diapers.  Breastfeeding was so obvious there was no thought involved.  When my daughter was finally delivered – an enormous, incredibly alert baby – and immediately and expertly latched on like pit bull, gulping eagerly, the midwife squealed, “Oooh!  One of those tiger babies!  What a great latch!”  No problems there, except excruciating pain and bloody nipples for a few weeks.  I’d never heard that breastfeeding was painful at the beginning, until asking real mothers…. One inane breastfeeding book I had read, “If breastfeeding hurts, something’s wrong.”  I was in a panic until everyone, even the midwife, gently told me – it just hurts, at first.  Which makes sense, when you think about it.  It’s an extremely tender part if your anatomy that is suddenly getting quite a lot of force applied, (if you have a “tiger baby,” anyway,) pretty continually.  I think more women would breastfeed if they were given an accurate picture of its challenges, knowing that some of them are temporary, rather than being given a – frankly – propagandizing picture (“It’s bliss! You’ll feel wonderful! Your baby will never become ill or have allergies for all of her long, healthy life!  You’ll lose all the baby weight!  You and your child will have a close bond forever!”) and then having their actual experience fall quite short of that expectation and think something must be very wrong, and discontinue.

I started noticing something strange, however, after the first rush of postpartum hormones subsided.  Just before initial let-down, every time, I’d experience a brief wave of crushing sadness and horror.  (Think: you just heard that an atomic bomb is headed toward your vicinity, and there’s no time to escape.  That kind of feeling.)  It relieved me to make the connection that I only felt that way at this particular time and synapse, and that it must be due to some chemical imbalance I didn’t understand, but no one else knew what I meant or had had the same experience.  “A sad wave, huh?  That’s interesting,” was all my midwife could offer.  A few years later I discovered that what I had dealt with was Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex; a very uncommon disorder that hadn’t even been given a name by the medical community at the time I first experienced it.  I was still undeterred and continued breastfeeding.

When my daughter was around three months of age the supply problems started in earnest, and in the end, nothing other than almost total bed rest for a couple of days at a time made a difference.  I had chosen to stay home with my daughter, and while this was hardly feasible even for me, I can’t imagine handling such a problem while working outside of the home.  I nursed my daughter every hour during the day, and every couple of hours during the night.  It wasn’t until she started solids and finally agreed to drink out of a sippy cup (she’s still a remarkably stubborn little girl!) that she (and I) slept for any considerable stretch at night.  By the time she was ten months old, my supply had dried up completely, although I continued to nurse – i.e., be a human pacifier, as distinct from breastfeed – if she woke at night and needed soothing for another couple of months.

The next year we moved for my husband’s work to another, and demographically very different, part of the country.  Here, EVERYONE has a home birth.  EVERYONE nurses into the preschool years, EVERYONE cloth diapers, NO ONE vaccinates or circumcises, etc.  (Or so it seems.) You get the picture.  I was no longer crunchy, I was disastrously conventional; and I was swiftly and completely cold-shouldered from play groups.  (No doubt in part because I was not nursing my toddler multiple times during a half hour library program – I couldn’t – and no doubt also in part because I look so different.  I’m a petite little Italian in this bright white land of strapping, squatting birthers; I wear foundation and mascara; I wear shoes….)  It’s been interesting to learn that, oftentimes, the folks who preach the loudest against appearances (and specifically, against judging women in particular by appearances) are those who are quickest to do just that.  It also saddens and perplexes me that – increasingly – women are judged (in fact, judge each other) once again by their ability to bear and nourish offspring, and the homes they create.  (What is your “birth story?”  How long did you nurse? What kind of crafting do you do?  Are you “unschooling” your children? And so on.) It makes me wonder what the initial women’s rights movement truly did accomplish, when, in certain circles, I have little value and my conversation has little interest other than describing my (horrific) labor, how many cycles I put our pocket diapers through, or what non-GMO seeds I plan to plant in the family garden in the spring.

In another couple of years, I became pregnant again, and this summer chose to deliver in the local hospital.  We felt it was safest after my first experience, which included a hemorrhage, but it elicited some raised eyebrows.  Then I ended up with a c-section (which didn’t surprise me after my first labor and birth,) and more raised eyebrows and pointed questions.  “Do you think you really needed that c-section?” (Well, I don’t know, but I’m sure glad I didn’t have to find that out for certain in its absence….)  The D-MER waves began this time in my third trimester, before I even began lactating.  This time I had a name for it, though, and a rough understanding of the possible chemical pathways.

My second was born, an astonishingly even bigger and more alert baby girl, who also delighted nurses, midwife, doctors, and staff with her latching performance.  This time, every let-down, not just the initial one, brought the horrible feeling, and, this time, also brought physical nausea with it.  Still no question whether or not I would breastfeed.  I did, however, attempt getting our newest to take a bottle with expressed milk fairly regularly as a precaution – in case I faced supply problems once again.  At one month, my daughter developed a severe milk and soy protein intolerance – and abruptly and consistently refused the bottle.  I immediately and completely cut both dairy and soy out of my diet, and for a couple of weeks, the problem was solved.  Then the symptoms began again: bloody diarrhea, severe eczema, hives, wheezing.  Fish, wheat, nuts, corn, chocolate, eggs, berries in the rose family, grapes, tomatoes, citrus, coconut, even quinoa, believe it or not, rapidly went the way of milk and soy.  My daughter dropped from the 100th percentile to the 40th in a month’s time.  For the next three months I lived on a handful of foods, and she did okay.  Not great, but okay.  Unsurprisingly, I had another supply problem.  Meat – turkey and bison – was my only protein source. (Not wonderful for this former vegetarian.) Over Thanksgiving, the symptoms started again: two more foods (apples and millet) were out.  Another week, and nothing was safe.

I should add here that I tried everything to save breastfeeding; in part, just to save my baby, who is particularly attached to Mommy, from the emotional trauma of weaning her from what she was used to.  I consulted with multiple pediatricians, a pediatric allergist, a neonatologist, and upwards of twenty lactation consultants.  I tried pancreatic enzymes (turned out she has a particularly severe intolerance to pork,) plant-based broad spectrum digestive enzymes (did nothing,) two different types of supposedly hypoallergenic infant probiotics (both caused vomiting,) took mega-doses of hypoallergenic probiotics myself, and obviously lived on the most extreme rotation and elimination diet known to woman.  I even, albeit briefly, contemplated the possibility of living on a specialty formula myself, so that there would be no foreign proteins in my milk, and continuing to breastfeed.  I asked my husband if he thought it was unreasonable to even entertain the idea.  “YES,” he told me firmly.

I made the most difficult decision I have ever had to make, and began to wean her completely to Neocate, an amino acid formula.  This stuff smells and tastes unbelievably vile – just so you can understand some of my internal conflict over discontinuing breastfeeding.  It’s also incredibly expensive. (Forty-five dollars a can.  We’re still fighting her insurance to cover it.) It took us six days to finally get her to take a bottle.  In between, I spent all day dribbling the Neocate in her mouth with a syringe or sippy cup with the stopper removed; she wailed, and spit three-quarters of it out.  The grief of this sudden, early weaning was and still is overwhelming.

The night that she finally broke down and took a bottle from my husband, she rapidly downed ten ounces; and then went to sleep without any more noise than a yawn, and slept for six hours straight.  (She’d been getting up every couple of hours prior to this to nurse, and taking close to an hour to settle down before sleeping.)  The next night she slept for nine hours straight, again without a peep.  Intuitively and rationally, it makes no sense that this poisonous smelling, lab-created powder has been so much better for my daughter, has made her happier and healthier.  (I almost feel unreasonably insulted, especially after trying so hard to accommodate her.)  But there it is.  I resent the fact, though, that any time I want to feed her in public, now, I have to take a deep breath and begin explaining.  I’m pretty darn sure I’ve gone to far greater lengths to breastfeed than almost any other woman out there, and yet I know I’ll provoke contempt.  Appearances again.  There are so many reasons, even in just this one instance, why someone may be doing something that doesn’t appear to be in their child’s best interest.  Infant allergies, maternal medication, adoption; I wish I could lobby to change the slogan to “Breast is usually best, but it’s not really my business anyway.”

I also want to say here that supply problems are a lot more common than many lactation consultants, and the most ravening of lactivists, are willing to admit, if my own experiences and the experiences of friends and family are anything to go by.  I don’t know why that should be; I don’t know why millions of years of evolution, or the creative power of God, or both, or whatever you reason or believe, or both, hasn’t straightened that out for so many women and their babies.  My default – or rather, my husband, the biologist’s, – default response is, “Nature weeding out the unfit.”

Regardless, I’m glad I have recourse to something other than what’s “natural,” at times.  I’m glad we can sidestep evolution.  (Or fallen nature, or, again, whatever you’d like to call it.) I’m glad for unnatural human compassion that works so hard in these unnatural laboratories so that unnatural (and wonderful, infinitely precious) children like mine can safely eat, and thrive.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m so glad for formula.

***

Have a story you’d like to share? Email it to me – formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...