I’ve been floating in and out of a rather potent rage-fest this past week. Between the bizarre conflation of breastfeeding advocacy and disaster relief in the Philippines, bribing women to breastfeed, and the announcement of yet another documentary that talks about breastfeeding while completely ignoring the elephant in the room…. my head is swimming. Which is why I love Bria’s story, below – it cuts through the bullshit. It speaks to the gray area, the reality of breastfeeding in our Western culture, with all the ambivalence, mixed emotions, and varied experiences this act can entail. Her story illustrates in a starkly beautiful way why this discourse is not ever simple. It requires deep thought, reflection, and acceptance that breastfeeding is not just a public health issue, and not just an emotional issue. Those that are unable to see nuance and separate fact from hyperbole have no place in the discussion… and yet, it seems, these are the only voices that “matter”.
Happy Friday, fearless ones (and let’s hope next week is better),
Bria’s Story: From Formula to Breast and Back Again
I have been thinking of how to write this story for months. I have gone back and forth trying to fit it into a linear box, but it is not linear, there is no clear beginning or end. It is multilayered and multifaceted, much like parenting.
There was the labor: 36 hours before she made her sweet arrival into this world followed by no sleep for mama in our nic-u-only-nursery, mother-unfriendly hospital.
There were the articles I researched and read after our breastfeeding/lactivist class that convinced me that the science pales relative to the claims.
There was my own history, breastfed till I was two.
There was my desire to breastfeed and my desire to not breastfeed.
There was the satisfaction I got from preparing her one bottle of formula before bed and adding her vitamin D drops.
There was her 13% weight loss in the first week of her life.
There was the pediatrician, the most clear and non-hyperbolic voice in all of the swirling noise: baby needs calories – mom needs rest -offer breast every three hours _not more often _ supplement 2 oz formula in between.
There was the less-crazy lactation consultant.
There was the more-crazy lactation consultant.
There was more crazy lactation consultant asking what I had done to stimulate my milk production so quickly. “I bought the Fenugreek and I am drinking THE tea.” I said, “And I am only offering the baby my breast every three hours and supplementing in between.”
There was her frown and dismissive response: “Oh, well it must be the Fenugreek that caused your milk to come in. We don’t recommend rest as a way to stimulate milk production.”
There was my inability to tell her: I-never-took-the-Fenugreek.
There was the feeling of rejection that came in the early weeks when baby would scream in the afternoon every time I would offer her my breast.
There was the calm at night when I would offer her my breast and she would eat happily and go back to sleep.
There was the pump.
There was exclusive nursing for our month in Europe, no time to make bottles.
There was my satisfaction with being able to “do it”.
There was the simplicity of the food: always with you, always ready.
There was the feeling of wanting to take the baby off my breast as soon as possible every time she ate. To have it be done.
There was the guilt I felt when I was sure I had ended the feeding earlier than the baby was ready because I couldn’t stand it one more second.
There was the sticker shock at the grocery store after she was weaned.
There was the amazement with my breasts, that they could produce this food on such a tight schedule, the filling, the tingling, the stickiness, the let down.
There was the decision at six months to wean the baby, though we had established a solid breastfeeding relationship.
There were my mixed feelings about weaning.
There were the wonderful Swedes who despite high breastfeeding rates, few of them nurse much past 6 months.
There was my desire to stand with women who choose formula and parents who must use formula. I chose to read the studies. I chose not to feel guilt, because there was nothing to feel guilty about, other than how my predominantly white, educated, privileged cohort managed to co-opt the discourse on infant feeding by exploiting studies from impoverished 3rd world infrastructures, glossing over real conditions of poverty (such as lack of clean water and unreliable access to refrigeration and healthcare) and repackaged these studies as showing both alarming health risks associated with formula feeding, and a “norm” of lengthy breastfeeding, as though we are all one big happy world of mothers and babies, all living in together in the same cultural traditions and socioeconomic conditions.
Lastly there was this; breastfeeding and formula feeding were expensive in different ways. Lucky me that I had the money for formula and the time to breastfeed. Babies cost no matter how you feed them and of course the smiles, laughter and snuggles we get in return is the true purchase.
Have a story you’d like to share? Email me – firstname.lastname@example.org