FFF Friday: “I gladly packed up the Medela and never looked back.”

I’m currently on a family trip, and have about 5 minutes to post – so all I will say about this week’s submission is that I adore it’s simplicity, and the unabashed self-awareness of the author. Knowing your limits….what a concept. One that too many of us are afraid of, I imagine.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Suzannah’s Story

I have 2 children – one 14 and another who is 4.  I have a 10 year gap because of hyperemesis gravidarum with my first and it took me that long to get the courage to have another.  I had it with my second, too.

My first was born at 5 lbs,1 oz, most likely because of the hyperemesis (I couldn’t take my prenatals, drink plain water, and there was a 2 week period where I ate nothing but chicken broth.  I once threw up 48 times in one day and had to be rehydrated in the ER).  When I tried to breast feed her, my sister commented, “Your boob is bigger than her head and your nipple is bigger than her mouth!”  My baby could barely latch on and when she did, was practically completely covered by my gargantuan boob, which I kept having to pull back to keep from smothering her!   I also found that I was just not producing milk.  I had a complete lack of appetite when I first had her and my friend said I wasn’t eating and drinking enough to make the milk.  After trying nutrition supplements, drinking water, making sure I ate well for a few weeks, and even rubbing my breasts in the shower to stimulate milk production (while sobbing because I felt like an inadequate mother who couldn’t provide for her child),  I still produced barely an ounce every time I pumped.  And my baby clearly wasn’t getting enough breast milk when I tried nursing.


I went to the pediatrician (I was pretty much bottle-feeding and supplementing with breast milk – what little I had) and he said to me, “She’s tiny, she needs to eat, don’t make her struggle for it.  Give her formula all the time.  Forget the nursing and pumping.”  I was absolutely shattered. I felt completely inadequate and that I was a terrible mother.  I kept thinking, “Everyone nurses! It’s natural! Why can’t I do it!?”  But I bottle-fed her from that day on.


For my second child, I decided, since I was older and wiser, to do lactation consulting, etc., and I found I produced a little bit more (while I was filling barely up to the 2 oz mark on the bottles, I had friends who were filling up to 4 oz plus, and had stock in the freezer!).  When I could get my son to latch on, I admit it was a great experience.  It was wonderful knowing I was able to nurse him, but those moments were few and far between.  When I couldn’t nurse him, I pumped, and I found pumping to be depressing.  I told my husband that must be what it felt like being in prison, chained to that damn pump all the time (I also had latching problems with my son because he was only 5 lb, 13 oz), and the actual nursing sessions were short and it was just an overall miserable experience.  My son’s lack of sleeping during the day pretty much killed any hopes I had of exclusively nursing.  I got my lactation consultant, took the Fenugreek, got up every two hours at night to feed my son, and cried when I realized the vicious cycle was going to repeat day after day and night after night.  I would never get more than 2 hours of sleep at night, and none in the daytime since my son never, EVER napped, and I couldn’t handle it.  I felt I would be a better mother by recognizing my limits.


This time, though, I was proud of myself for making the decision to stop nursing and pumping.  I missed the times when I could nurse my son, but I didn’t beat myself up the way I did with my daughter and I was confident I was making the best choice for me and my baby.  Better to be a rested parent than a crazed, sleep-deprived lunatic, who barely produced a drop of milk anyway!   I gladly packed up the Medela and never looked back.  Both of my children are happy and healthy.


Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

FFF Friday: “Seven years later, I still think about that day…”

One of the criticisms I often see about this website is that it might “scare women” out of breastfeeding, due to all the negative experiences shared in these Friday stories.

I understand where these critics are coming from, but the way I see it, everything else we see about breastfeeding is blindingly positive. No one speaks of the (sometimes rare, sometimes common) problems that can and do arise. So when these problems strike one particular woman, she feels alone and surprised. 

I don’t see how allowing women to tell their stories can ever be a bad thing. Of course most women who breastfeed aren’t going to develop sepsis like Leslie (whose story is below), but for the small but very real number that do, isn’t it better that they know the signs? By that same argument, isn’t it better if women are armed with information and resources about more common issues like mastitis, IGT, and tongue ties, so that they can be more proactive rather than suffering in silence?

Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Leslie’s Story


With three thriving children, my husband and I are through having babies, so the whole breast milk vs. formula debate has an aura of been-there, done-that for me. But, because my story and the message I want to get out are a bit different than many, I thought I’d share it with you.

With my first (who is now 7), I went through the standard new-mother breastfeeding hells (that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but that won’t surprise any regular reader of FFF) — you know, bleeding nipples, Reynaud’s Syndrome, screaming baby, unhelpful consultants, latch problems, psychotic sleep deprivation, wishing I’d never conceived (or been conceived myself), hating my baby for being hungry, etc. Eventually, I ended up just pumping and feeding the baby expressed breast milk. It sucked, but it was better than fighting The Nursing Wars with my baby. Unfortunately, I had HUGE oversupply problems, which pumping exacerbated. I mean, I could effortlessly pump out 50 ounces of breast milk a day, no problem. Well, actually, big problem — it took ALL of my time; I felt like my value had ben reduced to that of a farm animal (and I have two Ivy League degrees); we had to buy an extra freezer; and still my supply just kept increasing. If I didn’t pump, I’d get painful engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis, soaking wet tops, etc. It was literally impossible for me to empty my breasts of milk — I could have pumped 24 hours a day without running dry. I asked a lactation consultant about it, and she just suggested I donate my extra milk — neither she, nor anyone else, had any reasonable idea how to stabilize, much less reduce, my oversupply. Indeed, no one took my oversupply problem seriously — “Lucky you!” the obnoxious woman at the breastfeeding center exclaimed.

So, there I was about five months post-partum and pumping at least five times a day. One Sunday morning, my right breast hurt fairly badly, and I felt lousy. I knew I had mastitis. (I’d had it twice before.) My regular OB/GYN was out of town, but the on-call OB/GYN covering for him called in oral antibiotics for me. My husband went and picked them up and I started taking them immediately.

Three or four hours later, my right breast ached more (pumping was blindingly painful and I couldn’t make myself do it), and the red infected area had spread. Also, my temperature was going up (at that point, 101 degrees). I called the covering OB/GYN back — she was very irritated that I’d bothered her again, told me that it could take up to 48 hours for the oral antibiotics to work, that I should see my regular doctor if I wasn’t better by Tuesday, and not to call her again.quotescover-JPG-50

Now, here’s where I was/am really lucky: My mother was staying with us, and she’s very, very science savvy. She knew, and was worried, about sepsis, so she called my sister, a breast cancer surgeon, who lives across the country. My sister said to circle the red area on my breast with a Sharpie marker, so we could see if it was really spreading. A couple hours later, it had definitely spread, my whole breast was excruciatingly painful, my temperature was over 102 degrees, and I was deteriorating mentally — I just kept crying, over and over, that I didn’t know what to do, and that I just wanted to be left alone in a dark room.

My mother insisted that I needed to go to the ER. She and my husband sought my opinion, but I could only cry (in pain? in fear? in fever?). All I really remember is that I insisted that before going to the ER, I had to email my boss that he wouldn’t be getting the case memo he was expecting the next morning — I can’t explain why I felt that was so critical, when I couldn’t even take responsibility for my own health crisis, except that I was so sick, I couldn’t think straight.

Anyway, my mother won, and by 9pm that night, I was taken to the ER. My temperature was over 104 degrees, my white blood cell count was over 30, my entire right breast was red, inflamed, and dimpling, and I struggled to answer basic questions like my name and birthdate. Due to my doctor sister’s advocacy (she called the ER ahead of my arrival and insisted the ER call her as soon as I was admitted), the ER was all over my sepsis. I spent literally no time in the waiting room; I was taken straight back to a treatment room; within 20 minutes, my blood had been drawn, and within 55 minutes, I had a central line in my neck and was getting IV antibiotics (vancomycin).

Of course, I was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of sepsis from mastitis, and spent the next four days getting IV antibiotics. Thanks to my mother’s and my sister’s sophistication and persistence, my sepsis was treated very promptly — before I had any major organ failures — and I made a full, fairly easy recovery.

Overall, I received excellent care at my hospital. My only criticism — and it’s a big one — is that the hospital (the same one where I’d delivered my baby five months earlier) refused to let me use one of its breast pumps to relieve my terrible engorgement the night I was admitted. I hadn’t been able to pump for most of the day, and at that point I was regularly producing 40-50 ounces of breast milk per day; the engorgement and resultant pain were unimaginable. The hospital said it didn’t want one of its breast pumps contaminated with whatever bacteria had caused my mastitis and my sepsis. Not only was that selfish — it’s a hospital for heaven’s sake! — but my breasts were so full of pressure that the antibiotics had trouble getting to the underlying infection site. So, refusing me a breast pump actually jeopardized my health. (When the infectious disease specialist found out, he was livid and read the riot act to the maternity care unit.) Unfortunately, I was too sick and weak to fight that one that night — the next day, my husband brought my, ahem, hospital-grade breast pump from home.

ALL of my doctors — including my regular OB/GYN (who was back by then), my internist, the infectious disease specialist, my sister (the breast surgeon), and the surgeon who put in my central line — uniformly advised me to stop lactating, because another bout of mastitis could very easily kill me. My infant son’s pediatrician was in accord — she said formula was fine, and I’d be nuts to risk my life just to give him breast milk. Finally — FINALLY — I was prescribed a drug (bromacriptine) to stop producing breast milk. (Rarely, it can cause strokes, so no one would give it to me before.) I cried as I took the drug to stop lactation, because I half-thought it made me a bad mother, but I didn’t seriously consider not taking it. Unbelievably, lactivists tried to change my mind on that, claiming “breastfeeding is the most loving thing a mother can do for a child,” but their efforts had the opposite effect. Apparently, my life, and the possibility of my child growing up without his mother, mattered less to them than breastfeeding. Well, screw that. If someone doesn’t value my life, I don’t see why I should value their opinion.

When I got out of the hospital, we used up our freezer full of breast milk, and then switched to formula — and the baby was fine. A couple years later, with my second, I tried breastfeeding again, but got three breast infections in the first three weeks. As I said before, screw that — we promptly switched to formula, and again, the baby was fine. (For the record, in fact, my second formula-fed kid was recently tested as having an IQ of 152.)

With my third, we went straight to formula in the hospital. Surprisingly, the only person who gave me a hard time about the formula was our new pediatrician. (By then, our beloved, old one had retired.) When I explained that breastfeeding was dangerous for me because I’d previously had sepsis from mastitis, he condescendingly replied, “Well, you think you had sepsis.” No, asshole, I had sepsis, and I have the scar in my neck from the central line to prove it. My husband and I switched pediatricians immediately — who needs that kind of questioning and doubt from their kids’ doctor? Our next (and current) pediatrician appropriately couldn’t have care less how we fed the baby, so long as the baby continued to thrive.

Here’s the thing I hope others reading this take away from my story: If something seems really wrong with mastitis, go to the ER and ask about sepsis. Do NOT just let some irritated, on-call doctor on the phone bully you into waiting a few days for oral antibiotics to kick in. If I (actually, my mother) had obeyed the on-call OB/GYN that Sunday, I would have just grown sicker and sicker until Tuesday; statistics say I probably would be dead now.

Waking up healthy one Sunday morning, developing mastitis and then sepsis, and being told I might die, was among the most terrifying experiences of my life. It all happened so fast; I hadn’t done anything wrong; I couldn’t handle the situation myself; and — but for my mother’s and sister’s insistence in taking me to the ER — I probably would have died. Seven years later, I still think about that every day. And, every day, as I mother all three of my beautiful, thriving formula-fed children, I am grateful.


Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “Why did I put myself through all that?”

As I’ve mentioned before, it can take awhile for a FFF Friday submission to actually be published. Jennifer, for example, sent me this piece last October. A year ago. She was a few weeks away from having her third baby, and that baby must be about 11 months now, which is…. well, let’s just say it makes my backlog of stories look a bit more daunting. 

I wonder how Jennifer’s first few months with her new son went. I hope she was able to enjoy her baby, regardless of how she ended up feeding him. I hope her friends and family were able to do as she asked, and help her fight against her own inner monologue – because as too many of us know, the voice in our head can be the most judgmental of all. I hope that third time really was the charm.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,


Jennifer’s Story

I am currently 35 weeks pregnant with my third baby and I am trying to mentally prepare myself for labor/delivery, and those early days of learning the care of a newborn. Each child is so different and the learning “curve” is straight up!

First Baby: It’s a Girl! Born at 37 weeks and only 6 lbs 3 oz. Since she was my first, it took a few days for my milk to come in and she quickly lost weight. We were told to supplement and we did. Breastfeeding became excruciatingly painful very soon after that. I saw lactation consultants, and doctors, but none of them could figure out why I was so “sensitive.” I hated that word. I didn’t think that a mom who was willing to breastfeed through extreme pain could be called, “sensitive.”

After a couple of months of that, we found that she was not gaining weight and so began the cycle of nursing, pumping, and weighing. After a couple more weeks of that, I was too exhausted to continue and we started exclusive formula feeding. I didn’t really experience my breast milk “drying up.” There was nothing left. Our little one grew and thrived, but I had a difficult time getting past the feelings of guilt and failure. I was determined to try again.


Second Baby: Three years later…another girl! This one born at 40 weeks and 7lbs 4 oz. I began nursing right away and although she struggled to latch, all signs pointed to her actually receiving colostrum. Lots of wet and poopy diapers. A nipple shield helped her latch and we were sent home.

Once we were home, the real trouble began. She could latch without the shield, but with every feeding, my pain increased and my nipples became more and more destroyed. Again, I saw a lactation consultant (a different one than before).

She was wonderful. She never gave up trying to find a solution to my extreme pain. First, she diagnosed tongue-tie, which we had fixed. When that didn’t help, she prescribed “rest” for my nipples and I bought a hospital-grade pump. My husband fed our daughter while I pumped around the clock. Even the pumping was extremely painful. I didn’t have thrush. I didn’t have mastitis.

Finally, she watched me pump. She was shocked at what she saw. My nipple was bright red when in the pump and then as soon as I stopped pumping, it would turn completely white, and then eventually purple. Apparently this is a condition called Renauds. While it usually affects people’s fingers and toes in cold weather, it can also affect nipples! She said I was only the second case she had seen in the 10 years of her practice.

My primary care doctor did some research and found out that this is treated all the time in France (there they call it “icy nipples”) with a homeopathic remedy called Secale Cornutum. I tried it and I kid you not, within 20 minutes of taking it, I could watch my nipple change from white to a nice normal pink. It did make pumping comfortable (finally!) but nursing was still too painful. After about 5 months of being fed pumped breastmilk, my milk once again ran out and we switched to formula. This time I didn’t feel guilty. I finally had an answer to my breastfeeding pain and I knew my daughter would thrive on formula, just like her sister had. I did, however, feel kind of stupid. Why did I put myself through all of that?

Third Baby (a Boy!!):  We tried for a Summer baby, but it didn’t happen. So I’m about to give birth to another Winter Baby, which means Renauds will rear its ugly head again.

Here is what I want: A happy Mama and a Happy Baby. Here is what I don’t want: Weeks of extreme pain and sadness from being unable to breastfeed without pain. So, I have informed my husband and all of my family members and friends that if they see me suffering again like I did before, they HAVE to tell me to stop. They have to reach through my hormone crazed “I must breastfeed or the world will end” haze and tell me it is ok to stop. It is good to stop. My family needs a happy Mama. I won’t go to the breastfeeding support groups. I won’t pump around the clock. I won’t cry through every painful feeding. I WILL STOP if I need to. I will get that formula, and make that bottle, and gaze into my baby’s eyes and fall in love.

Want to share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

FFF Friday: “Why did no one tell me about this?”

The history of infant feeding is fascinating to me, mostly because it’s such a prime example of human innovation. In today’s Western society, we tend to romanticize the days of yore, favoring ancient practices in the approach to nutrition, medicine, and especially birth and parenting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, if this is what you prefer – but I think the downside is that we start resenting modern conveniences and progress. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total Luddite about many things (I will never trade in my dogeared, musty-smelling paperbacks for a Kindle; I think Facebook is the downfall of humanity) but I also freaking love my DVR, read Popular Science and geek out, and think medical advancements are the coolest thing since sliced bread. I love that we can cure diseases, prevent others, and take away the pain from childbirth for those who desire this.

So I really, really love Emily’s story, because it speaks to all of this, and then some. Because nature isn’t always right. Humans aren’t always right. In fact, both of them are wrong a lot of the time. But when they can work in tandem and correct each other’s mistakes, that’s a beautiful thing. 

 Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Emily’s Story

My husband is a biologist, and he’s interested in evolutionary biology. Through him, I’ve also developed an interest in this, though I’m not at all a science person so my understanding is limited.

When I learned about insufficient glandular tissue (and that I had IGT), I didn’t understand. If our bodies were made for breastfeeding (as nurses, lactation consultants, et al. kept telling me), how is it that IGT is a thing? Why it is that the gene for IGT didn’t die out when our bodies didn’t do what they were meant to do and we couldn’t feed our babies?

I thought about this as I was pregnant with my second child. With my first, we had tried breastfeeding. He had a great latch and a strong suck for all the good it did him. I just couldn’t produce enough milk. I hadn’t even heard of IGT back then. Neither had the myriad nurses, lactation consultants, doctors, or La Leche League leaders, presumably. Or if they did, they never told me about it. LLL leaders were happy with telling me that I wasn’t dedicated to breastfeeding and that I was wrong when I said he wasn’t producing dirty diapers. I just couldn’t tell they were wet, she said, because I used disposable diapers rather than cloth. (To be fair, some of the LLL leaders were much nicer and encouraging.) Lactation consultants must have seen me as a cash cow and tried to sell me products and services that weren’t even calculated to help my supply issue. I’ve come to think of them as predatory.quotescover-JPG-14

And so, thinking that breast is best, my routine with my first was breastfeed, give breast milk that I had pumped earlier, supplement with formula, and pump while he sleeps. When that was all done, he was up again. I think a lot of readers are familiar with this pattern. I was even on some medication from my midwife to try to increase my supply, but all it did was make me sleepy. Eventually, I stopped. I realized that an awake mommy who could play with her baby was more important than breast milk.

During my second pregnancy, I learned about IGT, in particular that I might have IGT. Instead of feeling relieved or justified (so that’s why I couldn’t breastfeed!), I felt lied to and betrayed. Of all the people I spoke to when my first baby was born, all the medical professionals and self-professed breastfeeding experts who tried to make me feel bad, give me medication, or sell me useless and expensive equipment, why did no one tell me about this? They all said that our bodies were meant to do this, that we have been doing this for thousands of years. They never said that maybe my body wasn’t meant to do this. And if, as they said, this is what mommies are designed to do and I can’t do it, are they implying that I shouldn’t be a mommy?

Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean survival of the physically strongest. It means the one who is most able to adapt to her surroundings will pass on her genes. People say that women have been breastfeeding for thousands of years, but they neglect to mention that we have also been using wet nurses, animal milk, and baby bottles for that long. The gene for IGT didn’t die out because humans are creative, intelligent, and caring enough to feed their babies when their bodies don’t work the way other people think they should.

Never do I feel more human than I do when I give my baby formula. Bottle feeding my babies reminds me of humans’ problem solving ability that allowed us to evolve into who we are today, and probably did more for the species than mammary glands ever did. And we’re all part of this intelligent species, whether we bottle or breastfeed.


Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “It was okay to prioritize my well-being.”

You guys know how much I love honesty and a healthy sense of humor about the ridiculousness that is infant feeding politics. Susan’s story has both those elements, but it also illustrates a major problem facing today’s parents: the unrealistic, romanticized notions of motherhood that we’re force fed by the media and each other. 

Pregnancy can be hard. Birth can be awful. Postpartum depression happens. Talking about these things doesn’t have to be “scary” or “negative” – it can be cathartic. It can release women from expectations, and give them permission to find their truths. There can be beauty in a c-section; grace in an epidural. You can be a warrior even if (especially if) you’re bedridden for the last trimester, just as much as you can be while running a marathon in your 36th week. Formula feeding for one woman is just as rewarding and empowering as breastfeeding is for another. It’s your journey, and no one – not your doctor, your neighbor, your mother, your Lamaze instructor, your lactation consultant, or the dude at the grocery store checkout – has the right to tell you what path is right for you. 

Enjoy Susan’s story – every last amazing word of it – and then make a pact to be real with your friends about pregnancy, birth and postpartum. And more importantly, make a promise that you’ll be sensitive to the fact that your right is not your friend’s right, and that there are no absolutes. That’s what true support looks like, I think. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,




Susan’s Story

Even before getting pregnant, I never doubted that I would breastfeed one day if I had a child.  As a young, over-educated, single know-it-all, I looked down on baby formula.

Although I was fed on formula, I remember a not-so-well-meaning relative making a disparaging comment to my mother about it when I was 15 years old, in 1992.  This woman was breastfeeding her son, and could not believe that my mother thought it acceptable to feed her babies formula.  The hype around breastfeeding was so strong that as a 15 year-old, before I even knew where I would go to college and what I would “be when I grew up”, I was certain that not only was breastfeeding best, but formula feeding was just not even an option if I wanted to be a great parent someday.


Fast forward 21 years.  When my husband and I found out we were expecting a baby, I devoured everything on pregnancy, childbirth, and baby care I could get my hands on.  It was during this time that my anti-formula stance developed some holes.  I was still committed to breastfeeding, but after reading that Tina Fey tried it, and fed her babies formula, I no longer lumped formula exclusively in the land of the stupid and ignorant.  A blogger who I respect reported that before she had her first baby, she purchased some formula for “just in case”, even though she did go on to breastfeed.  I read Bringing Up Bebe and found it fascinating to read that in Paris, upon hearing that a woman was “still” breastfeeding at 8 weeks, another woman said, “What does your husband say about that?  What does your shrink say?”.  I noticed that quite a few Breastfeeding books off-handedly mentioned that some women did experience breastfeeding challenges, but, it was nothing that a serious 6-8 week commitment to nursing couldn’t iron out.  I also heard a lot of, shall we say, ”interesting” comments from acquaintances re nursing…. things like, ”It’s a real commitment!” and “Are you planning to breastfeed?  If so, make sure it’s the ONLY thing you do.  Just breastfeed and sleep.  Don’t even unload the dishwasher!”  Finally, from that family member who chastised my mother twenty years ago:  “It’s really great if you can just stick it out in the beginning….”.  I didn’t press her, but I wondered what it was that she had to “stick out”.


Unfortunately, at the same time I was also entrenched in a prenatal world that glorified all things natural.  To prepare for birth I was taking a Hynobabies class, which assures you a “painless and beautiful birthing” achievable through deep relaxation and the ancient wisdom of our bodies.  I was attending prenatal yoga with instructors who breastfed their babies for years, used cloth diapers, and eschewed epidurals.  A close friend of mine said, “I haven’t heard of anyone who had any problems with breastfeeding as long as their baby latched well initially”.  This was also a friend who had two unmedicated births, and was known to frequently utter the following: “I just LOVED both of my birth experiences!”.


I wanted to be in this seductive club.  Everyone looked beautiful and had shiny hair and glowing babies.  They weren’t fat.  They never talked about anything negative.  I wanted to be in the club where I could have a beautiful, “natural”, unmedicated “birth experience”.  I wanted to snuggle with my daughter, while she gently nuzzled my breast and happily sucked the milk out.  I wanted to be that new mom who was bounding into downward dogs at 4 weeks, and had lost all of her baby weight by 6 weeks.  And everyone would comment on how amazing I looked, how beautiful our baby was, and I would tell them about how much I LOVED giving birth, while easily unbuttoning my shirt and sliding my baby in for a gulp.  I would tell pregnant woman about the miracle of life and how easy it all was going to be for them!! I wanted to escape all the difficulty of new motherhood, and a part of me really believed that if I just willed it, it could happen to me.


As my pregnancy drew on, I was so smug.  My husband and I attended an infant CPR class and saw a couple there with their baby.  Halfway through, the mom began mixing powdered formula with water.  “How sad”, I thought.  I immediately put myself in a different, “better” camp than this woman.  “How sad that she couldn’t breastfeed.”  It never once occurred to me that perhaps she had chosen to use formula — that formula feeding as a choice, versus something one was forced into, was even possible!  I saw formula as the last resort for women who “couldn’t” breastfeed . . . the unfortunate women who hadn’t done enough visualizing, reading, sun salutes, and deep breathing.  The women who were just going to have a hard time with everything.


A week before my due date, as my husband and I sat down to eat pizza and watch our favorite TV show, “it” started.  And by “it”, I mean the most painful, jarring, breath-stopping contractions.  They brought me to my knees almost from the get go, made my teeth chatter, and made me want to set fire to all of my Hypnobabies practice materials.  “Would you like to listen to one of the hypnosis tracks?”, my husband asked, one hour after contractions started.  “NO!” I screamed.  “I want a #&$*ing epidural!!!!”.


In addition to the physical pain and the shock of this happening a week early (in all of my visualizations, our daughter was at least 10 days late), I felt I was on a runaway train away from the club I most desperately wanted to be in.  I hated the contractions, and I wanted medication more than anything.  I wanted it all to stop and restart in two weeks, in the way I had visualized!!! Sadly, as I was breathing through contractions, a part of me already felt like I was weak and that I failed because I knew I would request an epidural once we got to the hospital.  This is so sad.  Because the truth is, I was a star.  I was so strong.  I labored in our living room with our doula for 12 hours, from 10 PM to 10 AM, through contractions that threw me to the ground.  Now, 5 months out, I can see that.  But at the time, I felt shame that I couldn’t sit motionless on the birth ball and blissfully ride each wave, possibly while doing a yoga chant.


21 hours after labor started, a beautiful and determined baby girl was writhing on my stomach and clawing her way to my breasts.  I looked down at this approaching creature in terror.  Labor crushed me.  The epidural only worked on one side, and so I had been awake for over 36 hours, 21 of them in indescribable pain.  To be completely truthful, the last thing I wanted in that moment was to try and breastfeed.  I wanted a glass of champagne and a fuzzy bathrobe.  But, onto the breast our daughter went.  She placed her lips around my nipple.  It was soft and sweet.  Then, it was like a fistful of needles on the most sensitive area of my beyond exhausted body.  “Owww!” I yelled while whipping around to get help from our doula, who said with a grin, “That’s a latch!”


“Are you kidding?!?!” I thought.  “That’s a latch?!?!”.  Despite my wish to visualize my way through life, I actually have a very low tolerance for discomfort and after about a minute I pushed my daughter off. “I can’t do this right now”, I said.  “That’s OK”, our doula assured me, “there will be plenty of time later”.  Our daughter was whisked away for the weighing, eye drops, etc and returned to me in the burrito swaddle.  Much better.


Once we were settled in our room, I was told to “not worry too much about nursing” in the first 24 hours because the baby and I were sleepy.  “Excellent!!”, I thought, and I took this very literally.  I requested that our daughter go to the nursery so I could sleep, and think I breastfed her maybe 2 or 3 times within that first 24 hours.  One lactation consultant told us we were “pros” after watching a video my husband took of the process because the LC wasn’t available when we were actually nursing.  Things seemed brighter.  Even though I had an epidural, we were breastfeeding professionals and so there was still a chance I could be in the Perfect and Natural Mommy Club.


Unfortunately, too much time passed before our daughter produced a wet diaper, and we were told to give her formula.  Formula!!!! The nurse brought in a 2-ounce bottle of Similac and I burst into shaky uncontrollable tears!! “This is my fault!!”, I said to my husband, “I shouldn’t have slept!! I should have nursed her!  I have #*$$ed this up!!  And now she has to have formula and she won’t be interested in the breast!”.  Everything fell apart in my mind.  And I was to blame.  I had selfishly slept, and now, I was back on that runaway train away from the club, and heading directly to Poor Parenting Incorporated.


My levelheaded husband assured me that our daughter would still be interested in the breast, and that a little formula would be OK, and that I hadn’t done anything wrong.  He fed her the formula.  And more formula.  And more formula.  Because despite more nursing sessions, the wet diaper had yet to appear.  The hours dragged on and we had to stay in the hospital an extra day.


By this time, I could feel the anxiety oozing into my core.  Little did I know, this was the beginning of an early post-partum depression.  I was terrified of our baby.  I was afraid to dress her because she was so tiny and thin and I might rip her arm out of its socket, and I was afraid to hold her naked because my hands were so sweaty I thought she’d slip out of them.  I felt that I had already really messed up as a mom, and that she did not like me.  When we arrived home, my husband had a greeting card waiting for me, “from our daughter”, telling me I was the best mommy ever.  I started shaking with tears of shame and felt that not only was I the worst mommy ever, but my daughter would be better off without me.  And then I heard my daughter’s wails . . . I tried to nurse her but she was up for most of the night.  I trembled in fear while changing her diaper at 3 AM while my husband slept.  I remember saying, “okay okay okay okay okay okay” in a shaky voice, taking a breath, and repeating.  Every minute seemed to last an hour.  She was getting a tiny fraction of the 14-18 hours of sleep a newborn needs.  The next morning she was yellow.  Our doula was scheduled to come over and help me with breastfeeding.  When she rang the doorbell a wave of relief washed over me.  “Now everything will be OK!  She is going to teach me to nurse!”, I thought.  When I realized each nursing session would take over an hour, I wanted to run away.  Especially because she was never satisfied after each one, and I felt worse and worse after each one.  “What on earth are we doing?” I wondered . . . and wanted to wake up from this terrible dream.


The first week was the worst week of my life.  Our daughter had jaundice, so we needed to take her to pediatrician everyday to get her bilirubin levels checked.  I was advised to nurse, then pump, then feed her a bottle of formula.  I was always freezing and sweating, and between sterilizing everything, setting up the pump, learning how to use it, the sitz baths, and all the feeding steps there was no time to sleep or eat.  I would cram a power bar down my throat after stuffing everything into the cab to get to the pediatrician.  My friend who “loved both her birth experiences” texted me to “relax because stress wasn’t good for breastfeeding”.  I’m sorry, how do you relax when your baby’s jaundice is getting worse everyday, with the constant threat of her being taken away to go under the light in the hospital, and this is all because your body isn’t working?  After two sleepless nights because our daughter was never full, we hired a night nurse.  This helped tremendously, but I still hated everything about breastfeeding.  I would dread the feeding time.  Breastfeeding would take an hour minimum, and my daughter would either fall asleep or arch her back uncomfortably.  Her latch was weak.  I would feel self-hatred for not being able to do this, and frustration with my daughter, and then more self-hatred for feeling frustrated with a 5 day old baby.  I felt so much pressure walking into the pediatrician office each day, and learning that still, her bill levels were too high.  I was failing, and my daughter was struggling.  I was horrible at being a mother.  Our pediatrician was beyond kind and encouraging . . . all this pressure was coming from me.  Finally, a week after she was born, her bili levels were normal.  We got through the first week, but barely.


I continued to feed, pump, and then do the formula supplement.  But with my husband heading back to work the next week, the walls felt like they were closing in.  How on earth was I going to do this by myself?  Not to mention that I continued to HATE breastfeeding.  I hated strapping on the Brest Friend pillow.  I hated drinking lactation tea instead of coffee.  I hated sitting on the couch, for an hour per session, minimum, with an aching back and feet so swollen they couldn’t fit into any shoes.  I hated trying to unhook the nursing bra with my debilitating post-partum wrist tendonitis that made it impossible for me to wash my hair or put on my coat.  I hated how I was stressed for feeling stressed when damn it, a first baby is stressful.  I hated eating fennel and oatmeal instead of whatever I wanted, so I could “get my supply up”.  I hated how I never, ever needed nursing pads in my bra, never was engorged, and therefore just was not producing enough milk.  I hated waking in middle of night, drenched and shivering in sweat, to pump, and being told by a lactation consultant that if I really wanted to get my supply up, I would have to pump every 3 hours, with no breaks, in a 24 hour time period.


Things came crashing down at the start of the second week.  My husband was back at work and we hired a woman to help us during the day.  On the first day, she fell asleep holding our baby so I fired her.  I called my “loved my birth experiences” friend who told me to “stick it out with breastfeeding because it’s very sweet”, and who told me I “didn’t have postpartum depression”, and who told me that “this was a relatively easy time compared to what was coming up in 3 months”.  I hung up, and sat hunched over the breast pump shaking in tears.  I reached out to acquaintances with babies, two of whom encouraged me to get help immediately because what I was feeling was not “normal”.  However, those same acquaintances told me to “just feed on demand” and then nursing would work itself out.  My husband’s mother, Anne, made an emergency trip to be with us.  She came into the apartment on a Tuesday.  My daughter had been “nursing” at my breast for 3 hours, and we were alone in the apartment.  I was stiff, smelly, needed to pee, and dehydrated.  But I was feeding “on demand”.  I was at the end of my rope.  Anne took our daughter and fed her a bottle of formula while I cried tears of relief and despair in the shower, and had an emergency phone call with my therapist.


That evening a different lactation consultant came.  A lovely woman named Gretchen to whom I will be forever grateful.  Gretchen brought a scale.  After our daughter nursed that night for an hour, Gretchen determined that she had taken in a half of an ounce of breast milk.  So much for us being “pros”.


Gretchen laid out the facts.  If I wanted to keep breastfeeding, I would need to take some radical steps to get my supply up.  If I wanted to exclusively pump, here was the method I could follow.  And, bless Gretchen, if I wanted to stop producing breast milk, which was OKAY, here was what I needed to do. quotescover-JPG-83


Gretchen was the only breastfeeding professional who was able to accurately assess the situation, see my pain, and prioritize our collective health.  When she walked in that night, and I described what was going on in hyperventilating tears, she told me I was an amazing mother.  She told me that the triple feeding I was doing (nursing, pumping, formula feeding) was so much effort, and that not many woman would do this, and that it was so clear to her how much I loved my baby.  This was the first time anyone involved in breastfeeding praised me for my effort, not the result.  She told me it was okay to cry, rather than berating me for crying and stressing.


I saw my neighbor — the woman who told me to not empty the dishwasher if I wanted to breastfeed — the next day.  She was in her fourth month of nursing every 2 hours.  I told her about Gretchen’s visit, and that I was considering exclusively pumping.  (I still couldn’t consider fully ‘quitting’ . . . .).  I felt a little envious of my neighbor, and just amazed that she was awake, every two hours, for four months.  I also wondered how she was still alive.  Then, she told me she thought nursing was “overrated”.  “Really?!?!” I exclaimed.  “Why?!?!”.  She sent me a sibling study that aimed to disentangle the practices of breastfeeding parents (singing, reading, nurturing) from the actual breastfeeding.


The day after that, I just started to cry hysterically while sitting on the couch.  I hadn’t decided yet what I was going to do, but had already reduced some nursing sessions.  I realize I was just so depressed.  I told my husband’s mother.  She looked at me with so much love, and nodded, and said she knew I was depressed.  She implored me to get help.  She looked me square in the eye, and said, “Susan, if you need to go on Zoloft, and feed June formula, that is OKAY.  June is going to be FINE.  I’m not worried about June.  I am worried about you.”


And suddenly, I felt a lightness.  I needed those words more than anything.  I needed someone to tell me to give myself 1/10th of the attention I was giving to my daughter.  I needed to know it was OK to have post-partum depression, and to feed my daughter formula.  And that it was OK to get help, and that I would get through it.


I scheduled an appointment with my therapist, and began to see her weekly.  I started going to physical therapy for my wrist tendonitis.  I went on some walks.  I went to a coffee shop with my laptop and brainstormed an approach for getting a part-time job.  I got my bangs cut.  I had a manicure.  None of these things were radical, but I needed them to feel better, and truthfully, they would not have been possible had I decided to keep breastfeeding, simply because between the actual nursing and then the pumping I would have had to do, I would not have had time to leave the house, do something for an hour (an hour!), and get home.  I stopped talking with my friend who “loved her birth experiences”, and started reaching out to more women I knew as casual acquaintances with children.  I made new, compassionate friends who were my text and email lifelines.  I started hearing over and over and over, “happy mama = happy baby”, and I started taking those words to heart.


And something dawned on me.  It was OK to switch my daughter to formula simply because that would make me happier.  It was OK to prioritize my well-being.  Amazingly, it felt quite simple to release myself from the shackles of self-sacrifice that I thought were necessary to being a good mother.  Could I have established breastfeeding?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  But I didn’t want to keep going.  I didn’t want to “stick it out”.  Could I have exclusively pumped? Maybe.  I don’t know.  But I was daunted by what I read about it and wanted to rest instead.  I wanted to get myself to a good place, and a big part of that was to pour formula into a bottle, cradle my beautiful baby, watch her blissfully drink, and then pass out either in my arms or pressed against my chest.  In those early days, after a bottle of formula, she would drift off with her lower lip stuck out, coated in formula.  We would dress her in kimono-style onesies and after eating, dub her the ‘drunken buddha’.  This experience was the complete opposite of breastfeeding her, when she would writhe, arch, cry, and pull hard at my breast to get the milk out and I would feel trapped and frustrated.  Instead, what I experienced when feeding her formula was exactly what I had visualized for nursing.  I have so many beautiful selfies from weeks 3, 4, 5, and 6 . . . of a plump-cheeked newborn passed out, mouth open, against my breast because she liked to lay her head there, but full from a bottle of formula.  I did continue to pump, but never made more than six or eight ounces a day.  I didn’t like pumping, but a part of me felt like she needed this tiny bit of breast milk just for immunity.  I am trying to learn more about this now,  and release myself of this obligation when I think about what life will be like with our next baby if we are so blessed.


Anne accompanied me to the one-month pediatrician well visit.  While we were in the waiting room, Anne voiced her disgust over the cover of Fit Pregnancy.  It showed a picture of a gorgeous woman — very thin, coiffed long blond hair, full makeup, sexy short dress with spike heels, carrying an infant.  Anne said she couldn’t believe the pressure women were under today . . . she said, “what woman looks like this when she’s raising an infant?”.  I couldn’t admit it to her, but that had been what I wanted!! This woman looked like she was part of the club I had so desperately wanted to join.  But when Anne said this, I mentally stepped back and saw the lunacy in everything I had thought I wanted.  She was absolutely right!  What real woman looked like this and felt no negativity in that first year of having a baby?  And really, how important is it to lose all the baby weight as fast as possible?  Not long after our appointment, I emailed a photo of June and I to a prenatal fitness instructor I’d seen during my third trimester.  She emailed back immediately, saying that I “looked great”, but, “could use a brighter lip color” and that I should “go to Sephora and get some new spring makeup!”.  I was stunned and could not email back.  I was five weeks post-partum, and the focus is on my makeup selection?!?!  I feel angry that the pressures on new moms continue to mount.  Update your makeup!  Lose the weight!  Breastfeed on demand!  Buy Proust for Babies!  And don’t forget to smile, and ENJOY EVERY SECOND of being a new mom!!!


At doctor visits, June was thriving.  Typically we would have a medical student first ask us about feeding, napping, diapers, etc before the doctor came in.  At the one month appointment, I told the med student we were mainly feeding June formula but she was getting about 6 – 8 ounces of breast milk per day.  The student’s face lit up at the words “breast milk”.  I didn’t get angry though, because that could have been me 15 years ago.  It is just a reflection of the world we live in.  Instead of commenting on June’s amazing weight gain and on-track development, the positive expression was reserve for the words “breast milk”.


By week 6 things were so much better.  I was healing physically and emotionally, and June was doing well, though she was quite fussy.  But another wave of depression hit me and this time I lashed out at my husband.  I was angry at him for letting me sleep in the hospital.  “Everything could have been different!” I said.  We could be nursing, I could be even closer to June, she might be doing even better.  Maybe she wouldn’t be so fussy!  When I look back on that now, it’s just so sad.  My husband loved me and knew I needed sleep after the ordeal of labor and birth.  My husband never de-prioritized me after we had our baby and still doesn’t.  When he comes home from work he kisses me first, and then June.  He wanted me to be OK.  And here I was, lashing out at him for this, because clearly breastfeeding was more important than anything else.


While we had setbacks, with each week things got better.  When I brought my breast pump to a job interview at week 7, there was no place to pump, and I realized no gold stars were handed out to women who produce breast milk.  When I stopped pumping at 8 weeks, so much of my depression withered away and I began to really feel like “my old self”.  Five months out, I see everything we went through as one of the most positive transformative experiences of my life.  I realize how incredibly judgmental I used to be about everything regarding pregnancy and childbirth.  And through my own struggles I’ve released this.  I realize the emptiness of words like “bad”, and “fail”, and “perfect”.  What exactly do they mean?  I am a better wife, mommy, and friend from this experience.  I am also a lot happier.  Less “perfect” (I don’t really care when I lose the baby weight and have already bought jars of non-organic baby food), for sure, but a lot happier.


I also realize how lucky we are!  We had a healthy baby.  We were and are able to feed her.  And I feel so lucky I was able to step out of the insanity and find people to connect with who showed true wisdom and compassion, and who offered me unconditional support.  And I feel so lucky to have been told to give our daughter formula by people who did not let trendy dogma obscure our baby’s need for nourishment, and her mommy’s need for a different feeding approach.


I am also so humbled.  Rather than naively glorifying the natural world, I just have so much respect for it.  Nature is formidable.  Without modern medicine and amazing doctors, I’m not sure I could have made it through childbirth.  And without baby formula, I’m not sure if my little girl would have made it.  And as far as breastfeeding being “natural” . . . let us not forget the high infant mortality rates in developing societies, and the constant availability of “alternatives” to nursing in the form of wet nurses and rudimentary formulas since prehistory, if not earlier.  The expectation that every woman will be able to feed her baby, all by herself, using only her own body is not rooted in nature; it is a creation of our times.


Our daughter now is so healthy and happy.  She is beautiful, delightfully fat, makes the most magnificent sounds, and loves to eat.  Despite all of this, a part of me harbors a wish to nurse our next baby if we are so lucky to have one.  I shared this with my neighbor recently, whose daughter is now 8 months, and who is still nursing.  “Really?!” she said. “I’m considering not nursing at all when I have the next baby!” she exclaimed.  I wondered what it is I’m looking for in the quest to nurse.  I hope that by the time we have another baby, I figure it out, and have the grace to really know what is right for our baby, for me, and for our family, and to fearlessly follow that path.


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