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.

FFF Friday: “I would be the same mother whether or not I breastfed.”

We talk a lot about support. Support for formula feeding moms, support for breastfeeding moms, and how we all can support each other.

But support isn’t the whole story. Sometimes, you can have all the support in the world -emotional, physical, situational, etc. – and still struggle. Support can only do so much when you are experiencing disappointment or grief. 

This is why, when it comes to your own emotions and experience, it doesn’t always matter if you live in a “breastfeeding-friendly” or “formula-friendly” area. It doesn’t matter if everyone is nice and comforting and you see tons of moms around you using bottles. Because if your dream was to breastfeed, and that dream turns into a nightmare, you’re the one waking up at 2am in a cold sweat. People can hug you and tell you it’s okay, but you’re still haunted by the Could’ve-Beens and the What-Ifs.

This is why we need to be allowed to talk about these things, without being told we’re making political statements, or “scaring women off breastfeeding”, or “making excuses”. This is why we need to be able to openly discuss the intimate, ugly, conflicted feelings around nursing, because it’s not always about public health missions or statistics. Sometimes, it’s just about a mom like Erin, alone in her room, writing and writing and writing because it’s the only way she can have a voice.

Happy Fridays, fearless ones,

The FFF 

Erin’s Story: “What I Wrote”

I’m a writer. Writing is what I do. It helps me sort out my emotions, my problems, my heartache. I write because sometimes it feels like it’s the only thing I can do. When I failed to breastfeed a second time I turned to my writing. I wanted to convey all my hurt, rage, and heartbreak into one single piece; except that’s impossible. The essays I wrote went on for pages and most of them still don’t have endings. Some I never wrote down because whenever I sat at my computer the tears would flow so hard that I couldn’t see the screen in front of me. It was just too painful.

My name is Erin and I’m a formula feeder.

I have two daughters ages 3 years and 7 months. One was breastfed for two weeks, the other for eleven days. I wish I could say the second time around I had an easier time letting go, of giving up, but that wasn’t the case. You see there are still times I cry about not breastfeeding my baby even though I have proof in front of my eyes that a formula fed baby can turn into a fantastic toddler. I wasn’t breastfed either and I turned into a pretty kick-ass adult so I guess I have further proof.

I started writing about my first daughter who, at two weeks, I bottle fed because my milk didn’t come in. I remember feeling incredibly conflicted. I was angry that my body didn’t work yet I was so happy that the stress of breastfeeding was over. Only once did I cry over my decision, over letting go. When I was all done I felt a small glimmer of hope echo inside me; maybe the next time I could do it, maybe the next time it would be different, maybe the next time my body would work. After a while I started to feel okay. It wasn’t a big deal that I wasn’t breastfeeding. How could it be? So many people, adults even, were brought up on formula and they were fine. It shouldn’t be a big deal.

I wrote about going to a mother’s group for new moms. Everything was fine until I looked around and realized every single mother was breastfeeding except me. Thats when the embarrassment and shame started. I couldn’t ‘hack it’ or ‘stick with it’ and so I wondered if I wouldn’t be able to ‘hack’ the rest of motherhood. What type of mother would I become? Lazy? Selfish? Uncaring? I almost left that group because I couldn’t handle judgmental stares, real or imagined. What must they think of me? The only mother who couldn’t handle breastfeeding? In the end I decided to stay because I felt like I was drowning with a newborn and being stuck home alone was worse than being the only formula feeder. Staying was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I wrote how grateful I was that no one in my group asked why I wasn’t breastfeeding. After bringing out and shaking that first bottle I expected stares, glares, and condemnations. That first bottle was the scarlet letter of my motherhood. Then I realized no one seemed to care. No one stopped mid conversation to point and stare and ask why I wasn’t breastfeeding or how could I put my child at risk? They all continued on as if it was the most natural thing in the world. For that I am so thankful.

The next parts were so much harder to write. I became pregnant with my second daughter and suddenly I had the obsession that this time it would work, this time I was going to breastfeed. I wasn’t going to be that mother who shook bottles among the breastfeeding crowd. If I could breastfed then magically my formula feeding days would be erased. Like the fat kid in a skinny woman’s body forever ashamed and hoping no one would see what I was.

I wrote about designing my whole birth plan around breastfeeding. I researched and researched and researched until I figured out why my body didn’t work the first time. It was like having the first child all over again but this time I focused everything on breastfeeding. It became my obsession.

I wrote about my amazing pregnancy and birth experience. It was everything I wanted and I have no regrets. I’m one of those crazy women who would give birth again and again because, for me, it was awesome.

I wrote about my daughter being diagnosed with a tongue and lip-tie just hours after she was born. I was so lucky; this one little problem was diagnosed early. It was just one small procedure and then I would be on my way to breastfeeding nirvana. I had done so much research and nothing (and I did mean nothing) was going to stand in my way.

Except it wasn’t nirvana. It wasn’t nirvana at all.

I wrote how the procedure, which had less than 1% chance of serious complications, didn’t go as planned. In the end my daughter ended up with four stitches under her tongue and a very sore, hurt mouth.

The next four days were pure hell. I tried to get my precious baby to latch on again. She fought, screamed, and cried until she exhausted the fight out of her. She would latch on, suck, whimper, suck some more and then fall asleep. We did this every few hours for four days.

I wrote about the fourth day when I desperately tried to latch her on. My sweet baby screamed the minute she woke up and flailed her little fist at me as I brought her close. With all her might she’d arch her back and scream and scream and scream. Finally I looked down at her and decided that this. was. not. happening. I was not going to do this to my child any longer. I picked up a full bottle of formula and let her eat and eat. The relief in her eyes as the struggle went away will forever be burned in my memory. All the while I cried and cried. I kept saying “I love her,” over and over again. I needed to tell the world that I still loved my daughter. I still loved her even though I was feeding her formula. I still cared for her even though she couldn’t get sustenance from me. “I love her. I love her. I love her so much.” I couldn’t stop saying it.

I wrote about my wonderful friend and lactation consultant who called and texted me to see how I was doing. I finally told her I was bottle feeding and I’m sure she could see the heartbreak on my face. She reminded me that I had another beautiful, sweet, smart, and healthy daughter who was also formula feed! She told me it was okay and after talking about relatching and pumping she told me that she would support me with whatever decision I made. I could still bottle feed and it would be okay. She has no idea how much her support meant to me during that time. She was full of compassion and love. I never once felt judged by her for not breastfeeding. She wanted what was best for me and best for my family, period.

I wrote about my attempts to relatch my daughter. After three weeks my husband came home and found me in tears. It wasn’t working. My daughter’s tongue-tie had reattached and I was in pain every time she breastfed, which was usually once a day. My husband put his arm around me and told me to stop. I needed to stop. My family needed me back.

I wrote about going to another mother’s group which was very similar to the first one. However, this time I knew I was the only one bottle feeding. The same fears echoed through me. I feared having to explain over and over again why we weren’t breastfeeding. I feared them looking down at me, that somehow I didn’t love my baby enough because I didn’t continue to struggle to make it work. Then, like before, nobody asked. Nobody stared. Nobody condemned. They all doted on my baby.

I wrote about the friends who told me how perfect she was and I knew they were right because it didn’t matter what was filling up her belly. She’s perfect because she’s my baby.

I wrote about the months that followed and how I smiled, clapped and cheered for my friends with newborns who “didn’t give in” to formula. They were all breastfeeding and I smiled with them. I smiled even though deep cracks were running inside me. At night I would wake up mad at God for taking this gift away from me and cry.

I wrote about all the mothers I met in groups and mother’s rooms. Each mother had had her own trial with supplementing, bottle feeding or breastfeeding. I never judged them for their choices and they never judged me for mine. It was a perfect circle of support.

I wrote about how I got to know more about my own mother’s breastfeeding trials. Someone had made her feel bad for her choices and used breastfeeding as a litmus test of her mothering. It wasn’t right then and isn’t right now. It made me so mad that something that has so little to do with actual parenting was used against her. She supported me through everything. She cried with me. She knew and understood my pain better than almost anyone and she didn’t need to breastfeed me in order to do that.

I wrote everything. Every minute detail, every feeling, every struggle. It is my way of processing everything I’ve gone through. I’ve struggle for months to understand why this happened, why I had to go through it all, why this is part of my life story.

I still don’t have all the answers.

What I do know is that I’m stronger than I think. I’ve discovered a quiet, resounding strength within myself as I struggled with this in private. This strength is something I hope to pass on to my daughters. I want them to know that they are made of pretty tough stuff.

I also discovered how lucky I was to have such good support. Between my husband, mother, lactation consultant, and friends I barely heard any discouraging words or saw judgmental stares. If there was judgement then I never noticed.

I know now what type of mother I am. I’m a good one, a gentle one, a compassionate one, and a loving one. Bottle or breastfeeding doesn’t determine how gentle, compassionate or loving I am to my daughters. I would be the same mother whether or not I breastfed. I am not ashamed anymore when I take out the bottle.

I am a mother. I am a good mother. In the end, that’s all anyone needs to know.

***

Have a story you’d like to share for an upcoming FFF Friday? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “I know that I did try hard enough for me.”

Back when I was going through my own breastfeeding struggle with Fearless Child, I saw a slew of lactation professionals. Some were great, some not so great. There was one who I particularly liked, who seemed to actually know what she was doing and tried to look beyond the obvious. But lately, I’ve been thinking…. when I ultimately decided to switch to exclusively formula feeding, I called her. The same woman who had immediately called me back for other requests, telling me how to find secret Westside dentists who would fix my son’s mild tongue tie, or offering evidence to counter my pediatrician’s assertion that there weren’t sufficient studies to say that nursing on my medication was “completely safe”, never called me back. I left two messages, asking for her advice. Nothing.

Lactation consultants are charged with a lot of responsibility – getting baby fed, making sure mom’s body is working properly and isn’t in pain – and it makes sense that the same women who spend years of their lives learning about breastfeeding are pretty passionate about it. But would a heart surgeon dump a patient because he had another heart attack, despite that surgeon’s attempt to address his lifestyle factors? Babies need to be fed; if a mother decides that breastfeeding isn’t going to work for her, I believe the same professionals who’ve tried to help her breastfeed have a responsibility to guide her through the transition to formula. At the very least, they should refer her to someone who can. Because leaving her in the lurch sends a clear message: you’ve failed. Or maybe, you’ve failed me.

Amber didn’t fail. As she so eloquently puts it, she “tried hard enough for her”. Done. Enough said. She does not deserve to be ignored, or “dumped”, as she puts it, by a healthcare professional who she trusted to help her through her struggle.

It’s about people, not promotion. People, not policy. People, not politics.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Amber’s Story

As many people have said before on these FFF Friday essays, I was expecting to breastfeed. Not only was the data compelling but I liked the idea that it would help me lose weight, my uterus would shrink faster, and most of all it was free (being a very frugal person this was a highlight for me). I didn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to breastfeed. My own mother formula fed my brother and I. She stated that my brother refused to breastfeed and honestly I thought she was weak. I thought she didn’t try hard enough and I never bothered to ask her what she meant by that, until I was in the trenches myself. I was incredibly wrong to think these things of her. I feel ashamed that I fell into the hive mentality that most people have when it comes to formula feeding. She was incredibly strong, when she saw her baby was starving she told them to hand her the formula and never looked back.

I was expecting breastfeeding to be challenging, they told me so in the breastfeeding class. I imagined that the hardest part of breastfeeding was getting the baby to latch. When my son immediately latched onto my breast with no fuss, no pain. I was amazed and thought to myself “I lucked out, this is going to be easy for me”.

The next day things were not as easy as that first latch, we were struggling a bit and we had the LCs coming in to help. He’d get latched and they would leave. Then things started going down hill. My baby was jaundiced and they were concerned about his bili levels being too high. So they brought in the formula. I didn’t think anything of it honestly, I knew it could take 3-5 days for my milk to come in, I knew this was temporary. We would be on our way to exclusive breastfeeding in no time. Then they brought in the pump and informed me to pump after every session. They also brought in a tube and syringe to put formula in. This way we could have Callum latch and feed him the formula at the same time. My first few pump sessions I got nothing, absolutely nothing. The nurse said not to worry, that was common in the beginning.

We were discharged the next day with formula, syringes and tubing and informed to give him 20mls at each feeding. We went to the doctors a few days later and had him weighed. He had lost more weight and his bili levels were still high. We were told to keep doing what we were doing and visit an LC. I still was getting very little while pumping, 10mls at most. Due to the jaundice, Callum was difficult to wake and get him to feed. Feedings were taking 45 minutes to an hour, then I would have to pump.

We visited the LC a couple of days later and Callum had lost more weight. We were told that he could go no more than 2 hours between each feeding. The LC decided  to do a weighing before and after feeding at the breast. He gained nothing in between one breast and only half an ounce from the other. I broke down, it’d been 5 days PP, why was my milk not in? Turns out my baby was starving as well, 20 mls for each feeding was not enough. The pediatrician had said it was a fine amount, I think the belief was that I was producing milk and so he didn’t need a lot of formula. So we upped the amount of formula and he ended up gaining weight quickly after that.

So then the insanity started. I needed to get my milk in. I was told this could take 4-6 weeks. What!? No one told me that. It was 3-5 days, that’s what the breast feeding class said! We would feed Callum with the tube and syringe at the breast for 45 minutes to an hour, then I would pump for 20 minutes, then wash everything. Leaving me with approximately a half an hour to sleep, eat or do whatever else need to be done. I was going insane. I would start to cry every time I would feed my baby. I would look down at him that that tube in his mouth and just lose it. I hated feeding him. It was a black mark against me. Why couldn’t my body do this? Once I was done feeding I would go and pump. My nipples were starting to hurt, I was still only getting 10-20 mls per pump. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating enough because I didn’t have much of an appetite. I wanted to hide from my child, I didn’t want to look at him. Looking at him made me cry. I knew this wasn’t normal. But I was too proud to admit that I was sliding down a very slippery slope. I wanted to run away.

At the same time I refused to let my husband bottle feed him. I was going to do this. I had to stimulate my breast. The milk needed to come in. The LC told me to try fenugreek, nothing happened. Other than I smelled like maple syrup, which was nice since I wasn’t bathing. She was pushing me to try acupuncture but it would take an hour. How would I schedule something that would take an hour when I needed to feed and pump!? She kept telling me not to focus on the numbers to just keep pumping. I started to up my time on the pump, I would sit there for a half an hour, 45 minutes. Trying so desperately to make it happen and yet I was still only getting 10-20 mls. By the end of the day I had just enough for one feeding.

I was trying to put on a brave face but I was falling apart. I hated being a mother, I hated everything. Then I talked to another LC, she told me to only pump or only breastfeed. I needed sleep. It had been about a week and a half postpartum. It had been almost 2 weeks since I had gotten any sleep at all. At some point that weekend my husband decided to just bottle feed Callum without waking me up. I woke up when he finished and I was furious that he didn’t wake me so I could pump. Didn’t he understand!? I needed my milk to come in! What he understood was his wife was losing it and needed rest. He was completely right. I kept telling myself that once 6 weeks PP came, I would call it quits. But that was stressing me out, that number was stressing me out. How could I keep up with this? So I thought I would just keep going as long as I could. When I did talk to the LCs, they always told me that I needed to be healthy and happy and bond with my child. They told me I could formula feed exclusively but I didn’t want to hear it.

Then LCs had a social worker call me. She really slapped me awake. She asked me how long I was going to keep this up. I told her as long as I could. She told me that I couldn’t do that, I needed to set a deadline. I couldn’t leave it open like that. So I set a deadline, that deadline was that day. I decided to exclusively pump. It made me feel a bit better. I started to sleep more. I was still getting 10-20mls. So I thought maybe my breast just didn’t like the pump. After a few days I tried to put Callum on the breast. He screamed at me, he was having none of it. My breasts were not giving him enough.

I talked to the LC a few days later. I told her I was exclusively pumping and Callum hated the breast. She told me to keep trying him at the breast after feeding him. My little breast milk was liquid gold! She told me she would would check up on me by the beginning of the next week. But I think she knew I was a lost cause. She never called. I had depended on those calls and I was dumped just like that. Who needs help with formula feeding, right?

I exclusively pumped for 2 weeks. It was depressing seeing nothing. The most I ever got was 30 mls and that was when I had gone 12 hours between pumping sessions. It was getting difficult to pump with my husband back at work. My breasts never got engorged. The only thing they were, was sore. Every time I turned on that pump my toes would curl in pain. The day I packed away the pump, I felt sad and happy at the same time. I know that I made the right decision but I still get a little teary eyed or angry when I see “breast is best” stamps on the formula bottle or on the internet. I sometimes wonder if I did enough, if I tried hard enough. And then I remember those feelings of despair and I know that I did try enough for me. I also remind myself that I was formula fed and I’m rarely sick, I have a Master of Science. I have not suffered because I was formula fed and neither has my baby. He is healthy and happy and I can’t be more grateful.

***

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

FFF Friday: “I wore it like a badge of honor.”

Here’s the thing about judgment: it’s part of life. We all do it. It’s sort of like picking your nose, or pooping. We all wish we could pretend that it never happens, but humans are gross creatures. It’s inevitable. 

That’s why I don’t tell people not to judge, because it’s useless. Instead, I ask them to listen. To consider how your experience might keep you from understanding the other person’s experience. We can’t possibly know every moment of someone else’s life, or every layer of their heart. There are exceptions, of course – go ahead and judge axe murderers or neo-Nazis, please – but I’m talking about that mom you see at McDonalds smelling of cigarettes with a morbidly obese child. Or the mom on the playground who grabs her misbehaving son a bit too hard. In these isolated moments, in our generalizations about certain parenting behaviors, it’s so easy to think that we are superior, that we are infallible. Just remember that tomorrow, it might be your child who hits another. It might be you who loses your job, and needs to fill your child’s belly with whatever food is cheapest and most accessible. You just don’t know. 

But regardless, you will judge. And that’s okay. But I think it’s awfully nice when you can acknowledge it, like the amazing Dana does in the story below. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Dana’s Story

Before I begin my storyline from breast to bottle, first let me begin with my public apology to anyone who heard me speak about breastfeeding vs. bottle before, during, and even shortly after pregnancy. I was one of “those women.”  I was obsessed with breastfeeding. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the idea of bottle feeding. I thought women were selfish and lazy for not at least attempting breastfeeding. It’s for your dear child after all! Whenever people asked if I would be bottle or breastfeeding I proudly proclaimed breastfeeding. I wore it like a badge of honor. Family, doctors, nurses would all smile and say “good for you!” I was IN. I was a part of the club. Or so I thought…

Boy did I get slapped in the face by reality! I had an amazing 9 months. I had almost zero morning sickness, despite being overweight prior to pregnancy I was gaining at a good rate and only what was expected, I had the BEST midwife ever. I suffered from some pelvic pain towards the very end, and there was slight worry about pre-eclampsia as well but nothing off the charts. I went into labor March 10, 2013. Around 11:00am contractions began. My pull towards everything natural and my  true hippy inside drove me to labor as long as I possibly could in my own home. I labored on the couch, in the shower, on the floor, in our bed. Everywhere around our little 2 bedroom duplex till about 3:00pm when I couldn’t stand it anymore and contractions were 4 minutes apart. We got to the hospital at 3:30pm the nurse checked me and exclaimed “Wow you’re at 9 ½ centimeters!” Everything was going exactly as I had planned. My husband and midwife were wonderful, I retreated into myself and had my eyes closed 90% of the labor process. I delivered my beautiful 8 pound 9 ounce son at 6:44pm with zero pain medication! My hippy heart soared with pride, another badge to add. He latched on right after birth and nursed while we waited for the cord to stop pulsing before cutting it. Everything was going exactly as planned.

My son was extremely sleepy and had a very difficult time latching on. My breasts are naturally large before pregnancy and only got more cumbersome after. It was like trying to fit a watermelon into a kitten’s mouth!! Nurses and lactation consultants buzzed around me trying to “help.” One nurse was so rough with my son and I shoving his face into my watermelon sized chest over and over until myself and my son were crying and I finally asked her to leave the room. Despite all the difficulty we were sent on our merry way with NO IDEA the torture we were walking into.

My son suffered from jaundice so we went home on March 12, 2013. That’s the moment all hell broke loose. He was exhausted. My husband and I were exhausted. There was absolutely NON STOP screaming, arching, congestion, painful hiccups, zero sleep….my son was literally sleeping 4 hours in a 24 hour period. He viciously pushed away from me every single time my breasts came out. He couldn’t latch on and when he did he fell asleep instantly. My breasts were not sore, they did not crack or bleed, my sons pitiful latch never hurt one time.

My mental state on the other hand…I have never in my life felt more depressed or rejected. I can’t even begin to truly tell anyone how horrible I felt. All that “pride” I had in me and my capabilities was GONE. I hated myself. I hated my son for only being able to rely on me. For needing something so badly but not being able to just figure it out! I hated my husband for encouraging me to continue going because he knew just how badly I wanted to breastfeed. After all I was the one who religiously educated him on the WONDERS of breast milk. I hated my Mother for begging me to stop. Looking at me slumped over the breast pump for hours and hours at a time with an expression of agony. As I listened to the pump tell me over and over again “you’re failing you’re failing!” And still…a tiny part of me continued to clutch that badge of pride with white knuckles. My husband and I would weep right alongside our son as he screamed in pure misery. Still, that proud woman I was before would spat out nasty hateful words like “No wonder breastfeeding Mother’s are so righteous! Formula feeders have it so easy. Pop the bottle in the kids mouth and done. Breastfeeding Mother’s have EVERY right to act holier than though. They ARE better. WE are better!”

My son was losing weight, I was losing weight. Neither one of us was getting the nutrition we so sorely needed. We were exhausted, and way beyond the end of our rope. One fateful day my amazing husband was moving my precious bags of liquid gold in the fridge. (Nothing was being frozen as I was barely producing enough to keep up with my son’s demands. I had switched to exclusively pumping and those bags were EVERYTHING to me, to my son!) My devoted, encouraging, supportive husband dropped an entire bag full of milk. Hysteria is the only word that comes to mind. I literally saw red. I crumpled to the floor sobbing and shaking. Screaming how I couldn’t do it anymore. I was making myself sick. My son was struggling to live on what I was giving him and getting at most 4 hours of sleep (the only time he wasn’t screaming!) in a 24 hour period due to his reflux.

I saw my midwife and told her I felt like I was inside a dark hole with dirt caving in on me, I was digging out as furiously as I could but it all just kept falling in on me no matter what I did. I was prescribed Zoloft and given the kindest words I had heard since delivery in terms of breastfeeding. She said “Dana, its okay to stop.” I just looked at her through bloodshot tear filled eyes. She continued. “Your mental well being is directly tied to your son’s well being. Your breasts are not.”

It was over. I gave up. I took the pills, I gave in to the “poison” that is formula and with that I turned into the Mother I always dreamed of being. I loved my son; I loved staring into his eyes as I fed him. I enjoyed him and he was finally able to enjoy me because I wasn’t hooked up to a pump anymore!!! We took him to a Chiropractor and we never looked back! His reflux totally changed from that day forward. His belly was happily full for the first time in his little life, and he wasn’t in agonizing pain. You know what I have to say about that badge of honor I toted around like the Holy Grail? Screw that! I traveled to hell and back for my son yes, but more so because I feel like I was brainwashed, like I had joined a cult and drank the kool aid!! There was no gray, it was all black and white terms. No leeway whatsoever! Formula was poison and it didn’t matter that my son was rapidly losing weight and doing worse and worse by the second, I truly believed that what little breast milk he was getting was going to solve everything, apparently create world peace too! NO! IT DOESN’T! You know what did restore peace in my home, my heart, and my life? FORMULA.

Ask me how long I lasted breastfeeding? Based on my personal hell and agony that I went through it sounds like quite a while right? It felt like an eternity, the story alone has taken me 8 months to be able to put into words. I breastfed my son for a mere 12 days. No cracked bloody nipples, no physical pain…just a mental hell.  12 days of what my husband and I now fondly describe as “living in a horror movie.” My son will be 8 months old in 2 days, he is happy and healthy. He is beautiful and bright. He is pulling himself up and trying to take off walking at only 8 months old. I guess 12 days of breast milk and currently 227 days on formula will still give you a breathtaking intelligent child. Who would of thought?

 ***

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

 

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