FFF Friday: “It’s not worth having the best moments of motherhood stolen from you…”

I‘ve been thinking about labels lately. Exclusive breastfeeder. Formula Feeder. Combo-feeder. Exclusive Pumper. Attachment Parent. Natural Parent. Conventional Parent (um, for the record, I don’t think anyone calls himself or herself a “conventional parent”, but I do hear this term bandied about rather derisively in certain circles). 

Sometimes, it feels like you need a punch card to be part of a specific parenting philosophy. For example, if you’re a “natural parent”, that means you exclusively breastfeed, babywear, cloth diaper, and eschew epidurals and interventions, But what happens if you don’t get one of these items punched on your membership card? Can you still find community? Or, more specifically, can you find a community that accepts you for who you are, and doesn’t ask you to make excuses, or hide your true feelings?

The problem with treating parenting as a “style” or “type” is that raising a child is a fluid, ever-changing experience. I fear that in our human desire to find community, to find a tribe, we limit ourselves. An exclusive breastfeeding mom can feel just as much anger towards the pressure to breastfeed as an exclusive formula feeder (see Gamze’s story, below). I’ve seen formula feeding moms turn rabidly judgmental, and I’ve also seen them divide themselves in an ugly game of those who “had” to formula feed and those who chose to. 

In the following FFF Friday, you’ll hear from Gamze – a mom who happens to exclusively breastfeed her child. That certainly does not define her. In fact, she resents the system that tells women that their feeding choices have anything to do with what sort of mother they are. These are the conversations we need to have; these are the stories we need to share so that women don’t continue to be bogged down by defensiveness, resentment, and fear. We are not how we feed. We are our stories. We are so much more. 

#ScrewLabels.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Gamze’s Story

I guess my story could be ‘marketed’ as a triumph over adversity, one that “should inspire all new mothers to keep on trying and to have faith that if they try hard enough, they too can succeed.” But in reality, it hardly is. Yes, I still breastfeed my 11 month old beautiful, healthy son. For what it is worth, he was (dare I say the magic word?) exclusively breast-fed from when he was 40 days old until he was 6 months old. He still receives only breast milk in addition to his solids.

So you might ask, “why are you writing all this?”

I am writing because the first 40 days of my son’s life and the first 40 days after my having given birth were a completely different story. A traumatizing, sad story.

I was breastfed. In fact, everyone in my family – across generations – was breastfed. Naturally, I had no question about how I would feed my baby when he was born. I was convinced that I would not put “commercial” formula in my baby’s tummy ever. (God forbid!)

My son was born post-term after 30+ hours of labor that I really was not ready for. Again, all the women in my family gave birth very easily. I am my mom’s first born and she had me in just a breezy 7 hours! And with no pain killers, might I add? I was convinced my experience would be a repeat performance. Maybe not by 7 hours but surely by 10… And no epidural (or so I thought!). I did end up delivering with an epidural because I had not slept for 2 days by the time labor started progressing and I was completely wiped out. I needed those 2 hours of sleep. So much for natural birthing!

Then my son was born. He was beautiful, healthy and mine! He was a little over 4 kilos (that’s just shy of 9 pounds) so they called him the “big boy” at the hospital when he was born. They placed him on my chest right away after he was born and he seemed to be suckling very happily for 45 minutes. I thought “Yes, we’ve got this!”. We hadn’t… Not by any stretch of the imagination.

He was very alert and pretty quiet during the day. During those 4 days that we stayed in the hospital, latching was a nightmare. The nurses and midwives kept thrusting his head toward the nipple, latching him was next to impossible, despite all the books and pictures I studied, he did not look like he was rooting… It was a bloody painful mess. He screamed every night at the hospital from 10 pm to maybe 2 am after being put at the breast repeatedly and then just passed out tired on my chest. I could not wink for fear that he would fall off of my chest. For 4 nights I did not sleep! The midwives said he must have colic (he was crying so hard) because I clearly had plenty of milk (read: painful engorgement). We got home and he still was screaming at night, nothing we did could appease him. He was producing wet diapers but not soiled ones. We went to a pediatrician because we thought maybe he is constipated? Looking back, I still feel terribly guilty and stupid for not realizing that he was starved. The pediatrician said something that made my world crumble: “Your son is just very hungry!” I had not managed to feed my baby! What kind of mother was I? Really, I thought a week old could be constipated? I am doing a freaking PhD! I have a degree from an Ivy league school!

So, after all the self-blaming, the self-pity, the crying, I went to a lactation consultant. She asked me about any underlying conditions I had. I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis but was on hormone replacement therapy and was doing fine. She said that the disease made lactation levels fluctuate and that probably was the culprit. She also said, “Your priority is to feed your baby! Give him formula now!” He had lost 200 grams. That is 5% of his body weight!

I cried giving him his first bottle of formula. I cried all the more because he gulped it down and wanted more. My feelings of inadequacy kept eating at me. He was 10 days old now and was combi-fed. I was in such excruciating pain every time he tried to latch that after a while I just pumped whatever I could pump and topped up with formula. I did not want him anywhere near my breasts. I thought maybe he had a tongue-tie but everyone (all the lactation consultants, the doctors we saw) said he was fine. (Many months later, after his teeth came in, we found out that he in fact did have a lip-tie and a tight tongue frenulum. That probably was the reason why he could not latch in the first place. Later, I also found out I had no milk supply issues).

My mom, who had been there since before the birth to help us out, kept telling me to stop pumping and get some sleep. She told me that I had tried hard enough and that the colostrum I fed him the first three days was gift enough. Although I have no recollection of this, apparently I kept snapping at her for telling me to stop pumping when she very well knew my milk would completely dry out if I did.

So, I pumped and I pumped and I pumped. And I didn’t sleep. And kept counting the ounces of milk I produced and that was dwindling. An added bonus: I felt like a cow. I did. I joked about being a cow hooked on to a milking machine (aka the double breast pump). My son was getting most of his intake from formula now. I could only give him maybe 1 ounce or 2 ounces of breast milk every other feeding. I looked terrible. I felt even worse. I could not go out, I had not seen another adult (save my mother and my husband) for weeks. Did I say, I did not sleep? (By this point, I spent all the little ‘free-time’ I had obsessively reading EVERYTHING I could find on low milk supply, exclusive pumping, you name it, I’ve read it! That’s when I found the Fearless Formula Feeder website. Thanks to a wonderful suggestion from a friend.)

Why did I think having a baby would be such a great idea anyways? I could not remember any more. So, I loved my son but I hated being a mother? Did I even know what being a mother meant? Was motherhood just about breastfeeding your child and feeling miserable and defeated because you couldn’t? So one fateful day, I decided I would stop pumping. I would accept the reality and do whatever my son needed to have a happy, caring and somewhat rested mother. Even if that meant formula-feeding full-time. And I would try one last time to get him to latch. If it worked, it worked. If not, he didn’t care. He seemed perfectly happy guzzling down his bottles anyhow.

I tried one last time to put him to the breast. He was 40 days old. This time, it worked. I felt a brief period of euphoria. Eureka! I did it!

Sorry, what did I do again? Nothing, really. It was sheer luck – or coincidence or whatever you might want to call it – that he could now somehow (miraculously) latch and feed at the breast.

Looking back, I don’t see a story of perseverance or success. All I know is that I needed to let go of my judgments and preconceptions but that it is easier said then done. I think it is time to acknowledge that the way a mom chooses to feed her baby is not an indication of how good a mother she is or will be. It really isn’t. It is not worth having the best moments of your motherhood stolen from you just to follow some generic advice about what is best. I will never again be a first-time mom. My son will never be that tiny, that wrinkly. I will never be able to reclaim the time I lost with him in my blind quest to provide him with what I thought was best. Now, I am thoroughly convinced that what is best for a baby is a sane, loving, well-rested and happy mother. Yes, now that it doesn’t hurt like hell and deprive me of my sense of self-worth, I do love breastfeeding. I love the convenience. I love the closeness. I love that when all else fails, the breast can calm my little son down in a matter of seconds. But I also know what it feels like to be judged for supposedly not having tried hard enough or to have people feel sorry for you because you tried so hard and ‘failed’. And I am saddened to see so much of that judgment being passed around as if there wasn’t already enough to make new mothers self-doubt and feel inadequate. And that’s why I wanted to share my story.

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Share your story: email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

FFF Friday: “Enabling their rudeness perpetuates the problem…”

This is one of those FFF Fridays that will make you want to riot in the streets. Which I highly encourage you to do. I’d join you but I have a raging migraine at the moment, so I’m just going to sit here quietly and read Natalie’s post, and gingerly raise my fist in solidarity.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Natalie’s Story

My mother breastfed me exclusively in the late 70’s in a place where most people were formula feeding, and she was pretty defensive about it. There’s a picture of me at two years old giving a toy bottle (it came with my peeing baby doll) to my teddy bear. When she would show me the picture when I was older, my mother always told me that it’s OK that I’m playing with the bottle, but it’s not really good, because breastfeeding is better.

Fast-forward thirty years or so, I’m pregnant, and my mother’s crunchy beliefs are mainstream. So mainstream, in fact, that public health entities present all kinds of “data” to support it: breastfeeding will prevent obesity, cancer (which my mother died of), asthma, allergies, and a slew of other infectious diseases in your children, who will also have higher IQs. And then there are the supposed benefits for mothers: immediately losing “baby weight,” keeping your period at bay, reducing cancer risk for yourself.

Sad to say, the baby weight one really attracted me. I’ve had body dysmorphia since age twelve, and two years prior to my pregnancy I started exhibiting signs of hypothyroidism, including significant weight gain that no amount of careful eating or exercise would shake. The hypothyroidism wasn’t caught or acknowledged until my second trimester, when I also started getting medication for it (I got on the meds and people instantly started complimenting me on my thinner face). I felt better as well, but I couldn’t wait for breastfeeding to straighten me out further postpartum and get me back to my previous thinner self. I also have large breasts, which were always an issue in my dysfunctional family; my parents did not approve, not that I could have done anything about it. I was really looking forward to breastfeeding to give my breasts a meaning beyond early-instilled humiliation. I wanted to feel something about my breasts other than that they were so sexual as to be unattractive.

I was so gung-ho about breastfeeding that I spent almost three months of my pregnancy in a state of fear and dread.  My rather negligent and inconsistent OB practice attempted to treat me in a haphazard way for gestational diabetes because I was on the high end of normal, though within normal range, on the glucose test. Their endocrinologist is running research (without obtaining patient consent, I might add) to attempt to prove that far larger swathes of the population have it or are at risk for it than previously supposed. She appears to be sort of shoehorning data (that is, pregnant women at the hospital and the treatment they undergo) to support her theory. Unbeknownst to me I was one of them, even though I didn’t have gestational diabetes and they eventually admitted that the treatment wasn’t medically necessary.

I was so anxious because I’d read that babies born to GD mothers are automatically given bottles at birth. A LLLI representative and every other website I’d read told me that just one bottle would ruin the breastfeeding process forever–which would therefore ruin my kid, or so I believed. These were mainstream websites, traded back and forth on the internet in mainstream online birth month groups I belonged to. Or else were from my own research. Or were recommended by rational, educated people I knew.

Whenever I asked nurses at my appointments, or other hospital officials–like the one who ran our childbirth class, who warned about the dangers of formula feeding—about it, they’d say, “Well, DO you have GD?”

“…no…I mean, I don’t know, they said no, but they said I need the treatment anyway…”

“Well, if you DO, they’ll give a bottle—but breast IS best, I’m just warning you—and if you DON’T, they won’t! Which IS it?”

It was “no,” but it took my husband coming in with me to an appointment towards the end of my pregnancy (and demanding the same answers I’d demanded earlier) for them to stop warning that I was going to get GD treatment “fairly soon, at some point, be ready” and to admit that it wasn’t medically necessary. I even wrote in my “birth wishes” that no bottles could be given without my consent, and had the pleasure of being treated like a Birthzilla by the nurses and OBs, with lots of side-eye, reminders that the health professionals know best, and “you DO know that our hospital is trying for baby-friendly status, don’t you?”

In part, I was so assiduous about internet research and doing what official, “scientific” sources tell me because I’m an American transplant in Canada, and I’m living far from my family or any support network I can really rely on. My mother is dead and my family has never really been the supportive kind. My husband’s family lives overseas. I did have the presence of mind to join a mothers-and-babies group while I was pregnant, and it’s an amazingly non-judgmental group for the most part, with many formula feeders in it—formula feeders with lovely, healthy, happy children. I acknowledged this, but, as with my feelings concerning everyone else’s body shapes and sizes versus my own, I believed that everyone else was fine—beautiful, even, no matter what–but that I had better breastfeed or else.

I was induced when my son was fashionably late, and we had the clichéd but totally-real-for-us bonding moment where we gazed into each other’s eyes. My son was beautiful, happy, healthy, large though skinny, had good scores, and was interested in eating. I had the chance to breastfeed after they finished stitching up my third-degree tears. I had watched videos but didn’t really know what to do on the ground. I put him to my boob and nothing happened. The nurse said not to worry, he didn’t need anything right now, and it was time to go to the mother-baby ward and I could try again later.

In the ward, the supercilious new nurse lectured me for not having breastfed yet, since my baby had been out of the womb now for four hours and I could have done it twice. I was so tired that I was incoherent, though happy, and managed to mumble that I wasn’t really sure what to do. She sneered, “You did prepare for this, right? You did at least watch a video?” and left. It was 3 AM and I’d been awake for 36 hours. A few hours later, when I asked for help with breastfeeding anyway, she bent my hand, which had blood running down it because she was bending it at an unnatural angle around an IV, and then yelled at me when I asked her not to and pointed out that I was bleeding so much from her forced bending that blood was going back into the IV tube. “Do you want to breastfeed or DON’T you?”

Nothing much came out that I could see. Even the colostrum was negligible. I sat zombie-like in a “lactation class” with my husband and baby and five other couples, still dragging the IV tree (an OB decided against medical advice from the OB at the birth that I needed the IV in for another twenty-four hours for an infection that clearly wasn’t there), watching the lactation consultant fondle a plush breast. I was still smelling like birth goo, wearing a hospital gown that was bloodstained on the butt. No nurse would help me take the gown off around the IV, or clean myself—they were only concerned with breastfeeding. A series of nurses who were somewhat kinder but no more competent then the previous one taught me what I now know are incorrect latches that raised blood blisters. My breasts felt like they were on fire. My baby screamed for another day and night until we were discharged. My third-degree tears were agonizing and all I got was Tylenol. They and the bloody IV meant I could never get in a bearable nursing position while in the hospital. We rang for a nurse in desperation the second night and she sneered at us for not quieting our son down with my boob, which we had tried to no avail. Except for me a few hours after the birth, neither my husband nor I slept for about four days.

Our baby continued to scream when we were home. We were clinging to sanity by a tenuous thread when we went to our son’s 48-hour pediatrician’s appointment. The pediatrician took one look at our baby—he was still howling, with a look of desperation and anguish in his eyes–and remarked, “Well, he’s NOT huge.” I wondered what she was talking about—he was long and skinny and looked like me as a baby, except that I had been premature and had weighed about five pounds. The nurses in the hospital had said he was fine and that he needs to get used to the idea that he’s only getting breast milk, after all.

She pointed out gently that he had lost 12% of his body weight, that he had orange crystals from dehydration in his diaper, and that he was very hungry. She told us that we needed to give him formula, that we should try the ready-to-serve liquid kind because there was no point in going for powdered and fussing with all that stuff since I was planning to breastfeed. My husband checked out with our son, and I sat in the examination room alone and bawled silently until I could control myself. I hated myself for causing my baby suffering, even accidentally, and because I was already starting to feel physically like a failure as a woman. My body had changed so much, even before pregnancy, and was failing me, and now I was failing my son.

Giving my baby formula and watching him relax and sleep was one of the scariest, most relieving things I have ever done. I wish that it hadn’t been that way, because there was no reason for it to be that way.

My milk came in a few days later, when I took a brief nap and woke up in a chilly pool of it (good times!). I worked on getting my baby to exhibit what I thought a good latch was from all the literature I pored over, but it wasn’t happening all that well. His sessions were always very long. I both read that at this stage I couldn’t let him use me as a pacifier, that each feeding should last maximum thirty minutes…AND that I had to let him eat as long as he wanted.

My stitches continued to bother me to the point that I had to fashion a donut out of a towel for six weeks in order to sit down (and breastfeed) at all. I would sometimes hide in the bathroom and cry because they hurt so much, long past the time they were supposed to get “better.” The nurse at my OB practice told me crisply over the phone when I begged for advice that they were not responsible for me again until the six-week appointment and that I should consult my family doctor. My family doctor said, “I don’t know what to do. Isn’t that something your OB should take care of? Ask them.” I dreaded the pain of sitting but did it anyway, because I was terrified of not breastfeeding at all. (No variations of lying down worked for us either—my baby didn’t recognize it as a viable eating position.)

Then, my endocrinologist told me I had to go off thyroid meds for two months, I assume so that she could see if I only needed them in pregnancy or needed them long-term. My supply plummeted instantly. For the space of a week, feedings on demand became deranging twelve-hour long marathons. I didn’t sleep. My baby would scream and cry if he wasn’t on my breast, and would nurse fretfully the whole time when he was. I called LLLI, only to be told that by “allowing” an induction and epidural and formula supplementation, I had RUINED my supply. In a pissy, aggrieved voice, the LLLI representative said, “I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have done that, exactly, but you shouldn’t have done that.” She also told me that there was nothing wrong with twelve-hour feeds, that it was only a problem if I made it one, and was I dedicated enough to do what it takes? And do I co-sleep? Because our not co-sleeping is also harmful!

Next, I saw about ten lactation consultants at the hospital and local public health office, who said:

a)   According to their weighing numbers, I was producing “enough” for my baby (who was at the 95th percentile in height and 25th in weight, and always hungry);

b)   My baby’s latch is good. Except it isn’t. Except it is. Except it isn’t. Etc. But no instructions on how to make it better, other than “keep trying;”

c)   My body would eventually produce what my son needed if I really worked at it, because our bodies were made to do this;

d)   Only 1-2% of women have supply issues and it’s inconceivable that I would be one of them, especially with those breasts;

e)   I should nurse for ten minutes on each side, pump for fifteen minutes on each side, and then formula feed WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS WRONG AND BAD FOR BABIES—DO I KNOW THIS? Until he’s done, and then repeat the whole process every 1.5-2 hours, while taking blessed thistle, fenugreek, and Domperidone (which I did not continue with because it made my breasts hurt so much that nursing was impossible);

f)     Nobody “really needs” the size Large flanges for the pumps (I did, because hello, G/H cups while lactating!), though they sold them to me reluctantly after I insisted;

g)   Also, they kept trying to push hand expressing on me, even though I had severe “mommy thumb” from trying to wrangle my large breasts, because “women have been doing this for thousands of years.” (If there’s any sentence I really hate now, it’s “women have been doing this for thousands of years.”) After letting them corral me into trying it in front of them, I said, “ow, this hurts, I need to stop,” and the lactation consultant replied loudly, “YES, ISN’T IT GREAT.”

h)   My goal should be the cessation of formula feeding and the adoption of exclusive breastfeeding. But it was MY CHOICE, of course.

Incidentally, the literature from the hospital on breastfeeding says that formula feeding carries an increased risk of death. DEATH.

 

This breastfeeding advice, combined with the rest of the abysmal prenatal medical experience, which is not worth going into now, created perfect conditions for my postpartum depression. It didn’t help that my husband has anxiety that usually manifests itself as obsession over finances, and he would stand over me while I was pumping and cluster feeding, saying, “this HAS to work. Formula is EXPENSIVE.” Ironically, the postpartum depression help I’m still receiving at the hospital seven and a half months out is great, and probably the best health care experience I’ve had in Canada. However, I probably wouldn’t need it if I hadn’t had such bad prenatal and postpartum care, and particularly if I hadn’t been subject to the militant breastfeeding propaganda.

At around week 12 of my son’s life, I decided that enough was enough. I hated pumping and usually never got more than two ounces at a time. I preferred getting enough sleep to trying to do the “right” thing, and I was done trying to make exclusive breastfeeding work. I stopped pumping and could finally focus enough to bond with my baby. He started nursing vigorously, maybe because he had energy because we upped the formula, and I could finally see what that proper latch thing was all about. My husband gave him bottles and also got to experience the lovely bond that feeding can facilitate.  More formula feeding in public meant I didn’t have to be so crushed by the comments I overheard most of the time that I nursed in public with my large breasts. (My baby never did take to the cover.) I didn’t have to keep searching for nearly mythical, overpriced nursing tops that would accommodate both my breasts and my narrow torso. We would breastfeed in the morning for my baby’s first breakfast and Hobbit-like second breakfast, in the evenings, before bedtime, and when I remembered during the day—or when he wasn’t too hungry, because breastfeeding while hungry enraged him. Wouldn’t you rather have a full meal when you’re really hungry than a steady stream of tiny snacks?

It makes me furious that the public-health-run Living and Learning With Baby class I attended—for people who might not otherwise have family support networks–would only present breastfeeding-related info, despite the fact that probably about half the class was formula feeding their babies. It makes me furious that hypothyroidism is known to be a potential factor in low milk supply, yet my endocrinologist said dismissively when I asked her about it at my two-month postpartum appointment, “yeah, I heard about that, I read an article…but I don’t know anything about it. I doubt it’s important.” It makes me furious that a “baby-friendly” hospital that is adamant that you must breastfeed exclusively to avoid doing horrible things to your child…has an endocrinologist on staff who insists that you do things that will likely further jeopardize your milk supply. Or has nursing staff who are willing to let you hallucinate with fatigue and your baby starve because of their ideology. “Baby-friendly,” my a**. Not baby-friendly OR mother-friendly—more like lactivist-friendly!

And I haven’t even gone into the non-medical pressure: my otherwise lovely belly dance teacher, mid hip-swivel: “are you breastfeeding?” “Yes, but—“  “GOOD GIRL.” (Not wanting to hide what I was doing or misrepresent myself, I told her I was combo feeding and watched the smile fall off her face.) Every woman we know from my husband’s world region, combining collectivist society-style judgemental attitudes with newly-acquired North American values: “are you breastfeeding? OH NO DON’T GIVE FORMULA. IT WILL MESS UP YOUR SUPPLY. YOU HAVE TO STOP WITH THE FORMULA! BREASTMILK IS LIQUID GOLD.” (Funny, isn’t urine liquid gold?) Or my best friend’s mother staring at my chest when we’re on a visit to my hometown: “You’re not just breastfeeding? It’s weird, you don’t LOOK like you’d have a problem.” My best friend, trying to be helpful, warned me that I was pouring GMOs into my baby by giving him formula, and I might want to try GMO-free formula (which, as far as I can tell, is quite expensive and not for anyone younger than twelve months). Another friend, who doesn’t have children, informed me that formula was unhealthy and I should try feeding him goat’s milk.

And then there’s the whole hushed, reverential, and frankly paranoid attitude people have these days towards breastfeeding vis-a-vis drugs of any kind, even people who really should know better. My therapist asked me whether I should really be taking thyroid meds because I was breastfeeding. (Answer—YES. If even the ridiculous LLLI militants say it’s OK, it’s OK. The meds can only help, in this case.) My pharmacist, who knows I’m combo feeding, when I asked her if I could take NeoCitran or zinc lozenges during a debilitating upper-respiratory infection, said “well, OK, but only ONE per day! Baby is nursing! Drugs are bad for baby!” Motherisk, the very conservative entity in Canada you can call with breastfeeding and drug interaction issues, said it was fine to take as much as I needed, and it wouldn’t harm the baby but might cause a drop in supply. (At this point, breastfeeding was largely ceremonial for us, so I didn’t really care.) The Motherisk nurse also asked me how I was feeding my baby and tried to shame me for not breastfeeding exclusively, but I told her that I wasn’t interested in her input on this matter. (I wish I could have been so bold when another Motherisk nurse shamed me for my pre-pregnancy, hypothyroidism-induced weight when I called to ask if I could eat nutritional yeast while pregnant, but hindsight is 20/20.)

So this is what I do now: if someone expresses anything other than neutrality or approval when they ask about our baby-feeding habits, I lecture them passive-aggressively about hypothyroidism and its effects on milk supply until their eyes glaze over and they wish they had never said anything and they change the subject. After all, they brought it up, so they should be willing to hear any response they elicit. If they don’t change the subject, I warn them that I’ve vowed to myself to expunge all undermining negativity from my life at this vulnerable time, and I’d rather not expunge their presence. They usually stop.

When we buy formula cans—the generic Wal-Mart kind, because that’s what we can afford—that say “breast is best” on them (the message that used to crush me), I write “F**K to you!”—a direct quote from Borat–over the message in thick black marker. It’s petty, I own it. But it makes me feel better.

I don’t hide the fact that I’m formula feeding, though I would not blame anybody for doing so. I’m just waiting for someone to tell me in public that breast is best when I’m bottle feeding my child, just so I can threaten to report them to the police for harassment. Or else I will wave them away and say “shoo,” because their opinion is as welcome to me as a stray dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Politeness be damned—I think that enabling their rudeness perpetuates the problem, and I now feel strong and belligerent enough not to.

But I wish I hadn’t believed the hype. My baby is thriving on formula with a little breast milk. According to the lactivists I read or talked to, I should have gotten my period long ago because any flagging in breastfeeding dedication, even sleeping through the night, will bring it back, but at seven and a half months postpartum I still don’t have it. I didn’t have “baby weight” other than the baby to lose, but I actually experienced significant drops in my pre-baby hypothyroidism weight specifically during those times when my supply dropped, NOT when I was mostly breastfeeding. So if anything, the opposite was true for me, and breastfeeding LESS helped me lose weight.

I’m also one of those people who can’t handle severe and prolonged lack of sleep because it exacerbates my depressive tendencies. I have a husband who’s willing and interested—enthusiastic, even—about caring for our baby, but we have no relatives around upon whom we can rely in a pinch. No friends that we’re close enough to that we can just drop the baby off with when we’re desperate, tired, or sick. We can’t afford a babysitter. Under the circumstances, nursing round the clock for months on end at the expense of our sleep may not have been the responsible choice.

It’s also interesting to me that the person who was the most directly involved with my baby’s health—his excellent pediatrician—was the one who urged us to supplement with formula. If that lactivism stuff had a strong basis in fact, wouldn’t SHE have been the one to warn us about his IQ, projected potential weight, and chances of asthma and illness?

I do like breastfeeding now, because the pressure is now off. My baby does it for comfort or “dessert,” which comforts me. I will be a little sad when my baby weans totally, but I can see now that it’s such a little part of the whole bonding and growing process. The next time around, if I am so lucky that there is a next time, I’m not going to read any propaganda, not going to see any lactation consultants, not going off my thyroid meds, and if I have a supply problem at the outset, I will address it immediately so my baby does not suffer. If this happens in the hospital under the gimlet eye of “baby-friendly” nurses, so be it.

Recently, I was rereading one of my favorite books, The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, which spans the era from the 1880’s to the end of World War I. I was struck by a throwaway line in it, about how Imogen, one of my favorite characters, was unable to breastfeed her baby at all. The author just mentions it and then goes on with the story. As though it’s normal. Probably because it is. No judgments of Imogen as a mother, no mention of how “tragic” it is, no comparisons to Imogen’s stepdaughter, who gave birth at the same time and had no problems with breastfeeding. I was extremely grateful to the author for it. We need more narratives like this, which is one reason why I love this site.

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Want to share your thoughts on feeding babies? Talk about your experience? Shoot me an email at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “If I was anymore committed, I wouldn’t be here anymore.”

Today, I read through a Facebook debate about whether the pressure to breastfeed is negatively affecting the mental health of new moms, and then stumbled across a great post on the same topic. Kara’s story, below, pretty much sums up my own argument. As someone who has the honor of being “keeper” of these stories of yours – all of your heartbreaks and frustrations and disappointments – I can’t believe the connection between depression/anxiety and breastfeeding pressure isn’t obvious to everyone. But sadly, it’s not. And until our society starts taking responsibility and changes the way it treats new mothers, this is going to keep happening. This isn’t our faults, as moms, for being too sensitive. It isn’t a matter of not getting enough practical support for breastfeeding. The fault lies in how we are overloaded with overly-dramatic information, taught about ideals, and then thrust into a reality that ignores us, berates us, and belittles us. 

No woman should be feeling worthless or suicidal because of her breasts. For any reason. End of story.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Kara’s Story

 

It’s hard for me to share my story, but I have been following this blog for a couple of months now, and I feel like there might be some healing that comes with getting it out, so here it goes.

I became pregnant with my son baby N at 30 years old, after almost 2 years of my husband and I trying to get pregnant.  Just three months before we found out we were pregnant, I lost my dad to a long battle with cancer, and so my joy of finally becoming pregnant, had a shadow of grief tinged in there at the knowledge that my son would never know his grandpa who would have just loved him to pieces!

My pregnancy was pretty normal for the most part in the beginning.  About half way through it I started spilling sugar in my urine tests so I spent the rest of my pregnancy stressed about Gestational Diabetes (not something I was ever actually diagnosed with, but constantly lectured about at every OB appointment from there on in).  During the first part of my third trimester I also started experiencing constant pain in my upper abdomen that increased and lasted throughout the rest of my pregnancy (thought to be caused from a previous abdominal surgery I had).  This pain was so terrible, that I had to be pulled from work 8 weeks early, which caused a lot of guilt on my part.

My due date came and went, and then another week came and went, and finally we were induced 11 days after my due date.  My son was born on day 12 (he must have been very cozy;).  He was a large baby 9lbs. 4 oz, and perfectly beautiful, healthy and just downright perfect!  Finally all of that pain, and the depression I was feeling throughout my pregnancy (which I’ve battled for years), and all the anxieties would fall away now that I had my perfect little man in my arms.  My husband and I felt like our life was complete.

Throughout my pregnancy I was convinced that I was going to breastfeed.  While I was never anti-formula (in fact I and all my siblings were formula fed, as well as my husband and his brother), I just felt that breast feeding was something I wanted to try.  The fact is I never thought it an option not to try really because it’s the “thing to do.”  I could only think of one friend I had who had chosen not to BF from the start, but every other mom I was surrounded by in my immediate life BF, so I guess it must be best, right?!

Once baby N was finally born, and we attempted out first latch, it was noticed immediately that he was not properly latching.  After about 5 minutes of trying, the lactation consultant told me that I had “flat nipples” and immediately handed me a nipple shield.  There was no further talk about how to eventually wean off the shield, or if I was to use it permanently, just “here you go.”  We saw 3 different lactation consultants in the hospital some were more helpful than others.  One (who was the most helpful in the amount of time she actually spent with us), put us on a schedule of breastfeeding every two hours (at least 15 minutes on each side), then pumping for 10 minutes on each side, then hand expressing as much as would come out.  Needless to say after this routine was completed I got about 10-15 minutes of sleep before I had to start all over again.  To say I was exhausted was an understatement.  On top of that I was in a great deal of pain from actually giving birth to my 9lb, 4oz baby (no c-section), which resulted in a 3rd degree tear and still needing an episiotomy.  Not to mention that pushing for two solid hours left me with hemhorroids the size of baseballs, and so the physical act of even sitting to nurse was extremely painful (all I was ever offered was ibuprofen and some useless numbing spray, b/c hey, I was nursing).

We finally left the hospital and went home.  The first couple of times I nursed baby N at home, it actually seemed to be successful.  He would latch on (with the nipple shield of course) and go to town, and he appeared to be satisfied when he was over (at least I thought so, as he would pass out hard afterwards).  Then around 6 pm the night we came home, he started to refuse to nurse at all.  There was nothing we could do to keep him awake long enough to eat, or get him to latch when he was awake.  By the time we had our pediatrician appointment the next day at 10 am, he had gone 16 hours without eating anything.  Needless to say he was lethargic and we were extremely concerned.

At the doctor’s we were told that baby N had lost 12% of his birth weight.  While he was a big baby, we and the doctor were all very concerned.  In that moment in the pediatrician’s office, I broke down and cried tears of shame and guilt for the fact that my son wasn’t getting what he needed, and of course it was all my fault! Our pediatrician was amazing and quickly said that he wanted us to supplement with formula and reiterated to us that I am not a bad mom and that we would get this worked out.  I want to note that our baby N’s doctor is a big breast feeding proponent, since I keep hearing women saying that we should just ignore the doctor when they suggest supplementing with formula b/c that will be the end of breast feeding.  Now I can say “sorry sister, but starving my kid is not an option, and the doctor has our child’s best interest at heart!”

Fast forward, or this will be your longest post in history!  So for the next couple of weeks we tried breast feeding and supplementing with formula.  This took a few different shapes, sometimes it was nursing with the evil nipple shield, and sometimes it was pumping a bottle and doing it that way.  Eventually we did seek the consult of a lactation specialist who came to our house.  She was extremely nice, non-judmental and gave us some helpful hints and advice.  As a result I continued to try to nurse baby N for another week or so using the nipple shield.

As time went on, each nursing session would get increasingly frustrating for both baby N and I.  As a big baby, and impatient feeder, baby N was not getting milk quick enough once we started nursing (not due to let down, mine was pretty good actually, but due to having to use the shield).  So for almost every nursing session we spent at least the first 5-10 minutes (on each side) with him screaming, kicking, and clawing at my breast.  I was extremely sleep deprived, depressed, and frustrated, and a week later I finally said enough is enough, no more nursing. I had tried to reach out to the lactation consultant we met with to discuss getting my son off the shield, but she insisted my son was tongue-tied, to which his pediatrician examined him and said no he was not.  When I further discussed this with her, the only advice she could give was to go have his tongue clipped, which my husband and I were not feeling comfortable with, especially b/c I knew that if we went down that route, then I could never give up on nursing if it wasn’t working b/c I would feel I had to commit after cutting my sons tongue! I decided that I was going to exclusively pump breast milk and just supplement with formula when I needed to.

Well for anyone who has tried exclusive pumping, you know it is not an easy thing to do.  I would pretty much pump for 20 minutes, feed my son what I pumped, supplement another bottle with formula, then desperately get him to try to fall asleep so that I could start pumping again for his next feeding.  Let’s just say mommy and baby bonding was starting to become non-existent and I was becoming a slave to this machine (which felt like some degrading torture device to me, and has anyone else heard their pump talk to them?  Mine definitely did!).

I knew that I had to return to work after 6 weeks b/c I was pulled so early, a longer maternity leave was not an option for us.  I quickly became despaired as to how I was going to continue this crazy pumping schedule, and work full-time, and actually get to spend any quality time with my son, who was spending a lot more time awake as he got older and really wanted my attention (and I desperately wanted to give it).  I knew at this point that I had started to slip down the path of post-partum depression.  I was not surprised as depression and anxiety are something I’ve struggled with since I was a teenager.

At about week 4 of my sons life, I was walking down the basement stairs with a load of laundry in my hands.  Our stairs are kind of steep and narrow, and I lost my footing briefly and almost tumbled down.  I was able to quickly catch myself on the railing, but the very first thought that popped into my head was “stupid, you should have just let yourself fall.”  That moment was a very big wake up call to me in how bad my depression was getting.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have a great life, a wonderful husband, and I am head over heals in love with my son.  I don’t relish the idea of leaving them, however I was at a point where I personally felt like such a failure as a mom (all because I couldn’t make nursing work or give him only breast milk), that I was starting to convince myself that they would both be much better without me.

It was a terrible time, and I knew that something needed to change or the question wouldn’t any longer be how my son was fed, but who was going to be around to feed him.  I started to realize that my “commitment/dedication” to giving him breast milk had become such an obsession and idol in my life, that I was allowing it to not only defeat me, but cause me to doubt whether or not I was the best mother for my son.  I can say now, when people question my “commitment” to breast feeding, that if I was anymore committed, I wouldn’t be here anymore.  I really connected with the post you shared on here, it was a letter from a husband whose wife had committed suicide due to post-partum depression, and she has also had significant struggles with breastfeeding.  She ultimately laid down on the train tracks and took her own life.  My heart broke reading that story, and yet I could completely understand those feelings.

A week before I returned to work, I wrote my husband a letter pleading with him to allow me to stop breast feeding.  Please don’t get the wrong impression, he was not in any way shaming, forcing, or guilting me into doing it.  Any encouragement he ever gave was because he truly wanted to be supportive of me being successful, and shared that common “breast is best” feeling that I had had as well.  He really is amazing and only wants the best for our family.  Once I shared what I was feeling with him, he immediately told me to stop, and that I was a good mother and we did not need to keep trying to provide breast milk to baby N.  At this point, his formula to breast milk ratio was tipping higher on the formula side anyways, so really it started to feel like a lost cause.

Since the day I decided to stop pumping and just switched baby N to exclusive formula, there has been a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.  I will not say that I haven’t struggled with the decision.  Like a lot of other women on here, I have gone, and sometimes continue to go through, feelings of shame when I pull out that bottle of formula in front of other people, especially my breast feeding friends (who have all really been nothing but supportive of me).  I hope to eventually get to a place where I truly feel no regrets, shame or guilt over making the best decision I could have for my son (and I truly did do what was best for him, I decided to give him a mom who will hopefully be around long enough to see him grow up and nurture him in ALL of the ways required by a parent, not just what I feed him).

People have asked me if I am going to try to breast feed with my second child (if we are blessed with one), and right now I really don’t know the answer to that.  I’m still too close to the situation (my son is only 13 weeks), to be able to feel positive about trying again.  But I didn’t smash my pump in the yard with a hammer, or throw it in the creek behind our house like I wanted to so many times, just in case I do want to try again.  I do know, that if I decide not to try it, or even if I do, I will be much more confident in my decisions and know that whatever happens I really do truly have my child’s best interests at heart, and no other person on the planet is qualified to tell me what that is!

My true desire is that someday no woman will have to feel so lost and desperate over what she chooses to feed her child.  There are so many aspects to being a parent, and what you feed you kid is such a small one in the grand scheme of things.  At the end of every visit to the pediatrician, baby N’s doctor always says “love him, grow him, keep him safe.”  What words of wisdom!

 

***

Share your story: Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

FFF Friday: “I clearly remember feeling ashamed, and afraid…of being reprimanded…”

It’s been a long time since I felt hopeful about the state of breastfeeding promotion, but tonight, I do. That’s because for once, women spoke up and were actually heard. We had the strength to say, enough. And I hope – oh god, do I hope – that this is the beginning of the end. The end of inexcusable abuse in the name of public health, the end of ignoring the lived realities of women, the end of treating formula feeding parents as second-rate, the end of misleading rhetoric and misrepresented research. The end of sitting back and letting women go through what Lo went through. This is not okay. 

Say it with me: THIS IS NOT OKAY. Say it in the pediatrician’s office, the OB’s office, the WIC office, the maternity ward. Say it online, and to the media, and to your local mother’s group.

Say it louder. Keep saying it. Because people are starting to listen.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Lo’s Story 

 

I gave birth to my first child on December 1, 2013. He was born via c-section at 41 weeks after a failed NST, subsequent induction, and 24 hours of grueling labor. The labor took everything out of me physically and emotionally. I was a mess, experiencing terrible side effects from the epidural, delirious, thirsty, swollen with fluids from the IV, flushed, my cervix was swelling and my blood pressure was rising. I have a complex anxiety disorder and suffer from panic attacks and medical environments are a major trigger for me, so on top of all of this I was basically shaking and petrified for the duration of the experience. It was pretty much the opposite of the kind of birth I’d hoped for. Thanks to my exhaustion, the side effects from all the drugs, and my own anxiety, I was totally out of it when Arthur was born, weighing in at 9lbs and 13oz (no wonder he wouldn’t come out!). I was able to look at him, to touch his cheek briefly as I lay flat on my back in the OR, but mostly I was drifting in and out of consciousness in a morphine and fentanyl-induced haze.

 

After we were transferred to the postpartum unit and set up in our recovery room, the pressure to breastfeed was on. I had not even fully regained consciousness when the nurses descended upon me, roughly pinching and squeezing my breasts, forcing colostrum out my nipple as I slumped over repeatedly, unable to keep my head up or my eyes open. They told me it was the hormones, the oxytocin from expressing the milk making me sleepy. It wasn’t — it was the morphine and the extreme physical exhaustion.  I remember that it hurt tremendously, and I remember that I just wished someone would give him a bottle of formula so that I could know that he was full and comfortable, and so that I could rest. I clearly remember feeling ashamed that I felt this way, and afraid to express it for fear of being reprimanded.

 

After learning that Arthur was jaundiced and that his blood sugar was a little low, we did decide to offer a bottle which the nurses reluctantly provided. Despite the fact that my baby was comfortable and eating well, and despite my own exhaustion and an extreme amount of pain thanks to the surgery, the staff continued to “encourage” me to breastfeed, bursting into the room and shoving him onto my breast every 1-2 hours, allowing me no sleep.

 

By the following morning I was truly at my wit’s end. My emotional and physical reserves were completely obliterated — I cannot overstate the extent of my exhaustion and pain. My sweet husband was finally passed out in a deep sleep on the small sofa beside my bed, and Arthur was sleeping in the bassinet when the Lactation Consultant arrived. As soon as she entered the room, I told her that all three of us were trying to get some much needed sleep and that it wasn’t a good time. Instead of leaving, she came around to the bed and sat down. Noticing the half empty bottles of Similac scattered around the room, she began preaching to me about the importance of breastfeeding and the inferiority of formula. I was too tired and too vulnerable to fend her off. Her ranting woke the baby, who began to cry. She continued to talk over his screams as I sat helpless in the bed, sick and swollen and unable to get up to tend to him without assistance. My exhausted husband, bless his heart, remained asleep through all of this, so I was on my own. Finally as I began to attempt to scoot myself over to the edge of the bed to try to get to my screaming child and/or my sleeping husband, feeling as if I were being stabbed repeatedly in the gut, she looked at me and snidely remarked, “You know, giving him a bottle won’t make him stop crying.” This was honestly the lowest point in my entire postpartum experience. I don’t even remember what I said to her, but I do know that she left the room and that I broke down sobbing and hobbled over to my husband — the most excruciatingly painful three steps I’ve ever taken. I was crying hysterically and I had to shake him repeatedly to wake him from his deep sleep so that he could tend to Arthur. I have rarely felt so helpless or so belittled as I did in those moments when this stranger invaded my space and began criticizing the choices I was making as a new mother, when I was literally the most physically and emotionally vulnerable I’ve ever been in my entire life. Her comment to me implied the assumption that I was only interested in shutting my baby up so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. Judgmental and rude at best.

 

It is astounding to me that these “professionals” do not realize that a woman who has just given birth — especially in the case of a traumatic birth or unplanned c-section — absolutely NEEDS just as much compassion and gentle care as her new child does. I felt like I was an afterthought — my wellbeing was an afterthought. The message I received was that the only thing that mattered was that breastfeeding was established. Nothing about making sure mom gets some sleep. Nothing about making sure baby isn’t hungry. Nothing about making sure mom is okay emotionally after her ordeal. Only the colostrum, the all-important colostrum. Nothing about whether mom is comfortable having strangers hovering over her, breathing into her face, leaning on her as they squeeze her breasts and squash her nipples despite her cringing and timidly expressing that yes, it hurts (right at that moment, everything hurt).

 

Fast forward two months. Arthur is a giant, gorgeous, happy, formula-fed baby. We did combo feed for the first eight weeks, and it was really nice and went relatively smoothly. But I’m ready to do formula full-time now. With my history of anxiety, I need to take care of my mental and emotional health, and for me that means being able to get back on various herbs and supplements and regaining my physical autonomy, especially after the difficult recovery from the surgery. When I give my baby a bottle I hold him close to my body and he looks into my eyes and often smiles. He makes the same sweet, contented noises and pushes his little feet against me the same way he did when he was at the breast — exactly the same way. I’m recovering well and love being a parent. My anxiety is well under control. My husband enjoys participating in the act of feeding our beautiful son. We are a happy, loving family and we have chosen formula because it works for us.

FFF Friday: “The end goal is not how you feed your child.”

FC started kindergarten a few weeks ago, and it’s been an emotional time for the Fearless household. Suddenly, I’m back in that awful, confusing state of “what ifs”: What if this isn’t the right school for him? Did I make the wrong decision? Will he be okay? Is he having a hard time making friends? Should I switch him to a different teacher? Should I, could I, would I….?

But the hard, true answer is this: I don’t have all that much power. He’s out in the world, now. This isn’t nursery school, or mommy and me class. This is the beginning of childhood. No more coddling, or nurturing. Kids can be mean, there’s bullying, there will be times when he will be teased, or will do the teasing. Now is when his character will begin to truly reveal itself. The tough parenting starts now, and it will only get harder as he gets older.

I tell you this, because I think it’s so important to realize that you will have a million other opportunities to second guess yourself, to regret, to overanalyze, to wonder. You will have a million other doubts and triumphs and questions.

And thank god for that, you know? Seriously. Thank god for that.

 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Samantha’s Story

I’ve wanted to write one of these forever and share my story, but I wanted to wait until I was fearless about my decision to formula feed or at least sort of happy. Well, today I became fearless.

I had a pretty normal pregnancy (in my family.) Preterm labor at 20 weeks that put me on lift and exercise restrictions. High blood pressure at 26 weeks that landed me extra appointments. A minor car accident at 28 weeks that put me in the hospital for monitoring. From 36-40 weeks, there was constant debate about inducing me, but my blood pressure always stabilized and my protein levels were always borderline. I know this after multiple 24 urine tests and an overnight stay in the hospital where I didn’t come home with a baby. Through all of the extra appointments, I always responded “yes” when asked if I would breastfeed. I figured I should do one thing really right.

I was induced at 40 weeks and 3 days when my blood pressure finally became enough of an issue to do something about. I had a perfect labor. When the OB came to break my water after my epidural, I was ready to push. My daughter was out in 15 minutes while 12 student nurses that I unwittingly agreed to let watch me give birth stood amazed since it was the first they had witnessed. Then came the problems. My daughter swallowed too much amniotic fluid and kept throwing it up. She couldn’t latch without gagging and vomiting. They say their stomachs are tiny, so I don’t know where she stored all that fluid, but it just kept coming.

The nurses decided since she wouldn’t latch that I needed to try to get something out right away. They tried to manually express and nothing. They went and got a pump. Nothing. I pumped every hour for 20 minutes. Three friggin drops the entire first 24 hours. Well, my daughter finally stopped puking up amniotic fluid and was actually hungry. I pulled out the trusty double pump and finally got something. Blood. It was that moment that made me a formula feeder. I demanded formula. I hit that nurse call button over and over until someone brought me something, anything to feed the tiny starving thing I was holding. The lactation consultant decided that hour was the best time to show up to my room. She poked and groped until my sister threw her out. I cried not just because it hurt but my feelings were hurt. My expectation of doing one thing right was shattered.

Fast forward 6 weeks, and we find out my beautiful girl has a milk protein allergy and reflux. She needs special formula, and breast feeding would have been a struggle. I am, however, still upset about it. Fast forward to three months, and whenever someone on the forum of ladies with babies born the same month as my daughter mentions breast feeding, I still get upset or sad or depressed or angry at myself. I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe my milk would have come in if I pumped enough blood first.

Now fast forward to today. A friend of mine from high school and his wife are expecting their first child, a baby girl. They found out at 28 weeks that the baby they have longed for and spent two trimesters falling in love with has trisomy 13. For those who don’t know, this diagnosis is fatal. Don’t google it, but this baby girl probably won’t survive to term and if she does will, more than likely, die during birth or shortly after. They aren’t deciding whether to formula feed or breast feed. They are deciding whether or not to set up the crib they ordered months ago that arrived a few days after they got the news. They are not deciding about cloth or disposable diapers but where to bury their child who they can still feel kick and wiggle in her belly. Her blog posts are heart wrenching. All about loving a baby who has no real chance at life… And I cry over not breast feeding.

This sort of forced everything into perspective for me. The end goal is not how you feed your child. The end goal is the child. That’s why we do all of this. That’s why we cuddle and soothe instead of sleep. That’s why we worry about making the best decisions and why that looks different for every family.  I’m not saying losing a breast feeding relationship when it is something you had your heart set on is not something to mourn, but it isn’t the most important part of being a parent. Being a parent is.

I lost site of the end goal for a few months, but now that I’ve found it again, I am fearless.

***

Share your story – email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

 

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