FFF Friday: “I didn’t want to fail her anymore.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG) recently release a new policy statement on infant feeding, with language that subtly implies a woman’s autonomy and ability to make an informed choice must be respected. Good news, right?

Well, I thought so, at least. After all, the policy statement (read it here) was abundantly pro-breastfeeding and pro- Baby-Friendly Initiative; they just threw in a scrap (a desperately needed, much appreciated scrap, don’t get me wrong) for us formula feeders, stating that we have the right to make our own choices. 

But some didn’t think this was good news. The instagram thread of a leading breastfeeding peer supporter (one who truly does support infant feeding choice, and is extremely open-minded and kind, by the way) evolved into a full discussion of why the concept of “choice” was detrimental to women and to breastfeeding efforts; this was not a huge shock, as the “choice is only choice if its informed choice, and informed choice means telling women formula is bad for babies” opinion isn’t a new one. But I was shocked to see a comment from a woman who recently became insta-famous for a media-friendly breastfeeding story. This woman, who is now a popular voice in the breastfeeding community (i.e., people are listening to her), left a comment suggesting that she was incredulous that breastfeeding promotion could cause women pain and shame, ending it with the hashtag #byefelicia.

Bye Felicia? Really?

I hope this woman reads Claire’s story, but I doubt she will. And even if she does, a woman who would so quickly dismiss another woman’s pain is unlikely to be swayed by even an essay as emotional and raw as this one. 

Luckily, most women aren’t like her. Most women are like the members of ACOG, who understand. And women like you, who know that just because you personally haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. These are the women who will bring us to where we need to be, where stories like Claire’s cease to happen, or at least happen far less frequently. 

Stay the course. And in the meantime, say #byefelicia to ignorance and judgment.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Claire’s Story

I have a 3 and a half year old daughter. She is bright, enthusiastic, funny, kind and get this, she is healthy. She was also formula fed!

Backtrack, I was young pregnant and positive that I would breastfeed, I mean why wouldn’t you? “That’s what they are there for, it’s easy, saves cleaning bottles” and all the other things people tell you. My midwife insisted that I went to my local Breastfeeding workshop. Wow. 20 minutes on why you should breast feed, I think we were all at the breastfeeding workshop because that was what we wanted to do, we didn’t need convincing. I also think that all of the Google searching and pregnancy websites we read adequately informs us pregnant ladies. So in I went all positive, then I was told for the next ten minutes all the benefits my baby would receive through breast milk;

  • It’s natural
  • It builds a strong bond between baby and mother
  • It protects your baby from infections and diseases
  • It will make your baby healthier
  • It will make your baby more intelligent

The list increases. So does the pressure. They gave a statistic about how many of the 30 of us in the room would go on to breastfeed. We looked at each other nervously, which ones of us would fail? A breastfeeding Mum arrived to tell us how easy it is. I wondered why there was so much encouragement, pressure and information being thrown about? If it was that easy and natural why did we all need convincing? Why did we need a class? Nobody talked about what happened if you COULDN’T. Can’t was not an option.

Skip forward, I had given birth to my beautiful baby girl. Due to the pethadine I received in labour she was a little sleepy, so we did not try feeding until later. It is probably important that I tell you a little bit of awkward personal information about myself. I was sexually assaulted, many years prior to this day. Despite this negatively affecting my view on relationships, it more importantly affected my nipples. To put it lightly around 7 years prior to giving birth someone chewed on my nipples until they bled. It hurt. After that no one ever touched them again, and I high spiritedly thought that a baby sucking on them would be fine, ignorance is bliss as they say. My midwives agreed. I was not fine. It hurt. It made me cry. A lot. They kept telling me she had a perfect latch and it shouldn’t hurt. Well it did! Why did no one care about that? All of a sudden your feelings are cast aside. It turned out the hospital I gave birth in had received an award for the highest amount of breastfed babies, and were unforgiving in their approach to breastfeeding. I should point out that all the midwives were wonderful, they were just following their hospital policies. I could see the pain in their eyes while they sat with me, crying in the middle of the night, comforting me on my failure, but unable to tell me that it was ok. Trying pumping with me while I squeezed my eyes shut, clenched my fists and curled my toes, telling me that I was doing my best. They were not allowed to tell me that it was ok if I couldn’t do it. I kept being told that she would be losing weight, which caused more pressure and anxiety. When they weighed her she was surprisingly ok. Eventually my husband went and stocked up on all the necessities for formula feeding. They wouldn’t let me go home until they had seen her drink a bottle, you see after all the failed breast feeding attempts they said she might not know how to drink from a bottle. I sobbed my heart out while she guzzled the entire bottle, obviously hungry.

Do you know whilst on the ward I was next to a breastfeeding Mum who smoked. She told the midwives that she had breastfed her last child up until 18 months and that she smoked outside. NOTHING MORE WAS SAID!! I wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t and they could not say ok, good for you. Is this a joke? Were they actually playing on my fears and emotions to win an AWARD? I was then left thinking my baby would be unhealthy, slow, ill, wouldn’t bond, and be less intelligent because I couldn’t do what was natural. Hello Post Natal Depression! who knew you would stay with me so long that you have become a normal part of my life?

When I was going home, more downtrodden and disheartened than I had ever been, one midwife whispered to me “I bottle fed. It’s not that bad, but I’m not supposed to tell you that” She probably saved my life. Her words were just enough to keep me going.quotescover-JPG-48

I persevered at home, but every time she cried I insisted she wasn’t hungry. I cried while we tried. I was anxious and on edge. I tried pumping, but because I wasn’t relaxed I just wasn’t producing any milk. I even tried sniffing her clothes while I pumped as my midwife suggested, I felt uncomfortable doing that. I was pumping about an oz and adding it to her formula. A lady came with her daughter to buy my car, she was a midwife and saw my struggles. She told me I needed to look after myself in order to look after my baby and I should end the emotional and psychological torture I was putting myself through as it was affecting our bonding and my mental health. She was a stranger but was more caring towards me than those providing my care, she talked sense. Once I decided to bottle feed I bonded with my baby. I wanted to hold her close. Unfortunately the guilt I felt made me overcompensate with the rest of her care, I didn’t want to fail her any more.

3.5 years later I have learnt;

  • Your baby won’t hate you for bottle feeding
  • bottle feeding also builds a strong bond between baby and mother
  • My baby has not suffered any infections or diseases that her breast fed cousin hasn’t also had
  • She is healthy
  • She is intelligent
  • She is happy

I also learnt that a friend who had her baby in a hospital 30 minutes away from mine was asked, after her little boy was born “breast or bottle?” She said “bottle” and get this, they got her one! She too has a happy health baby and nothing bad happened to her baby, or to her feelings or her mental health. I still take antidepressants to this day, I cry when I see breastfeed pictures on Facebook and can’t even think about what I experienced. Thankfully my daughter is too busy holding slugs, wearing dresses, riding her bike and asking me endless questions about what her guinea pig is saying to her, to notice my unnecessary strife. Don’t get me wrong I am a happy parent, I love my daughter and she brings me joy and laughter every single day, but I don’t think I could have another baby again, I couldn’t relieve that experience. (What’s that? single child guilt? NOOOO!)

Moral of the story? Stop pressuring women, you are doing lasting damage emotionally and mentally to women, and this will not assist their ability to raise children. We must look after each other whatever we choose to do, we must care for the children and those raising children, and support each other. We must love ourselves, we must love each other.

Thank you for listening to me.

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

FFF Friday: “I was too crunchy to formula feed.”

This is a pretty diverse community, but there seem to be two common narratives that ring true for most FFFs. Either they always planned to formula feed, or they always planned to breastfeed. Very few hadn’t given their feeding method much thought, prior to giving birth. In the latter storyline, the narrator typically has a healthy amount of Best Laid Plans, and has to redefine her expectations, beliefs, and often her own concept of “good mothering” when those plans fall through. 

I love reading these stories, because to me, they are an allegory about parenting. Things never go as planned, with kids. Or with pregnancies, for that matter. Or hell, with life. Strength, to me, is learning how to bend without breaking. 

Lana’s story is one of these. I don’t know if she’s realized how strong she is, but I hope she has. I hope you all know how strong, smart and capable you truly are. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Lana’s Story

I’ve spent the better part of my young adult life preparing to be super mom. I was a Nanny to three children, I babysat every age of child and infant I could lay my hands on- doing everything from teaching them to eat, potty training, sleep- you name it- I wanted to do it before I had my own child. I got my degree in early childhood education and immersed myself in child development research. When I got pregnant I enthusiastically signed up for Bradley Method classes- I was going to do this without drugs, without any of the awful stuff I’d read about over the years.  I had firmly identified as “crunchy”- I was cloth diapering, natural birthing, breastfeeding, babywearing- I had this whole “baby” thing nailed.

 

And I did. I gave birth without drugs and totally rocked it. My son latched 2 minutes after birth with a latch my nurse said was “the most perfect first latch I’ve ever seen.” He was perfect. And I was going to do right by him. He was put straight into cloth diapers, and I kept him skin to skin nursing as much as I could. Those first two days were awesome- I had become what I’d spent so much time preparing for.

 

And then we brought him home and it all fell violently apart. His first day home he screamed non-stop, an nursed non-stop. He never seemed satisfied. We ended up in the emergency room 72 hours after birth because I was certain something was horrifically wrong- only to be told my baby was dehydrated. I continued to nurse, refusing to give him formula.

 

A week later he hadn’t gained any weight. I was exhausted- still nursing round the clock. My breasts never got engorged, never felt “full”. My son never seemed to eat to satisfaction. He was constantly hungry. My son’s pediatrician put me on a low dose of Domperidone and told me to come back in two days. We did, and he’d gained 2oz- hooray! But after another weighing 4 days later he was once again stagnating. The health nurse grabbed my baby from me and told me he needed nutrition NOW and force fed my child a bottle in front of me while I sobbed and begged her to give me back my son- which she did- but only once I promised to continue supplementing with formula. I put myself on a rigorous pumping regime and called my pediatrician for a lactation referral- which I got for the next morning. For 24 hours I fed, pumped, and supplemented- and cried. I felt like with every bottle I gave my son I was pumping him full of poison. I was too crunchy to formula feed!

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At my appointment the next morning (for the record we’re now 3 weeks PP), the lactation doctor checked my son for a tongue or lip tie- neither of which he had. She then asked me to take my shirt off and a look of shock crossed her face. She consulted her notes and looked at me and said “You’ve had breast exams before, right?” I confirmed I had- MANY of them, and a breast MRI when I was in my late teens- due to all of my immediate female relatives having had breast cancer. My boobs were being watched extremely closely. She proceeded to ask me if I could ever remember any doctors I’d seen saying the word “hypoplasia” to me before. I confirmed I had never heard that word before in my life. She then left the room, popped her head back in and asked once again for my GP’s name. 10 minutes later she came back and gave me this speech:

 

“I’m so sorry, I don’t know how this was missed, I don’t know why nobody has mentioned this to you before- but it’s painfully obvious. You’re lacking the mammary tissue required to produce a life sustaining quantity of milk. I’m going to requisition your MRI to confirm this- but I’ve seen enough breasts that I can tell just by looking at you. You aren’t producing enough milk to keep him alive- you aren’t producing enough milk to even provide him with a full feeding. You responded to the Dom, which is unusual for hypoplasia- so if you’d like I can quadruple your dose and we can see what that does- but I don’t think you’ll ever produce enough milk to give him a full feeding. I’m sorry.”

 

So I took my baby and I went home and sobbed. I called my Mom, I called my best friend, I called my other best friend- and I sobbed. And my best friend- who’d breast fed 3 children, including one who has Down Syndrome- told me that this wasn’t worth it. This was not worth my sanity, not worth the pain. Breast feeding was great- but having a healthy, happy baby and Mommy was more important. And she went to the store and bought one of each kind of formula and came and sat with me as I tried to give my son a bottle. She told me my son would be fine. She told me how smart he was. How beautiful. How bright.

 

It took me three days to get engorged. Three days. And then I expressed that milk and it was gone. That was the end.

 

We bought a Baby Breeza Formula Pro (we called it the baby Keurig.) My son and I still had an exclusive feeding relationship for the most part. He learned to love his bottle, and I focused on the fact that my mother, my father, and so. many. of the adults I idolized and looked up to were formula fed and were JUST FINE.

 

I got ostracized from my local babywearing group, even after getting trained as a babywearing educator- because I bottle fed my son during a meet. They just moved away from me- like formula feeding was contagious. I finally found my tribe, those who were willing to overlook it, but I always noted the uncomfortable shifting when I pulled a bottle out. I always felt the need to explain- “I tried, I can’t, I have a diagnosis…” And while I like to think I’ve made peace with it, it still pains me. My son is now totally off formula at 13 months- he takes one bottle of cows milk first thing in the morning and otherwise drinks from a sippy cup. And I’m looking forward to smashing my bottles in a symbolic gesture of letting it go (I do plan on having other children- but I’ve hated the bottles I purchased in bulk under duress, I plan on buying new ones for #2.)

 

And he is just fine. He’s smart as a whip. Of all his breast fed peers he is the only one who didn’t have a severe illness in his first year. He uses sign language. He crawls and cruises like a champ. He has a hilarious sense of humour. His first word was “yes!”
Thank you for this website. For sharing the stories. Reading them has brought me further in my healing journey.

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Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com to submit an essay for FFF Fridays. 

FFF Friday: “I feel no guilt over my choice.”

It’s a brand new year, and I am feeling uncharacteristically positive. 

Several books have/will be coming out questioning the pressure to breastfeed; the media seems to finally be listening to the voices of women who have suffered postpartum depression or other emotional and physical damage due to insufficient support in their feeding journeys; prominent baby product companies are focusing on inclusivity; overall, there’s the scent of much-needed change in the air.

In this spirit, I’m thrilled to feature Jenny’s story for the first FFF Friday of 2016. She exemplifies what it means to be an FFF – someone who is accepting of both her/himself as well as others, and who understands that what you feed is far less important than how you love. 

Happy Friday – and happy new year, fearless ones,

The FFF

***’

Jenny’s Story

I want to share my story because I feel no guilt over my choice to exclusively feed my son. In fact, my husband and I went into this parenting gig with the attitude that we would breast feed if we liked it and it was easy, or formula feed if it wasn’t.

Our situation was a little less than traditional with my husband planning to be a stay at home dad and me going back to work after about a 2month maternity leave. So even if breast feeding did go well my plan was to switch to formula when I went back to work. I had also made plans for an elective C-Section for a couple of reasons. First I wanted to mitigate the risk of making my slight urinary incontinence even worse. 2nd, I was terrified of child birth and labor pain. I really liked the idea of not using depends after delivery and having a planned pain free birth.

My husband and I were happy with our plan. We showed up at the hospital at the planned time of 7am and had our little buddy Wyatt in our arms by 9:30. The only pain I ever felt was the spinal anesthetic. We tried breast feeding right away and the latch was declared excellent by the nurses. He was also a very enthusiastic feeder. Everyone was wonderful in helping us with everything from swaddling to latching on. Everything seemed to be going really well with nursing at first.

The next day at weigh in time he had last nearly 6% of his body weight. We were surprised because he had been nursing for 30 min at a time every 1 to 2 hours for over 24 hours. Needless to say I was exhausted and a bit worried. The nurses helped latch him on and got us on a set nursing schedule. This was with me not having slept at all the past 24 hours and on pain meds recovering from surgery. I thought, oh yay 24 more hours of no sleep and my poor hungry baby. The next day at weigh in he had dropped 8% of his body weight. At that point my husband and I asked the nurse to bring in some formula. She refused and said that isn’t what he needs right now. Your milk will come in soon and you’ll get to see that happy full baby face very soon. So we braced ourselves for another 24 hours of crying and no sleep. That night he got to the 10% mark and it was finally decided that he needed to supplement. Again the nurses did not want him fed formula so they brought in donor milk, tubes and syringes, and a pump. I spent another 10 hours pumping, feeding with syringes, and trying to get the little guy to latch. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep with him face down on my chest several times.

The next day were discharged with a supplementation plan from a lactation consultant and a set pumping schedule and lots of tubes and syringes so we wouldn’t introduce those evil bottles and destroy any hopes of nursing forever. When we finally got home we threw away the syringes and fixed our little guy a bottle. My husband fed him while I pumped and watched him happily gulp it down. Once home, my milk came in full force. I was pumping like 8oz at a time and feeding him some in his bottle and freezing the rest. We were scared to feed him at the breast because we wanted to make sure he was getting as much as he needed. So I continued pumping and bottle feeding. We kept this up for a couple of weeks and then suddenly he decided he did want to breast feed. It seemed to going well for about 1 week and then he got thrush and wouldn’t latch at all. We started treatment for thrush and went back to pumping and feeding that from a bottle.

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All in all I think I exclusively pumped for a little over 1month before we decided to give it up and go with formula. I wanted to spend more time holding him and less time pumping. He did just as well on his formula as he did with breast milk. He’s 4 months old now and right at 50th percentile for height and the 30th for weight. He’s never gotten sick except for getting thrush from my nipples. He’s happy and healthy and the center of my world and my husbands. Formula feeding has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on his health. He has happy well-adjusted parents and was able to get the nutrition he needed while waiting for my milk to come in.

The only regrets I have around feeding are not bringing formula and bottles to the hospital. My husband could have helped feed and take care of him and I could have gotten precious sleep. Remembering those jarring moments waking up with him on me still make me shudder. Especially after seeing posts on the growing number of neonatal deaths in baby friendly hospitals that are happening as a result of babies and moms falling asleep while attempting to breast feed.

I made a lot of decisions that many would claim are selfish. I planned a short maternity leave, an elective C-Section, and had a large stash of formula at home in case breast feeding didn’t work. I even bought the Costco store brand instead of the name brand stuff. I was not secretive about these decisions and I did have a lot of people try educate me on why I needed to commit to breastfeeding and at least try for a vaginal birth. The thing is, I support all women in wanting to breast feed, formula feed, vaginal birth, C-section, day care, stay at home, etc. All of these are choices that have no impact on how good of a parent you are. They are what they are, personal preferences.

I truly believe that what matters most is doing whatever is easiest and most comfortable for you so that you have the mental and physical capacity to bond and love your baby. Those first few months are so so precious and it breaks my heart to see moms and dads who believe that the methods we use in parenting are more important than their own emotional wellbeing. I want to cry whenever I see or talk to another mom who is suffering postpartum depression because she feels like she isn’t good enough. Remember you are good enough. You love your baby and you provide for your baby. Look into that little smiling face and remember you are that little baby’s whole world. That is all that matters. Your baby will not be any less happy or healthy because of a personal choice you make. Let’s all stop with the judging, share our experiences, and be proud of these little wonders we bring into the world.

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Want to share your story? Send it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. It can take over a year for stories to appear on the blog, so please don’t think I’m ignoring you!

FFF Friday: “I never even had the thought of formula feeding.”

 

I often wonder about this idea that “before formula was invented, everyone breastfed.” It’s pretty illogical, when you think about it. Women have died or become ill after birth throughout history. There haven’t always been SNS tubes or baby-friendly hospitals; if a woman could not breastfeed her child, all she could do was hope there was a friend or relative around who might wet-nurse her child. But if there wasn’t someone available for the job, you were left with some pretty dismal options. 

Wet-nursing and donor milk are great options for some, but they aren’t feasible or, for that matter, appropriate options for everyone. This is what formula is for, and it’s inconceivable to me that anyone would see it as anything but lifesaving. 

In Katie’s case, formula was a “necessary evil”, something she’d wanted to avoid. I see this aversion everywhere – women who are at their wits end, needing to supplement, but adamantly opposed to the idea. And I wonder: is this truly coming from their own desires, or is it the influence of the media, doctors, friends, books and magazines that make them feel like anything other than exclusive breastfeeding is failure? Formula can save breastfeeding relationships. It can save sanity. It can save babies, and it can save their mothers.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Katie’s Story 

It’s just been a few weeks since I had my son. One would think that’s too short of a time to have a FFF story, but I felt I’ve been through such a journey in the past few weeks that its even enough for a lifetime. My story starts in the hospital. I had to make my first hard decision within the first few hours of his life. When I gave birth, I was seconds away from being rushed to the OR because they could not find the source of a bleed in my uterus. They luckily found the source of the bleed (12 huge blood clots) and I was saved from surgery. But all the medication they gave me, along with the blood loss left me with my head in a bucket puking for the first hour of his life. All the while the nurses saying, “He’s getting hungry. We should really put him to breast within the first hour.” I asked for some nausea medication and tried to rally in order to feed my baby, but in the end it wasn’t enough, as there was yet another problem.

I had gestational diabetes throughout my pregnancy. It was very well controlled with diet- I never had to go on any medication to control it. So when in the first few hours of his life, his blood sugar was quite low, I was so upset with myself and so confused as to why he had problems. The nurses did tell me, sometimes babies just have low blood sugar. Especially because your diabetes was well controlled, it probably is just the way it is and doesn’t have much to do with that. But of course I felt terribly responsible. As a result of my blood loss, and his low blood sugar, I had no choice but it give him formula in the first hours of his life.

Now I can tell you, as so many other moms on this website, I never even had the thought of formula feeding. It never even crossed my mind. I knew that if there was one thing that I did- it would be to breastfeed. Like so many others I was so dead set on it. My labor was long and hard- 36 hours with little dilation, a lot of Pitocin, a sunny side up baby, an epidural that gave up at the end and massive blood loss- nothing had gone right for me. Everything that I didn’t want to happen, did. So after all of that, I knew that if nothing in labor worked out for me, that breastfeeding would. And it would be worth it. So when they had to give him that first bottle, I cannot tell you the heartbreak I felt. I had dreams of breastfeeding my whole pregnancy- seeing him suckle at my breast gave me such satisfaction. I couldn’t wait to do it. So the devastation I felt was great. I know now this was the beginning of my postpartum anxiety and depression.

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But of course my trouble didn’t end there. Because of the blood loss, my colostrum didn’t come in for 5 days. Those were 5 days that I had to formula feed my baby…..totally unplanned. In the hospital I was so desperate to have that breastfeeding bond with my son, and to not have him get hooked on the bottle instead of the breast, we actually put him to breast and snuck formula in his mouth with a small tube. I was so sure that once my milk came in, we’d have no more problems. Until then, I would pump every time I fed him and I would force my milk to come in that way. So I did- every 2 hours I would feed the baby for a half an hour, then pump for another 20 mins.

But yet I still had more problems. Even with the pumping every two hours, I barely got anything. No where near what my low blood sugar baby needed to survive- on top of that he developed jaundice and desperately need to food to recover from that. This is when the anxiety and depression really hit. The small amount of milk I saw myself produce got me into a vicious cycle of anxiety and depression each time I pumped. The lack of sleep added to that so much so that it wasn’t long before I had a breakdown. I resented my baby, I resented my breasts. I was up for three days straight and I couldn’t even look at him. There was no bond. And I knew that the anxiety I was feeling was making it impossible for my body to make the milk it needed to. I knew then that the anxiety I was feeling wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t just from not being able to feed my baby. I called my OB and she had me make an appt. with a psychologist, and in the meantime gave me some anti-anxiety pills. But of course with these pills, that meant absolutely no breast feeding. I could pump and dump of course until I got on something more permanent. But in the end, that’s when I decided that a healthy, more rested mom was better than a detached, anxiety ridden, sleep deprived mom. That’s when I finally made the decision to let go of not only pumping, but the idea of ever breast feeding my child.

And thank god for the support I had. Of course there were a few who said, well you can still pump and dump, and try and get your supply back, but for the most part my support team said that whatever way you feed your baby is your business. And formula is not the devil. Even my OB said to me, “I struggled like you did Katie and looking back, I feel like I didn’t need to do that. I felt like a martyr. I wish someone would have told me that it’s ok to formula feed.”

In the end I feel my choice was the right one for me. It saved my sanity and in the end, brought me closer to my child. But I know the pain of making this choice. It consumes you to a point where I’ve never been before. It’s a deep guilt that is probably quite unique to this decision. But in the end, I have come to terms with my decision. And I know that my baby is thankful for me to be able to let go of the guilt and sadness and just love him.

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

 

FFF Friday: “It’s always the mother’s fault, isn’t it?”

One of my most vivid memories from FC’s first months is of standing in front of our refrigerator, staring at the bottles of hard-earned, dairy/soy/wheat/green leafy veggie-free breastmilk. After 24 hours on hypoallergenic formula, I knew it was about as healthy as toilet bowl cleaner for my son. Still… the voices in my head, the ones that had yelled at me every time I thought about quitting (come to think of it, those voices weren’t just in my head; they were also at the doctor’s office, in my circle of friends, and in my house, coming from my brainwashed husband), protected those tiny vials of liquid (fool’s) gold. 

So yes, Nicole- I hear you. I hear you, and I am sorry. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Nicole’s Story

I have over 400 ounces of breastmilk in my basement freezer.  My daughter is nearly 7 months old and she will never be able to drink any of it.  Much of it is dairy and soy free, and she will still likely become ill if I feed it to her.  I cannot bear to get rid of it, or donate it to some mother who believes that formula will hurt her child when it is the thing my daughter has lived on for the last 4 months.  I also cannot bear to throw it away because I wanted nothing more than to breastfeed my children.  And I cannot move on from feeling like I am less than other mothers because I failed, twice.

After 6 weeks of unbearable, head splitting pain, I stopped breastfeeding my son.  We struggled through latch issues, jaundice, over supply and a frenectomy.  I could only nurse my son flat on my back for that 6 weeks, and even then, it took him nearly an hour to nurse, every two hours.  He lost 12% of his body weight and required us to finger feed him with a tube every two hours until his weight gain improved.  Even once he started gaining, he was never able to nurse without constant unlatching and relatching.  I saw a lactation consultant too many times to count and spent far more money on those services than I would have on a year’s worth of formula.  My insurance did not pay for any of it.  I had such an abundance of milk supply that I would never be able to nurse my son outside of our home. I struggled with constant plugged ducts.  I nursed him flat on my back with burp cloths tucked into my bra, and still I was drenched.  After 6 weeks of pain and countless tears, I stopped.  I formula fed my son until he was a year old.  I struggled with endless guilt.  I struggled with a comment made in my house to my sister-in-law, by her sister-in-law, “You’re going to breastfeed your kids, right?”  It was said while I was out of the room, but it epitomized the judgment cast upon me for not breastfeeding.  I was “less than” because I did not continue, I did not try hard enough.

Two years later I was blessed with my daughter.  I wanted to breastfeed her.  I did not want her to be the “redemption baby” but I prepared nonetheless.  I took a breastfeeding class and met with the lactation consultant before she was born.  I prayed for it to work.  I said I was going to know my limits this time.  My daughter was born remarkably quickly, after just 10 minutes of pushing.  She was born screaming.  It was a beautiful, wonderful scream, except it didn’t stop.  She screamed for most of her waking hours for months on end.  She nursed non-stop from the moment she was born, for hours on end.  She would not settle unless the nurses took her out of the room.  As soon as she came back, she wanted to nurse again.  Unlike my son, who slept through his first weeks of life, she did not sleep AT ALL!  After labor and delivery, and then being up all night nursing, I cried.  I cried because I was sure it was already falling apart.  I cried because the nurses questioned me about whether I had smoked, used some medications or drugs while pregnant that would cause my daughter to be so restless.  It’s always the mother’s fault, isn’t it?  Except it wasn’t my fault.  I did none of those things.

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Despite the pain and discomfort, I continued.  I saw the lactation consultant again.  We got past the blisters and I healed enough to continue.  I was assured that she wasn’t tongue tied like my son.  But she screamed and cried and never latched well. After 6 weeks, the lactation consultant diagnosed her with a tongue tie and reflux.  She went on medication and we braved rush hour NYC traffic to have her tongue and lip tie corrected.   She still screamed and would only sleep if I held her.   She broke out in a rash all over her face.  Eventually, I cut out dairy, then all things soy.  Because I had to hold my daughter 24/7, I could not cook and could rarely grocery shop.  I started losing weight so quickly, I had to try to consume high calorie foods to keep weight on.  I was losing about a pound a day.  Meanwhile, my daughter was not improving.  In fact, she was screaming more and nursing less.  She nursed for just 3 minutes at a time.  She would go hours without eating, just screaming and crying.  I brought her to the pediatrician and the lactation consultant, who both felt she was just an “efficient nurser”.  But I knew something was wrong, so I waited for the scale to show what I knew was happening – she was not eating enough.  And soon, the scale showed that her weight gain was less than it should be.  She developed an intense aversion to eating and was referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist.  He identified mucous and traces of blood in her stool.  The lactation consultants encouraged me to continue.  At one point, I was encouraged to bed share because I was “missing feeding cues” that might be contributing to her weight gain issues.   I knew I was not missing feeding cues and that my daughter simply didn’t want to eat because she was in constant discomfort, and likely, pain.  Yet, I cried because I allowed this woman to blame me for my daughter’s feeding issues. At this point, I was no longer eating dairy, soy, nuts, or peanuts.  I weighed less than I did before I got pregnant at about 9 weeks postpartum, despite gaining nearly 30 pounds during my pregnancy.  When people complimented my weight loss, all I could think of was the constant distress we were experiencing.  I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I was trying to get my daughter to gain weight.

I was feeding my daughter every 3 hours in her sleep overnight because she would nurse in her sleep, but would refuse when awake.  The lactation consultants told me formula would make her reflux worse and that maybe I should give up eggs or wheat too.  Meanwhile, the pediatric GI told me to stop nursing and put her on hypoallergenic formula because we might never figure out what food proteins she was reacting to.  Initially, my daughter refused to drink Elecare.  She was refusing to eat much at all at that point and the foul tasting formula was not appealing.  I cried endlessly and worried she would be on a feeding tube if she did not start improving.  I truly did not know how we would survive another day of screaming and not sleeping.  We were finally able to get her to drink Alimentum mixed with breastmilk if we fed her in the bouncy seat and distracted her with toys.  Slowly, we weaned her to all Alimentum.  Then, even more slowly, she began to eat.  At 12 weeks, my mom convinced me to leave her home with her and go out with my son and husband.  When I came home, she told me that my daughter had cried for a bottle.  My daughter had not cried out of hunger for weeks.  I was so relieved.

I know that I had to stop nursing my daughter for her health.  I know that I did what was best for both of my children and that they are healthy and happy.  Finally, at 4 months, my daughter stopped crying.  She still has some issues with feeding but she is such a happy girl.  I don’t think she is in pain anymore.  And yet, I still hear the voice of that woman in my head, “You’re going to nurse your children, right?”  And I still feel “less than” other mothers.  I allow the judgment of others to force me to question my decisions.  I still have over 400 ounces of breastmilk in my freezer and it haunts me everyday.

I am writing this because I hope to have closure one day.  I want to be able to shrug off the judgment of others as I am so much more easily able to do in other areas of my life.  I want other mothers to stop believing they know it all and to accept that most of us are just doing the best we can.  I want to forgive myself and let go of the pain, the guilt, the jealousy of other mothers who succeeded where I failed.  I want the breastmilk in my freezer to disappear along with the pain I have been carrying for so long.

I don’t think any woman should feel bad for not going to the lengths I went to.  I hope nobody reads my story and things, “I didn’t try that hard so i didn’t try hard enough.”  I feel the need to justify my actions and I won’t let myself “off the hook” for not going to greater and greater lengths to succeed.  I know this is incredibly irrational and unhealthy; I would not want anybody to read this account and feel bad.  As mothers need to know when to make a change for the greater good and stop feeling the need to live as martyrs to prove ourselves to one another.

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Feel like sharing your story? Email it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. Please note, it can take up to a year for stories to appear on the blog!

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