Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.
Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.
Before you read Reese’s story, I want you to do me a favor: look at your children. Reflect on their beauty, their quirks, their uniqueness. They are people – not petri dishes. They have worth beyond their statistical probabilities, beyond what your choices for them represent politically. And realize that you are not a petri dish, either. All the studies in the world can’t tell us the first thing about your story, your worth, or what is in your heart.
Now read the story below, and welcome the chills you’ll get at the end (and they will come, I promise).
Happy Friday, fearless ones…
I might be the ultimate target for mommy judgment. I divorced, got pregnant, and remarried at the age of 37. I was induced at 37 weeks, then went straight to a C-section when the baby’s heart rate and my blood pressure plummeted. Now my one-year-old son wears disposable diapers and rides in a stroller and sleeps in a crib. He eats store-bought baby food and drinks formula. We feed him when he wakes at night, though his pediatrician and half the internet says we should have sleep-trained him by now.
Before your fingers start itching to type, before you act on that “oh no, what if SHE DOESN’T KNOW?” feeling, before you decide it’s your responsibility to educate me, let me tell you the worst part.
I exposed my baby to prescription medication in utero. And if I’m astonishingly lucky enough to have another child, I’ll do it again.
But anonymously on the internet is the only way I will ever discuss this, outside my immediate family. Only my doctors know.
The other day my husband was talking with a pregnant mom who wanted an all-natural pregnancy, but her headache got so bad she took a Tylenol. She felt horribly guilty. My husband wanted to say, “you’re totally fine. No, trust me, you’re FINE.” But then he would have to explain what he meant. So instead, I’ll take this space here to explain. Maybe some other mom who is feeling horrible will get some comfort from my story.
My son is almost one year old. He’s achieving milestones, getting into everything, and showing signs of being an opinionated, fiendishly clever little guy. Strangers comment on his huge eyes, always watching and absorbing everything. He plays peekaboo and climbs on the furniture and yells “di di di di!” chasing the dog. He “plays” piano and sings along, he giggles at jokes, he loves strawberries, and he’s obsessed with opening and closing doors. While he’s on the small side (25th percentile), I can’t really call that a problem because I never broke the 5th percentile when I was growing up. He’s doing a pretty darn good job of growing, given his mom’s genes.
Unfortunately my genes also gave me an unrelenting chronic disorder, one that I’ve had my entire adult life. I always assumed I’d never be able to have kids. I’ve earned a Ph.D, taught at a university, managed employees and programmed computers and raised funds and conducted research, all while taking the heavy-duty medication that keeps me alive and functional. But I never thought having a baby would be among my accomplishments.
Then I met a wonderful high-risk OB, probably the best doctor I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot). She said my hormone levels didn’t look good, that I’d likely have trouble conceiving. But then she said “actually, we can work with your medication. We would start tapering in the second trimester, and get you down to as low a dose as you can handle. If the baby is born with signs of drug dependence, the neonatal team knows exactly what to do, and we’ll get you both through it.”
My boyfriend and I knew we didn’t have much time. Armed with confidence from the amazing OB, we got engaged and skipped birth control. I got pregnant on the first try.
During pregnancy, I was able to taper down to just over half my normal medication dose. It darn near killed me, but I did it. Then I had to deliver three weeks early because my baby was measuring small, which might have been drug-related and might have just been his genes – we’ll probably never know. After my son was born I had to adjust back up to my normal level, so breastfeeding was not an option. I never even considered it.
My son had one sign of neonatal abstinence syndrome: he had a little diarrhea the first few days, but he was breathing and eating well, never developed other symptoms, and never had to go to the NICU for extra treatment. This is the last thing you might expect to hear from a woman with a C-section scar, but his birth went as well as we could have dared to hope for.
His pediatrician says there are no controlled studies on exposure to this particular medication. The anecdotal literature suggests a slightly higher risk of dyslexia and learning disability. If our son turns out to have a learning disability, we’ll handle that as it comes, like any parents would. I’ve seen students with learning disabilities graduate from college, maybe even some whose mothers had risk factors before they were born.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m right there with the lactivists in condemning corporations marketing formula over breastfeeding, especially in developing countries where water quality is iffy. Especially when they could have spent those millions of marketing dollars on donations that actually feed starving people. At the same time, I will always be thankful that formula is readily available. If formula were outlawed or locked away by a well-intentioned but inflexible “breast is best” initiative, I would never have attempted pregnancy in the first place. My son – with his curls and big saucer eyes, his sneaky attempts to escape through the doggie door, his personality quirks, his squeaks of excitement when he learns he can pull himself up on the furniture – would never have existed.
We humans need rules to make sense of the world. We want to nail down moral absolutes – breast is always best, prenatal drug exposure is always unforgivable.
But when I read that first comment on Suzanne Barston’s contact page, when I read “If a mom isn’t willing to do the best possible thing for her baby, then why even have a baby”… I realized, I can’t combat that kind of ignorance with a post on the internet. This post isn’t even my real argument.
My real argument is my son’s life, as he grows up and makes his way in the world, and maybe even makes the world a better place because he was in it.
Feel like sharing your story? Email me at email@example.com.