You’re Proving the Point

There’s this video that’s been making the rounds on the parenting pages for the past few days. If you haven’t seen it yet, feel free to do so now.

 

Yes, it was made by a formula company. Boo. Hiss.

Now that we have that out of the way, can we get to the real discussion?

Spoiler alert: no, we can’t. Because it was made by a formula company, and therefore anything the video stands for is nothing more than a cleverly crafted marketing message meant to scare women off breastfeeding by convincing them that their milk is made of Ovaltine and if they breastfeed even once, they will instantly be turned into a newt.

What, you didn’t see that? That’s because you’re naive. You don’t understand. Obviously haven’t read (fill in the blank with any blog or breastfeeding politics books here), because if you had, you’d understand that this is ALWAYS what formula companies do, because FORMULA=PATRIARCHY. Duh. Choice as feminism? That’s about as last century as Debbie Gibson.

But wait – if the problem was simply that this is a marketing tool (which it is, no doubt; formula companies – scratch that, all companies – are not in the business of throwing massive advertising dollars into PSAs about mommy wars if they didn’t think it would do them some good in the long run), I wouldn’t be writing this late-night post, my fingers shaking so hard from frustration that I’ve had to retype this sentence three times. I mean, being skeptical about advertising, I get. I personally hate Luv’s diapers, I think they suck donkey balls and leak like my junior year apartment’s jinky kitchen sink, but I love their “second time mom” commercials. Hell, I’ve cried at McDonald’s ads and I’m a card-carrying lifelong vegetarian. But if your morals are strong enough to temper your taste in entertainment, you’ve got my respect. It’s healthy and smart to analyze the endless array of shit that passes over our news feeds and DVRs.

The problem is that now, people have turned what could have been a great statement on being media savvy and critical of marketing messages into the same old, tired argument about why the mommy wars don’t exist, and why breastfeeding is a public health issue and therefore can’t be considered a choice in the same context as cloth diapering, or choosing to work rather than stay home, or even abortion.

But, see, you’re proving the point.

You’re proving that the perceived judgment among women isn’t all in our heads; that it isn’t something the formula companies and media have created, but rather capitalized on. Those are two very different animals. Of course formula companies are going to talk about judgment and choice and empowerment and all those other triggering terms in the infant feeding debate. Because it resonates. It’s simple advertising theory 101: inventing the need versus serving the need. This is a case of serving the need.

Formula companies see the need, because women who formula feed are made to feel ashamed of their choice. If you don’t believe this is true, and you happen to be a parent, for one second, close your eyes, clear your mind, and think: If your entire Facebook feed was full of memes about how gross (fill in the blank with something you feed your child, or a method or parenting you employ) was, or some study came out that suggested kids that (fill in the blank with something you do as a parent and feel strongly about, whether it be breastfeeding or time outs or co-sleeping or taking them to church) who did this have higher rates of obesity/attachment issues/lower IQ, how would you feel? How would honestly feel, in your gut? Forget about the reality or perception of the current research, forget about societal norms, forget about all of it – just think about how you would feel.

You feel it? In your stomach? That queasiness? The feeling that while everything you see in front of you says one thing – that your healthy, gorgeous child has no attachment issues, is smart as a whip, and is this amazing creature you have nothing but awe for – the rest of the world is entirely convinced that your lived reality is false, based on purely associative data that has nothing to do with your family or your child? That is how formula feeding parents are made to feel every day. Not by “breastfeeding moms”, which many of us have been/are/would like to be/are best friends with. This isn’t about breastfeeding moms vs. formula feeding moms. THAT, my friends, is a made-up mommy war. But formula feeding parents are being made to feel this way: by the media, by their physicians, by ads on the freeway, and by you. Yes you. The ones on the parenting pages, pretending to be so accepting of alternative choices; who rage on about how being able to choose how/if you vaccinate is a parent’s choice, science be damned, and then in the same breath tell parents that formula feeding is a public health issue, because the poor, sick formula fed babies will be messing up your gene pool 20 years down the line.

You’re right about one thing though. This isn’t a mommy war, not at all. It isn’t the mom at the park versus the other mom at the park. (Moms at the park are usually pretty nice, actually, in my experience. If anything, they judge you more for how your kid is behaving in the sandbox than what you’re feeding him.) This “war” is run by those with power – the ones running websites, hospitals, initiatives; the ones authoring books and selling their wares under the impenetrable armor of a PhD or MD (because no one with a PhD or MD could ever be wrong, or biased. Unless they work for Big Pharma, of course). Not because of the information they are sharing, but how they are choosing to share it. Not because of the research they do, but because they only deal in absolutes, refusing to see nuance or entertain other findings or beliefs.

This isn’t a war, even, because that implies some sort of mutual disagreement. It’s one side bullying another, refusing to hear the other side’s point of view, denying the other side’s right to exist. For that side, the only peaceful resolution involves accepting a totalitarian regime, no middle ground. And since there’s no way to argue against someone when they shut down your right to be heard, it’s a losing battle.

So let’s just say we give up. We’re waving the white flag. YOU WIN.

Go on – keep shouting from the rooftops that breastfeeding will save all of us from certain death and that formula will turn our children into baby seals. Go on – tell us we have no right to feel judged, and that we can’t be mad at you, we need to be mad at the formula companies because they provided food that kept our babies thriving fooled us into thinking our IGT was real, our depression was truly only helped by ceasing lactation, and that our history of sexual trauma would be exacerbated by nursing.  We hear you. We’ve heard you. Keep it going, because maybe you haven’t made that mom over there sufficiently remorseful.

But don’t sit there and tell me that the feelings Similac capitalized on are not real. That they don’t matter. That our experiences don’t matter. Don’t post sanctimonious rhetoric about feminism and scoff at anyone who dares to question your point of view, because last I checked, that seems a helluva lot more patriarchal than a can of baby formula. And you have a vagina, so that makes it worse. Formula cans don’t have vaginas. (Again, last I checked. Who knows. It’s been awhile since I had a formula-feeding infant.)

Or you know what? Go ahead and tell me all of that. I’m all for free speech. Who the hell am I to tell you what you can’t and cannot say?

Just don’t expect the rest of us to listen. We’ll be over here watching some kitten get rescued by a fireman and yelling about how it must just be a ploy for us to give money to the fire department. Because… patriarchy. Or something.

 

 

 

FFF Friday: “There is no shame in making the best choice for both you and your baby.”

My car caught on fire last weekend, with me and my two kids inside of it. We all survived unscathed (well, not the car, our carseats, my iPhone, or my yoga mat, but whatever), but for a few scary moments there as I ran down the freeway, away from the burning vehicle with two kids in my arms, I wondered: what if. What if we had gotten a new car last month when my engine died, instead of having a somewhat shady mechanic put in a “new” engine? What if I hadn’t decided to let my husband sleep, so that I wouldn’t have been all by myself on the freeway, in the rain, when my car exploded? What if I hadn’t switched out my daughter’s car seat with the other one – the one with the sticky latch that always takes forever to undo? What if? What if?

There’s a common refrain in so many of the FFF Friday stories: If I’d only known then what I know now…what if…. It breaks my heart, every time, because I feel like these parents are punishing themselves for not knowing the unknowable. There are so many what ifs in that question, so many regrets. But listen to me, my friends: there was NO WAY you could have known what was ahead, any more than I could have known my engine would spontaneously combust. There are usually no warnings, and even if there are, the noise of the parenting world (or in my case, the car stereo) drowns them out. All you can do is pull yourself from the wreckage, get your babies out safely, and feel proud of yourself that you did all you could do to make sure you all survived.

This is what I told myself, all week, and this is what I want to tell Samantha.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

*** 

Samantha’s Story

When I discovered I was pregnant back in March 2013, I approached pregnancy with the same fervor and intensity as I did a final term paper back in college. I immediately began to meticulously research and plan. My to do lists were constantly evolving. I knew I wanted a natural birth with no pain medication and planned on exclusively breastfeeding. I rented every book at my local library about natural birth, hypnobirthing and breastfeeding. I researched local la leche league groups in my area and took a breastfeeding class at the hospital at which I would be delivering. I purchased a boppy, drank red raspberry leaf tea, and listened to my hypnobirthing cd every night before going to sleep. I took a class about cloth diapering and baby wearing and bought a boba wrap that I knew my baby girl would love to be carried in and would blissfully nurse away. I posted articles to Facebook about the benefits of breastfeeding and how “breast is always best”. When I received my sample formula packs in the mail, I was outraged. How dare they send their poisonous sludge to me!? I would be breastfeeding and had no need for their free products. When I found out my mom formula fed all three of her children, I secretly judged her wondering why she didn’t give us the best start in life.

Looking back, if I had the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with pregnant me, I would have cleared up some things. I’m almost ashamed at the naive way I automatically assumed that everything would just work out perfectly the way I planned. I am usually such a realist almost to the point of being cynical but somehow I approached childbirth and motherhood with the rosiest of rose colored glasses (I did end up naming my daughter Rose!). All of my research and planning did absolutely nothing to prepare me for the realities of motherhood. It actually did much more damage than good because I was utterly unprepared for how to adapt to my actual situation versus what I had assumed would occur.

 

My due date was December 16th 2013 and because my mom had gone into labor early with me, I assumed I would also deliver early. Well my due date came and went with no baby in sight. Being 41 weeks pregnant with Christmas just days away is no picnic! On Christmas Eve, my in laws stopped at our apartment to bring my husband and I some food and presents. I uncomfortably rocked back and forth on my birthing ball as I opened gifts. Around 11pm that night, I had a nagging feeling that something was not quite right so my husband and I drove to the hospital and sure enough my water was leaking. After a 2 hour wait to be seen by the doctor on duty, (the hospital was short staffed due to the holiday) I was hooked up to pitocin and the contractions began. I plugged my iPod in and tried to find my zen place. Well 10 hours later, there was no zen left to be found in my hospital room! I begged for an epidural as excruciating contractions rocked my weary body. Another 14 hours after my epidural, which needed to be redone twice by the way, around 11:45 pm Christmas Day night baby Rose made her debut into this world. At that point I hadn’t slept in two days and felt absolutely exhausted after 24 hours of labor. The nurse brought her to my chest and tried to help me breastfeed but I was covered in sweat and was trembling so much I couldn’t get a good hold of her. Tears welled up in my puffy eyes as I told the nurse I couldn’t, just couldn’t try breast feeding. I asked her to take my baby to the nursery. My husband fed me a few saltines and some sips of orange juice as I hadn’t eaten in over a day and a half. I felt dejected and disappointed that the first time my baby was handed to me, I didn’t even have the energy to hold her for long. Eventually I was taken to my hospital room where I was able to sleep for a couple hours before the baby was brought to me to breastfeed. I did attempt it this time and things seemed to be going fairly well from what I remember but I was so sleep deprived it’s hard to tell. Every few hours a different nurse would appear with my baby and I would breastfeed. My last day at the hospital, the lactation consultant finally made an appearance. I had put in a request for one upon going into labor but there are only a a few and they are in high demand. I told her the type of breastfeeding pump and pillow I had purchased and she immediately told me haughtily that both of those brands are terrible. As she arranged my breasts to try to get the proper latch, I felt like an object rather than a person. By the end of the hour, I was in tears of frustration from trying so hard to get the perfect position in order to feed my baby and falling short of her critiques. The experience left me feeling overwhelmed and frightened. It absolutely did not instill any confidence in me that I would be able to breastfeed successfully.

 

That afternoon we left the hospital and rather than feeling excited to bring my sweet, beautiful baby girl home, I was filled with a horrible, fearful dread in the pit of my stomach. The lack of sleep combined with the nervousness about being able to feed her snowballed into a dark cloud which remained over me for weeks. Those first few nights are a blur but what I remember the most is the constant crying, both hers and mine. My husband would prop me up with a thousand pillows and take note of how long she would latch on either side. It was never very long on either one and she would usually fall asleep at the breast and I would be unable to get her to continue feeding. My left breast had little bite marks all over the nipple from where she had tried to latch and each time she fed it felt like someone was stabbing me there. Around 3 am on the third night home, I had had enough. My poor baby cried constantly and only slept for an hour or so at a time. I felt like I was drowning, crying almost all the time. For the brief periods of time she did sleep, my heart raced and anxious thoughts plagued me so I couldn’t sleep. On that particular night, I opened up one of the formula samples we had received and shakily fed her the bottle. She sucked it down and quieted for what seemed to be the first time.  She then slept for 3 hours. I still tried to breastfeed after that first bottle of formula but she never seemed satisfied or full and I was so weak and depressed, I did not have the energy to continue. My milk came in the next day but only one breast seemed to produce milk. I hooked up the pump as my husband’s mom who is a nurse assisted and milk only came out of my right breast. She advised me if I wanted to pump I would have to do it frequently to ensure my supply would keep up. At that point, I admit that I gave up. I literally did not have the emotional capacity to continue breastfeeding. Later that week temperatures dropped below zero in central Ohio where I live and the pipes burst, flooding our apartment so we had to pack up everything and move just a week and a half after my daughter’s birth. Thank goodness I stopped breastfeeding because my baby had to stay at my in- laws house that week while my husband and I packed up everything, signed a new lease and moved all of our belongings.

I do not regret trying to breastfeed, nor do I necessarily wish that I had succeeded. What I do wish is that I had prepared myself for the fact that breast feeding might not end up being the best choice for me. I wish I had looked into formula and bottles and known from the get go the proper amount to feed a newborn. I ended up being blindsided because I had only prepared for one option. When I ended up formula feeding, I not only felt guilt from failing at breast feeding but was navigating uncharted waters because I had not looked into formula feeding at all. I struggled with post partum anxiety and depression those first few months and it’s still something I deal with to this day. I believe my experience with trying to breastfeed led me down a dark road due to the tremendous amount of guilt I experienced for not fulfilling the expectations I had placed upon myself. Whether it be breast or bottle, the best way to feed your baby is the choice that results with a happy and confident mom. I am still coming to terms with this whole experience and healing but want other new moms to know that it’s ok to change your mind and your perspective. At the end of the day what really matters is that you are healthy and happy and able to enjoy your new baby. I was so stressed out and worried those first few weeks that I feel like I missed out on precious time that I can never get back. I try now to enjoy each and every moment with my snugly, sweet little girl because she’s already grown so much. I know that this time in our lives is fleeting and I try to appreciate the little moments such as seeing her joyful smile. If I do decide to have another baby, I would like to try breastfeeding again. But this time I am armed with the powerful knowledge that if it doesn’t work out, it’s perfectly alright to formula feed. Feeding your little one should be a positive experience. There is no shame in making the best choice for both you and your baby. Had I not changed over to formula, my mental health would have further deteriorated and that’s not something that should be jeopardized. Switching to formula enabled me to empower myself and take control of a situation which was rapidly spiraling downwards. This experience has taught me to keep an open mind and realize that there are always options. Never feel trapped and there’s always light at the end of the tunnel!

***

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

FFF Friday: “I blamed myself for being too weak to cope emotionally…”

Thanksgiving is coming up here in the States, and everyone is talking about what they are most thankful for.

I am thankful for formula.

I am thankful it gives us the ability to nourish children who might otherwise not be nourished. I am thankful it can be used as a stop-gap measure to get breastfeeding off to a good start. I am thankful it can feed kids with severe food allergies.

And I am incredibility thankful it gives mothers like Emily an alternative. Because feeding your child should not be an act of contrition, nor should it serve as a means of re-traumatizing someone who has already suffered unspeakable pain. Nothing is worth that, and I am thankful that formula can give those of us whose bodies are bogged down by complex emotional histories a way to alleviate some of the burden. If you’ve never known what it feels like to shudder at someone’s touch – someone you are programmed to love, and to nurture – you have no idea the level of pain that can cause. So I am thankful. I am so thankful. 

I’m also thankful for Emily, for having the courage to share her story.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Emily’s Story

I have a history of severe, long term, childhood sexual abuse. As a result I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a chronic pain condition called Vulvodynia, and multiple minor physical pain and nerve damage issues. I couldn’t stand the idea of losing anything else to my past, but in the end, I lost breastfeeding to it. After 3 attempts I am finally at peace with that, but not before plenty of judgement, poor care and pain both emotional and physical.

In hindsight, I have no idea why no one even suspected the issues before my first was born. My issues meant that I had a few special requirements related to the birth, and as a result had to give some quick summary of my abuse to anyone I dealt with. Even after hearing about permanent issues I have as a result of my past, no one ever once questioned whether there had been any considerable physical trauma to my breasts, as indeed there had been. I was registered at a birth center, with midwives. I heard the statistics that 98% of women can breastfeed, I knew the ‘booby traps’ and I researched latch, I was ready. My mother had breastfed 4 children without a problem and was part of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (our own version of the LLL) and while she was no longer part of my life I still felt a need to prove I could do just as much as she did. I never anticipated a problem.

I had the right start, skin to skin, immediate feeding, rooming in, everything seemed to be going as it should. But within 48 hours it began to hurt to feed. On top of this, baby was HUNGRY. On our third night after the birth baby screamed for hours while refusing my breast completely. We called the midwives in desperation, asking what to do. She said about the only useful advice I ever received on baby feeding ‘Give baby some formula, and come in first thing in the morning to see the lactation consultant’. Formula? What kind? How much? She had no idea, and at 3 in the morning with a hysterical child neither did we. We don’t get formula samples here in Australia. Thank God my grandmother had more sense than me. She had bought me one box of single-serve formula sachets, and insisted that I keep them in the back of the cupboard just in case of emergency. I had done so to humour her, but I am so grateful she did it. We fed baby some formula from the one bottle which came with my manual pump and she guzzled it down. I remember feeling so terribly, terribly guilty. But, I didn’t feel guilty about giving her formula, I felt guilty about unknowingly starving her for almost 4 days. I suppose I was lucky that way, I always knew feeding my baby was much, much more important than breast vs bottle.

We spoke to the LC who sent me home with instructions to pump every hour and a half during the day and every 3 at night. I haven’t mentioned my husband yet but he was amazingly supportive. However, he had no choice but to go to work due to our situation at the time. My grandma came over and taught me how to sterilize bottles for supplementing after the feed and helped watch baby while I pumped. I discovered later that the LC had told my midwife that she suspected I was one of the few women truly unable to produce enough milk, but no one ever told ME that, I suppose for fear that I would give up ‘too soon’. On top of that, I’d had hyperemesis in my pregnancy and was still on a ‘liquids only before lunch’ diet (and continued to be for 3 months due to other poor medical care, but that’s another story altogether) which obviously impacted things on it’s own. I was far from healthy. And emotionally I was struggling, badly. PTSD coupled with the trigger of experiencing pain in an area where so much pain had been inflicted during my past was almost more than I could handle.

I usually pumped 10-15ml in a sitting, and never more than 30ml. And the pain got worse, and worse. I saw 3 different lactation consultants and all of them insisted my latch was absolutely perfect, and my nipples looked great. They all said a variation of ‘baby is getting what she needs, there’s no problem, so you just have to push through and hopefully the pain will settle down in 2-6 weeks, though for some women it’s always painful, but it’s worth it because breast is best’. One even went so far as to give me coping strategies for the pain! I didn’t realize until much later how very, very damaging this attitude was to me. I told all of these women about my past sexual abuse, and they basically told me that I needed to just suck it up because it was best. At that point in my life I was just beginning to piece together some self worth and feel valuable enough to stand up for myself and value my own desires even a little bit, so being attached to a milking machine, and being given no way out of something which was inflicting pain on me was a big issue. I resented my baby, I didn’t want her near me. My husband doesn’t feature much in this story, not because he wasn’t supportive, but because he was young, scared, confused and struggling himself. He had no idea what to do. But, in the end, he talked me into letting go of breastfeeding because, he argued, better for baby to have a bottle with a happy mummy than breastmilk with a crying one. He has held this stance ever since. Only 2 weeks after birth I couldn’t take the pain anymore, no one would give me a way out of the pain other than ‘wait and see’, and I gave up.

I bonded with my baby almost instantly from that day on. So much for breastfeeding being the be-all-and-end-all in bonding.

The second time I went in better prepared. Because I described the pain I had experienced as a graze or burning feeling, it was eventually decided that baby actually wasn’t feeding right, was running her tongue along my nipple back and forth, and that was the cause of our issues. The lack of milk production was blamed on the fact my baby was (and still is!) very impatient and would not stay on long enough to make things happen. She had no interest in comfort sucking, so once the milk slowed she would give up. I was reassured that this time around, if baby fed well, all would be fine.

My second baby arrived after a wonderful birth, latched immediately, and fed well. My milk came in, it seemed supply was better because baby was cooperating more and I was much healthier after having managed my hyperemesis far better that pregnancy. But it still hurt. So much.

I saw a new LC, and she told me to use nipple shields. I told her that I had been specifically told never to try and use them because my milk supply was already low and inhibited by my psychological issues, and she said that modern shields don’t harm supply and they were better than the pain. What a turn around! I still experienced pain, but instead of being an 11 on the pain scale it was somewhere around a 5, tolerable. Note that babys latch, again, was absolutely perfect. My nipples never looked bad, never once did I bleed or bruise, nothing baby was doing explained the pain. But this baby was a comfort sucker, she wanted to be attached constantly if she could. That made the pain so much worse, so after about a half hour I would give her a pacifier.

4 weeks in and baby got into this awful habit of latching and unlatching, again and again. Since latching was the most painful part, having her do that over and over was absolute hell. But women around me kept telling me story after story of how they, or someone they knew, breastfed despite a lot of pain, so I kept pushing on. Emotionally, I was a wreck again, constantly triggered. I did not enjoy my baby at all. I didn’t want to deal with her unless I had to feed her.

6 weeks in and I spoke to the LC again about her constantly coming off. She had not gained as much weight as she should have. We did a weighed feed and she didn’t gain enough either. (I now know that neither of these were necessarily accurate but at the time I trusted her.) She insisted we begin giving one supplement bottle a day, just to help bring baby’s weight up a little, and to try and tolerate as much ‘comfort sucking’ as possible to bring in some more milk.

I gave baby her bottle the first night and she refused her next feed. I gave it the second night and she refused to feed for the next 12 hours. I gave it the third night and she never latched to my breast again. I knew there were ways to get her back on and fix things, but I was in pain, I was emotionally spent, and I was done. We became formula feeders the second time, and suddenly, I found I liked my baby, and I wanted to be near her again. Yet again, no bond occurred until after I stopped breastfeeding.

Third time around and I knew what I was doing. I set a goal of two weeks, with an ideal goal of 6 weeks, and released myself from guilt if it didn’t work. I had finally realized after messing with the shields that the cause of the pain was nerve damage from past abuse. I thought I had dealt with that fact, but all I had actually done was hide the real issue with the hope that with the shields I could beat this problem and prove to myself that my past could not take the ability to breastfeed away from me. I was ok with letting myself stop when the pain got too bad though, and this time I would end it on my terms, if I couldn’t take control by breastfeeding, I could take control by protecting myself and choosing to stop breastfeeding when it hurt too badly. Health concerns about formula were long since squashed in my mind. I was a fearless (potential) formula feeder! What I wasn’t prepared for was it all going right.

Baby came, latched, fed perfectly and continued to do so. Not only did my milk come in well, but I actually had oversupply issues (we suspect the difference is that my husband had true paternity leave for the first time, which allowed me a lot more relaxation and skin to skin time than the last two times). She was gaining like a champ, she was bright, alert, sleeping well and a perfect poster child for breastfeeding. I began using the shields the day my milk came in, and to my surprise, by about day 12 feeding was almost pain-free! We had done it, I was successfully getting enough food into my babies tummy without severe pain.

But, I hated it. I hate breastfeeding. I hate the feeling. I hated having my PTSD triggered by it. And, I still had no bond with my baby. I resented her. I had always assumed the resentment came from the fact feeding my babies caused pain, but after a long talk with my husband I have come to realize that the reason I feel so much resentment is actually that, while breastfeeding, the baby controls that part of my body. I have to feed baby on her schedule, I get no say over when I feel capable of coping with someone touching my breasts, even if it is for food. I feel out of control of an intimate part of my body, and that’s a feeling I no longer cope well with.

I simply didn’t WANT to breastfeed anymore. And I felt like the worst mother in the world for it. I had finally achieved what I’d struggled with two previous babies to do, and now I discover that, actually, it’s not what I wanted at all. I wanted to be able to breastfeed like everyone else. But the fact is, even after beating all the other issues, I had to accept that I will never be able to breastfeed like everyone else. There’s too much baggage, too many associations. Too many memories. I can never have what I wanted, no matter how hard I try. That was taken from me long ago. What I can have, breastfeeding with all the psychological associations and physical reminders it brings, just isn’t a nice, or good, experience.

I felt trapped. It’s wrong to not breastfeed when I am capable of it right? But that feeling of being trapped only made me want to stop even more, because of my natural instinct to run from anything which might trap or control me. I blamed myself for being too weak to cope emotionally because it was easier than blaming those that hurt me for yet one more long term consequence of their actions. But that only made the feeling of being trapped worse, because if I was just a better mum I wouldn’t find feeding so upsetting.

There’s a big difference between having no choice but to switch to formula, and actually choosing to go to formula for no reason other than ‘I don’t want to breastfeed’. I have heard many, many times ‘I support formula feeders, as long as they have made a real effort to breastfeed’. Actually taking the step to formula feed just because that’s what I wanted meant going against that large group of people who would have previously supported me.

And then there was accepting that this door is closed for me, which hurt. I hate to accept that my past has any permanent effect on my future. I hate to admit anyone could effect me that way other than myself, because it makes me feel vulnerable.

It was easier to accept I couldn’t breastfeed a particular child but I could try again with the next than it is to accept that I can never have the normal, comfortable, enjoyable breastfeeding relationship I have watched, and wanted.

My babies thrive on formula, they are rarely sick, they are very bright, and happy kids. I suspect many of the ‘health risks’ of formula have more to do with the portion of the population that uses/doesn’t use it than with formula itself. A working mum is less likely to breastfeed, and we know that children in daycare tend to catch more bugs than children at home, for example.

My husband convinced me to do what I needed to, and I stopped breastfeeding my third child at 2 weeks old. She is now 5 weeks and thriving. And surprise surprise, I bonded and enjoyed her far, far more within a couple of days of stopping. We are a formula feeding family, and I’m mostly ok with that now. It’s what is right for me, and for my babies.

 ***

If you feel like sharing your story, email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

 

You don’t need to know why I don’t breastfeed, because it shouldn’t matter.

This past week, Emily Wax-Thibodeux’s excellent essay, “Why I don’t breastfeed, if you must know”, went viral. As it should have. It’s a cutting, heartfelt expose of just how ridiculous the pressure to breastfeed has become, made all the more powerful by the author’s recounting of her double mastectomy.

Unfortunately, even breast cancer didn’t stop the haters from hating.

“95% of the time people don’t breastfeed for reasons other than terminal illness. This is a red herring argument. She shouldn’t feel bad for having a legitimate reason for not breastfeeding and if she does then its really a personal problem,” said one comment on a Today.com thread.

“We all understand should and can are different. A mother who cannot breast feed is different than a mother who can but chooses not to…Breast milk is better for an infant than formula, I don’t think there is a doctor, nurse or midwife who would say that formula is better…Shame people would criticize this mother who CANNOT breastfeed like it was her choice,” wrote another (who happened to be male).

And then there was the woman who insisted that “(t)here is absolutely zero systematic or general judgment against infant formula or bottle feeding. It is the absolute expected norm by the majority of adults and parents in our culture. No one cares if you feed your baby infant formula or use a bottle…Most children start on the breast. Most children are weaned. Most children are given formula and fed with bottles. There is no public backlash against infant formula or bottle feeding. But here’s an article that pretends “infant formula shaming” is some actual thing. No. It isn’t. Not in the real world of critical thought and evidence. The data doesn’t support this notion at all.”

In the FFF community, there was tremendous support for Wax-Gibodeux’s piece, but an underlying concern about the title – because why must we know why she isn’t breastfeeding? Is shaming more acceptable for some mothers than others? What is the litmus test that rewards us with a breastfeeding “pass”? If a double mastectomy doesn’t quite cut it, I don’t know what will.

So maybe we should stop giving reasons altogether.

For those who fear formula as a product, no reason in the world is sufficient for a baby to be given anything other human milk. It doesn’t matter if the baby has to be wet nursed by someone with an unknown medical history – that is still better than formula.

For those who like to shame mothers – because that’s what it really is about, enjoying the act of shaming, of making yourself feel superior, or feel better about your choices by questioning those of others – no reason in the world will make a mother above reproach. She could always have done more – after all, breastfeeding is 90% determination and only 10% milk production, as a recent meme proudly stated. Best case scenario, she might get pity – but pity carries its own heavy scent, similar to the sour stench of shame.

Giving a reason for why you didn’t breastfeed is pointless.

That doesn’t mean telling your story isn’t important, because our narratives matter; they help those floundering in their own messy journeys make sense of what’s happening and find community with those who’ve been there. But there’s a difference between telling your story and owning it, and telling it to defend yourself. One gives you power, the other takes it away. 

We are at a turning point, I hope. Jessica Martin-Weber of The Leaky Boob has taken a stand against romanticizing the reality of breastfeeding, and is helping those in the breastfeeding community feel comfortable with bottle (and formula) use. When one of the leading voices in breastfeeding advocacy speaks out against a culture of fear and rigidity, that means something. Wax-Thibodeux’s piece has brought many powerful voices out of the woodwork, allowing women who’ve swallowed their shame to regurgitate it, and make the uninitiated understand just how sour it tastes.

Now is the time to draw a line in the sand. This conversation has moved beyond breastfeeding and formula feeding and whether one party is more marginalized than the other, or how superior one product is nutritionally to the other. We’ve been there, done that, and nothing has really changed. We’re all still hurting. We’re all still feeling unsupported, unseen, and resentful, like a 3-year-old with a colicky new sibling. Now, we need to stand up, collectively, and say it doesn’t matter why I am feeding the way I am. It is not up to anyone else to deem my reason appropriate or “understandable”. I’m going to stand up for anyone who has felt shamed about how she’s feeding, instead of just people who’ve had identical experiences to me, or those who I feel tried hard enough. 

A breastfeeding advocate shouldn’t be afraid to admit she questions aspects of the WHO Code. A breast cancer survivor shouldn’t have to have awkward conversations about why she’s bottle feeding. A woman who chooses not to breastfeed for her own personal reasons should not have to lay those reasons out in front of a jury of her peers.

This Tower of (breastfeeding) Babble has reached a fever pitch. It’s time for it to come down. Pick up your axe and start chopping. And next time someone asks, simply tell them, “You don’t need to know why I don’t breastfeed. Because it shouldn’t matter.”

 

The 2014 #ISupportYou Project: ISY Week of Service, Nov 1-7th

Sup·port

transitive verb \sə-ˈpȯrt\

: to agree with or approve of (someone or something)

: to show that you approve of (someone or something) by doing something

: to give help or assistance to (someone or something)

Full Definition of SUPPORT

1: to endure bravely or quietly :  bear

2 a (1) :  to promote the interests or cause of (2) :  to uphold or defend as valid or right :  advocate <supports fair play> (3) :  to argue or vote for 

b (1) :  assist, help <bombers supported the ground troops>(2) :  to act with (a star actor) (3) :  to bid in bridge so as to show support for

c :  to provide with substantiation :  corroborate <support an alibi>

3 a :  to pay the costs of :  maintain <support a family> b :  to provide a basis for the existence or subsistence of 

4 a :  to hold up or serve as a foundation or prop for; b :  to maintain (a price) at a desired level by purchases or loans; also :  to maintain the price of by purchases or loans

5: to keep from fainting, yielding, or losing courage :  comfort

6:  to keep (something) going

 

There are many definitions for the word support. And many arguments within the parenting community about what that word should mean, could mean, does mean.

Does it mean that you agree with someone’s choices, 100%?

Does it mean holding up signs and getting media attention for “stopping the mommy wars”?

Does it mean demanding equal representation, equal respect?

Does it mean something global, local, or personal?

You’d think that because we included “support” in our organization’s name, we’d have a clear definition in mind, a way to clearly explain what the word means to us. But the truth is, we don’t. When we started #ISupportYou, it was just a hashtag; a vague idea that we wanted to make all moms feel included, and worthy of support and community. We knew we wanted to show the world that the way we feed our babies doesn’t define us; that we are not “breastfeeding moms” or “formula feeding moms” but moms, and women, and individuals, and employees, and sisters, and spouses, and girlfriends, and daughters, and friends. We wanted to help other moms reach out to each other and recognize that at our cores, we all want the same thing: to be seen. To be heard. To matter.

This year, ISY is taking this vague idea of support to the next level. We want to put actions to words, to go beyond some glossy media idea of what support looks like, and get down and dirty with what it feels like. That’s why we’re hoping you’ll join us for our inaugural #ISupportYou Week, Nov. 1-7th, 2014. 

During ISY Week, we’re encouraging everyone to take all the energy we waste on silly online arguments to the streets of our own communities, and beyond. Find a way to bring one of the many definitions of “support” to life. Better yet, decide what support means to you, and do something about it. It can be something small, or something big. We’ve put together a list of our own ideas, but we’re excited to hear your ideas, too.

Between Nov. 1-7th, do one thing to bring the ISY message from virtual to flesh-and-blood life.  It can be one of ours, or one of yours. Then tell us about it. Tweet or post about it, using the hashtags #isupportyou and/or #ISYweek. Write a blog post about it, or shoot us an email so that we can share your stories on our blogs, and inspire others to drink the kool-aid. (It’s delicious. We promise.)

Ideas for #ISupportYou Week:

1.  Be a Coupon Fairy. Leave coupons for formula, bottles, diapers, or breastfeeding supplies in the baby aisles of your local stores, attached to post-it notes with the #ISupportYou hashtag and a short, encouraging message to whatever random parent finds it.

2.  Pay it forward. Pay for a mom or dad’s coffee, etc when s/he’s behind you in line with a screaming baby, or just looks exhausted or overwhelmed.

3.  Volunteer at your local women’s shelter. Lead a breastfeeding support group, a formula feeding group, or an #ISupportYou group (details to come).

4.  Bring a care basket to a new mom. Include items that support her feeding choice, but more importantly, items just for HER…m&m’s, lip balm, sitz bath, magazines, pretty water bottle, cozy socks, notepad/pen, note of encouragement, hair ties, etc.

5.  Donate generic new mom care baskets to local domestic violence or homeless shelters, with wipes, diapers, food and other useful items.

6.  Bring breakfast pastries/bagels to your next new mom’s support group

7.  Mail 3 real letters to moms that you know, with message of encouragement

8.  Leave post-it notes with the #ISupportYou hashtag and encouraging messages everywhere. Attach them to extra packs of wipes in a public changing area, or stick them on bulletin boards at the play place down the street.

9.  Commit to setting up an #ISupportYou (ISY) group in your community in 2015. We are currently developing materials to help interested people start these groups, and hope to see some popping up in early 2015. Email isymovement@gmail.com for more information.

10.  Do a teach-in with a group of pregnant mom friends on feeding 101. Ask a friend who feeds differently than you do to co-host it.

11.  Write a blog post with “10 Ways To Support A BF/FF mom”.

12.  Donate your feeding items to a local homeless/domestic violence shelter.

13.  Share ISY with your care providers – OB, pediatrician, therapist, daycare provider, etc.- so that they know where to guide new parents for support.

14.  Find a way to support a mom who feeds in a different way than you do.  Wash bottles at her house, buy her a can of formula, buy her a care package of lanolin and fancy breast pads, etc.

15.  FEED HER!  Find a new mom (or even better, a not so new mom, who needs it more!) and make/send dinner.  Or breakfast that is easy to reheat (egg sandwiches, casserole, etc).  Fresh fruit, surprise morning coffee, all with a note of encouragement.

16.  Set up a time each day that you will text a mom friend who needs encouragement (every day at 10:30 I will text her a “love note”).

17.  Call your local breastfeeding center and ask if they have any needs (scholarship fund for classes, etc.)

18.  Lead a “safe use of formula” workshop for daycare providers

19.  Ask to have a chat with facilitators of New Parent Support Groups, and encourage them to be inclusive to all feeding methods in their sessions.

20.  Call a local teen mother’s group and volunteer to be a breastfeeding or formula feeding mentor/peer counselor.

21.  Do something kind for YOURSELF. Write a letter to your 9 months pregnant self, or your 3 months postpartum self, telling her how proud you are, tips you’ve learned, etc.

22. Donate to organizations which support struggling postpartum moms. For example, Postpartum Progress, the Postpartum Stress Center, or the Seleni Institute.

We really hope you’ll join us in cutting through the bullshit and getting new parents the help they need to feed – and parent – with love, respect, and yes, support.  Put Nov 1-7 on your calendar, and chat with us during the week on Twitter and Facebook to let us know how things are going. Share your ideas, your experiences, and your reactions. Let’s get this party started, shall we?

It’s time. For real.

- The #ISupportYou Team

 

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