First World Problems: Fill the Gap and #FeedWithLove

Yesterday was one of those days. Overslept. Kid peed the bed. Bad hair day. Traffic. Drama at work. Husband had to work late, again. House a mess. Feeling fat. Zit popped up on my chin. You know. First world problems.

http://www.stickycomics.com/first-world-problems/

http://www.stickycomics.com/first-world-problems/

 

Here’s a dirty little secret: I hate that phrase. Because we live in our own realities. No matter how much of a selfless world-view we attempt to hold, or how fully we own our privilege, we’re human. You can feel depressed about a zit while realizing how insignificant your plight is in the grand scheme. One doesn’t need to cancel out the other. I’d even argue that people who are inherently empathetic typically feel all things deeply – a news report about a displaced deer will affect them more than most, but so will a breakup or a bad day at work. Emotions are emotions – and I don’t think controlling them because of some innate sense of privileged-woman’s-burden is healthy.

 

But here’s the other the reason I hate the phase “first world problems”: there are some majorly screwed up things going on right here in the first world. First world problems are nothing to scoff at. Kim Simon, my #ISupportYou cofounder (along with Jamie Lynn Grumet), has been thinking about one of the most warped aspects of our decidedly first world nation. In the midst of our government shutdown, Kim had started worrying about the people affected by furloughs at WIC programs  - breastfeeding moms who receive extra food to ensure they have the caloric load necessary to produce milk without it taking a toll on their bodies, and formula feeding moms who obtain the powder necessary to nourish their babies from WIC. She realized that aside from emotional support for moms, there’s another kind of practical support we haven’t really discussed. As she writes for Huffington Post and her own blog, Mama by the Bay:

When Suzanne BarstonJamie Lynne Grumet and I joined together to create “I Support You“, we realized that support begins with basic care.  Basic care for many of the mothers in this country means that they need to have access to healthy food for their families.  Breastfeeding mothers don’t always need a lactation consultant or a quiet place to nurse.  Sometimes they need breakfast.  I am nursing a four month old, and I usually eat two dinners.  I am hungry all.the.time.  But I have a full pantry cupboard and a refrigerator that I frequently have to clean out.  Many mothers don’t.  Formula feeding moms don’t always need the newest bottles or the support to feed their babies proudly.  Sometimes they need enough powder left in the can to get them through until their next paycheck, so they don’t have to water each bottle down.

 

Kim goes on to suggest ways that we can put our money where are mouths are – quite literally – by donating supplies, food, money, and time to mothers in need. Her suggestions are incredibly thoughtful and I urge you to read them, consider them, and put them to use.   But Kim also reminds us that even before the government shutdown, hunger was an issue for many American families – and that it will continue to be after this dumb fight ends and WIC offices are up and running. She’s right: back in 2012, when WIC was fully functional, a study found that 1 in 8 low-income families were watering down formula in order to “stretch” their limited resources – and that “the vast majority of families” in this study were “covered by Medicaid and receive(d) food stamps as well as assistance getting infant formula through… WIC.” (Source: NBC News)

1 in 8 families in this particular study, which was performed in the very first world environment of Cincinnati. 15% of parents already getting aid from government agencies like WIC who are not able to feed their babies adequately.

I can hear the arguments starting already: But that’s why WIC is promoting breastfeeding, FFF! If we could just get these women lactating, they wouldn’t have to put their babies in danger by using diluted formula! And you know what? I agree with you. It would be fabulous if these moms didn’t need to worry about their babies’ next meals, if milk were to flow easily and freely from their breasts. But it would also be fabulous if they weren’t in need. If they had well-paying jobs that allowed them sufficient maternity leave to establish breastfeeding without putting their families at risk. It would be wonderful if they had supportive partners or parents or friends who could stay with them in the early days and take care of their other children while they worked through the breastfeeding learning curve. It would be peachy if we could guarantee that none of them were part of the 5% of women who simply can’t produce milk, or that none of them had ever been victims of sexual assault which made it emotionally complicated for them to nurse, or that none of them had babies who were allergic to milk or soy, because when you’re living with food insecurity, it’s not so simple to go on an intensive elimination diet.

 

We can argue until the cows come home about whether all women in need should or can breastfeed, but once those cows do come home, we need to make sure there’s enough milk. Period. Whether from a can or a breast. We can’t let babies starve or become malnourished while we argue. Because when it comes down to it, arguing over breastfeeding in a theoretical sense  is a first world problem. That is where our privilege will bite us in the overfed ass. No matter what you believe, politically, or about infant formula marketing, or women, or birth, or Santa Claus, we need to address the hunger of our littlest members of first world society. And for now, until issues like maternity leave and adequate prenatal and post-natal care and lactation support and childcare are solved, that means supplying formula – not just whatever brand makes a deal with WIC, but options like hypoallergenic or gentle formula for babies who need it.

 

The breast/bottle mommy war is a “first world problem”. But the solution Kim, Jamie, and I are offering to this war doesn’t have to be. #ISupportYou can support moms in their emotional journeys while also supporting those who don’t have the luxury of worrying about judgment, because they are too busy watching the contents of their Similac can diminish and praying that their babies don’t hit a growth spurt before the next WIC appointment.

 

Privilege isn’t a bad thing. Privilege gives us internet access and time and sometimes (although not always), a little extra cash. I’m asking the FFF community to embrace whatever privilege they have, and begin finding ways to address the issue of hunger in our country. I’ll be reaching out to food banks, shelters, and organizations that serve mothers with young infants to see how we can help, specifically, with formula donations. We have one of the smartest and most educated communities on the internet – I don’t doubt we can come up with ways to fill the gap – nutritionally as well as emotionally – so that all mothers, regardless of feeding method or economic situation, can feed with love.

 

First world problems, here we come.

Want to get involved with #ISupportYou or #FeedWithLove? First, read Kim Simon’s post. Then, post here or there, or email me (formulafeeders@gmail.com), with your ideas, contacts, suggestions, etc. 

FFF Friday: “She offered me more advice on how I could ‘try harder’…”

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.


While debating my HuffPo article on Twitter, a few people took me to task for being elitist – the implication being that only wealthy, privileged women feel the pressure to breastfeed. They mentioned that programs like WIC make it difficult for women to breastfeed, forcing formula on moms and not educating parents on the benefits of exclusive nursing. I know that historically, WIC has been the biggest purchaser of infant formula, and this reputation was accurate at one point in time. Yet, one of the groups most prominently represented in the FFF audience are WIC mothers – and they all speak of a militant brand of breastfeeding promotion which provides little real support and guidance and plenty of guilt, pressure, and admonishment.

This week’s story is from one of these moms, and I hope that her bravery in coming forward will encourage other parents to speak out. The more we call out the offenders who make breastfeeding promotion an abuse instead of the benefit it should be – the more we call them out BY NAME, whether it be a particular hospital, organization, or website – the better we can hold these people accountable. And my hope is by doing so, we can implore (and assist) them to  better serve families, and provide REAL support for the women and babies who need it.

Oh, and apologies for the lack of original posts as of late – we just moved and I’ve had spotty internet and zero time. Should be back in the next week….until then-

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Sarah’s Story

When my daughter was first born, she had problems breathing, and the doctors whisked her away to the NICU. After a few hours of observation, they called me in my hospital room and asked if they could give her formula, or if I wanted to come down and breastfeed. Of course I wanted to breastfeed! Everyone told me how breastfed babies were healthier, stronger, and smarter. She was having problems already, so I wanted to give her every possible advantage that I could. When I first fed her, she latched right away and had a strong suck reflex. I was so happy because I’d heard that some babies aren’t very good at breastfeeding.

Later that day, my daughter was released from the NICU and joined me in my hospital room. She nursed on me for 15-20 minutes every hour and half. A lactation consultant came to check on us and asked how breastfeeding was going. “Great!” I said. She tried to show me how to express my colostrum, but nothing came out. She said that it could be because my daughter had just fed, so not to worry, and that my milk should “come in” in 3-5 days.

I was released the next day, and took my baby home. The hospital made sure that I scheduled a follow-up appointment with a pediatrician the next day just to check on her. When my husband and I took her in, the doctor said he saw some jaundice and had us go to the lab to get blood drawn to check her bilirubin level.

I got a call at 5:30 on a Friday from the doctor and knew something was wrong. He told me that her bilirubin level was high and that he recommended supplementing with formula until my milk came in so that she would pass the bilirubin more quickly. I’d heard that introducing a bottle too early could jeopardize breastfeeding, and I really didn’t want to give her formula (after all, “experts agree, the breast is best”). When I brought this up with the doctor, he said he understood but that he still wanted me to supplement, but to continue to breastfeed before giving it to her. He scheduled a re-check of her bilirubin for the next day at the lab.

This next part is difficult for me to write…

I was so worried about formula feeding my daughter that I went against the doctor’s advice and decided not to give her formula. At her second bilirubin check, I got another call from the doctor (on a Saturday!). He said that her levels had gone up and that he was really worried. I told him I hadn’t given her the formula yet, and he strongly advised that I start as soon as possible. I conceded and began, reluctantly, giving my daughter small amounts of formula that evening.

The next afternoon, the doctor called again to ask how she was doing. I told him that she hadn’t pooped yet, and he said that was o.k. I then told him that she hadn’t peed since the night before. He was alarmed, began asking questions, and advised me to take her to the ER. I was panicked. I didn’t know what was going on with my daughter, and my husband and I literally ran out of the house and sped the whole way to the hospital.

When we got there, I told them what was going on, and the nurse helped me feed her through a tiny tube with a syringe of formula attached to my nipple (this, to encourage breastfeeding). Afterward, they had me pump with an electric hospital pump, but nothing came out. I was told that it may take up to 7 days for my milk to come in, so not to lose hope.

When the doctor came in, she diagnosed my baby with dehydration. I felt awful! I thought it was my fault that she was dehydrated because my milk hadn’t come in yet (I hadn’t yet realized that the reason she was dehydrated was because I had waited to give her formula. I was so worried about the “evils” of formula feeding that I actually jeopardized my baby’s health). Later that evening, after she’d peed and pooped, they released her, and I was given the instructions to continue to tube feed her formula until my milk came in, and to manually pump my breasts six time a day.

5 days after giving birth, I still hadn’t felt a “let down” of milk, my breasts hadn’t gotten hard like I was told they would, and I still wasn’t able to express anything.  I began drinking “mother’s milk tea”, and immediately called my doctor’s office, where they referred me to Lactation. I made the first available appointment for later that week, hoping that I wouldn’t have to go because my milk would come in, and things would progress “normally”.

On day 10 when the appointment finally arrived, my milk still hadn’t “come in”. Or so I thought. With the lactation consultant, I began pumping, and produced 1 ml of milk from each breast. What I thought was just colostrum, was in fact my milk. Apparently, I just had a low supply. She advised me to start pumping after every nursing and to take an herb called fenugreek three times a day. She told me that it takes 2-3 weeks for milk to fully come in, so it was still possible to increase my supply. Phew, I thought. I can still breastfeed! She then gave me a list of places I could rent an electric hospital pump, so my husband and I wouldn’t have to do it manually anymore.

The next day I called and rented an electric pump. Day and night I breastfed, bottle fed formula, pumped, washed and dried my pumping equipment. By the time I was done it was time to change a diaper or feed again. I was barely sleeping, so exhausted at one point that I was hallucinating people talking in my home. I cried, and cried, and cried, feeling that I was failing my daughter. After a week of this, I called Lactation again and asked if there was anything else I could do because, after all of this, I was still only getting about 5 ml of milk total. She said that there were some medications I could take, but that they rarely helped. Even so, I asked my doctor about it at my next appointment. She said that the one they prescribe most often caused depression, so she didn’t recommend it (I have a history of depression and anxiety). She then looked at me sincerely and said, “You have my permission to stop breastfeeding.” I started crying.

I finally resigned to doing both formula and breast milk, collecting enough to give my daughter a bottle of breast-milk every three days. I still felt guilty, but was finally coming to terms with the fact that exclusively breastfeeding my daughter was not an option for me. That was until I went to my WIC appointment.

Every new mother who is breastfeeding, even partially, is required to attend a new mother breastfeeding class in order to receive their WIC checks. The class, made up of women and their newborn babies, touted breastfeeding as the end-all be-all of motherhood. At the end of the class, a breastfeeding “peer counselor” came in and, one by one, asked us how breastfeeding was going. When it was my turn, I was blatantly honest, and said “it’s going horribly.” I was pressed for more information, so I told my story (a shorter version of what I’ve told here), ending in “the lactation consultant told me that there wasn’t anything else I could do and my doctor gave me permission to stop breastfeeding.” At that, the peer counselor scoffed, and said “that’s not what we like to hear. There’s always more you can do.”

After the class, she had me fill out a form for a peer counselor, rent another hospital-grade pump, and offered me more advice on how I could “try harder.” Again, I felt that sweet sting of failure, the guilt that bubbles up inside you because you can’t produce enough milk for your baby, and struggled to fight back tears. I agreed to continue “trying” by pumping and nursing. I went back to nursing, bottle feeding, pumping, and cleaning. After another week with no improvement, my husband intervened, and told me that I had to stop before I went insane. I knew he was right, but I still cried. I just couldn’t let go of the image of breastfeeding my baby. If it was so much better for the baby, like everyone said, then why would God deprive me of the ability to produce enough milk? Thoughts like this wrapped around my brain like a noose, slowly strangling me.

When the peer counselor called to check in, and I told her that my milk supply still wasn’t increasing, she suggested I take prescription medication. I told her that my doctor had advised against it, and she said that she would check with her supervisor. I don’t know what qualifications her supervisor had, but I’m almost sure it didn’t include a doctorate of medicine. Then, and only then, did I finally build up the courage to tell her I didn’t want to try any more.

In the end, I realized that it wasn’t a choice for me to formula-feed my daughter, it was a necessity. Looking back, if I had just formula-fed her to begin with she wouldn’t have had jaundice, she wouldn’t have been dehydrated, and she wouldn’t have gone to the ER during her first week of life. What was best for my daughter was not to continually berate myself for not being able to breastfeed her, not to take time away from her by pumping and cleaning, but to be present with her, to do the best thing for her – to give her formula!

I still struggle with feelings of guilt, sadness at giving up what is deemed by society to be “natural” and “healthier” for my daughter. When I go in to get my WIC checks, I grimace at the posters on the walls of the cute babies with thought bubbles saying things like “I don’t want formula; I want your breast milk, Mommy.” I can only take solace in the fact that giving my daughter formula saved her life, and probably mine as well.

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Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday: email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.
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