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.
This week’s FFF Friday comes from Robyn, a mother who speaks about how breastfeeding pressure has affected the adoption community.
I’ve thought quite a lot about how this debate ignores the experiences of many groups – tube feeders, fathers, male/male couples, etc. Obviously, adoptive moms are on that list, but as Robyn explains, the pressure to breastfeed has become so strong in that community that I end up lumping them in with non-adoptive mothers. Adoption is no longer considered a valid “excuse” for formula feeding, so adoptive moms are expected to induce lactation – a process which is not always successful, or desired. But I’d never thought about how this pressure, and an inability or disinterest in inducing lactation, might hurt an adoptive mother in so many additional ways. I’m really appreciative of Robyn’s essay, for that reason, and for many more.
Happy Friday, fearless ones – no matter how you became a parent. Giving birth is not what makes you a mom, and neither is feeding a child from your breast. And I’d question the emotional intelligence of anyone who says otherwise.
I was born in 1975, my sister in 1977. Growing up, I was the smart one, she was the pretty one. I taught myself to read at age 4, and by third grade, I was reading at an 8th grade level. I was also fat – 70 pounds at age 5. My sister was skinny and beautiful. She was also never any good at school. I graduated with honors from a top private university in the US. She ended up taking 6 or 7 years to graduate from a mediocre state school. (Although, to her credit, she did get a degree. Oh, and I got my weight under control.)
Which one of us was breastfed? Which one was formula fed?
You don’t know, do you? You think, “Formula-fed babies are supposed to be fatter and dumber; breastfed babies are supposed to be skinnier and smarter. Here, you have one fat, smart kid and one skinny, dumb kid. How is this possible?!?”
To end the suspense, I was formula fed and my sister was breastfed.
I believe I was in college when “they” came out with a study indicating that children who were breastfed were smarter than children who were formula fed. I remember reading the newspaper (we still had those back then) and thinking, “What a crock!” Even to my English major, “I was told there would be no math” brain, it seemed that any study that compared breast feeding to formula feeding was doomed to fail, because there are so many other factors in a baby’s life. Socioeconomic status, genetics, underlying medical conditions, what the mother did during pregnancy, premature v. full term, vaccinated v. unvaccinated, only child v. child with siblings, daycare v. at home with parent, … the list goes on and on.
In 2004, a good friend of mine had a baby – the first good friend of mine to do so. She was (and still is) a breastfeeding advocate. I came to visit her, to help out with whatever she needed. She was feeding the baby every 20-40 minutes. Her partner came home, held the baby for a few minutes, but then she wanted to eat again. He handed her over, and went to play video games. They agreed that it was more difficult for him to bond with the baby because she was, for all intents and purposes, attached to mom.
As for my own path to motherhood, I always wanted to adopt. I never wanted to be pregnant. I never felt the need to pass down my genes. That was a good thing, because I ended up with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which is most easily described as permanent nerve damage in my knee. Not much is known about CRPS and pregnancy, probably because people with CRPS are in too much pain to have sex. I have been on a number of medications, none of which are recommended during pregnancy. One of the ones that ended up working for me is known to cause problems for developing fetuses. Another is an unknown entity. Pregnancy is not a good idea.
So, adoption. Obviously, I would formula feed. But wait! Apparently, a person can induce lactation, even if she has never lactated before. I had no interest in doing this. The same medication that’s not safe for pregnancy is also not safe for nursing mothers. But moreover, I personally saw the downsides to breastfeeding. Dad doesn’t get the bonding time. Mom is attached 24/7. As for the supposed benefits, I agree, if you’re in a developing nation without access to clean water, “breast is best.” But, here in the US, formula is just as safe as breastmilk. As I learned more about “green parenting” and found out how much we’re poisoning ourselves with our processed food and over-scented bath and body products, I realized that everything a woman ingests or wears ends up in breastmilk anyway.
We chose formula for our son. He started talking at 9 months, and was speaking in full sentences by 18 months. He met all of his cognitive milestones before he was supposed to. He was – and is – incredibly smart. I attribute that to a combination of genes (his birthmom is no slouch in the brains department) and environment (my husband and I aren’t so bad ourselves). He also had no trouble bonding with his dad and me, and remains a sweet, affectionate boy.
When my son was born in 2006, adoptive breastfeeding wasn’t discussed much. Fast forward to 2011, when we were in the process of adopting a daughter. Adoptive breastfeeding hit in a big way. At this point, there are support groups for it, magazine articles devoted to it, I think there’s even a book about it. If you can’t lactate, then you’re urged to get donor milk. Nevermind that donor milk isn’t screened, and even if you’re getting the milk from a friend, you don’t have any control over what goes into the finished product. There was a woman on a support group, her religion prevented her from breastfeeding a child who wasn’t related to her, and, thus, from using donor milk, so she was seeking camel’s milk, because she heard it was the closest to breastmilk.
Camel’s milk. This is the extent to which some people will go to avoid the “toxins” in formula.
There has become a subtle, but distinct, pressure in the adoption community to breastfeed your child if you are at all able. There are the insinuations that bonding will be better and easier if you do so, or the flat out statements that you will not bond properly with your child without that connection. If you don’t breastfeed, use donor milk and an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System), for skin to skin contact that is “crucial for adopted babies.” Now, when people ask about brands of formula, they get lectured on the benefits of induced lactation and breastfeeding.
I’m an anomaly. I never wanted biological children. But many adoptive moms did. They wanted to experience pregnancy, and their bodies would not allow them to. If you spend anytime in the adoption community, you’ll see the posts from people who talk about their bodies failing them, how they felt – or still feel – like failures. It’s heartbreaking. And now, with this mounting pressure to induce lactation and breastfeed, there’s a whole other way for women to feel guilty, to feel that their bodies have failed them again.
Adoptive mothers are already subject to added scrutiny. In addition to the invasive, yet necessary, home study process, the people in our lives want to know every last detail about why we’re adopting, why our kids’ birthmothers “didn’t want them,” what about their birth fathers, how can we possibly stand open adoptions… everything we do is under a microscope. Now, if we don’t breastfeed, we’re somehow denying our children something vital and setting them up for attachment issues, poor school performance, and God knows what else.
As a mom to two children through adoption, I can tell you: Bonding and attachment are absolutely possible when you formula feed. My husband got the chance to bond through feeding too, and I got more sleep, which is incredibly important when dealing with babies. Your child will not be at a disadvantage to her peers if she is formula fed. Looking at my son’s Kindergarten class, I know I couldn’t tell who was breast fed and who was formula fed. Even in my daughter’s preschool class, what is evident is how much the children’s parents love and care for them, not how they were fed as infants.
Feel like sharing your story? Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.