In the early days of Fearless Child’s life, I used to feel caught between a rock and a hard place. Or, more accurately, between a pump and a crying baby; between feeding my child, and caring for him. To keep up with his needs, I had to pump around the clock. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that my husband went back to work a week after FC was born, and we had no local family, no help. So, when I was pumping, I couldn’t hold him. I couldn’t rock him, or walk with him in the sling, or do any of the things that would soothe him when he was inconsolable. I couldn’t even feed him, because I was too busy milking myself for his next meal.
The irony wasn’t lost on me, but I continued, because…. well, we all know why. Because we’re told that providing breastmilk is the most important job a mother has. Not loving your baby, or responding sensitively to his particular needs, but simply providing milk for him. And while there’s no doubt that giving him the “ideal food” is important, when every parenting decision is an exercise in risk/benefit assessment, it’s easy to see why some of us – like Whitney, who has written this week’s FFF Friday – decide the bad is outweighing the good.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
When I was pregnant, I knew I was going to be breastfeeding my child. “Breast is best” is the slogan that a pregnant woman, and the public in general, sees everywhere. There are commercials, billboards, and internet ads dictating that breast feeding is the best choice for a growing baby. I thought that too. I knew there was no way my baby was going to touch formula. To me, formula was poison. It was what people who did not care fed their children, and I looked down on any woman who fed their child formula instead of breastmilk. It is so easy, natural, and FREE I thought. Then, I had my baby.
My daughter is perfect in every way. She was born 6 lbs and 19 inches with the tiniest mouth I had ever seen. When she opened her mouth to cry I noticed the thick attached upper frenulum, but did not think anything of it. She started breastfeeding well in the hospital, so well, in fact, that the pediatrician asked if I had other children. I felt awesome. I was rocking this breastfeeding thing. Then, we came home. Little one stopped eating. Completely. We came home at 11 am and she still refused to latch on until the following day when my mom ran out and bought me some nipple covers. She was able to latch a little better, but only for about 5-8 minutes, and then she was done. Then we would spend the next hour with her crying and me crying and frustrated trying to get enough milk in my daughter. We would take an hour break, and then we would start again. I went to a lactation consultant and she said that it possibly could be due to the frenulum attachment. I asked the pediatrician about cutting it, but she wanted to wait and see if it detaches on its own. Eight weeks this went by, and I was exhausted. I was angry at my baby. Why couldn’t she do this? Why did this have to be such a struggle. I envied the mothers posting happy breastfeeding pictures online, while I lived on the couch, an hour of feeding, an hour break. Every day. Something had to change, but I didn’t want to.
I started to exclusively pump and bottlefeed. I had bought widenecked bottles for Avie before she was born since they were supposed to be easier for breastfeeding infants. Of course, she could not use them at all, and I had to go out and buy standard sizes. At this time, I was also worried about having enough milk once she started daycare (more on that later). I started pumping and freezing, and gave her formula occasionally. This was such a hard decision, but I wanted her to get some sort of breastmilk as long as possible, and I did not make enough to feed her and store extra. I had no clue about what formulas to try, or even how to prepare it, but through reading blogs and trial and error we learned. I felt like a failure. I had a friend, who does not have kids, tell me, “oh my sister had a hard time too, she had to use covers, her nipples were bleeding and cracked too, ect ect,” and she gave me “the look.” We all know what the look is. The automatic judgement look of ”I cannot believe that women is feeding formula to her baby! She is so lazy, and her baby is going to suffer for it.” My friend had no idea what my struggle was and how it affected me and my child. I could care less about how breastfeeding was painful, but I did care that my baby wasn’t eating. No one is going to completely understand how difficult it is for you, except you. What we should have, though, is empathy. From that point on, I internalized my feeding struggle. I was embarassed and did not want anyone to know my child had formula. However, things were better for my baby and me.
Once I started work, things changed. I have a job in which I work out of the car. I am a home health pediatric therapist and spend 30 to 45 minutes at a patients home, and then I drive 30 minutes to the next patient. It takes me an hour and a half in the morning from the time I leave my home, take my daughter to daycare, and then arrive at my first patients house. Then, I have 5-7 patients a day, driving over 100 miles, with my furthest patient being 50 minutes from my house in no traffic. Needless to say, it was hard trying to find time to pump. Usually it would be 5 hours between my morning pump and my next available time to pump. I pumped in the car on a daily basis. I even pumped while driving. I don’t recommend. I would massage myself if I could not pump, until I felt the let down. I took Fenugreek capsules, up to 10-12 of them a day. I did everything I could to keep milk production up. Since my job does not involve being in an office, my company does not have to go along with the guideline of Obamacare stating that a breastfeeding mom should be provided with a room with a sink and adequate time to pump. In fact, my company did not care when I told them I needed time to pump in the car. Instead, they told me I needed more numbers, and said I needed to start seeing two patients that were an hour away from the patient that was right before them. I broke down and told them no. The alternative was for me to drive around with the just out of college male office recruiter. Yes, because I was really going to be able to pump that way. I felt like all they cared about was making money off me while sending me driving around unsafely trying to pump every free chance I had. I wonder how a company specializing in pediatrics can treat their breastfeeding mothers this way, but I have digressed. Needless to say, my milk production declined, and my stress about it rose.
When Avie was 6 months old, I had to undergo a minor surgery to inject cortisone and hyaluronic acid into my hip. I have avascular necrosis which is too far along for surgery, so this is my only option until I get a hip replacement. At 27 years old, I want to wait as long as possible. I did not realize that cortisone could decrease milk production. After the injection, I got 2 ounces out the rest of the day. I spent the next 3 days (it was a long weekend), pumping for 30 minutes every hour and a half except 6 hours at night until I brought my production up to 12 ounces a day. I was even more stressed about pumping as often as possible to maintain this production. A month later, I had a cortisone injection in my knee for the same complication as my hip. I had to go through the whole pumping for 30 minutes every hour and a half for three days situation again. I wish I was exaggerating. But, I am not. This time my production went up to 6 ounces a day. You may wonder why I would have gone through with another injection after the results of the first one. Well, I had hip surgery 4 years ago that never fully resolved. I always had some degree of pain. In the 9 months prior to my injection, I was unable to walk without severe pain. I was unable to go up stairs or even the slightest incline. I could not take a single running step on my left leg, could not hop, and could not bear weight on just that leg. I walked via a step to pattern. This is not an option for a pediatric physical therapist, and I could not tolerate it any longer. Now my pain has decreased immensely and I am so grateful for my doctor. I feel like I am trying to justify my decision to put my health needs over my babies breastmilk needs for all those women out there who refuse to acknowledge that formula may be a better option for certain women. I, nor any other woman, should have to feel this way, but so many of us do.
During this time, I started losing weight. I gained 24 lbs when I was pregnant. I went from 106 to 130. When my daughter was at 5-6 months I went down to pre pregnancy weight. Then, two months later I had lost 13 more pounds. I weighed 92.8 pounds. I had not changed my eating habits, albeit they were not the greatest. Since I don’t get a lunch break and I was pumping during free time, my lunch consisted of snacks in the car. The stress of trying to pump as much as I could, yet only getting .5 to 1 ounce every 30 minutes I pumped was taking its tole. There is another slogan. “Every ounce counts”. When it takes you 30 minutes to make that ounce, 30 minutes that you could spend time with your child, or get work done, or just relax, I promise you, that ounce does not count. I had to do something. So, when my daughter was 9 months old, I had to quit.
Quitting pumping was one of the hardest decisions I have made. My mother, a pediatrician, was pressuring me to continue pumping even though I made so little. I felt like a failure when I stopped and I felt ashamed. I still am a bit ashamed, but I should not be. I live in a predominately white, middle to upper class, bubble of a city. A majority of the moms around me stay at home. I can feel the judging when I take out a water bottle and formula mix versus a boob when I am at a restaurant. I can see the judging on the face of others when they ask if my daughter is breastfeeding. Apparently, that is a common topic among mothers. I know there will be plenty of people out there who probably think I did not try hard enough or think they would have kept going no matter what in my situation. If I did not go through this, I would probably be that arrogant too. Here I go again, trying to justify my decision for a group of women who no matter what the circumstance, believe that formula should never be given. (Yes, I read too many blogs where these women come out of the woodwork). They have no idea how hard I tried to give my daughter milk; how much my health and relationship with my child was sacrificed. But you know what? In the long run breastmilk vs formula does not matter. No one is going to care that my daughter received formula when she is entering kindergarten ( and if they do care, they have issues of their own). My daughter is happy. She is healthy. I am happy; the happiest I have been since my daughter’s birth. In the month since I stopped, I have gained two pounds and I get to actually spend time loving on my child when I get home from work instead of fret while pumping.
I wish judgement of moms by other moms and women would come to an end. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see. All moms supporting each other instead of trying to prove they are better than each other. If you choose to breastfeed: Great. If you choose to use formula from day one: Great. If you choose to breastfeed and it does not work and you try formula: Wonderful. You have chosen what is best for your family, and no one should make you feel less because of it. I am sick of the breastfeeding campaign throwing stats down our throat, and people interpreting it to be if a child is not breastfed he or she will be dumb and sickly. That is just not true. I do not want anyone to have to go through the struggle and the feelings of inadequacy that I went through. My child is being fed, I love her, and she loves me. She is a happy, healthy 10 month old, and an incredible miracle. That, above all else, is what is most important.
Feel like sharing your story? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org