Sound the alarms and alert the press! In the age of “Breast is Best,” I am going to write about why I ended up keeping my boobs to myself.
Note: I have actually found that my circle of friends and family have been incredibly supportive with my decision. And if they aren’t, they are practicing the Southern art of talking about it behind my back, which doesn’t really bother me. The reactions I get are from strangers…from people who COULD NOT TELL YOU MY NAME because they literally do not know me. I am writing this for the new momma, for the momma-to-be, for me if/when I have more children as a reminder that there is more than one way to do the damn thing.
And please don’t mistake this post as an attack on breastfeeding. In fact, the whole point of this is to try to normalize feeding babies. Did that sentence sound totally ridiculous?? Good. That is how I feel every time I hear someone make a comment about how I or other women choose to feed their families.
Prior to Jefferson making his arrival, I was pretty honest that I didn’t think I would be someone to breastfeed for long. I expected I would do it while on maternity leave, attempt pumping once I started back work, and realistically transfer to formula shortly after. I know myself well enough to know that the pumping and hauling milk everywhere I go probably would not suit me for long. I also work weddings on the weekends and the logistics of trying to keep breast milk cold in a cooler in the back of a Tahoe on a blazing hot summer day are intimidating. I understand that these are all things that women figure out on a daily basis. I’m not saying there isn’t a solution. I am saying there isn’t a solution that I am interested in.
I also thought about the possibility that I might love it. I considered how beautiful a bonding experience it could be…how I had been the only one that could carry him during pregnancy and what it might feel like to hold on to a part of that identity with breastfeeding. I assumed there might be a sense of pride involved in being able to produce food and nutrition for my baby. I have had many friends that breastfed exclusively and – even during the difficulties and trials – most of them seem to look back on that time fondly. So I was aware that there is more to breastfeeding than just feeding.
My “plan” was to give it a try in the hospital, be flexible enough to recognize when it isn’t working for me/the baby/both, and try not to beat myself up either way.
Long story short, watching my newborn son guzzle down a bottle of formula after not eating for 16 hours despite frequent attempts to get him to breastfeed made my momma ego sit down and take notice. I felt such guilt asking the nurse for the formula…in fact, I’m pretty sure I asked Bradley to push the call button and request the formula. The nurse didn’t bat an eye when I asked her if she would feed him…I could feel the guilt creeping in. It was making my face hot with shame. So, hearing her say how good he was doing with the bottle, listening to that loud burp after he ate the whole two ounces, and being handed a perfectly content baby was such a feeling of relief.
Even though I didn’t admit it out loud (or even really recognize it), I made my decision not to breastfeed as soon as she handed Jefferson back to me. I looked at that perfect baby boy that I had grown with my body. That feeling of extreme pride that I experienced after his delivery was remembered. My body had already done incredible and amazing things. It was ok if she sat this one out.
I kept saying that I might try breastfeeding once we got home. I wasn’t strong enough to tell the lactation consultants and nurses that I had made up my mind to use formula. With each visit from the consultant, I would feel that guilt creep back in. I understood where their energy was coming from. Breastfeeding is hard, there are tons of misconceptions about it being a natural process that both you and baby just know how to do, and the hospitals are trying to promote a breastfeeding friendly environment.
Unfortunately, in doing that, it feels very formula unfriendly. In fact, the nurse that fed him the first bottle was the only one that I didn’t feel any judgement or pressure from while in the hospital. My family was supportive, Bradley talked through the pros and cons with me before ultimately trusting me to make the best decision, and my baby only offered wide eyes and sweet stretches as advice. I had prepared myself to feel supported by the hospital…but that was when I thought I would be breastfeeding for at least three months. I now found myself without that support. There were no helpful brochures about using formula – which brands are recommended, signs to look for that might indicate you should switch formulas, how to navigate the 184 different types of bottles, will their poop be different, how many ounces and how often, etc. I got ZERO information about using formula from my doctors, nurses, or the hospital in general. Also absent was any information about the physical changes I would experience as a result of not breastfeeding. My milk came in the first night we were home. My boobs looked like they had tripled in size and it hurt to breathe. I knew I needed to encourage my body to stop producing milk but didn’t really know how to do it or how long it would take. I googled a ton (which is never recommended but we all do it), reached out to friends who had already been through the process, and hoped I didn’t end up septic at the hospital with mastitis. It would have been nice to have some input from the medical community – from my medical community – so that I felt more knowledgeable and prepared. There is also a different healing process when you don’t breastfeed, your hormones are different, your periods might come back sooner, etc. What I am trying to say is it would have been nice to have gotten a tri-fold brochure with a heads up about some of this stuff.
Once we got home from the hospital, it became almost instantly clear to me that formula would have probably been in my near future regardless of what happened at the hospital. I could take a three hour nap while my parents watched the baby without worry. Bradley developed his own routine with the baby when he got home from work and it wasn’t interrupted by me. When my girl friends came to visit, I got to leave the house and enjoy lunch with them. Bradley and I had a date night. All of those moments were tiny opportunities for me to focus on something other than the responsibilities of motherhood…and that was important to my emotional recovery.
I did not love being pregnant. I think that was pretty obvious. I was so excited about motherhood, about meeting our son, and about growing our family. Pregnancy was hard for me, because I felt out of control of my body. And – i if I am being honest – I desperately wanted my body back. It wasn’t about being skinny again or about looking good in a bikini. It was about being able to eat what I want, drink what I want, take lava-hot baths if I want…I wanted to be able to make decisions about my body selfishly. Recognizing that, I can see how formula makes so much sense for me. Formula allowed me to get my body back sooner.
And yes…mothers can be selfish and good mothers. I don’t buy into the mode of thinking that suggests good mothers will sacrifice every part of themselves for their children. Will I take a bullet for Jefferson? Ya dang right I will. But I will also probably need a good massage afterward because that whole thing sounds stressful.
It also gave me the freedom to leave the house when I needed a break. And I needed breaks!! There were times that Bradley came home, and I was practically running to meet him in the driveway with the baby. I would go to the gym, take a walk at Windsor Castle, and drive back roads until I could catch my breath. I would come home eager to see my family, feeling recharged. I don’t think those moments would have felt the same for me if I needed to be back by a certain time or if I had to pump while away. Again, these are things that women balance every day. But it wouldn’t have been balanced for me…breastfeeding would have always carried more weight on the scale.
Finally, the truth is that our kids are mostly fine. They are fine if we breastfeed, use formula, or use both. They are fine if we use disposable diapers or reusable. They are fine if we have them sleeping in their nursery or sleeping in our bedroom. They are fine if you use wal-mart brand bottles or if you use the fancy ones that have 15 parts to them. They are fine if the dog licks them on the face or if you don’t have any pets. They are fine. We – the adults – are the ones that are getting all worked up and worried. We put ourselves into a frenzied panic over a 0.00001% increased chance of our children having allergies if they eat food that is not organic. We convince ourselves that we are supposed to prevent our children from any and all obstacles. But maybe the truth is somewhere in between. Maybe we are meant to prevent what we can…like teaching them not to touch a hot stove or not letting someone with the plague lick their face. But I am starting to believe that I am better suited to be the parent that focuses less on preventing (especially on those things that are out of my hands) and instead focuses more on supporting my child when the times are hard…when his fever is high, when his feelings are hurt, when he loses, when he gets lost, and when he is learning how to navigate his own way in the world. Sweet Jefferson, I can’t protect you from everything. But I can teach you how to stand strong on your own and I can show you the path back home when your legs grow weak.
The important thing to remember is that this is my story. My journey is wholly unique to me and my family. The reasons why it worked for me could be the very reasons why it doesn’t work for you. I’m not telling you this because I am right. I’m telling you this so that you can be comforted in knowing that there is at least one mother out there that loves her method of motherhood even though it looks differently than others.
Picture taken by Emily Whited of Sharon Elizabeth Photography.