My breasts, my sanity, MY CHOICE

Yesterday afternoon, the tweet you see to your left was sent out by a friend of mine. Of course I clicked. Then I waited for my phone to fully load the page. Once it loaded, I scrolled through the article. With each new point, my rage increased. Not until the end of the article did the author even begin to show a shred of compassion for mothers who rely upon formula in medically necessary situations. Even then her compassion was thin and failed to mention mothers struggling with postpartum depression. A few back and forths about the article then Karen Kleiman posted a rebuttal. So did Ivy Shih Leung over at Ivy’s PPD Blog.

And now? I give you mine.

My mother nursed my brothers and I for 18 months each. Or that’s what I’ve been told. I’m sticking to it. I grew up thinking breastfeeding was normal. I grew up used to seeing my mother nurse my brothers. It was how they were fed. It wasn’t weird. Or strange. I wasn’t scarred by the experience. I was six years old when my youngest brother stopped nursing. Closer to seven, actually.

When pregnant with my first child, I knew I would nurse. Because breastfeeding is how babies eat. She, however, had other plans that first day. Not interested in the boob. Didn’t eat at all in the hospital. We were sent home with barely any instruction but by god, they sent a bag with free formula samples. Which I used when she was screaming at 10pm that night and I couldn’t get her to latch. We used three of those samples the first night. I woke up the following morning determined to make breastfeeding work. For us, it did. She latched and we didn’t look back for 16 months when she finally weaned. Breastfeeding was the ONLY thing I did right with her in those early days. I failed at everything else. I couldn’t handle her screaming. She nursed for an hour every two hours so I stayed on the couch. No outside support. I was modest, didn’t want to nurse in public, etc. Quick trips in between nursings became the norm for us. At three months postpartum, my doctor asked me how important breastfeeding was to me as my daughter screamed in her carseat next to me. Seriously? I left his office even more defeated than when I walked in. I left with no help. Clearly I had to do this on my own. She thrived, I broke down.

My breakdown continued into my second pregnancy, leading to an early delivery. Our second daughter was born with a cleft palate. Once again, I expected to give birth, nurse, and go home. I had higher hopes for starting nursing this time. Instead, later that evening, I was trained in how to use a Medela Symphony and clutched cold hard horns to my poor not yet full breasts. No one explained colostrum’s small production to me and the nurse even laughed at what I got that first try. Again, I was defeated. My biggest moment of defeat? When the nurse asked me what kind of formula I wanted our daughter to have.

“But, but.. I’m going to nurse her. She’s getting breastmilk.” I stammered.

“Honey, until your milk comes in completely, she needs to eat. What kind of formula? We have Enfamil or Similac.” the nurse stated.

“Enfamil.” I sighed and cried when she left.

And that was just the first day.

Let’s visit the day I was in the pumping room at the NICU and my daughter’s nurse started a feed with FORMULA just minutes before I exited with well over 8 ounces of fresh Mama milk. I made her stop the feed, dump the formula, and start a new one with my milk. Oh hell yes I did. Or what about the day of her G-tube and ear tube surgery when the nurses spilled 5 oz of her milk as they tried to get the Kangaroo pump to work? I was not nice.

At the same time though, I had to be okay with my daughter getting formula in those early days. Yes, I thought formula was evil. But when I couldn’t be there or have enough stored breastmilk at the NICU, if my daughter didn’t receive formula, she would have DIED. We had a toddler at home. The NICU was over an hour away. I couldn’t be there 24/7. So formula had to be okay. It wasn’t evil. It wasn’t non-nutritious. It was saving my daughter’s life. I needed to not feel guilty about what my daughter received. I needed to not think about how it was changing her gut flora. I needed to not be judged because damn it, I was trying as hard as I could but the pump only removes so much milk. I pumped around the clock – every three hours except for a luxurious 5 hour stretch in the wee hours of the morning when I let myself SLEEP. Sure, I could have stayed awake around the clock and made more to avoid the evil formula but again, I had a toddler. One needs sleep when attempting to care for a toddler. Or they win. Everything. And that, people, can get ugly fast.

I pumped exclusively for our second daughter for seven long months. During those seven months, I was hospitalized in an Acute Flight risk Mixed-Gender ward. I pumped every three hours there too. Pumping fed into my OCD. Clean, sanitize, run the kangaroo pump, pump, repeat. Every three hours. On top of caring for a toddler. On top of a husband working 70+ hours in the restaurant industry. On top of two dogs who ALWAYS waited to need to go outside until right after my let down whilst pumping and usually had an accident in the house. I made peace with a lot of things – lowered my standards for a lot of stuff. Because my daughter needed my breastmilk. I threw myself down the rabbit hole and wallowed there. I resented her. I hated her for what I had to do.

At seven months, I stopped. For my sanity, for my relationship with my family, for my daughter. We weren’t bonding. I was going crazy. When it’s a question of my sanity vs. breastmilk? My sanity will ALWAYS win. I cried when I bought formula. Expected to be judged and would have had a serious conversation with the person judging me. Possibly would have offered to invite them to my home to see just what it was I dealt with on a daily basis.

As I stated in Don’t Judge me, the manner in which baby is fed doesn’t matter. As long as everyone is thriving, that’s all that matters. Yes, we should be educated. But education does not have to come in a harsh form as it does in the “Pushing Formula is EVIL” article. State the facts. Be honest. Forthright. Respectful. Don’t make me feel guilty for my choices. If you have to preface an article with the following:

NOTE TO MOMS: Don’t read this if you are feeling vulnerable, guilty or overstressed. NOTE TO ALL: I’m not a therapist but a researcher in child development.”

Chances are you shouldn’t be writing it. I preface things with “vulnerable” here. But never with guilty or overstressed. And based on the article, it’s clear the author isn’t a therapist. If she were a therapist, she would have been far more compassionate and understanding. If she had read recent research stating “Postpartum Depression and difficulty Breastfeeding often go hand in hand” she may have been more compassionate.

Depressed moms may use formula more often than other moms. Breastfeeding is tough for us. We struggle with touch. We struggle with throwing ourselves under the bus because quite frankly, we already feel run over by the damn bus.

Motherhood is about making the right choice for our family. Not making the right choice for someone else’s family. Not about judging others for their decisions. Not about filling people’s heads with unresearched facts in a demeaning manner.

For the record? My daughter is extremely bright. She tested almost off the charts in verbal comprehension at four. So did her sister.

When their brother was born, he nursed like a champ. But then I had emotional crisis at 3 months. My medication combined with my stress killed my supply. He was diagnosed as failure to thrive at six months having gained only four pounds since birth. The pediatrician suggested I pump. I knew where that road led. I closed the milk factory and he switched to formula in just two days. He gained weight, I was less stressed, and we thrived.

Formula worked for my family. It wasn’t evil. No one pushed it on us. I made educated decisions to use it. It saved my second daughter’s life. It saved my son’s life. It saved MY life. The author states that if one cannot breastfeed, a wet-nurse or milk from a milk bank is an acceptable substitute. I agree. But at the time, I couldn’t even get my insurance company to pay for what I felt was a “medically necessary” hospital grade pump. How on EARTH would I get coverage for milk-bank breastmilk?

Don’t ever tell me Formula is evil. It saves lives. The end.

My breasts, my sanity, MY CHOICE.

BOOM.

0 thoughts on “My breasts, my sanity, MY CHOICE

  1. Erin (@ErinInFL)

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. People need to be WAY more open minded and WAY less judgemental. I had a breast-feeding Nazi pretty much call me a liar because I challenged her myths like nipple confusion with MY OWN EXPERIENCE. She could NOT comprehend that even though I gave my daughter formula in the first few days, it did NOT affect my supply AT ALL. And thatwas just the tip ofthe iceberg. Many of the myths have been disproved and people like her DISCOURAGE instead of ENCOURAGE. It makes me so mad.

  2. jbcarney (@jbcarney)

    Yep. Exactly. The hospitals where my sons were born were far more supportive of breastfeeding as were my doctors -but that didn’t solve our problems. After my second son, it came down to a choice between treating my PPD/PTSD or continuing with pumping. He never did learn to latch correctly – and after his 28 day stay in the NICU, my nipples were raw from pumping. So it hurt. We went with formula from about 2-3 months on. It’s not what I wanted. But it was what we needed. I wrote about this too recently – http://restlessagitatedcombative.blogspot.com/2011/07/crying-over-spilled-milk.html.

  3. Marcie

    Wow, Lauren…it’s so interesting that you posted this today. The night before last I had a long facebook conversation with a mom about the whole pushing formula thing. You and I are sooo on the same page about this.

  4. Tracie

    Amen amen amen!!

    I can not say enough how much I agree with this!! I breastfed exclusively until my daughter turned 12 months old. I did never experienced special bonding from it, but I felt guilty even thinking about stopping. I had postpartum depression, but did not have insurance – therefore, no treatment, medication, therapy, or help. If I could go back, I would use formula. I firmly believe the breastfeeding exasperated the ppd.

  5. Heather

    Oh, wow. So glad you wrote this. People need to be educated about how difficult breastfeeding can be for some moms in some situations. I went into it thinking it would come naturally, & boy was I in for a surprise. And postpartum depression sure didn’t help the situation. Thank you for writing this, because it really reinforces that I’m not the only one. We all make the choices that are best for our baby (/babies) and our family.

  6. ivyshihleung

    Such an EXCELLENT post, Lauren. Thank you for sharing your experience with breastfeeding and formula. Breastfeeding is a mother’s choice, which also depends on circumstances out of our control. Her rigid preachings clearly demonstrate how little she knows about how hard it can be to breastfeed and the complications that can prevent a mom’s being able to breastfeed as desired. Let’s see if Dr. Narvaez’s post stays up, given all the backlash in the past 24 hrs. She should not have written an article she was clearly not qualified to write about.

  7. Sandy

    Brilliant post! I managed to breastfeed for 13, but like Tracy I didn’t enjoy it and felt I owed it to my daughter-and I was formula fed so had never thought of it as second best before becoming a mom. I’m thrilled to hear so many of you are publicly discounting that ridiculous (and dangerous) article.

  8. Susan

    Thank you so much for writing what I could not. I couldn’t get past my anger enough to put together a coherent rebuttal. What struck me in the article was the misinformation and generalizations.

    My daughter was formula fed after three months of torture. I tried everything but between her dairy and soy allergy, latching problems, and my constant mastitis, we were all miserable. The author made it sound like no matter what, there’s always something else to try…that breastfeeding is worth ANY sacrifice.

    I now have a very intelligent 2 year old who can count to 25 and recites dozens of books from memory. She’s well bonded to me and oh by the way, has had one ear infection in 32 months of life.

    Sometimes formula is absolutely the right choice for a family. I hate to think of the impact the article might have on a fragile mama who is struggling with how to feed her baby. Irresponsible writing can be dangerous.

  9. nickelbeck

    I was not able to breastfeed because of a breast reduction surgery I had years before. Not only was did I feel like a horrible mommy, but the lactation consultant didn’t help. I now have a friend who is constantly bashing formula or bottle feeding, and it infuriates me. Sometimes women can’t breastfeed, and sometimes they can’t for emotional reasons. Instead of fighting each other on the issues, we should support one another!

  10. Darcy

    You are right – people must do what works for them and keeps mom and baby healthy.

    Personally, my real issue is about lack of support and education to assist moms interested in, thinking about, or who really don’t know much about breastfeeding. Making an informed choice and having resources available for whatever choice is made .. is what I want to see.

    I did supplement with some formula in the beginning. My daughter was offered a paci early.. gotta do what works.

  11. juliepippert

    I was oh-so-very fortunate to live in a great town with a great community in the great commonwealth of Massachusetts when I had my first. They offer year long maternity support, including home visits from lactation consultants. The first six months our group met weekly on Tuesdays, the second six months on Wednesdays. The group was lead by lovely nurses who were sort of Mrs. Garrett (Facts of Life) meets Ouiser Boudreaux (Steel Magnolias) meets Nurse. I think they staved off PPD in the vast majority of us, and quickly leapt to help those who had PPD, resulting in a largely happy and well-supported group of first time mothers. Never mind we were remarkably diverse, with very different ideas of how to be a good parent. The first nurse quickly put all of that in perspective and set the tone for mutual respect, “You go look at a group of kids on a playground at a school. Now you tell me which were bottlefed or breastfed.”

    And there you go.

    They gave us understanding and appreciation of the well-thought through way each parent arrives at her choices, on top of that support. We got a community and an outlet that brought each of us out when we needed to. I lost that when my second came and it was clear. Not only do I think this should be there for all moms for supportive reasons, but it should be there so we can see that regardless of choice, we love our babies and do our best for them and that’s what matters.

  12. Fearless Formula Feeder

    So glad you posted about this. Lauren. I wrote something about it too, but it wasn’t as much as rebuttal as some ammunition for people trying to counter these attacks online (there was a similar one on Huffington Post recently, too).

    As I *think* you know, I run a blog about this exact issue, and one of my “pet” subjects is the link between PPD and breastfeeding/formula feeding. My depression was really intertwined with my struggles breastfeeding, and nothing makes me madder than studies which claim a link between formula and PPD, b/c this is so clearly a case of causation. I realize that for some women, breastfeeding is a lifeline – but that does not negate the fact that messages like “breastfeeding is the MOST IMPORTANT THING you can do for your baby!!” don’t permeate our psyches, and that the ridiculously misunderstood/overrated “risks” to formula feeding don’t make us fear for our babies’ lives and make us feel that if we fail to nurse, we are failing in yet another way.

    The postpartum period is hard enough without putting this sort of pressure on women, for something that, while certainly a healthy and advantageous choice for many, is also not a panacea for the world’s ills. Women like this Dar-whatever-her-name-is are an insult to our gender.

    FWIW, I think some of the women who frequent my blog are contacting PT and demanding action…

  13. Teri

    I’m one of the people FFF mentioned who’s trying to get something done about this “researcher.” Not just at Psychology Today, but at Notre Dame University, where she’s an associate professor of psychology and head of some kind of ethical education initiative. (Mind-boggling, I know.) Here’s the contact info for the editor-in-chief at Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/kaja-perina and here’s the contact info for head of the psychology department at Notre Dame: Dr. Daniel Lapsley, (574) 631-6650 (U.S. #) or lapsley.2@nd.edu . Thus far, haven’t heard back from either. By the end of this week I plan to make some phone calls. (212) 260 7210 is PT’s main number. Jo Colman is the CEO of PT, his # is (646) 600-9151 (again, U.S. #) and you can send him an email here: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/email_prof.php?profid=34087 .

    I think it’s important for every person who has been upset by this article to go beyond talking about it among ourselves. Dr. Narvaez is a published Ph.D. and it seems likely that she will go on to take her biases into her research–her responses to the complaints following her tripe are a pretty clear indicator. Already, flawed, biased research is wrongly used to bully, harm, and denigrate formula feeding parents, so the public in general has a right to take a stand for better science. The punishment of formula-feeding parents may only get worse, such as being extended into legal or financial punishment–some lactivists make no bones about the fact that they consider formula feeding child abuse, and would like to see high taxes on prescription-only formula. Some of these folks may have the power to set policies and government mandates. Someone like Dr. Narvaez needs her peers to take a closer look at her research to ensure that it is on the up-and-up; perhaps they can also remind her about some of the fundamentals of being a human being, much less of the field of psychology and good research.

    1. Lauren Hale

      Thank you so very much for sharing this information. Today, I’m going to include it in a blog post encouraging others to contact Psychology Today in an effort to get this article removed. Thank you!

  14. Tshaka Armstrong (@tshaka_zulu)

    Brilliant, heartfelt post! I’m sorry that people, especially those who would call themselves Psychologists are allowed to write things which have the power to hurt so many instead of help heal. With one of our children, my wife had trouble getting them to latch so we went formula at first until the baby latched and I defy anyone to attempt to make my wife (or myself) feel guilty for it or hint that she’s a less than stellar mother!

    This isn’t the first time PT has posted something ludicrous though. A few weeks ago, it was an article by a Japanese “researcher” suggesting that black women are the least attractive of all ethnicities based on his very abstract research… yes! That was published.

    I’ll see if I can’t rally some dad support for this over at DadsTalking.

    1. Lauren Hale

      Thanks for reading, commenting, and rallying support over at DadsTalking. Breastfeeding support really begins at home with your spouse. Regardless of the chosen feeding method, dads support is beyond compare and so very important.

      And UGH to the article you mentioned – just UGH. We are all made in God’s image and we are all therefore beautiful in His eyes. Nothing else matters. We are ALL beautiful.

  15. Annie @ PhD in Parenting

    I think that the tone she used in her article, the way she expressed herself, and her choice of words was HORRIBLE.

    I do think, however, that there is a big difference between:

    - Pushing formula is EVIL;
    - Formula is EVIL; and,
    - Moms who use formula are EVIL.

    The first statement, I would agree with. The other two, I would not.

    I do think that it is evil to try to convince mothers who want to breastfeed that they are inadequate, that their milk is inadequate, that they are likely to fail, that breastfeeding is gross, that breastfeeding is inconvenient, that weaning is necessary when [fill in the blank].

    Compassion is necessary and I will never judge a mother for making the decision (out of preference or necessity) to use formula. I will, however, harshly judge the formula marketing executives and those that they work with (publications, health professionals, etc.) who use unethical means to convince moms to try formula. I trust mothers. I do not trust profit-driven marketing executives.

    1. Lauren Hale

      I agree with you, Annie, whole-heartedly. It’s truly the tone and the way she expressed herself which is enraging. I also am enraged when mothers fall into “booby-traps” and are pushed toward formula through the belief of horribly inadequacies. It causes so much more pain and frustration for mothers .. and for what? So the formula industry can profit? I used formula because I had no other choice. Was I comfortable doing so? Not really. Do I regret it? Hell no because it saved my children’s lives. I worked with IBCLC’s and actually had one who would save all the formula samples for our second daughter once we switched her over to full formula. I trained and received my certification as a CLC after she stopped nursing so I could help educate other cleft mamas about how to nurse with a cleft (which IS possible in some cases with the right support and accessories – something I didn’t know until it was too late.)

      I’m 100% for educating mamas to make their own decisions instead of herding them down a path full of guilt and frustration in order to make money. There is no greater wrong done to mothers than those who seek to make a profit from fear. None.

  16. Judy Schwartz Haley

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer while I was breast feeding. Since that diagnosis, I have met a number of other young women who had breast cancer before they gave birth to or adopted their babies, and other women who also had to emergency wean from breast feeding in order to have a mastectomy.

    People judge without considering the very wide array of circumstances that might have led to a decision on how to feed their baby. it’s cruel.

  17. Pingback: Thanks for Throwing Fuel on the Breastfeeding/Formula Feeding Fire | PhD in Parenting

  18. Natasha

    Thank you for writing this. I gan to give up breastfeeding my first after only a day because I was seriously ill with Postpartum Psychosis, although I did not know that is what was happening at the time.

    I decided not to breastfeed second child because I did not want them receiving traces of the preventative antipsychotics I had to take to keep me well. People assume a mother should come off all her normal medication to breastfeed but had I not taken those drugs, I would have been back in hospital with a psychosis. There’s certainly a lot more to the choices women make to not breastfeed.

  19. Karin

    As a lactivist (not to be confused with breastfeeding nazi) I do everything I can to support mothers, help to change laws to protect women and babies, and their breastfeeding relationships. However, like all relationships to work, both sides have to be happy with it. The main thing is Feed. The. Baby!

    I am a natural birth advocate too, and had 2 of my 4 kiddos painmed free. My 4th, however, as much as I educated myself, prepared, selected awesome HCPs, after a 44.5hours pain medfree labor, I chose (important point so I ll write it again) I clearheadedly chose a c-sec. It wasn’t emergent or medically needed, but it was psychologically necessary as I knew that if I didn’t birth soon, I would loathe my baby. It was a great birth, and no bonding issues and I am NOT sorry for my choice. I gave birth.

    I tend to look hippie earth mamma-ish, and I’m sure people assume that as I’m nursing my daughter that she was born at home in water with Enya playing softly in the candlelit background and people give me kuddos for breastfeeding her, and snub the lady next to me bottle-nursing her son. Eh, whatevs, *she* is the one to get kuddos for pumping for her preemie son, loosing her apartment to stay in the NICU with him, not getting any public assisstance because she made $5 over the limit at her crappy no benefits waitressing job, then having to go back to the same crappy job 2 weeks after her son was released home. All because the maternity leave in this country is abhorrant, and if she could eek out pumping time in the ladies bathroom at work that time isn’t paid, nor protected at this 8 employee restaurant. So that formula is lifesaving. The. Baby. Is. Getting. Fed.

    Spouting judgey mcjudgerson regurgitated “facts” like Ms. Hoity Toity Psych Lady just makes us look like Westboro Baptist imbicilic lunatics.

Leave a Reply