Why is it when you have a new baby one of the first questions people feel obligated to ask is “are you breastfeeding?” And by people I am not referring to your friends, family or anyone in your inner circle. It is the random people at the grocery store, target and even the familiar faces you see at church or the gym. If you say yes, the immediate reaction is a warm smile followed by praises and more unsolicited advice on the best food choices for your breastfeeding diet. Adversely if you say “no” like me, you are immediately met with a sympathetic smile, a frown, or a perplexed face in state of complete shock. As in, “why on earth wouldn’t you be nursing your child”? Before I go any further, I want to say that unless you know the woman on a personal level, do NOT ask her if she is breastfeeding. Nursing is an intimate [and for many] difficult journey that is NONE of YOUR business.
Unfortunately for me, I have been asked this more times than I can count on one hand. Instead of simply saying, “no” I always feel obliged to add “but I tried and it didn’t work” in fear of feeling judged. And the thing is I did try. I tried really freaking hard! Before Stella was born I went to the breastfeeding class, read the books, and bought all the necessary accessories to assist in making this process as seamless as possible. I was a determined expecting mom and wanted the best for my baby.
Minutes after Stella was born, I put her to my breast. She was latching like a champ and seemed to be eating fine. Maybe she was just trying to gain some comfort because that changed pretty quickly. Later that evening, Stella did not want to stay latched on. She kept coming off the breast screaming. The nurse classified her as a “lazy eater”. She did want to work for the colostrum.
So here I am at 2am with a screaming infant who wants nothing to do with me, but clearly hungry. From that point forward we supplemented with formula, I pumped and gave her whatever I produced in a bottle. This went on for two weeks. I would offer Stella the breast and when that did not work I offered her the bottle with my pumped milk. The process was feed, pump and then basically do it all over again every 2.5/3 hours. Not only was this process exhausting, but I was barely getting enough to feed her so I was doing half breastmilk/half formula. I tried everything to increase my supply. A lactation consultant came to my house a few times, I took all the pills and teas suggested to stimulate more milk production, and I power pumped every 3 hours.
Here I was, 2 weeks into motherhood spending the majority of my time sobbing through another pumping session alone in my room. The post partum hormones are enough to make a new mom a hysterical mess. Couple it with the fact that all I felt like I was doing was pumping with not much to show for it made me even more of a disaster.
In those moments I thought, “why didn’t anyone tell me it was this hard?” and what the hell was wrong with my body and me? The fact that I could not produce enough milk angered me yet at the same time I felt a flood of guilt because the thought of stopping this madness was all too tempting.
I tortured myself going back and forth trying to decide what to do. I was driving my husband, my family, and myself nuts. Ultimately I realized that breastfeeding was actually taking away from my time with Stella. Something that was supposed to bring me close to my daughter was actually standing in the way. The immense amount of stress I was putting on myself was also unnecessary and was not the type of environment I wanted for our baby girl.
I remember calling my lactation consultant, Carrie when I told her my decision to stop, I couldn’t hold back the tears. She said something that still resonates with me to this day, “Angelica, you are one of the mothers who deserves the credit. For others it comes easier but it didn’t for you, yet you still tried. Be proud of that and know your daughter will thrive on breastmilk or formula. You cannot make your body do what you want all the time, and don’t let anyone tell you anything different”. God bless this woman. Seriously. Her non-judgmental caring words provided me a comfort I so needed in that very moment. This is what new moms need, an understanding, and sympathetic voice of reason in a time where sleep deprivation makes it almost impossible to see things clearly in those first fuzzy few weeks of newborn life.
A huge weight was lifted off of me the day I put that pump away. I was able to freely enjoy that special time with Stella, which goes by so fast. She was not going to be my little newborn forever. Looking back, I have no regrets anymore about my decision to go strictly to formula. This experience taught me that the best thing you can do as a mother is trust your gut. I made the right decision for our family. If mom is not happy, no one is happy. #truth
Although the guilt eventually subsided it is still there beneath the surface. When people ask questions or make particular comments, the guilt slowly creeps back. All I can do is will it away and remind myself I know my truth. Surprisingly I am getting used the to all the remarks from random people. The other day I was in Target and an older woman commented on what a beautiful, alert and healthy looking baby I have. That would have been enough right there, but she had to get the last question in, “do you breastfeed?” For some reason I found myself responding with a blatant lie, saying “yes”. Her response, “yes, I have heard breastfed babies in particular really thrive”. Ugh…cue the eye roll. This is exactly why I subconsciously lied.
This only scratches the surface when it comes the amount of times I have dealt with remarks like this one. One woman kept telling me she is so glad she stuck with it because now nursing is such a wonderful bonding experience and there is “nothing better” than when her son looks in her eyes as he is eating. This was after I told her about my struggle… Great. Thanks for that!
The judgment will always be there, but I have learned to ignore it. My formula-fed baby IS thriving, happy and engaging. She has a special smile just for her mommy when she sees me for the first time in the morning that melts my heart into a thousand tiny pieces. I want all moms and moms to be who may face or have experienced a similar journey have confidence in their ability to choose what is best for their babies. The answer lies in their hearts. Fed really is best. And you know what? Stella still looks into my eyes when I feed her…with a bottle ;-).