First, let me say what I am not. I am not a formula feeding advocate, nor am I a breastfeeding advocate. I am a feed the baby advocate. There are risks on all sides and it is in the best interest of each mother to weigh her options and to, if at all possible, attempt to breastfeed. I do not believe that formula should be a “go to” option, but I am eternally grateful that formula exists and that we didn’t have to watch our children starve to death, which would have been the alternative.
My son was “breastfed” for six weeks. He was diagnosed with failure to thrive at six weeks and we began formula feeding. He is a healthy, active 3 1/2 year old. I tried pumping, I tried everything that we deemed safe to jump start breastfeeding, and it simply didn’t work.
My daughter, who will be six months old in a few days, has been formula fed since day one. She nursed one time. And then I nearly died. I still have a very difficult time talking about this, but the gist is that my uterus tore and I was bleeding out. No one realized I was in trouble until I was in serious trouble. Even then, it took an inordinate amount of time for the nurses to be willing to call my doctor. There were attempts to put in a central line, which failed. There were numerous attempts to “figure out” which of my health complications was causing the problem: asthma, hypertension, fibroids.
At some point, it was determined that the problem had to be internal bleeding. Fortunately, my obstetrician is a supremely confident man — I remember very little, but I remember him promising me that he could fix this and I would be okay. I remember nothing else for about 48 hours.
I was intubated and on a ventilator for almost twenty-four hours. I apparently had a near heart attack in the operating room. I didn’t see my daughter for over thirty-six hours. During that time, she was fed formula as that was the only option available to her. Once I was in my room, my blood pressure alternated between crashing and rising dangerously high. They kept attempting to medicate and kept roller coastering me back and forth until it my ob stepped in and put a stop to it.
In my room in the ICU there was a breast pump, and there were super-supportive lactation consultants. Hours were spent debating medications, trying to pump, and arguing, LOUDLY, with various individuals about choices that were being made without consideration for my goal of breastfeeding my daughter. My obstetrician and the lactation consultants were strong advocates for my position, but my obstetrician also kept reminding me that ultimately the goal is both a healthy baby AND a healthy mother.
At this point, I was pumping and dumping until we started finding more and more blood in the breast milk. We all realized at that point that the blood thinners that were keeping me alive were also causing me to bleed heavily every time I pumped. Given that I already had nine units of blood transfused, my doctors decided that pumping was a supremely bad idea and I stopped.
I was released from the hospital six days after my daughter was born. I was cautioned against using my home pump until I went back into my doctor’s office two days later to allow him to review my progress and decide what I could/should do next.
The long and short of it is that we determined that it was in my best interests not to nurse based upon the amount of trauma I had sustained and the struggle we were having trying to get my blood pressure and my asthma back under control. This decision was made after lots of soul searching and discussion with my obstetrician, my primary care physician, a lactation consultant, Katie’s pediatrician and the intensivist who managed my case. And honestly, it was a relief that each one of them said, it is better for her to have you than to have breast milk. Let it go.
And to some degree, I have. I am grateful to the formula company that provided us with samples so that during those first few days at home we weren’t having to try to figure out what to use. I am grateful to my daughter’s godparents who purchased additional formula and nipples because this wasn’t the plan and we didn’t have the strength to go out shopping. I am grateful that our pediatrician has supported me every single step of the way. He is a strong supporter of breastfeeding, but he found the “rep” for the formula that we use and has procured additional “samples” for us because it is an expensive way to go and every little bit helps.
What I have trouble with is the marauding educators who feel it is their job and their responsibility to inform me that I’m not doing the best thing for my baby. I’m not talking about the people who write blogs about breastfeeding and/or actively support those who breastfeed. I am talking about those people who feel that it is their right to approach me in a store and tell me that I’m a terrible mother because I’m not breastfeeding my daughter. I’m talking about the people who make rude comments when I give my daughter a bottle. I’m talking about the person who accosted me in a store and brought me to tears because I was buying nipples for my daughter’s bottles.
I believe it is possible to support breastfeeding and breastfeeding women without making women who formula feed feel bad about themselves as women or as mothers. I think it’s a tired excuse that you should “be secure in your decision” if you’re formula feeding and shouldn’t get upset when people say negative/cruel things about people who formula feed. I think we need to stop calling names and stop using negative tactics to support breastfeeding women. Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing and women who breastfeed should be treated with respect. There should be no question that a woman who breastfeeds should be able to feed her baby wherever and whenever that baby needs to be fed. But a woman who formula feeds should not be treated badly because she formula feeds in public either.
Women should be supporting women without requiring explanations or justifications before providing that support. I should not have had to explain why I formula feed just as other should not have to explain why they breastfeed. We’re feeding our children in the best way that we can and that should be enough.