Sore Spots

It’s spring. Love is in the air. So, it must be time for . . .

the latest throw down in the breast vs. bottle wars. There are some great pieces about this, um, yeah. See, here’s the first problem. If I call it a controversy, someone’s going to yell at me because breastfeeding is natural and utterly not controversial. If I call it a discussion, someone, somewhere will say I’m not taking it seriously. If I call it a war, well, yeah, that’s probably the best word for it because it is polarizing. People feel really strongly about what’s appropriate and what’s not and harsh words end up getting spoken.

Here’s the thing. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs to take a chill pill. First up, the formula feeders (or former formula feeders): relax. Not every post, tweet, or comment about breastfeeding is a slam on you. If someone makes an “I” statement, it’s about them, not about you. If someone is talking about an “ideal” that’s all it is, an ideal. It doesn’t mean that everyone can live up to the ideal — hell, most people can’t (this is why you’ll find homemade chicken nuggets on my menu more frequently than I like to admit, but hey, they’re homemade, right?)

Next, the breastfeeders: congratulations on feeding your babies. Great work! Now, please take a deep breath and remember, it’s not rocket science. You haven’t invented cold fusion; you’ve fed your baby. This does not now entitle you to tell anyone what they should be doing or how they should be doing it. Is breast best? In an ideal world, yes. Do we all live in an ideal world? No.

Let’s think about a couple of points that keep getting pounded on by lactivists: 1) There are only a few, rare women who can’t breastfeed; and 2) Your body gave birth, it’s a miraculous thing, so it can feed your child.

Having watched these posts explode with comments from women who couldn’t breastfeed? I think the few and rare is not as few and rare as we’ve been led to believe. And it is NOT HELPFUL to tell someone that she “could have done it” with proper support or whatever. Because that? Creates a sense of failure and guilt. And why, for the love of God, would anyone want to create more guilt in a profession that already corners the market on guilt (especially since it’s quite clear that all of my understanding of Roman Catholic guilt was *way* out of proportion with reality). Also, it’s frankly none of your business why someone couldn’t/isn’t breastfeeding.

It’s nothing short of rude to tell someone that if they had a baby then they should be able to breastfeed. I’m sorry, because I know this is the conventional wisdom, but it’s wrong. It’s as wrong as saying that every woman can give birth vaginally. It’s not true. Read your history. Know that before there was formula babies DIED because they couldn’t get fed. There is a REASON there were wet nurses. And it wasn’t just because some women (and/or upper class women) didn’t want to breastfeed.

Look, I’ve heard it all: I should feel confident in my “choice,” and so nothing anyone says should be able to induce guilt or make me feel bad; I don’t respect my children because I didn’t breastfeed; I abused my children by giving them formula; I’m a snake for not breastfeeding; and so forth.

I know I have some fairly ardent breastfeeding advocates following me and I have a question. How does that rhetoric further your goal? And see, you can tell me that only the fringe of the movement makes those arguments and that you don’t agree with those comments, but I’ve heard them from too many people in too many different forums to feel that this isn’t a fairly representative opinion.

Now, for the formula feeders, I also have a question: why don’t you tell your stories? Talk about why you feed formula. Write a blog entry. Explain the reasons/reasoning behind the decision (if you were actually able to make a decision), and then try to let it go. Ignore the arguments. Don’t let yourself get sucked in. Realize that no matter how many times you explain your circumstances, there are going to be women who simply refuse to view the feeding of formula as a reasonable choice in some circumstances and pretty much only see it as the worst possible option.

Finally, for all of you ardent breastfeeders? Put your money where your mouth is. If you are so adamant that breast is best for every child, then make sure you have a local milk bank and donate to it if you’re still lactating. If you’re not still lactating, volunteer, advertise for them, recruit nursing mothers for it. If there were actually milk banks available with screened breast milk, women like me could have done something other than formula.

But there aren’t. And so, my children received formula. And they’re thriving. They did not get a significant number of illnesses (and certainly not more than any of their breastfed confederates), and Katie’s trigonocephaly was certainly not caused by lack of breast milk.

Please know, I’m not condemning anyone (well, still not crazy about the people who said I don’t love/respect my children or that I abused them), but I think we all need to consider whether any of this is worth hurting others for. One thought, though, I’ve seen a lot of similarities between the rhetoric used about formula feeders and the rhetoric that the students at Candace McMillan’s high school use to defend their actions. I’m not sure that’s an association that anyone wants.

Edited: Should have been Candice McMillan’s school, I’ve fixed it in the text.

Why I Feed Formula

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.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

Passed along recently, “It’s the definition of a mammal. If you’re not breast feeding . . . you’re a fucking reptile.”


Very nice.

Not that we’re judgmental or anything. And we completely support your “choice” not to breast feed, but don’t mind us while we call you a snake because you don’t.

It’s taken me almost twenty-four hours to move from stunned, shocked, and hurt to incredibly pissed off. See? I can be taught. My initial reaction wasn’t rage; I was too busy being hurt by it to be furious. Now? I’m angry.

And I’m mostly angry because some people who breastfeed are so damned self-righteous about it. I mean, seriously, it’s not rocket science to breastfeed, so this notion that you’re vastly superior because you do it is total bunk. If you were harnessing wind energy in your backyard and living totally off the grid — that takes guts and gumption and is deserving of accolades. Breastfeeding — it’s great if you can do it, but it doesn’t automatically nominate you for sainthood or make you a wonderful person. I’ve known some really crappy people who breastfed, so yeah. Not the winning argument there.

And I’m pissed off because I’m made to feel like I have to explain why I don’t breastfeed my daughter. The marauding educators make me crazy. Don’t you know that it will make her smarter, more resistant to disease, and on and on and on?

Well, here’s the thing. Her brother was a formula baby for different but no less compelling reasons. He’s smart as a freaking whip, never gets sick, and frankly, if breast feeding would have made him smarter than he is, I’m utterly grateful my milk never came in. So pathetically grateful.

I think what kills me about all of this is from the one side people are all “oh we support mothers’ choices” but when confronted with one that isn’t the choice that they’d make, they get judgmental or self-righteous or both.

The thing is, not breast feeding isn’t always a choice. I read a ton of books, had all the necessary accoutrements to do this (appropriate wardrobe, pumps, Lanisoh cream, breast pads), I was seriously ready for this and really, really wanted to make it work. I was so determined that I was going to find a way to make it work this time.

And in the end, I had a doctor ask me which was more important, seeing Katie graduate from college or breast feeding her now. In his estimation, I could do one or the other, but it was unlikely I would be able to do both. I trust this man with my life on a daily basis. I trust him to get the medicines that keep me alive right and to not screw up and in the four years he’s been my primary physician he has not messed up once.

Even still, I got back on the phone with the lactation consultant and discussed it with her before I agreed that he was right. You know what she said? “The benefits of presence far outweigh the benefits of breast feeding.”

And I know she’s right. On the other hand, there are any number of crusaders out there who are happy to tell me what a horrible thing I’m doing every time I buy a container of formula for my daughter. I had one literally shatter me when I was buying nipples for her bottles. I was so upset and shaking so hard I had to leave the store, sit in my car, and cry for a good fifteen minutes before I went back into the store to make my purchases.

So my PSA for the day is this: let’s not judge each other, Moms. If you breast feed, that’s great. You’re feeding your child. If you bottle feed, that’s great. You’re feeding your child. Net result: child gets fed and gets the opportunity to grow. Isn’t that all we’re really aiming for anyway?

So let’s can it with the nasty jokes and insinuations. Let’s stop the roving educating and let people be. You don’t know if you’re talking to someone who is bottle feeding because it’s convenient or if they’re bottle feeding to give both baby and mother the best chance at life. And really? It’s no more your business why someone bottle feeds than it is someone else’s business why you breast feed.

Thanks from those of us who are really tired of having to defend ourselves from all comers.