Disclaimer: This is a post about breastfeeding. It mentions boobs. Either be okay with that, or stop reading now 🙂
Here’s the thing – I intended to breastfeed. I knew all the arguments for it, how it would be ‘best’ for my baby, how the antibodies would set him up for life, how the bond would be incredible, etc. There’s a lot of great information on breastfeeding out there, much less so on formula feeding. My Birth and Babies class was a huge advocate for it, to the point of saying to our class that if we couldn’t breastfeed, it meant that the health system had failed us.
How hard could breastfeeding be, I wondered? I mean, sure, I’d be EXHAUSTED, but it was natural, right? Women in the bush breastfeed. Side note – since becoming a parent I often wonder how “women in the bush” would handle a situation. No fancy rocking swings for them. No white noise machines. No sterilized equipment. Noooooooo. They all had to breastfeed for their babies to survive, right?
Back on track. J was born, they cleaned him up, placed him on my chest and I attempted our first feed. It did not go so well. After having the nurse manipulate my parts this way and that, he was just not interested. What was this foreign object being shoved at his mouth? Then they brought out the bottle and he was all over it. Om nom nom.
For the next 24 hours in hospital I did everything right. I went to the breastfeeding class. We did skin to skin every time before he was scheduled to feed. I had a visit from the lactation consultant. I used the medical grade pump, which FYI made me feel like I was going to vomit each time *shudder*. He just wasn’t having it. My boy likes bottles.
After a couple of days at home, I continued to try and do the right thing. Before offering the bottle, I’d offer myself first. It was beyond frustrating that instead of being able to feed him, I seemed to make him mad. What calmed him? The bottle. What calmed me? Him being calm.
On Day Four postpartum, my milk came in. Of course it did. I’d done everything in my power to encourage the milk. I was, however, physically unable to express it. I’d tried machines, hand pumps, hand expressing and it wouldn’t budge. So, let’s just say that the pain was unbearable. I iced, I popped Tylenol, I iced some more. I couldn’t even hold J, because it hurt my chest so badly. I called the HealthLink number twice, worried that I was getting mastitis. After twenty-four hours of agony, I bit the bullet and left J with David while I went to the hospital.
Sitting in the emergency waiting room was a nightmare. There was a crying toddler – it was past her bedtime – and every cry she gave made me ache in pain. I had no idea my body would be so responsive to the cries of other children, even when I logically knew it was not my own child in pain.
When the nurse was processing me for intake, we went through all the details of my situation, including how I’d done everything I could with the lactation consultants saying I had the correct positioning, etc. Her response? “Maybe you’re just not doing it right, hey?”
I was ready to smack the condescending b*tch.
But I wanted the drugs…
Moments after she left I dissolved into tears. Seriously? I was being shamed for this? Being told after experts had ok’d my technique that I was still doing something wrong? How about a little compassion for the woman with a newborn that was trying her damn best? How about a little sensitivity training when you are working with an exhausted new parent that hasn’t slept in over 24 hours and is in agony? How about dropping the judgement and just helping me with some pain relief, rather than walloping on a guilt trip?
Speaking of Mental Health…
I’ve talked on this blog before about how I suffer from depression. Fun fact, if you are predisposed to depression, it means you’re that much more likely to suffer from postpartum depression. I knew this going into it, so self care and being kind to myself was of the utmost importance.
Being a goal-oriented person, depression has a way of smacking you in the face from time to time. I set lofty goals with the best of intentions, but don’t always consider if they’re the best thing for my state of mind. Breastfeeding was one such thing. I knew it would be difficult, nobody says it’s a walk in the park, but I didn’t realize what kind of an emotional impact it would have on me. Trying to feed your baby and for them to cry as a result (every time!) is heartbreaking. I don’t care if you’re in the best space mentally or not, it can still break your spirit.
With everything I have going on in my life, with these huge changes, with all the other challenges that motherhood throws at you, in the end I decided that breastfeeding was not for me. I went through a rather short period of extreme guilt over this decision, but this was soon replaced by an overwhelming feeling of pride. Screw the shamers! I am making the best decision for me. If I’m not in a good place physically or mentally, how on earth can I give anything of value to my kid? Is he eating well? Yes. Is he growing at the appropriate rate? Yes. Is he getting those antibodies? Nope… but you know what? Neither did I, neither did MANY children of the seventies and eighties, but I’d say I’m okay in the grand scheme of things.
Let’s Support Formula Feeding, Too!
I wanted to write this so badly because I feel that there is a lack of support out there for parents who choose formula feeding. The powdered stuff does not make us monsters. It means we made a choice, no different to the choice that one makes to breastfeed. That’s all. It doesn’t make me selfish, it makes me self-aware of what I can and can’t handle in my situation. In my case, I chose to be strong for myself first, given my own set of circumstances, in order for me to be strong for my kid.
I no longer feel ashamed. I feel empowered.
So, here’s where I land on the whole breastfeeding issue. If you breastfeed, you’re a rock star. If you don’t breastfeed, you’re a rock star. EITHER WAY, you’re a parent that is doing the best they can for their kid, so you’re a rock star. You’re strong in whatever decision you’ve chosen to make.