Dear woman at the grocery store rolling her eyes as I make a bottle for my baby girl, cashier who mumbles about poison under her breath as she rings up my formula, and “friend” who asks me how breastfeeding is going as I prepare a formula bottle: Screw you! Why do you insist on judging me when you don’t even know my story? What gives you the right to assume I must not love my daughter because of my choice to formula feed? Why is it that we are divided mothers – those who breastfeed and those who formula feed? Why does it have to matter how one parent chooses to feed his or her child over another? I strongly believe that you have the right to feed your child the way that works for you. I will defend a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, as well as a woman’s right to cover up because she chooses too. I was out with Abby one day, and saw a woman breastfeeding in pubic. I smiled. She smiled. Then I went to make a bottle, and she rolled her eyes.
Yes, I formula feed Abigail. No, I do not think it’s poison. Yes, I have the (physical) ability to breastfeed. No, I do not supplement with formula – I exclusively formula feed. Yes, I know breastfeeding is free. And yes, I love my child despite your constant nagging about the benefits of breast milk and the dangers of formula. Also – formula is not dangerous and if you believe it is, please leave me alone.
Now yes, not all moms judge. Not all moms even care. Honestly, I believe most of us are just trying to get through the day in hopes that we will get just one hot cup of coffee. But when I encounter these types of scenarios continuously, it stings. Aside from all of those events, the worst is when you’re with a friend who sees you making a bottle and asks “So, you’re formula feeding? Why?” I know you do not mean anything by it, but it still hurts. Do you ask that of someone who breast feeds? I assume not. It hurts that you make me feel that I need to justify my choices.
During my entire pregnancy I had every intention of breastfeeding. I knew it would be completely normal, easy, and exactly what my baby girl would need. I had heard incredible stories of the bond you have when you breastfeed, and that there was nothing as magical as producing sustenance for your child. I was looking forward to that euphoric experience so much. Publicly I would say if I couldn’t breastfeed, I’d be fine, but privately, I knew that I would have no trouble. Why would I? I’m healthy, my baby is healthy, it should be a match made in heaven. And in my baby 101 class given at the hospital weeks before I gave birth when they spoke on breastfeeding, I asked, just to be covered “What happens if I cant?”, the response from one nurse was “No worries, we always make sure you can.” And when I pushed the issue, she gave no indication that formula was an option. So I again assumed it was the easiest thing in the world and I would do it perfectly.
Fast-forward to Abby’s birth which was not at all what I expected. But, at the end, I had my beautiful daughter and I was ready to move to the next chapter. In the hospital, we found out about her tongue-tie and warned that this may make breastfeeding difficult. Nope, Abby nursed like a champ. She latched instantly – even the nurses were impressed at how well we both did that first time. My milk was coming in really well, despite the notions that my c-section would delay my supply. I was told to be proud and excited because this usually isn’t so easy with new moms. I was told that I was doing a great thing by breastfeeding and that my baby girl would benefit from my breast milk. But I didn’t feel any of that. And when I mentioned this, I was told by nurses that those feelings would pass. I was a first-time mom, of course breastfeeding would be weird at first, but, in time, it would be magical. So I pushed forward and assumed as soon as I was home, in our own environment, things would be different. They weren’t. Then I was told that I was still recovering from surgery and the pain medication was messing with my emotions. So I stopped the medication and gave myself some time. Time did nothing.
I’m not sure you will ever fully understand my state of mind during those first few weeks, but I’ll do my best to explain. Breastfeeding became a chore, something I had to do, not want to do. Imagine being forced to do something you detest over and over again, like flossing your dog’s teeth or cleaning your entire bathroom with nothing but a q-tip (then multiple that feeling by 100 – that’s about where I was each time I had to feed her). Abby would feed every 2 hours, each time for 45 minutes at least. That was 45 minutes (at least) of me suffering. And because I’m just not comfortable being exposed in front of visitors, I’d leave the room to feed her. I tried covers, but Abby hated them and I found them near impossible to use comfortable. But everyone kept saying breast was best, so I kept going. Each time she fed, I’d hate it even more. There was no bonding, there was no euphoric feeling, there was just a hungry baby and me. And I felt completely isolated. My entire life was centered around being a food source and nothing more, performing a chore I hated. People would visit and she’d spend 45 minutes to and hour and a half nursing. And that would be my life. And I never slept, because she would eat constantly. Nighttime was the worst because I’d watch my husband sleeping as I suffered, knowing I was alone. Each time she would cry, no matter what time of day, I’d cringe. I started resenting her. She’d want to nurse and I’d be so annoyed. I loved holding her but eventually she’d want to eat, and my heart would break at having to nurse her. I loved looking at her, but my emotions would be in check because I never knew when she would want to feed. And every time I fed her, I saw that no one else would get her. Her father barely had time with her before she had to feed again. And I would cry. And yes, some of this may have been from hormones but even so, it was the worst pain I have ever felt – feelings of not connecting with your own child.
Three weeks went by in this life. Three weeks of cringing as she fed, resenting as she cried, and punishing myself for not feeling that magical bond I had heard so much about. John saw all of this and suggested we look into other options. But, I couldn’t give her formula – the world told me breast is best and by giving up, I would be doing the worst thing possible for my daughter. I told him that it was important to keep going and that it would get better. It had to get better. Because if it didn’t, I would be admitting my (what I viewed then as) failure as a mom. We tried other options to work through it – he’d stay awake with me each time I nursed so I wasn’t alone. I started pumping milk during the day so one of the many night feedings could be his responsibilities, hoping the extra sleep would make a difference. It didn’t. He convinced me by saying we would just try it, just to see what would happen. Just to give me a break. I heard every word, but didn’t want to. I was told breastfeeding was the best thing for my child. Breastfed babies grow up healthier. Breastfed babies bond better with their mothers. Breastfed babies succeed.
So, I said we would only do it one night, and I would pump so we were ahead and eventually I’ll pump enough so she would be bottle fed but with breast milk at least. And then I would pump every day to build her supply for the next day. I hated pumping, but it just seemed like a better option. The night came, the night we would give her that first drop of formula, and I kept resisting. I couldn’t do it. The studies, the articles, the friends who told me that breastfeeding was best kept racing through my mind. Finally, John took Abby and gave her a bottle of formula. She drank it without a second thought. I spent the next two hours watching her, convinced that I had officially cursed my child for giving her “the poison” I had been warned against. I finally went to bed, and at her next feeding, I asked John to make me do it, despite my resistance. I made her a bottle of formula, sat up in bed with her in my arms, and I fed her formula. Her eyes were fixed on me the entire time, until that last drop came and drifted her off to dreamland. And I stared back at those beautiful eyes, and I cried because it was the first time I had felt connected to Abigail. Despite my exhaustion, I spent the next hour just staring at her. That was the first night I actually felt that incredible feeling of love for my daughter, that bond everyone kept talking about, that euphoric feeling of being a mom. I stopped pumping the next day and Abby has been exclusively formula fed since. And every time I feed her, I feel that bond grow.
You see, that was the night everything changed. That night, I thanked God for formula because it gave me what I wanted. It allowed me the ability to see those beautiful eyes and feel that powerful love I yearned for. I have been told I should have just kept going instead of “giving up” so easily. But since that day, I have never once cringed at the thought of feeding, holding or being with Abby.
So yes, I formula feed my daughter. And yes, I have the physical ability to breastfeed. And yes, she was amazing at nursing. And yes, I’m so happy that breastfeeding works for others. I applaud those who love breastfeeding and for doing everything and anything possible to breastfeed because it makes them happy. But I also know that there are others who don’t love it or have no interest in it. I applaud those who recognized this and formula feed. And for that mother who can’t breastfeed and wants to, who has also told me I should thank God that I can and she can’t and I should feel terrible that I don’t, I know it is only because you are suffering. I suffered too, differently, but I suffered. I wish I had loved breastfeeding because I know there are those who can’t and desperately want to, but I didn’t. And I’m tired of people trying to make me feel guilty because of it. Continuing to breastfeed would have been the worst decision I could have made. So to all of you who pass judgement, I do not regret and will never regret the decision. I feed my daughter formula because I love her and I realized that in order to give her my entire love, a love she deserves, I need to be ok. Formula allows me to be the best mommy I can be. And she deserves the best of me. So, when you ask me if I formula feed, my answer is “yes, because I love my child.”
And to all of my moms out there, struggling, I know that you are doing what you can to be the best mom for your child, whether it’s breastfeeding, formula feeding or both. You are doing an amazing job! Feel proud! And the next time someone asks you why you chose to breastfeed, formula feed, or both, the answer is simple – “Because I love my child.” But of course if they are being rude or have an extra attitude, you can always add a sarcastic “Because I was told that you aren’t supposed to give babies wine and that’s the only other beverage I regularly have in my home.”