Life is full of things we don’t expect; things we weren’t prepared for; things that are the opposite way than what we planned. I wasn’t expecting a 26 hour labour, I wasn’t expecting my OB to have to use forceps, and I definitely wasn’t expecting an episiotomy, but those are the cards I was dealt. I was able to accept those curve balls, so why after 8 months do I still feel guilty about not being able to breastfeed?
I remember when I was pregnant, I received coupons and samples for formula in the mail and I stashed them away in a drawer because I didn’t need them, I was planning on breastfeeding exclusively.And I tried. And tried. And when I was about to give up, I kept trying. Through tears and frustration and confusion, I was so determined.
Because of Lincoln’s low weight gain during the first few weeks, I had to supplement. For 3 months I was breastfeeding, pumping, and supplementing. Then he started to refuse breastfeeding in the afternoon and evenings, and what I was pumping was not enough. And I tried everything. I saw lactation consultants, I tried fenugreek, mother’s milk tea, and lactation cookies, I tried “power pumping”, I even got a different pump hoping that would make a difference. Finally, after 5 months of trying to make breastfeeding work, I decided, with a heavy heart, to feed him formula during the day and breastfeed during any night feedings. By 6 months, the night feeds had stopped and he was exclusively on formula and starting solid foods.
Yes, he’s where he should be on the weight chart. And yes, he’s thriving and hitting all his milestones. And yes, there is a tiny sense of liberation that I can wear what I want without thinking if it’s breastfeeding-friendly, or that I can drink coffee or wine without worrying about passing it onto Lincoln through my milk. But I still feel so sad and defeated that I wasn’t able to do the one thing that I thought would be the most natural and easiest part of motherhood.
And telling me “you tried as long as you could” or “some women don’t produce milk at all, at least you were able to give him some breastmilk” or “there’s nothing wrong with formula” does not help. It’s even worse when it comes from someone without children, or someone who’s never struggled with breastfeeding. I know these things. I still feel like shit, I still feel guilty, and I still wish I was able to breastfeed exclusively.
You know why? Because everywhere you look, it’s all about breastfeeding. #NormalizeBreastfeeding. #BreastIsBest. #BreastfeedWithoutFear. There’s lactation consultants, there’s breastfeeding support groups. There’s a million and one awesome breastfeeding accessories. I see mamas breastfeeding everywhere, and all the power to you! It’s just that every time I see a mother breastfeeding, I feel a sense of sadness and failure and I think “why not me?”
I’m not bashing breastfeeding mamas by any means. Please do not mistaken my personal guilt for resentment.
But I do think breastfeeding mothers, and people in general, could be a little more sensitive and respectful to mothers who formula-feed their babies.
Don’t ask a mom “is that breastmilk or formula in the bottle?” As long as it’s not kahlua, you shouldn’t be concerned. Don’t ask a mom “are you nursing?” In my opinion, that question is just as inappropriate as “did you get your period yet?”
I feel the sting of guilt when I’m asked these questions. It’s bad enough feeling like shit in the nursing room at the mall getting looks from breastfeeding moms while I warm up my bottle of formula.
Some mothers I know who formula-feed their babies don’t give a shit what others think. It’s inspiring, actually. Unfortunately, that’s not me. I hope I can one day get over this feeling of guilt and reach their level of zero shits given.