I Hate Breast Feeding
I wrote this post months ago and held off publishing it because I knew it is such an emotional issue for so many. But a few mornings ago The View reported that advocacy groups are trying to get hospitals to stop giving away formula, and it PISSED ME OFF.
You see, I hate breast feeding. I really do. Not the actual act itself (although I am not a huge fan of that either, to be completely honest), but the social pressure around it.
I know why it is important. Nature's perfect food, immunity support and all. I get it. And before my first baby, I was convinced I would solely breast feed my babies all the way to the Ivy League.
And then Sterling was born. And she had different plans. You see, at first I thought she was a nursing champ. She would latch on and seem to be nursing just fine. For three days I lived in this fairytale. Angels sang. All was right with the world. And then by the end of day three, I started to notice that she was less and less active, and just kind of lay there. And then she became slightly fussy. It took us a while to realize she was latching, but not actually nursing. We spent hours working at it until finally we couldn't get her to stay awake long enough to try any more. Finally the nurse made a controversial suggestion: did I want to offer Sterling formula just to see if she was hungry? I agonized. I cried. I debated. Finally, feeling like the greatest failure in the world, I broke down and gave her formula. And she tanked it.
I spent the next month trying to force her to nurse, trying every technique I came across and talking with every resource I could find. I repeatedly heard the mantra "every mom can breast feed and every baby will nurse" and I sure as hell wasn't going to be so weak that I was the first to fail.
Finally, at the lowest of low points, one lactation consultant looked warily over both shoulders, leaned close and admitted to me in a lowered voice the greatest secret of all: some babies WON'T breast feed. Turns out it is a personality thing, and some babies just won't do it. To this day, Sterling has little to no appetite most days. Its kind of a joke with my friends. She rarely remembers to eat and sure as hell won't work for it, and nursing required her to work.
Undaunted, and committed to breast feeding, I turned to pumping and bottle feeding. It was awful, probably the worst part of her infancy, but we got there.
When Bennett was born, he breast fed with gusto. My nipples cracked, bled and stayed raw because he nursed CONSTANTLY, but I was so relieved that he was nursing that I dealt with it. When he didn't nurse he screamed, so I pretty much stayed attached to him for 3 months. During that time, he had an increasingly awful facial and diaper rash that was red, raised, and raw. His skin started to peel off in sheets. I repeatedly discussed it with his pediatrician who first dismissed it as infant acne, then finally identified it as an incredibly rare, incredibly severe breast milk allergy.
I. Was. Devastated.
I felt like I was letting down my baby AGAIN! I was embarrassed that I was failing at this most simple act of parenting. I was terrified of telling some of my girlfriends because I knew that they would judge me. And secretly, in the deepest, darkest, most exhausted part of me, I was relieved. No more raw, bloody nipples. No more being the only person who could feed my screaming infant, no matter how badly I needed more than 45 straight minutes of sleep. No more CRAZYPORNSTARBOOBSTHATDIDNOTHINGBUTLEAKANDACHE. And perhaps, just perhaps, I might finally have a fix to some of his misery.
The first day Bennett started on the ridiculously expensive, highly specialized formula, he napped for several straight hours in John's arms. It wasn't a miracle solution, but it was the first time since his birth that he slept for longer than an hour without screaming.
So after two botched shots at nursing, I was feeling pretty low. And then I began talking with other girlfriends, and quickly realized how many of us have struggled with it.
Out of my mom's group of 35+ moms, only ONE (that I know of) has ever had a completely easy, totally successful experience. Several have had EXTENSIVE latch issues, several did not lactate at all, several ate SEVERELY restricted diets in order to meet their baby's allergy needs, several endured incredibly painful complications such as tongue thrusts, tongue ties and severe thrush, and almost all admitted to crying for hours over it.
And as my discussions expanded, more and more moms I spoke with talked about their agonizing experience with breast feeding and how it made them feel like a failure. The crazy thing though? So many of us had never realized how common struggling with breastfeeding was. Like many of my friends, I had assumed you had a baby, you popped a boob in it's mouth, and it ate. Sounds pretty basic. But the reality is that this process is anything but simple, and success is tenuous at best.
But none of this is why I hate breast feeding. After all, even though we each struggled, we also each stuck with it as long as possible because we genuinely believed it was the right choice. And those who quit early did so after they had exhausted all options and with considerable self flagellation.
No, the reason that I hate nursing is that society seems to feel that they have some right to judge those that don't nurse. To pressure them and make them feel as if they are less of a mom because they struggle with or even abandon breast feeding.
As I mentioned before, I haven't openly admitted to most of my friends that I am no longer nursing. One option I didn't pursue was to pump until Bennett was 6 months to see if he "grew out of his allergy". In typing that last comment, I feel like I need to include some kind of explanation on why I didn't attempt it, but I'm going to leave it at this: it was awful before and I wasn't going to subject any of us to this again. I was exhausted from solo parenting two small kids, one of which didn't sleep. I didn't have it in me. But I also am ashamed that I didn't tough it out. I cried the first time I gave him formula instead of nursing, and every time he would nuzzle against me and I would uselessly let down, it killed me a little. It was far from an easy decision.
And the audacity of those who judge amazes me. I was recently talking with a friend with an 8 week old, and she admitted that she had never lactated, meaning she never produced milk. EVER. So when she was recently approached and chastised by a complete stranger at Starbucks for drinking caffeine while she had an infant, it was the ultimate pain. Not only was she being judged by a total stranger, but for not doing something that she would have given ANYTHING to be capable of.
When Gisele Budchen piped up to the press that it should be law for all moms to breast feed, it showed just how out of control our society has become. It's one thing to increase the availability of education on why it is important and increase the support for nursing moms. Its a WHOLE other ball game to forcefully involve yourself in the decision itself. And especially since there are plenty of seemingly normal people who were raised on formula. My husband was formula fed, and appears fairly unscathed (other than that odd facial twitch, the third arm protruding from his forehead, and his affinity for erotic taxidermy... TOTALLY kidding... about the first two).
But as parents, we should be free to make the best decisions for our families as a whole without worrying about being judged (you know how I feel about that). To breast feed or not to breastfeed isn't always a choice. And the fact that everyone feels they know the right decision for my child really rankles me.
Society has enough problems to focus on without worrying over whether or not I breast feed. Maybe overachievers like Gandhi's or Mother Teresa's parents can judge me if they want (and yes, I am aware that they were probably breast fed), but everyone else, please mind your own business.
I may have pissed a bunch of people off with this, but if I gave just a touch of comfort to some poor mom out there who is struggling with this issue, then it is worth it. We all need support and love in our parenting journey, it's hard enough without feeling the pressure from society to conform on such a delicate operation.
There are so many times in parenting when you feel overwhelmed, exhausted or just plain unqualified that it breaks my heart to think of any moms out there beating themselves up over such a personal decision.
Posted by Caraline Hickman