On Wednesday I had my six-week checkup to find out if everything healed OK. It had. I also had a lot of questions for my doctor. Some of the questions were about my boobs. I’m gonna be honest. I’m exhausted. I’ve been seeking medical advice from the Internet and comparing my own experiences to other’s for far too long. I have a tendency to do this especially when I’m alone. And I’ve been by myself a lot lately. (Well, I’m with Emory, who is amazing, but he’s not the best conversationalist.) So I finally sat down with an actual doctor, a real live doctor!
I have been feeding Emory pumped breast milk since a day or two after he got home. At first I didn’t have a lot to offer. I’d give him a few ounces here and there because I wasn’t producing much milk. I supplemented with Enfamil because that’s what he was given while in the NICU. (I have written about this before. I had every intention of breast-feeding Emory and I tried my damnedest at the hands of two lactation consultants and several nurses, but it just didn’t work out. I got him to latch a few times only to have him vomit on me, the bed, his crib. I knew right away something was wrong. And when he finally threw up green, he was immediately taken to the NICU and I stopped trying to cram my breast down his throat. Tests were run and then some more tests. And there was a whole bunch of crying. Thankfully, things worked out.)
Determined to do the “right” thing, I pumped and pumped and pumped in hopes of keeping my milk supply up assuming we’d work things out. That didn’t happen and so I continued to give him the breast milk I was so diligently pumping. About three weeks after he came home, still having trouble getting him to the breast, I began to wonder about exclusively pumping milk for Emory. At around the same time, a friend of mine sent me a link to a forum where countless other women were doing the very same thing. Some had premature babies, others had trouble getting their baby to latch. The point is, I realized I wasn’t alone. So, I became and “EPer”, or an “Exclusive Pumper”. Now, I am producing a lot more of milk. I still supplement with formula because I’m not producing enough milk to sustain his needs. But pumping is working for me. And 80% of what he eats is breast milk.
I began receiving email about it. And that’s partly my fault because I have a blog where I repeatedly ask for advice. And I’m grateful for everything I read, even the stuff I disagree with. But this time? This time the information was a lot more difficult to stomach and my paranoia level was high. When I combined the doubts I had regarding my new job as a mother, my hormones, and the email I received about my breast-feeding issues, I had myself a recipe for self-loathing. I’ve been asked how I can stand to wash bottles, carry them around whenever we go out, etc. I really don’t mind washing bottles and I certainly don’t mind carrying them with me whenever we go out. Another person asked me if I care that others may assume I’m giving my baby formula instead of breast milk since it’s in a bottle. Like formula is poison or something. I’m not even sure what to say in response to that. I guess if someone were to judge me for such a thing, they’re not someone whose opinion I’d care for anyway. Others have suggested that I didn’t try hard enough and that might very well be true. I will never know because I am so tired of comparing myself to others with regard to this. Perhaps I did give up too early. (Although, I do still try from time to time and still haven’t had a 100% success.) More recently, someone wrote me who I know in real life, someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. The first sentence of their email read: CONGRATULATIONS! The second one: “Are you breast-feeding?”
Exclusively pumping is not for everyone. Sure, it’s a little weird at first but so is childbirth, breast-feeding, becoming a parent, and talking about poop like it’s fine art. I really don’t mind pumping. I don’t mind getting up at night to do it. I don’t mind waking up in the morning to do it. Plus, I get to wear really strange, homemade garments like this:
And the blessing in all of this is that since I’m feeding a given amount of breast milk from a bottle, I don’t have to wake up as often as a breast-feeding mama. He sleeps longer! For some, having that boob to mouth bond is extremely important. And I respect that entirely. I do think I share a bond with my son even if I’m not giving him food straight from my nipple but I won’t argue with a breast-feeding mama. At some point, it became really important to me that I get some sleep. That was the number one ingredient in keeping me happy. And when I’m happy, I’m a better person and a better mother.
On Wednesday, I finally spoke with my doctor. She reiterated everything I already knew. Emory is getting all the benefits of breast milk and that supplementing with a bottle of formula every now and again – even if it’s two a day – is absolutely fine. It’s also normal for some women to produce less milk than others no matter how often they pump, breast-feed, or how much oatmeal or fenugreek they consume. Contrary to popular belief, some women create more than others. It’s that simple. And had Emory relied entirely on what I was producing from the beginning, he’d be a whole lot skinnier right now and I most certainly would have been reprimanded by my pediatrician. Instead he’s a healthy, thriving, leg flailing baby boy. (Video)
I am writing today for very much the same reason I have written about potentially controversially subjects in the past; I hope that someday someone stumbles on this site, reads this post, and leaves feeling a little better, a little less alone. Because I really beat myself about this. And I regret it entirely. I regret not enjoying the last 6 weeks more. I regret comparing myself to others. I regret taking the email and comments I received so to heart instead of feeling secure with my choice(s). Even if I was being slightly paranoid, misreading tones, etc, I still felt badly and that was unnecessary. I don’t want to see another woman go through what I put myself through. I wasted a lot of precious time doubting myself.
Lastly, there is nothing wrong with a person who chooses to feed their baby formula. That person is no lesser than any other, they are not ignorant or stupid. They are not failures. There is nothing wrong with a person who wishes to feed pumped breast milk to her baby either. If she wants to pump, wash bottles, etc. then so be it. It is of no concern to anyone else. There is nothing wrong with a woman who exclusively breast-feeds her baby and if she pulls that tit out in public? Then deal with it, it’s just a tit. No one is better or worse than the other. And that sounds so obvious now! But it’s not always obvious. There are too many women out there eager to make others feel doubtful about their decisions just because they differ from their own. (And one has to wonder why that is.)
Mothers of the world need to be more kind to other mothers. It’s that simple. And if a mother can’t do that, then she needs to mind her own damn business.