Friend and commenter, Missy, linked to an article yesterday that stirred up a number of emotions for me.
And in any case, if a breast-feeding mother is miserable, or stressed out, or alienated by nursing, as many women are, if her marriage is under stress and breast-feeding is making things worse, surely that can have a greater effect on a kid’s future success than a few IQ points.
I didn’t have the best time when it came to breast-feeding. Obstacles began piling up for me the moment Emory was born. For starters, my milk never came in. I didn’t experience the engorgement all the nurses and LCs suggested I would. In fact, my breasts got slightly smaller after he was born.
My postpartum experience was not the best. I was depressed. Words can’t do justice in trying to describe that depression. Chemistry took over. Every time it occurred to me that the birth of my first child was supposed to be the happiest time of my life, I felt even worse because I was experiencing quite the opposite. How could I be a good mom when I felt so unhappy? What was wrong with me? The questions mounted unanswered, and while my head felt like it was going to explode, my boobs did not.
There is an alarming amount of pressure put on new mothers when it comes to breast-feeding. It’s so prevalent, that there are actually Web sites where women congregate in order to slam celebrities who did not breast-fed and praise those who have. There are wars waged against and on Facebook. And some of the pro-breast feeding literature out there borders on militant. A late night google search hoping to discover a little leniency can make one feel like even more of a failure.
In certain overachieving circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice—it’s a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Yet the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. Is breast-feeding right for every family? Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?
It goes without saying that many women today feel very passionate about breast-feeding. I have seen fights break out over whether or not it’s OK to do in public. Nursing mothers here in New York have been known to make a statement by taking over an entire subway car. I have seen fights break out about whether or not it’s OK to lend your boob out to feed another person’s baby. I’ve seen people go as far to attack a person’s character because they chose not to breast-feed.
Some women experience intense anger when another woman doesn’t breast-feed. And I would find this hilarious if their reactions weren’t so damaging.
Haven’t we heard enough already? Can’t we be proud of our choices without making others feel worse for making another? And why brag? Boasting is ugly.
Furthermore, if feminism is about making choices, and a woman chooses (for whatever the reason may be) not to breast-feed, she should not receive so much as a nasty look from any fellow Sistren boasting the word feminism. And yet, that often happens. Which begs another question: is it the men we need to talk to about equality?
I welcome discussion and debate when it comes to breast-feeding, but this post probably isn’t for those likely to have breast-feeding listed as their religion. This is for anyone who went through (or is going through) what I went through two years ago. This is for all the new mothers out there overwhelmed by their new roles. This is for the new mother wondering why she can’t accomplish something as seemingly natural as breast-feeding.
Here’s how the first few days I spent with my new son went:
The morning he’s born: I try unsuccessfully to get a latch. I summon the help from two nurses and one lactation consultant. He vomits every time I try. I think it’s me, something I’m doing. Am I gagging him?
“Is the vomit green?” They ask. “No. It’s not green.” “He’s fine then. Keep trying.”
Day one: A lactation consultant comes in to see me. I’m crying. I tell her I can’t get him to eat. I tell her he keeps vomiting. We try again and fail. She asks me how much milk he’s gotten. I tell her none. She inspects my nipples. Says I may have problems but we’ll succeed! We try formula. He vomits that up immediately. I continue to cry.
Later that day: Emory and I try again. I am told I am not vigilant enough, that I’m not trying hard enough. I am told that I need to be more forceful. I need to force my breast into his mouth. He throws up all over me, the color is green. I call a doctor.
Five minutes later: Emory is taken away from me and admitted into the NICU for reasons unrelated to breast-feeding (or lack thereof). I begin pumping around the clock in hopes of getting something, anything to come out of my breasts. This does not happen.
Three days PP: Emory and I are sent home seeing zero success at breast-feeding.
I should have just given up. Had I felt better back then, I probably would have. After all, Emory was doing well on formula. But I thought that I had to breast-feed. We just never did get the latch worked out so I exclusively pumped for 5 months. I supplemented with formula the entire time because my milk and the engorged breasts everyone warned me about, well, that never took place. At five months, I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and put on a drug that wasn’t safe for babies. I stopped pumping (or HUTH, for those of us EPers).
During that time, I received countless email letting me know how difficult it was for women when it came to breast-feeding, which helped a great deal. But in the wee hours of the night, when I felt my most insecure, I turned to the Internet, in search of anyone to tell me everything was going to be OK if I gave up pumping and just formula fed my son. (You’d be surprised how little there is out there for people in my situation. On nights when I looked for reassurance, I found I felt worse.) It took me a long time to realize that the only person I needed approval from was the person doing all the searching.
Truth be told, Internet, I still have a lot of pent up anger when it comes to how I was treated by some breast-feeding mamas out there. Usually, I try and focus on all the positive stuff, because I mean it when I say that when I was going through that rough patch, many of your emails got me through it. But that doesn’t mean the judgmental stuff doesn’t stick with me as well.
The biggest problem as I see it, is that so many women are afraid to state outright: Hey, I didn’t breast-feed! In fact, I have met some mothers that whisper such things under their breath at the playground—like it’s some kind of fatal flaw, and I suppose that for some it is. I’ve also seen a few mothers breath a sigh of relief upon discovering that another mother in the room didn’t breast-feed her baby.
What is everyone so afraid of? Judgement? Receiving a failing grade in motherhood? Getting demoted or fired by your boss? There are no grades or graduation ceremonies to speak of. And your boss really just wants to eat, poop, sleep and giggle. So what are we all so afraid of?
Sometimes, all someone wants to hear (or read) is that they’re not alone.
And so. Consider this a small drop of water in a bucket full of oil: It’s OK, new mama, if you are unable to breast-feed your baby. Formula is a wonderful option. You are not a failure. You’re a new mom! Rejoice in that. You are not alone.
If you’re interested in reading the article, please