I found this post in my ‘drafts’ folder. I wrote it about a year ago. I think that I was scared to publish it because a) I didn’t want to just be another person going on and on about an issue that shouldn’t even be a favourite ‘mummy wars’ topic, and b) because I was scared that some of my readers might be put off by my stance on the issue. Yeah, I’m a people pleasing chicken sometimes…
I’ve decided to publish it today. A year late. I felt inspired by Mama By the Bay’s “I Support You” movement (in which she works alongside Fearless Formula Feeder and I am not the babysitter). It’s about supporting mums, no matter how they feed their babies – as long as it’s done with love, who are we to judge? I still feel the same as I did a year ago and I’m cool with that.
Written in August 2012…and published in August 2013.
I am usually one to avoid controversial topics in my blogging. I want to entertain more than anything else. However, I am quite angry that the issue I’m going to talk about has to be controversial in the first damn place!
Of course. The age old argument: Breastfeeding vs. formula.
In New York, Mayor Bloomberg is implementing a so called initiative that involves the locking up of baby formula (literally) and only prescribing it for new babies if there is a medical reason. If a woman states her choice to use formula or requests a bottle, she has to have a lecture (no joke) on why lactation is better.
I am glad to not be in New York but this riles me up nonetheless. I am neither pro exclusive breastfeeding or pro exclusive formula. I am pro choice. I choose for women to have the right to choose. I think that our babies should be nourished and cared for in the best way they can be at the time. Also, there is no frickin’ rule about the two options being mutually exclusive!!!!! FFS!
Here’s my story:
I had a difficult pregnancy. I had PUPPP rash when I was 20 weeks pregnant onwards. I had to treat it aggressively with a steroid based ointment. Most women don’t get the rash until late in their pregnancy (around 36 weeks onwards) and can simply live with it or be induced once it’s considered safer for the mother and the baby. Let’s face it, I am a freak. I was itching, uncomfortable, visually a mess and dangerously close to depression (somehow the love for my baby and my support network really came through for me and I was lucky to get through it). I cried almost every day (not just the usual pregnancy crying but real, sad tears). I felt like a bad mother already, because as I tried to soak my body in a lukewarm bath (in the middle of winter), trying every home remedy possible and feeling so itchy it hurt, I had terrible thoughts. I thought, if my pregnancy would just go away…
Which you can imagine I didn’t really mean. I wanted my beautiful Little Mister more than anything in the world, but my state of mind was getting unhealthy and I just wanted the discomfort to stop. This wasn’t how I had dreamed of it. Being adopted, I had maybe idealised what pregnancy might be like because I wanted all my life to feel the blessing of fertility and a biological relative of my own. This was a tough blow.
At 30 weeks, I found out I had gestational diabetes. It was borderline so it was easy enough to control. I just had to drastically change my diet. Which is already restricted as you would guess when you’re pregnant. My one guilty pleasure and comfort – food and baking was thrown out. I was keeping a meticulous food diary and pricking my finger every single day (4 times a day). I felt like there was stigma whenever I told anyone I had it. It was genetic and not my fault. I had not done any different to any of my other pregnant friends who didn’t have it. This was tough news upon the rash experience.
Fast forward to the 30-something weeks of my pregnancy and while my state of mind had improved, my rash came back and no steroid treatment would fix it. I felt better knowing I was closer to the end but it was a mystery. Turns out it wasn’t PUPPP again. It was probably an early symptom of an infection (and a dangerous one at that). I was subjected to daily blood tests for the whole last week of my pregnancy and was being monitored at the hospital every second day for longer than that. No-one knew what was wrong. I cried at the doc’s (not on purpose but it did work) and he gave me a date to be induced.
The Little Mister didn’t want to wait. He wanted to burst into this world on his own terms! Four days before I was going to be induced, I came down with a fever. I felt like I was just fighting a cold or something, but I didn’t know it would be much worse. I woke from a nap (I felt so lousy my body kind of gave out to it – the first “sleep” in ages) with contractions. Long story short, I rushed into hospital as my fever reached 38 degrees (celcius). Three hours later the Little Mister was born via emergency C-section. He didn’t breathe for the first 4 minutes. I was mentally oblivious and in shock. He was taken to another hospital where I didn’t see him for three days.
I was hooked up to the bed with a catheter for two days (the usual procedure for a C-section patient is one day). I had no baby and I would go from feeling like he didn’t exist (being all jovial like nothing had happened – probably my mind’s way of protecting me) to feeling very sad. My parents were amazing and I truly believe that they saved my mental health because they printed out pictures of the Little Mister from his first night in the hospital nursery (I wasn’t able to visit him) and I could look at him and bond with the idea of him. It made him real. My husband was torn between visiting our little man and keeping me company. He was always on the go and did an amazing job also.
By the time my little man came back to me in the hospital, he had been fed formula for three days. There was no choice. I just felt like as long as he was fed and nursed back to health, that’s all that mattered (he had my infection too). He was still on antibiotics just like me, but he was doing better than I was!! I was encouraged to express whenever possible for the milk to come in. Nothing really happened (despite my colostrum coming in very early in my pregnancy). I was stressed. People kept intruding when I tried to pump my breasts. There was no privacy and I couldn’t do it without hearing yet another well-meaning midwives’ opinion on it. I was feeling immense pressure as every nurse who started a new shift (I was in hospital 6 days) kept giving me a new lecture and new breastfeeding instructions. The Little Mister’s first night with us was hellish. He cried and cried every hour of the entire night. He was effectively being starved. I felt hopeless and had been somewhat brainwashed, thinking there was no option but to endure it. The anti biotics, the trauma and stress, they did nothing for my supply.
In the morning a midwife who I will love forever, told me this was bad. We’d been through so much already. We needed to be strong parents and stay mentally healthy at such a trying time. She taught us how to measure out formula top ups. I would try to breastfeed and then if nothing happened on the milk front, formula could top the Little Mister up for the time being. This worked wonders. We got small snatches of sleep and the pressure to breastfeed (which can hinder it ironically enough) was lifted somewhat. I realised I could just do my best and everything would still be OK.
When I left the hospital my supply hadn’t come in. I’d been separated from my baby, was still on anti biotics and I was very stressed (hospital is not that fun after 6 days). I was prescribed something to help and I was relieved when I got home into my own environment to find my supply coming in the day after. It wasn’t a great supply but it was better than nothing in my mind. I wanted to try. We had to continue with top ups through the night but in the day I was able to feed on demand (it felt like we were permanently attached). I felt so much better, but I still felt shame when people would either a) assume immediately that I must be breastfeeding exclusively because every GOOD mother does, right? or b) ask me what choice I had made, with their judgey face all ready to go.
I found myself stumbling over my answers. Trying to justify myself at every turn. I felt ashamed when I gave up at 3 months. My hormones had gone nuts and now as well as rashes all over my body (it was now scarring), I was getting acne. I was struggling with my supply and my body had been hijacked in a difficult way for way too long. I found myself feeling down and I couldn’t take another scar to my battered body. I had carried my beautiful baby into this world and fed him as well as I could. I had tried and tried to breastfeed and I had enjoyed the bonding it did give us while it lasted (without all my illness I truly believe that the Little Mister and my body – as it naturally would have been otherwise – would have been a feeding match made in heaven).
In the ideal world I would have had my baby with me from day 1 and I would have breastfed for at least 6 months (as recommended), but this isn’t always the ideal world and beating myself up over it wasn’t going to help anyone.
To shame mothers into exclusively breastfeeding is a disgusting act. To make laws and rules about it is just big brother style bullying. We all deserve a choice. I honestly believe to be able to be a happy and stable mother, I needed to be able to make my own decision after everything I’d been through. It was thought out, educated and with the best of intentions. To be treated like a dumb, uneducated young mother would have been terribly insulting, disempowering and bad for my mental health. As sad (and embarrassing – there’s a lot of pressure) as it was for me at the time, formula feeding probably saved me from depression. I also found that having to breastfeed and then warm bottles and feed the Little Mister a top up each time was a lot to deal with 3 times a night. To be able to cut down half the work in the wee hours was also a relief. This was not a decision to be lazy (!!!), it was a practical decision. Trust me. No hands on new mum is ‘lazy’.
I think that breastfeeding and lactation information is fantastic and every mother should be provided it in a supportive manner. Milk from the breast really is full of amazing properties that can only do our children a favour. I just also believe that women should not be pressured into it (rather than encouraged) and treated like imbeciles or sub-par parents when they bottle feed. I’m not even talking about the overtly aggressive anti formula people, but also about those passive aggressive looks, comments and “friendly advice” givers that pop up out of nowhere. Sometimes from strangers, medical professionals and even our own ‘friends’ and families – and that is bad enough!
I was adopted and I was formula fed for all of my babyhood. There was no choice. I grew up smart and healthy. I met all of my developmental milestones and I was rarely sick. Perhaps that skews my views on the issue, but I just believe that women need to have a choice, without fear of “mummy wars”. If formula feeding becomes the new social stigma, what does that mean for anyone who doesn’t have a choice? How will that affect the way they feel about themselves?
If I am blessed with a second child (not for a while yet – hold your horses), I will be doing both if required. I know my mind now and I believe I’m a good mother who will always do what is best for my child/ren in my circumstances at the time. To hell with what everyone else thinks.