Who's Boobs are These?

Finally National Breastfeeding Week is over and the judgement-fest can end. It's a topic that I have not blogged about because frankly, it isn't any ones business and to be honest, I still have a lot of negative feelings about how things turned out for Hazel and I. I thought that breastfeeding would be the most natural thing in the world. I was so looking forward to having that experience, and I felt so much support from my friends and from Jamie. My plan was to nurse Hazel for at least a year, hopefully two. I had heard that nursing can be difficult, but in a very vague way, so I had prepared by buying a couple of books. I had my breastfeeding chair all set up with the pump and the Lasinoh and a big bottle of water. I was psyched.

After giving birth, I nursed Hazel in the delivery room, our cord still attached to one another. It didn't go well, but that is to be expected and I didn't let it get me down. In my 48 hours on the maternity floor, I met with the Lactation Consultant four times; Hazel wouldn't open her mouth wide enough, it was hurting me, I was getting a blister, it hurt it hurt it hurt. Hazel's latch was terrible, and she wasn't getting anything from me, falling asleep, not swallowing. The LC trained me in how to use the SNS (supplemental feeder), a terrible contraption that would allow Hazel to breastfeed, but would be getting formula. I also had to use a nipple shield because of the pain involved. I thought things would even out soon enough. I made a follow up appointment to come back and meet with the LC's two days after discharge.

By the time I came back in to see her, Hazel was very jaundiced and we had to push fluids. I would nurse Hazel with the SNS and shield for 40 minutes (20 each side), bottle feed her the rest to help her metabolize the bilirubin, pump for 20 minutes, wash out the SNS, ice my boobs with the gel packs, and start the whole cycle over again. The most I ever got pumping was some condensation in the shields. I never got engorged, never leaked, never had anything...my milk never came in. I ended up on a regimen of fenugreek, Mother's Milk tea, massage, acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic medicine, pumping like a mad woman, and relaxation. All while using the horrible SNS and meeting with the LC's. I kept this up for 17 days, sometimes without leaving the second floor of my house. Jamie brought me healthy meals and water. He took care of all of Hazel's other needs. I was getting depressed, crying all the time, sleep deprived, miserable, feeling like the worst failure. I knew things were getting really bad when I decided that I was never meant to be a mother; I was unable to get pregnant on my own and now I had to artificially feed my artificially conceived baby. When it was time for Jamie to go back to work, I knew that I couldn't keep it up all by myself. I had zero support from my family. No one came to help us when Hazel came home. I knew that after 17 days, the chances of my milk coming in were slim to none. I cried and cried. I didn't even own any bottles or formula. None of my books that I had bought for support told me what to do. They didn't even mention that this could even be a possibility. I was so angry. My OB offered me this drug called Reglan which can cause lactation, but a primary side effect was paralyzing depression. I think that was the last thing that I needed.

When I stopped nursing, and my breasts started to heal, I mourned. I was so sad, and I still am. I hate that I never had the chance to experience nursing Hazel, but part of me felt overwhelming relief. Trying to breastfeed was emotional torture for me, and I knew that I was about to enter a very dark place of shame and self-blame that is almost impossible to get out of. I was yanked back from that at the last possible second, but the feeling remains with me.

When Hazel was two weeks old, I started going to a mothers group at the hospital where she was born. Though the group was facilitated by a Lactation Consultant, and many women had breastfeeding questions, it was not a Breastfeeding Group. A couple of times, women new to the group would try to engage me in some trash talking about women who formula feed, but for the most part, I felt very comfortable. The women that I associate with from the group are amazing and supportive and non-judgemental. I would still feel a pang of shame mixing a bottle of formula in public though, and sometimes I did get "looks", especially when Hazel was very young. People would act shocked when they discovered that I was not breastfeeding, and I found myself explaining my situation a lot.

However, these are some of the gems that I have received from strangers: "You and all your formula feeding friends are ruining everything!" "I hope that your formula fed baby gets cancer and dies!" and my favorite, "Your formula fed baby is going to be serving fries to my breastfed baby!" Really? You're going to let your little genius eat fries? Methinks that they will be cancelling out some of those breast milk IQ points you're banking on.

Obviously I know that the people who say these things are horrible and nasty and stupid. I know that my brilliant, perfect daughter kicks a lot of ass just as she is. For centuries women have done whatever they needed to do to keep their babies alive. Parenting decisions are personal, and not for public comment. The loud and extreme minority feed off of this sort of self-righteous judgement that they feel is their right to broadcast without pause to the rest of us, who frankly just don't care what they have to say about our boobs. I and other mothers who have had a hard time breastfeeding due to a legion of possible variables gone wrong, are tired of defending our decision to keep our babies alive by whatever means necessary.

The promotion of breastfeeding, especially in certain socioeconomic and cultural centers is important. There is no question that Breast is Best when All Other Things Are Equal, but the promotion of breastfeeding over and above the support of other mothers in one of the most difficult parts of motherhood is not something that I support for a moment. If my daughter chooses to have children, I will do everything in my power to support her through that horrible first month postpartum, even if it means running out for a can of formula when her nipples are cracked, bleeding and burning from yeast and her baby is screaming bloody murder.

If you nurse your children, then way to go, mama. If you weren't able to nurse your children, then I feel you, girlfriend. And if you chose to not breastfeed for personal reasons, then I get it, sister. Either way, you're a warrior.

Queue the abusive comments........NOW.


Jaymee said...

hazel, bop your momma on the hand and tell her to stop all this. us bottle fed babies are the best. what is important is that you grow up with more manners and compassion than to put someone else down for anything. next time some dork says somthing nasty to momma spit up on them. KISSES to you both.

KristyRelkoff said...

Amanda, we love you and Hazel just the way you are. Good for you to write so eloquently and bestow grace even when not shown to you. Not sure I would have been so kind. It is foolish to think that she is anything but perfect just because of formula for goodness sakes! Kristyre

Heather@babyfit said...

very eloquently said amanda. your a wonderful, intelligent, fantastic mama and im so sorry you have had to deal with all this crap. i applaud you for your tact and class in dealing with the harassment you've been facing. keep your chin up sweetie and dont let anyone make you second guess your parenting. hugs!

Anonymous said...

Bethany here:
I am SO SORRY you have to deal with this!
I also could not BF Christian, and went through the SNS, nipple shield, etc. I, however, had my milk come in, so I can pump for him.
You are an awesome mommy, Amanda. Breast-fed babies who have spiteful, poisonous mommies who plug the kid in front of the TV while they are online being retarded are much worse off!!!

Keep up the great work!

Emily said...

Thanks for this amazing post Amanda. As someone who had to stop breastfeeding after two months I really sympathize with the psychological angst that goes with it. Sam was fine - it was ME who was a wreck. It can be very hard to hear some of the craziness out there and it always helps so much to hear about other women who struggled with this.
Thank you.

Marjie said...

God Bless you and your family! I think you are the best mommy for Hazel and this is all that matters.

AlePancha said...

Mom = brave!
Hurray for you and your beautiful healthy baby Hazel!

Jamie said...

You give me more reasons to be proud that I'm married to you all the time.

BeccaD4wn said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story - it is an inspiration to read about your struggles and triumphs on this extremely sensitive topic. Hazel is a lucky girl to have such a strength to look to in her mother.

Heather said...

I'm a Babyfit mom and came across your blog a couple of months ago. I've checked it a couple of times and when I saw this entry I wanted to comment.

I think you've done awesome and I understand the desire to breastfeed your child and not be able to. Our youngest has a condition that I can not breastfeed. Breast milk for him would actually be harmful, go figure. I too cried and had a hard time dealing with it.

I just wanted to say, and it's obvious by the other comments, you have women that think you are right on. Not everything in life is so black and white.


Wendy said...

Amanda, that was an amazing post. You have such a grace and elegance in how you handle adversity. You are an outstanding mommy. One day Hazel will realize the great lenghts you have gone thru for her. You continue to inspire me.

I count myself fortunate to call you a friend even though we have never met.


Kimberly said...

Kudos! I find it so so sad and disappointing that we mothers can be so judgmental of each other. Especially since we KNOW how hard it is, shouldn't we be the biggest supporters or each other?

Krissy said...

THIS. So much this.

My sister pointed me to this blog, and especially this post. I tried my best to breastfeed my son, Andrew.

But Andrew was in the NICU for five days for low blood sugar. We tried breastfeeding, I pumped, and he still had to have formula.

When we came home, I spent more time hooked to the pump than with my child -- without getting good results. Needless to say, I was falling deeper into an already deep depression. My husband finally came to me and said, You know you don't have to do this. It wouldn't make me a bad mother.

But feeling like I have to defend my decision to feed my child properly, that's what drives me up the wall. And at 15 months now, you'd never know if he'd been breastfeed or formula feed.