Fearless

In my year of writing for this blog, I’ve written about the worst of the worst.  I’ve shared some of the saddest things that have happened to me and my most intimate feelings.  I’ve put myself out there, laid myself bare.  

But for all that I’ve put out there, there is one painful thing that I’ve only mentioned in passing.  

Breastfeeding.  

I couldn’t do it.  I stopped trying.  I fed my daughter formula.    

It still hurts.

My story really isn’t that dramatic.  My milk didn’t come in, my baby started to lose weight.  I visited several lactation consultants, saw a specialist.  I pumped for literally hours a day to stimulate milk production.  After weeks of confusion and stress, I found out that I am among the 1-5% of women who were born with no or very few milk ducts. I will never have the option of exclusively breastfeeding my child.  

I will never forget our first (and former) pediatrician’s callous and blunt diagnosis that my baby was starving.  I will never forget the feeling of standing over my husband’s shoulder while he gave my daughter a bottle of formula her hunger was quenched for the first time.  I will never forget those early weeks when I would try to nurse my baby and we would both cry with frustration.  I will never forget the feeling of not being able to provide what I had always considered the most basic thing for my precious girl.  

I was told that if I took a hot shower my milk would come in.  My baby would cry in public and strangers would suggest that maybe she needed to nurse.  As a progressive person living in a progressive place, I had bought everything that was sold to me on the benefits of breastfeeding.  I was armed with a brand new freezer and a state-of-the-art pump.  

I felt left out.  Alone.  Embarrassed.  

I hung my head as I bought formula and felt guilty over the added and unplanned expense.  I avoided conversations about feeding – one of the hot topics among new moms.  I grew quiet when nursing inevitably came up.  I didn’t feel as if anyone really understood.  I felt judged.  

Yes, I probably got more sleep.  My husband and I were able to split the night shift.  I could drink whatever I wanted and take medication without a second thought.  But I would have given up any amount of extra sleep or forced sobriety to have experienced the stresses of a nursing mama.  

And to this day, I’m not sure I ever really got over it.  

Recently, I found The Fearless Formula Feeder.  Articles titled “I’m still working on forgiving myself” were a revelation.  I’d seen pro-formula articles before, but I’d never seen it put in terms that hit so close to home.  I am working on forgiving myself, too.  

And maybe, just maybe, I can be fearless.  

– ALW

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    • Rebecca
    • September 23rd, 2010

    Big hugs. My milk didn’t come in either (I’m in that 5%). And it didn’t matter anyway, immediately post-delivery I had to go back on immunotherapy meds that make my milk toxic. I’d known for years that I would not be able to breastfeed. I had bottles and formula all ready for my son. I didn’t have the heartbreaking experiences you had. And I still feel robbed. I still feel defective. I absolutely feel defensive about formula feeding. But I found something that has helped – I make my son’s baby food by hand. I couldn’t make him breast milk, but I get to make him his solid foods, all by myself, no help from Gerber or Beech-Nut. It doesn’t fix everything, but I am proud of myself and that helps a lot.

  1. What a great post. I’ve noticed in many of your posts how you manage to pack so much into a sentence or reference. I’m thinking particularly of “to have experienced the stresses of a nursing mama”–I love that line. Rather than some cliche about the “joys” of nursing, you get the nuances just right, acknowledging how difficult BFing can be, but at the same time dealing a serious blow to people who think FFers do so because they want the option that’s “easier.” That’s just ridiculous. Those insipid pros/cons lists for formula or breastmilk ignore these complexities. It kills me when I see “More sleep!” (formula) or “It’s free!” (breastmilk). A) My friends who went through major struggles to nurse or had to switch to formula (because of said struggles) lost a WHOLE LOT of sleep over it; and B) As your post shows, nursing costs A LOT of money, in the form of freezers and pumps and special containers and we’ll not even go into the less easily quantifiable aspect of a woman’s time.

    I have a few supremely insensitive acquaintances in Madison who will ask virtual strangers how long they nursed for (!!). Madison is a lovely community, but I’ve found it can be rude as hell when it comes to talking about feeding babies. (And birthing them, too, as a stranger at HB asked me while I was holding my TODDLER whether I had him “naturally”–um, that was long ago enough that you shouldn’t even be thinking about it, dude, and you probably shouldn’t be asking in the first place.

    (Not that these are “unspeakable” subjects–that’s the whole point of FearlessFormulaFeeder’s blog, is to be able to talk about it without it being a shameful secret. The questions about nursing/natural birthing just come from a place that privileges both, rather than asking the question neutrally to share knowledge).

    • Tammy
    • September 27th, 2010

    Thanks for the post. It’s actually very hard for me to read. I had the same problems when my son was born, 9 years ago. When he was 10 days old, and I had tried everything — lactation consultants, the milk-necklace drip line, pumping, etc., — my mom finally fed the hungry baby his first bottle. Watching him gulp in down in seconds, I felt relief and guilt in equal measure.

    • Alyssa (ALW)
    • September 27th, 2010

    Thanks for the comments!

    @Rebecca Yes! I made my daughter’s baby food, too, and felt so good about that. I also found that I approached the first year with such relief – the cow’s milk milestone was a godsend. It was so nice to finally have some choices that made me feel like I was back in control.

    @Accidents Thank you! It’s funny, I do love it in Madison, but find it to be equal parts welcoming and judgmental. In most ways, I’m thrilled to live somewhere where breastfeeding is so normal and expected – in other ways, I think this could be why it took me so long to tell my story. It’s easy to swim downstream – quite another story when you’re going against the tide. It’s been an important lesson for me.

    @Tammy I can relate on all counts and am so sorry for your experience. It says so much about this particular heartbreak that it still stings 9 years later. I have no doubt that my heart will always remember and feel the pain of it. But to know that there are others out there like me – that did it all, that wanted it so much – does help.

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