mamma mia

a woman on my favorite list, DC Urban Moms, had the gall to share a well-written article from The Atlantic. (kudos to you, girlfriend.)  she asked not to be flamed, which of course incited some serious flames among the well-thought-out posts. (and i don’t mean well-thought-out in the sense that i agree with all of the posters’ points; i just thought they made some interesting and useful ideas known, as opposed to the ones who think that anyone who isn’t comfortable breastfeeding requires professional help. to which i’d reply, yes: cleaning, cooking, and other domestic professional help.)

anyway, i thought i’d share my response for those of you not lucky enough to be among the group. i got a little upset, to say the least.

as always, your mileage may vary.



this article resonated with me. VERY deeply. i’m not being my usual politic self. apologies in advance.

i was unable to nurse my babies; and Dog knows i tried. with baby#1, i read everything known to humankind about nursing. a week postpartum, my DD was losing more than her normal share of weight (to the point where she may have been in danger) and i was freaking out. i was determined to make nursing work, even though my pediatrician — who is incredibly supportive of nursing, btw — strongly recommended  i supplement my DD with formula for her own sake. i pumped. i tried to feed her (though we were imperfect nursing partners.) i called la leche.

the la leche representative Brought. Me. To. Tears. this woman seemed far more concerned with carrying the torch for nursing than she was for the well-being of my child and myself. hello? yelling at an engorged, wildly-hormonal, first-time mother because she is considering feeding her starving child with formula is not the way to go.this was not the case of the expected one-week weight loss. this was a crisis in the making.

no one wanted to make this work more than i did. i was in an endless cycle: nurse the baby as best as i could, then supplement with formula, then pump. (oh, and i worked full-time and had to pump *in the bathroom* during the day.) for those of you who got the hang of nursing easily, it’s quite simple to turn your noses up at people like me and think we didn’t try hard enough. that we need professional help if we’re stressed because we can’t get the hang of the balance right with work and child and feeding. you simply have no idea of the pressure you feel when you fail. (or, as the author did (after nursing her first two) when you decide that you’re done.)

the AHA! moment came from an unexpected source: my husband. he had seen me in my round-the-clock-dance of nurse-feed-pump one too many times. and there i was, in pump mode, sitting in the middle of my kitchen floor. 3 AM. crying. “honey,” my husband said, “our daughter needs a sane mom more than she needs breastmilk.”

yes. exactly.

i understand that fewer women breastfeed in the US than in other nations. i get that people want to promote nursing. i’m on board with it as being a completely natural thing to do and get equally upset when women are told to hide or leave the premises rather than to nurse babies. i will admit  — and i don’t care if people flame me, btw — that i don’t actually understand why moms still nurse kids who are in kindergarten; but at the end of the day, it is their choice — not mine — to make, and so i respect that choice and stand ready to defend it if necessary.

but what i don’t get, and what i hear in this article, is the pressure that people in the breastfeeding camp have placed upon a whole generation of women. listen, sister la leche: those first five months with my baby? they’re gone, and they’re not. coming. back. Ever. and while they weren’t completely unhappy, they consist greatly of a blur of inadequate feelings Because I Could Not Nurse. And. My. Baby. Suffered. For. It. needlessly, i’d add. the pressure was THAT intense. my baby could have been happy AND HEALTHY with formula — what’s more, her mom could have been happy and healthy *with her*. but the message i received throughout my pregnancy and thereafter was that i was somehow failing my daughter in my very first task as a mom. that message is especially crushing for a first-time mother. i wanted to do what i understood was best for her. thankfully, when i grew mom-balls and started trusting my own judgement on what is best for my child (in this case, by giving her formula), life inched its way toward the quasi-nirvana we enjoy to this very day.

sometimes, i think that breastfeeding advocates, as well as rank-and-file moms on the upper/middle class milieu, often lose sight of the forest for the trees. shouldn’t we be supportive of WOMEN? some women are uncomfortable with the idea of nursing for reasons that might be more personal than you or i can fathom. some women, like me, simply are not able to nurse (and yes, i have receipts somewhere from the lactation consultantS i saw — for both babies, btw — i tried, and failed, again with baby#2.) whatever: it’s not for me or you to decide whether they should or should not be nursing. if they want to nurse, let’s give them information and help them along. if not, let’s support them, too, and not treat them like they are amoral, child-abusing, pariahs. the best thing we can all do for each other is to give each other the courage and support to make the best decisions for our children. and not just about breastmilk, either.

after all, there is so more to being a mother than whether or not you serve up lunch from your mammaries.


12 Responses to “mamma mia”

  1. I’ve read this article twice now and I still can’t decide what her point is. Ultimately, it reeks of the mommy wars. Everyone has an opinion and only theirs is right. She just can’t seems to decide what her opinion is – it’s like she’s trying so hard not to offend that she can’t – or won’t – take a stand.

    MHO is this (as you said) – Your Mileage May Vary. There’s no right or wrong, just you and your child. The rest of the people can just stuff it. I did have to laugh at the idea that the father won’t bond as well if the mother breastfeeds. I think my husband proved that very, very wrong.

    I haven’t been over to DCUM for a while. So many conversations devolve quickly into all-out wank. It’s good for a laugh, though.

  2. Oh dear DOG does this hit home. I remember vividly my own 3AM meltdown which ended in my husband coming out of the bedroom saying to me – you, go to bed – and saying to my son – you, enjoy this bottle of formula. And it was exactly what we both needed (hard for a baby to sleep when he’s HUNGRY and he’s sucking his mightiest but there just wasn’t enough milk there and hard for Mommy to sleep when her baby is either screaming next to her because he’s hungry or sucking endlessly because he’s trying desperately to get some food). Breastfeeding can be awful, and it can be wonderful – I’ve had both experiences in spades. But we should definitely not lose the forest through the trees on this one. Formula is the reason babies in this country almost never die from malnutrition. Let’s not lose sight of that. EVER. THERE ARE REAL BABIES INVOLVED HERE!

    Like you, I’m lucky to have a rationale husband in the house. I also remember when my LC – who I mostly think is fabulous, but also think can be really mean sometimes – questioned why I had given my son the milk I pumped when he “might not have needed it” and I “could’ve saved it for another time when I was having more trouble”. And I was thinking, are you effing crazy? Do you really think my husband and I can’t tell when my baby is hungry? Sorry, but I’m not experimenting with my very tiny baby and withholding pumped milk OR formula when it’s obvious he’s desperate for food.

    The same LC freaked out when I gave my daughter (for whom I had bountiful milk) formula on day 3 because she had jaundice so bad I had one pediatrician threatening to hospitalize her against my will and another telling me he’d be happy to monitor the situation at home, for the small price of giving her formula which DOES help clear up jaundice. The second ped wisely said “pump whenever you give her formula to keep your supply up, try it for 24 hours, save the milk for later – the milk is perfectly fine, but a chemical inhibits the processing of [whatever causes jaundice] – but this baby needs some help getting her bili levels down, and formula can do that. We’ll retest her in the morning.” You better believe I gave her formula. She tested at 19.5 on the bili test – a 20 is when you get hospitalized, no question. Frankly, I would’ve fed the kid dirt to keep her out of the hospital, formula seemed pretty benign compared to that. Oh, and it worked, and I think having my baby at home with me for the next week EVEN WITH FORMULA IN HER SYSTEM OMG!, was way better than running around like a chicken with its head cut off between a baby in the hospital who needed to be nursed (AND HELD!) and a toddler at home who needed a mom.

    Wow it feels good to vent. Thanks, Sher!

  3. julie,

    that “mommy wars” concept came to my mind, too. nothing probably gets more hits (or copies sold, i suspect) then impugning one woman’s choice. i don’t believe i know what it’s like to walk in the article author’s shoes; and now that she has multiple children, IMHO, it’s not for me to decide that she needs psychiatric help (as one DCUM suggested) simply because she doesn’t want to nurse baby #3 (presumably while babies #1 and 2 are tugging at her sleeve for attention along with her busy career, her partner, etc.) i just. don’t. know. and i just. don’t. care. it’s for her to decide.

    i don’t equate formula feeding with child abuse 😀

    yeah, she wobbled about in the article. but the one thing that i really, r e a l l y felt from the author is the pressure women now feel to nurse, which is something i know i felt keenly. i don’t think it’s right to put that much pressure on someone who is probably in a less-than-stable state for starters.

  4. elaine,

    you’re one tough cookie. and i remember it all. it makes it extra-delightful, then, to visit your blog and see those beautiful little HEALTHY faces 🙂

  5. Oh man…I know…nursing my first was such a struggle. And up here in Canada we have this breastfeeding expert called Jack Newman whose book I bought to help me out. Ugh! It was awful! I distinctly remember pitching it against a wall in frustration. His attitude that women who didn’t breastfeed were selfish failures resonated through the whole book. Women in third world countries can breastfeed–why can’t you. (‘Scuse me, but infant mortality rates in 3rd world are what? D’ya think some of that might be ’cause women who have trouble BFing there don’t have the option of using formula?!?) It drove me nuts to read such attitude from someone who will never ever feel what it’s like to experience BFing problems himself.

    Oh, and the first lactation consultant I dealt with totally made me cry and feel like it was my fault, too. Ugh.

    I have to say, I do feel a twinge of sadness for people who choose not to even try BFing at all. Maybe that’s because I did have a struggle with it at first, but eventually managed to make it work. That said, I know that the only reason I was able to struggle through it was because circumstances allowed me to: I had a supportive hubby and family, I didn’t have to go back to work for a whole year, I lucked out and found some really good lactation consultants (for free through our regional health clinic). Also, my problem ended up being something that my baby could grow out of. She had trouble dealing with my overactive letdown when she was young, but as she matured she learned to handle it. Some issues aren’t so easily remedied.

    Yes, it’s nice to be able to breastfeed and I’m very glad I was able to. But I look at kids of friends who didn’t breastfeed and they are doing fine. They had parents who loved them and cuddled them and cared for them, too. I wish the writers of breastfeeding articles would show the middle ground. Instead we get one extreme or the other. I don’t see how that’s helpful for anyone.

  6. Hey you! Another mom-who-fell-apart here. And it wasn’t because I had twins. I didn’t get the glorious boobs of motherhood. I didn’t even go up a cup size. Maybe half… but I doubt it. I don’t make much in the way of progesterone… I had to take supplements to get pregnant and stay pregnant. My girls were supplemented with formula from *DAY 2.* I tried to nurse… I pumped (and dang that hurt!). My PP didn’t hit until they both stopped wanting to even TRY suckling for the few drops they would get at all. Then I got mega depressed and it was HARD.

    In the end, I was ok. Scott was ok and most of all, my babies are ok. Yes, it hurts to not be able to breastfeed. But it’s OK. And those sanctimonious bitches who can’t seem to understand that sometimes you just *can’t* physically*make*it*happen* can go choke on their soap boxes. Until they can walk in our shoes (and hormones), they have no right to slap their opinions and speeches on us.

    I’ve had a few encounters with such sanctimonious ladies who seem to think that we just didn’t try hard enough. Bullsh*t. Would you like some salt for this soapbox I’m about to shove down your throat?

  7. Amen girl! From one who nursed #1 for 24 months and #2 for 2 weeks 🙂 You do what you have to do and support other families in doing the same for heaven’s sake!

  8. Sigh. I love the DCUM Listserv. It has been so important to me on this parenting journey. But it makes me sad when these things break out. I realize there are lots of nuggets of wisdom scattered through, but it still makes me sad.

    I find it re-assuring though, that so many women struggle those first few months (or years?) with nursing and motherhood. I thought I was the only one who really questioned why nursing didn’t come second nature to me, etc. And as I am three-months into a nursing relationship with my second child, but also on meds for PPD, I question whether I should be breastfeeding her every day. Sigh.

  9. Like the other commenters here, I whole-heartedly support the “do whatever works best for you and your baby” approach.

    With No 1, who came prematurely, I, too, succumbed to the harsh reality of BFing issues. I had very little milk, she was too small to feed, I pumped round the clock (Oh, wreke, I was there with that pump, feed, try to BF, supplement with formula, cry… cycle). For six weeks I tried with her and, after a two horrific experiences with lactation consultants, public health nurses and a pediatrician full of attitude, I decided to switch to formula. Why did it have to be such a heart-wrenching decision? Why so much pressure? Why did I feel like a failure? Those women who made me feel like I wasn’t doing right by my little child. Oh, and Mary Lynn, I had that Jack Newman book (and watch those “helpful” videos on his website over and over) and felt even worse.

    However, with numbers 2 and 3, I perservered and was able to nurse each one for a year. A year!

    So, I’ve experienced both. I tried my best with every child. Sometimes it works, sometimes it just doesn’t and you do the next best thing you can.

    One last thing – a sane mom is more important than breastmilk. Absolutely.

  10. High fives all around, to you, Miss Wreke, and to all of the commenters. I had a hellacious time with my first child, who was borderline Failure To Thrive. When I got THAT news I bought formula, and supplemented. I will never forget the pediatrician’s exact words, “Who told you to do that?”

    Are you KIDDING me? Who says that to a hormonal first-time mom whose baby is rather skinny and crying all the time and LITERALLY feeding every hour?

    It was all I could do not to stomp out of the office, and I’m glad I didn’t because she’s a great pediatrician. But it cemented my resolve to do what I had to do, damn the torpedos and all that.

    My Lac consultant was fantastic, even though we never figured out what the problem was. My daughter got the hang of it and BF for 15 months (just at bedtime for the last 6 months). But I experienced INTENSE pain during the let-down — about a full minute — for FIVE. MONTHS. Stubborn me, I kept at it. After five months the pain stopped. Second child was no problem.

  11. Oops — hit enter too soon. My dander is UP for anyone trying to tell a new mom what’s what about breastfeeding. I wasn’t BF and I think my mom is a saint, and I think I turned out fine (other than the obvious freak gene). Get that baby fed and off to dreamland, whatever it takes, and stay the hell away from organizations built around rigid dogma.

    I’d like my soapbox al dente, please. 😉

  12. GAH. Sher, you know how I feel about this – I hope you got a standing O for what you said on DCUM. I do not miss that list at all… though my favorite BF/FF comment *ever* from that listserve was a woman who said something like “It’s formula, people, not rat poison.”

    All the moral high ground people would be the first ones knocking on the door and calling CPS, by the way, if a baby should – God forbid – die because some poor mother didn’t give the child formula when push came to shove.

    And that from someone who had an easy-peasy time BFing two kids for 10 months and 14 months, respectively.

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