When I was pregnant, I’d occasionally be asked whether or not I planned to breastfeed. Personally, I thought it was sort of a strange thing to small-talk over, but hey, mom stuff is inherently personal and completely out in the open for public discussion…apparently. And while I knew that there were some very strong opinions from pretty much everyone over the issue, I gave it very little thought. My response was always along the lines of “I plan on it, but we’ll see if I’m able to,” or “I’d like to, ideally, so here’s to hoping!”
But to be honest, I never thought it’d be an issue. Almost every friend of mine had breastfed for months on end without batting an eye. We’d be hanging out, chatting about Scandal, and all of a sudden BAM! There’s your boob. So, I figured I’d just be another one of the hundreds of millions of women who came before me that whipped it out on a moment’s notice to feed her hungry infant.
And then I had my daughter. And a few hours later we mutually decided that we hated my breasts and everything they stood for, agreeing to our unspoken understanding that I wouldn’t make her suffer the frustration of unsuccessful breastfeeding but would also not let her starve. And so, I learned how to pump, Amazon Primed a bunch of formula to our apartment, and let the nice ladies in the hospital nursery bottle-feed her each night so we’d both sleep more soundly.
But while in the hospital, a lactation consultant came into my room to see how I was doing with breastfeeding. “Not very well, actually…” I said, guiltily, trying to hide the bottle of formula sitting next to my bed while my daughter slept, full-bellied, in my arms. “Well let’s see, shall we?” she asked, motioning for me to whip it out, apparently wake my daughter, and show her how awful we both were at this thing neither of us really wanted to do. “Oh, you have short nipples,” she stated mater-of-factly while groping me. Wait, what? Is that a thing? We just met – how about you buy me dinner before critiquing my body, lady! But I just laid there sheepishly, agreeing that it must be my weird body that was causing these issues, and yes’d her until she left the room.
Did I want to breastfeed my daughter? Yes. Did I try? Sort of. Because, while I was being told that it was one of the most important bonding experiences I could have with my tiny child, it was also one of the largest sources of stress for me in the first few days, causing me to feel nothing but frustration, anxiety, and guilt over not being better at it or feeling like it was bonding me in any genuine way with my baby. And I’ve heard other moms say how stressed out they are by breastfeeding, how much time and energy and tears they’ve spent with lactation consultants or at various classes to help it work better. Some had ultimate success, some didn't..
Look, I’m a big supporter of breastfeeding your baby if you’re able and willing; I’m also a big supporter of tuning out the angry moms with pitchforks and nursing bras on my front lawn right now who just heard me say that I didn’t try very hard to make it work and gave my baby poison formula for a year and will shame me until, apparently, they think of something else to try to shame me about. They’re very busy with the shaming, as it turns out, and those mamas are not my mamas.
Because I had enough of that shame on my own as I’d sit there, bottle-feeding her, and think about how, if this were 100 years ago, she probably wouldn’t survive because I was so ill-equipped to feed her. What kind of mother can’t feed her own child? What kind of mother gives her child a bottle after only a few hours of life, confusing the poor baby about what it should and shouldn't be doing? What kind of mother has short nipples?!
And so then, inevitably, I’d spend at least one of her regular night feedings trying different techniques I’d been taught or suggestions by concerned friends and family. But each time, within five minutes, my daughter would be screaming, I’d sometimes be crying, and the kid needed to eat! And so, back to the bottle we went.
I mean, I was pumping multiple times a day so that I could give her as much breast milk as I could provide, but after about seven weeks of that, I started to dry up and she simply didn’t seem to notice. And so, quietly and without much fanfare, I stopped pumping and began feeling a little bit more normal. I wasn’t being milked 10 times (or more) per day and my daughter was packing on the pounds like a champion.
Spoiler alert:I didn’t feel guilty. I mean, I did for those first few weeks, but then I just let it go. Because I had guilt over other things and my basket was all filled up, so I just put this one down and left it there for another unsuspecting short-nippled mom. Total honestly? I didn’t want to give it a month to really “take” with my daughter and me; I just wanted us to bond. And you know what? We did. That kid is bonded to me like glue and I’m pretty sure she won’t remember that a bottle fed her, gently, comfortably, reliably, every few hours of her little baby life. And I’m pretty sure she won’t remember that we did actually give it a shot and cried over it for weeks in a row.
What I am pretty sure about is that I did my job as her mom and fed her, gave her my nutrients and the nutrients of the formula, hearing repeatedly from her pediatrician how she was healthy and thriving and that I was doing something right.
Which I think is the message we need to send to new moms: You’re doing just fine. Are you feeding your child breast milk or formula that agrees with his/her tiny little digestive system? Great, check that box and move onto worrying about your body, showering, hormones, diapers, your husband, your career, your friends, or figuring out how on earth to clip tiny baby fingernails. Because new motherhood is overwhelming. It’s tiring. It’s exhilarating. It’s emotional. And telling women that if they don’t bond-by-boob they’re failing somehow is just unnecessary.
Trust me….you’re doing just fine, mama.