Have you seen Laura Perlongo’s video on “bressure”? If not, “bressure” is the term being given to the experience of being shamed for not breastfeeding enough or at all. If you haven’t seen it, do a quick Google search and watch it. It’s a good one.
Anyway, I was watching it earlier this afternoon and I got to thinking about my own experience and how very different it was from the one she described.
Interestingly… I was shamed for breastfeeding too much, for exclusively breastfeeding, for NOT supplementing, for not “sharing” my baby with others during feeding time and SO many other things I don’t even want to mention because it will just raise my blood pressure.
Bottom line; The pendulum swings both ways here and none of it is a good time.
I mean, on the one hand we need to just admit that formula *isn’t* best. We can agree on that at least, right? ***BUUUT*** (and here’s where it gets interesting) it’s amazing and necessary and thank GOD we have it available when we need it.
Whaaaaaat???? An extended/exclusively breastfeeding advocate mom-blogger is saying “thank god for formula??”
YES. Yes, I am. Becuase OH EM GEE, you guys – sometimes you just can’t. In a perfect world, moms who can’t breastfeed would receive access to milk banks and no child anywhere, ever, would be without actual human breastmilk no matter what happened. But guess what?? We don’t live in a perfect world and formula saves babies’ lives. Not all babies can even have breastmilk for a variety of health reasons and they MUST have an alternative food source. So yes, THANK GOD FOR FORMULA.
If this sounds completely opposite of the first three years of my blogging experience and you’re super confused because who even am I anyway… I get it. But I also get that I can be a hardcore breastfeeding advocate AND understand that sometimes, breastfeeding and even supplementing with human donor milk isn’t an option and that’s when formula is like gold. I have actually never denied any of this but I don’t think I’ve ever specifically voice it either, which is why I’m posting this now.
It’s so hard, isn’t it? ALL of it is. Motherhood is literally the scariest thing I have ever done and that first year with a new baby was the most terrifying time of my life. The pressure to be perfect at it comes from within 90% of the time and that extra 10% is just anyone else with their side-eye and judgy/condescending comments about what THEY did with theirs and why it was the BEST. It was always that 10% that caused me to judge myself even more harshly and made the whole experience all the more terrifying.
As some of you may know, I had a really hard time breastfeeding in the beginning. I almost gave up because the nurse told me on day three of my son’s life that he was in a critical weight loss loop and he could end up “in danger” if I didn’t supplement. Meaning – he could have died if I did not supplement. I knew nothing of milk banks, nothing of syringe feeding, nothing of tube feeding… and no one offered any such suggestions, so I did what I was told to keep my child alive. I did it… until his weight got back up to a safe level. Then, with the help of a lactation consultant and a few thousand hours online, I learned to breastfeed around the clock for almost a solid month to prevent him from slipping again and it was SOOOO hard.
His latch was terrible and I had to use a shield and I didn’t sleep for days at a time for fear if I did, he would die in my arms. I had postpartum anxiety and I was going insane all alone in my new house with hardly anyone nearby who could understand that when I said “come have coffee with me” what I was really saying was “I think I might die alone in this house and leave my infant to starve to death if someone doesn’t come over and sit with me till my husband gets home”. I had just quit the job of nearly a decade I loved and I had no idea what was happening next. All I knew was I had a tiny human relying upon me for his very existence and that was all I could see, hear, smell, taste or breathe for the first year of his life.
Through it all, I was lucky. When he was about three months old, I found a group of moms online who were awake at all hours and helped me through the darkest times. I got advice about latch, about let downs, about weight charts and breastfeeding percentages vs formula percentages, poop colors and over time, (it felt like a lifetime, but it was really only a few months) I learned what I needed to learn to feel safe doing what I knew was best for us. Not everyone gets that.
All through the crazy and beyond, I faced an insane amount of judgement and I judged myself on a daily basis because of what people said. Other’s guilt trickled down on me and made ME feel like I was the one doing things wrong. Once things did get easier, I was still judged and feeling awful about everything I did because I was somehow shoving my “ability to breastfeed” in their faces when posting about our success. They had NO FREAKING CLUE how hard it was to get to that point and yet, they could easily judge me for rubbing it in.
I’d try to tell them – but… this wasn’t easy. In fact, it was brutal… but all they would hear is “you should have done what I’m doing”. I understood that it was hard to hear about others being successful at something they weren’t. I live that every day in other areas of my life like performing and painting and math. With breastfeeding, eventually, yes, it BECAME easy. That whole thing people say; “it get’s better”… it really, actually does…. but I’d watch these moms as I encouraged them and know that all they saw was me with an almost-toddler who latched anytime he felt like it, drank till he was full and they’d assume that I was somehow privileged to have no idea what it was like to have a hard time, to have to choose supplementing over my own body becuase it couldn’t do what it was supposed to do. I’d want to scream at them – my stupid body lost FOUR – YES FOUR BABIES before it could hold onto an egg long enough for me to give birth. I know ALL ABOUT what it’s like to feel inadequate. But I didn’t.
Instead, I became a breastfeeding advocate and started this page, in part, to help moms to feel confident enough to push past all the societal pressures urging them to “just” do formula.
As though that’s somehow easier?????
Formula isn’t easier. Remember, I did that, too, and I know how NOT easy it is. It’s expensive and messy and dishes and bottles and nipples and bubbles and colic and there is nothing about it that makes it easy. It’s really, really hard.
Anyway, this is what I’ve learned so far; Motherhood is a struggle enough without all this guilt and shame and drama. The fear, the moments of inadequacy, it all feels never ending, but it DOES end. That’s why I push so hard for education and community. The more I learned, the more confident I got in what I was doing and the less I cared about what others thought! It was magical! My passion to teach others about breastfeeding and share the resources to help make it as easy as possible also grew with the understanding that shame vanishes when you KNOW what you are doing is the right thing. It’s only when we haven’t done all we can that we feel guilty for not doing something else. So, learn all you can, know that you are doing your best, and continue to do it with your whole heart no matter what your best looks like.
We have enough to deal with as mothers. Just love your baby. Feed your baby. Bottle or breast or tube or syringe or cup or spoon, formula or whatever else… *How* you accomplish that is up to you. Never allow anyone else to make you feel shame, guilt or anything less than the perfect mother for your baby.