A couple of weeks ago was Worldwide Breastfeeding Week and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
As I write this, I’m about 2 months postpartum with an amazing baby boy named Leo. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I chose to bottle feed. Moms who bottle feed out of choice or necessity can get a raw deal for being excluded from weeks like that – not to mention the constant judgment from other moms who “know better.”
I saw posts upon posts with some really touching stories about breastfeeding. It’s just that there’s something missing from the conversation. It’s that feeding and bonding should be celebrated – no matter how you do it.
Not that we need a Worldwide BottleFeeding Week, but it’s important to say that…
- feeding itself is a bonding experience between a mom and a baby. Breast is not a requirement for skin-to-skin contact and bonding. There are many ways to bond with your baby.
- parents who bottle-feed their baby love their baby as much as moms who breastfeed.
- not every family looks the same. Same-sex couples with babies may not be able to breastfeed and adoptive parents certainly cannot. Even moms who give birth naturally may not be able to breastfeed due to a variety of potential issues – from anatomical to medical to biological, and then some. I’m not a doctor, but I know this happens.
- breast is not always best alone. A lot of moms do both (breast and bottle feeding) – because FED is best. It’s an idiom that bears repeating.
During National Breastfeeding Week, I was asked twice if I’m breastfeeding – and both times (including the several times I’ve been asked outside that one week), it’s been an exchange that’s felt intrusive, inappropriate, and judgmental. I’m sharing these stories below not to depict the other person as bad – but because, as a mom who chose to bottle feed, these conversations made me feel really bad about myself when I know I shouldn’t have to feel that way.
At Whole Foods buying gripe water for my baby since he gets the hiccups sometimes. My feeling is she meant no harm, but it was an intrusive line of questioning.
Cashier: Oh – you’re buying gripe water. Does baby have the hiccups?
Me: Oh yeah. Sometimes. I just thought if he got them, this could bring him comfort.
Cashier: You know what’s good for hiccups? Breastfeeding.
Me: (Trying not to react.) Yeah, I chose not to. But thank you for the advice.
Cashier: Why would you choose not to?
At the doctor – my PCP so she could examine an infected cut on my right hand. Fittingly – it was my middle finger. Note: My doctor had not seen me since the day after I found out I was pregnant- so it had been a very long time. The question was presumptuous – and also – why again is it an egregious offense to not breastfeed?
Doctor: How’s breastfeeding going?
Me: I’m not breastfeeding.
Doctor: What?! Why not? Oh my…
I know – I cut off both those exchanges before I gave my reasoning. And my reasoning changes depending on who I’m talking to because I really want to still be likable after the conversation. Which is absurd. Because really – why do I owe people an explanation for how I feed my baby? I don’t think I do. It’s just as ridiculous as all the questions about how well he sleeps or eats. It’s constant.
The truth is that when I got pregnant, I’d fully intended to breastfeed. I was game – I did the research, saw the benefits, and was ready for that.
However, as my pregnancy progressed, I started to talk to friends of mine who breastfed and friends who did not. And what surprised me is that many women who breastfed actually regretted it in the end. This SHOCKED me because it’s a side of breastfeeding no one talks about.
I learned there were significant drawbacks to breastfeeding like how it can make your partner feel uninvolved, how it makes your hormones stay crazy longer, how it can foster resentment between you as a couple, how it can make you not want to have sex (because your breasts become as sexual as a toaster since they’re used for food production and not for romantic intimacy), how it messes with your sleep, how it sucks to pump at work, and how your body stops feeling like it’s your own.
For some, the benefits outweigh these drawbacks, but you know what? Not for me. I wanted my husband to be very involved in caring for my baby. I wanted him to bond. I wanted there to be no barrier between him and I. I wanted my hormones to even out… desperately. I wanted my body to feel my own. But the second I say that when people ask me why I’m not breastfeeding is the same moment I’m judged.
I either get a, “Oh wow… [awkward silence].” Or, I get, “Good for you!”
I appreciate the latter because it’s positive reinforcement – but being asked is so weird in the first place.
The bottom line is that how you feed your baby is a personal choice – one that should stay personal, but doesn’t. Why do others, other moms specifically, feel they have the right to ask questions like these? Why is everyone so presumptuous they know what’s best about parenting and motherhood when the truth is none of us really know what we’re doing, so we all just do the best we can anyway?
I remember what bonding with my son was like. And it had nothing to do with bottles or milk.
The moment I will never forget was the morning after a traumatic emergency c-section. I’d never googled c-sections so I had no idea how phenomenally major that surgery is. You can’t even get up by yourself unless you have freakishly strong upper body strength – and you feel like that for weeks. Now – I don’t have freakish upper body strength – but I could lift myself when I tried very hard. (But I digress and the intent of this article isn’t really about the birth.)
You see because I was so doped up on drugs and physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, I didn’t actually get to hold my son right away. I listened for his cry in the operating room as soon as I felt them pull him from my body. Once I heard it, I let myself fall asleep until my husband James came over holding him for me. I touched my baby softly once for about a half-second and then fell asleep. I was in and out of consciousness all night – not to mention traumatized. I didn’t see my baby, Leo, again until the next day.
The next day, I remember my husband going to get us iced coffee. It was just me and my baby in the room together. And I thought to myself, “I must be the worst mom.” I didn’t even get to hold Leo right away – he didn’t yet know my touch or that I loved him. And my goodness, how I loved him – this beautiful little stranger.
He started to cry in the room alone with me. I knew it would take me forever to get up. So I spoke to him as I tried to lift myself. I said, “Baby, you don’t know me yet, but I’m your mama. I’m your mama and you’re okay, baby.”
And then he stopped crying, stunned by the sound of my voice. It was then we were bonded and I knew for sure that I could do this. This being motherhood itself, which had seemed a terrifying and looming responsibility for 9 months. Now it was a part of who I am.