I breastfed Sam for the last time just after he turned eight months old. It seems funny that I didn’t know it would be the last time. Now I replay that moment in my head — lying down next to my baby after a long trip to my parents well after his bed time, and nursing him until he fell asleep gently beside me. I knew he needed me then — not for nutrition but for comfort and warmth. He slept through the night until the next morning. He woke up happy.
Since then, he’s had exclusively Earth’s Best formula, which he seems to like. He hasn’t had any upset stomach, weight loss, or other adverse reactions — and it seems that he is thriving, growing, and meeting his milestones just as he should.
And yet. There isn’t a time that I feed him that I don’t think I’d rather be nursing him. He makes sweet little humming sounds when he eats — just like he did when he nursed. And it makes me feel deeply guilty and quite sad.
As I have said before, I wasn’t that enthused about breastfeeding from the get-go. And as natural-mama as I try to be (sometimes), I didn’t see myself breastfeeding too much beyond one year. (No hating for those who do … it just didn’t seem right for me.)
We have a healthy, thriving baby. I am a lady who knew she would make the switch sometime — to formula or cow’s milk. So why the feelings?
For one, I wasn’t ready. My body made the choice for me in a lot of ways. When I returned to work and started pumping, Sam was okay at first — and then, he started eating twice as much as I could pump in a day. I made up for that by pumping at night and on weekends. I took Lactation Support (which is primarily made of the herb Fenugreek), which worked but left me with some not-so-great side effects like intestinal cramping. When I was prescribed Wellbutrin, my supply shot down to the point where I had to start formula. (I don’t know why I responded to the medication that way — but apparently other women have had the same problem. And some don’t.) Once I started formula, Sam didn’t want to nurse as much, and when he did he was left hungry and fussing. He got so used to the bottle that he stopped nursing altogether — and now he doesn’t even remember that he ever did.
I look at my history with nursing — the complications and the inconvenience and the supply drop that made me quit. And I feel like that’s just what I did. I quit. I gave up on my baby when he still needed me, and still needed the perfect nutrition that is human milk. No formula compares. Handling formula makes me know that — it’s essentially sticky powdered cow’s milk mixed with corn syrup (or table sugar!) to make it sweet. Its fat content comes from added oils like palm and coconut. The fat in formula condenses in little yellow globules when it’s mixed with water. Just looking at breast milk, you can see the difference — the creamy milk fat rises to the top and separates (just like how cream separates from cow’s milk before it’s processed). Breast milk smells sweet, where formula smells strongly of iron and oil. Breast milk is living, full of nutrients and antibodies that no science lab could replicate into a powder.
I’ve gone through these punishing thoughts a fair number of times, letting them cycle over and over again in my brain. On better days, I respond to them by saying: “My husband and I were formula fed, and we’re fine, healthy and smart. Sam is thriving. I gave him eight months of my milk, and he will always have that. Formula is not unhealthy — it is designed for human babies, and it is researched and improved upon all the time. Plus,” I whisper, “It’s easier. You can drop Sam off with your parents and stay away for a night. You can let your husband feed him. You don’t have to worry that day care will run out of breast milk.” But still, I struggle, and I struggle to shut down the voice that says I didn’t do the right things, and I didn’t try hard enough.
I’ve talked a lot about judging in my two previous posts. If I’m to look back and take wisdom from my own words and thoughts, I would say that moms tend to judge themselves the most harshly. I know I do — I know I’ve always been my own worst critic, and when it comes to being a mother, I tend to make that critical voice ten times worse. There are certain things that I must let go. Even though I know that I could have bent over backwards to keep breastfeeding, with supplements and teas and endless pumping (and I applaud the ladies who do that — y’all are hardcore), for us, now was just as good a time as any to end. For other moms, maybe their journey is longer or shorter, or maybe it’s a formula feeding journey the whole way. What ends up being important is a healthy baby, who feels close to and trusting of his or her mother. Whatever way that is accomplished is, and will be, alright by me.
By writing this, I hope to release it and move on. My baby is beautiful, and every day, he shows me that he is strong and happy and loving.
I may or may not have mentioned my mild internet addiction, which worsened when I had Sam glued to my boob for the first four months or so of his life. During that time, I was at home most all of the time. Also, it was winter. Also, the whatnot with the PPD. The internet, for better or probably for worse, was a big part of my life. I frequented (and still do) the oddly popular and gigantic Diaper Swappers parenting forum. I joined the Peaceful Parenting network on Facebook, and the Whole Network on Facebook as well. I also frequented sites about natural birthing, baby wearing, organic baby foods, and oh, lots of other things. The things these sites have in common? Judgment of others’ parenting decisions abound. This of course fueled my judgment phase of parenting. Why aren’t others using cloth diapers? Why don’t more women choose natural birth? I thought. Why does anyone circumcise? Why would you feed formula when you have plenty of breast milk?
Disclaimer: I will certainly try for a natural birth again. I still won’t circumcise if I have a second son. I may try cloth diapers again — I do believe there is much too much waste going into landfills. And yeah, I’ll probably try to breastfeed until one year next time … if I can.
In the statement above, folks, notice the use of “I” statements. Yep, those are my decisions. And beliefs. I now recognize that those things don’t apply to the general population a lot of the time. Newsflash, Camilla! Disposable diapers and formula ARE a LOT easier. (Yeah, taking out the trash and making bottles — those things are a pain, but they don’t add up to mountains of laundry or furiously pumping for an hour at work to get two ounces.) HA! Another newsflash — labor is incredibly freaking painful. Damn right women should have a right to pain relief! Lordy.
Since I’ve gotten off of my high horse, I’ve been increasingly amused at the comments I see floating around on forums or strings of Facebook comments. I’ll paraphrase here, since I am not keen on using exact quotes.
Peaceful Parenting asks (recently) — A mom wants to find a good forward facing carrier for her child. Her child doesn’t want to face towards her body, but prefers to look out. Can you help?
Multiple (more than 20) responses: You should never put your child in a forward facing carrier. This may cause hip issues. Please mama, reconsider before putting your child forward facing.
Me: I think she wanted actual suggestions, not a school lesson.
The, “Please, Mama,” is the especially condescending bit you see very often in these internet conversation. Another good one…
The Whole Network says, Mayim Bialik is having her son circumcised! Please leave thoughtful and loving comments on her blog about circumcision.
Responses: I cannot believe she is mutilating her son!
Responses: I left a comment that she should reconsider and not mutilate her son!
Me: Unfollow The Whole Network.
Um, mutilate? Come on. I’m not pro-circumcision, but calling out a Jewish mom and telling her she is mutilating her son is just … ugh. It’s just wrong and awful. (Miyam Bialik’s response was fairly trenchant, to say the least.)
And this is from just now…
Peaceful Parenting posts, “Does anyone know any good studies about children watching television under three?”
Multiple responses: We have never, and will never, let our children watch television. Never ever.
Other responses: I let my kids watch TV sometimes so I can make dinner or go to the bathroom alone.
Multiple responses: Just think how much more gifted your kid would be without television! Why are you letting the television raise your child? (Emphasis added.)
Other responses: Want to come raise my kids?
Other responses: Why isn’t anyone answering the question?
I haven’t unfollowed Peaceful Parenting, since Dr. Momma does post some very interesting articles. She’s also a good writer, and I gel with a lot of her beliefs. I also live for writing snarky responses to judgmental mothers. Stab stab. Poke poke.
I know it won’t cause them to reconsider the belittling remarks they leave. I know it won’t stop a lot of people from thinking they way they think or leaving unsolicited advice lying around the internet, like my dog leaves turds in my yard. But it’s fun to get a jab in here and there.
Maybe one of them will pause and say to herself, “What is it about the internet that makes me want to leave comments like that? Would I say this to my best friend? To my sister? Maybe, maybe not. Why do I want to reach across the country to say, Please Mama, don’t mutilate your child. Make sure to feed him breast milk, since formula is poison.” (I’ve seen that said more times than I can count. How does formula = poison? I’m flummoxed.)
Is it something about the anonymity? The grouping together of moms with a baby on boob, trolling the internet for mothers with whom they disagree? The automatic assumption that I AM DOING IT RIGHT, and no one else is, and therefore, they must want, nay NEED my advice?
I wish I could go back in time and change my website to Unsavvymom. I’m not any more savvy than anyone else — the name sometimes gets to me these days. And if I’m not any more savvy, there are probably a lot of other moms in my same boat.
My job has taught me many things that are important — but this one rings out in my head whenever I see posts like these — assume goodwill. When that mom is posting about her decision regarding [whatever], assume that she’s trying to do the best she can, assume that she knows a little bit about being a mom, and please, assume she’s not trying to abuse her child or put him or her in danger. Give her some credit — and think, hard, please. Maybe there are some decisions you’ve made that weren’t so perfect either.
Welcome to the Savvy Mom Space
I’m a liberal feminist that believes that liberal, feminist ideals should gel with embracing your gender and motherhood (if that’s what you feel like doing). I support all kinds of moms and dads and parents. Oh and, although I totally love that natural vibe and not harming the environment, I supplement my organic milk and fresh fruits and veggies with the occasional Twix, the frequent Oreo, and the daily Coke Zero. I’m opinionated, not easily offended, and a loudmouth in person and on the internet. I am what I am. Welcome.