I will write about this one time and then I’ll be done with it. I promise.
So. Breastfeeding. Let’s go there.
One week shy of his ten month birthday, my son took his last swallow of breast milk.
If you read a post I wrote wayyyyyy back when Semisi was fresh out of the ole’ uterus, you know that I had a difficult time with breast feeding from the get go. First, there was that time I unknowingly starved my son for the first 3 days of his life, then that other time when I suffered from little to no milk production, then I brought it all home by battling case after case of mastitis. Finally, I tried exclusively pumping because my docs thought that my son was passing bacteria to me via the boob/mouth connection. Unfortunately, even after I gave up attempting to breast feeding to solely pump, I continued to get mastitis. I wish I was exaggerating when I say that over the course of the 8+ months I pumped, I battled 11 cases of mastitis.
If you’re not familiar with mastitis, pray you never will be. For me, it made its presence known via nights filled with 103 degree fever(s) and body aches, mornings of soaked sheets, followed by a day or two of painful razor-blade like pumping sessions that would result in tears of pain and frustration streaking down my face. Fun times.
I’m not asking anyone to feel bad for me. I’m not secretly hoping you’ll all tell me how amazing I am for keeping at it. I certainly don’t expect my son to sign his mother’s day cards with “love, Semisi; p.s. thanks for the breast milk.” (Though for the record, it’d be nice.)
What I can say with confidence – and I think we can all agree on this one - is that I’m not the poster child for breast feeding. Why? Let’s review: A) I suck at it (see “starved child attempting to breast feed” description above) and B) I suck at it (see Guiness Book of World Records for “number of times any one person has actually gotten mastitis while attempting to breast feed.”) Sure, I’m happy to have been able to give my son nearly 10 months of breast milk. But am I proud of it? Not in the slightest.
If fact, on the contrary, I’m a little regretful. I’m a little disappointed. If we’re being really open about this whole thing, I’m actually ashamed of myself.
The fact of the matter is, despite the benefits of breastfeeding (p.s. Did you guys know that breastfeeding is better for your baby than formula?), I can’t say with 100% certainty that the only reason I continued to breast feed was for the nutritional benefits my baby was receiving. That was part of it, sure, but that wasn’t the driving force.
So why did I do it? Why did I keep at it when I could have had a perfectly wonderful and healthy formula fed baby? After all, my sister was the only one of three children who was formula fed and IMMA GONNA LET YOU GUESS which one of us got our master’s degree before the age of 30. FROM AN IVY LEAGUE SCHOOL.
It’s taken me awhile to settle in on why I kept at it as long as I did. The fact of the matter is that anyone who knows me might be surprised to have learned that I tried to breast feed at all. I’m pretty selfish, for starters. Plus I like vodka. A LOT. Plus I’m really not all that motherly. It doesn’t come naturally. You know how you meet people and you’re like OMG now THAT’S a person who’s meant to be a MOM. Well, I’m not that person. I’m more like, OMG now THAT’S someone we want to take to Mexico with us.
So if it wasn’t the health benefits, what was it? Well, the answer is simple and kind of embarrassing, if you want to know the truth. But, if I’m really be honest, here it is:
I felt bullied by the internet. There, I said it.
That’s right. I spent hours and hours and hours sitting by myself connected to a breast pump that sounded like a dying cow – a machine that stretched my nipples to six times their intended length - all because I felt peer pressure from the internet.
When I was a baby, my mom told me that people were aware of the nutritional benefits of breast milk, but the pressure to breast feed was nothing like it is today. If anything, there was more pressure to formula feed. Workplaces weren’t (at all) accommodating, and it was pretty unacceptable to breast feed in public. I’m happy that there’s been a significant effort to diminish the “breast feeding in public” shame thing. Some would argue that we’ve still got a ways to go in that effort. But somewhere along the way, we’ve managed to do a complete 180 and now it’s formula feeding moms who are feeling this shame.
And because of the internet, we voice our discontent on both sides of this topic openly, anonymously, and without a whole lot of caution regarding the possible consequences of it all.
So WHAT? We can’t even TALK about it now?
Of course we can. And I could have just, like, gotten over myself and all of my insecurities regarding this issue, too. I could have closed my laptop, said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, and given the internet the finger. After all, my circumstance was unique. Breast feeding was making me very ill, my husband miserable, and robbing my child of some serious one-on-one time (see “seriously ill”). I could have listened to my closest friends (many of whom breast fed their kids), my family members, my husband, my doctor – I could have listened to them all when the offered amazingly reasonable encouragement for me to let it go and GIVE YOUR SON FORMULA, FOR GOD SAKES.
So why didn’t I listen to them?
Beats the hell out of me. I sure wish I had. Instead, I would stay up late at night reading through forums on the Le Leche website, on blogs, and various other “googled” articles trying to find answers as to why this breast feeding thing– this thing that’s just supposed to come naturally – just wasn’t working. And I found a lot of helpful advice on how to continue to “keep at it” and I found a ton of folks tell me that it gets easier and I found even more folks who said after going through hell and back trying to make it work, they quit, but not without feeling huge surges of shame and guilt.
And then I KEPT reading more and more about GUILT and SHAME and SHAME and GUILT – all surrounding formula feeding or QUITTING breast feeding and switching to formula. And it was like to formula feed your child was to set them up for a lifetime of mediocrity and playlists filled with Nickelback.
And what I never did find was anyone who said, “I didn’t breast feed because I like vodka too much.”
And I certainly didn’t find anyone who said “I didn’t breast feed because I like vodka too much. And I don’t feel an ounce of guilt about it.”
And really, that’s what I was looking for.
I’m no longer in the throes of this debate. My son is out of breast milk and I haven’t pumped in months. What’s done is literally done and dried up. But this lack of support on the side of moms who formula feed still bugs me. Even posts that attempt to empathize with moms who formula feed just end up validating and reinforcing the guilt. And it’s almost like we can’t even talk about it because HELL, no matter what we say, we're just making it worse!
So what’s the answer? Like my mother, and my grandmother, and every mother before her, we all (understandably) obsess out whether or not we’re doing what’s best for our kids. The difference between my mother and grandmother’s experience is that the internet provided me with access to huge amounts of information to *help* me in that effort. For the most part, that’s a good thing. However, it also introduced me to an open forum that allowed moms to openly criticize one another, hindering what I would argue is the most essential ingredient one needs to be a good mom: instinct.
Oh, and self-preservation. That too.
And I can’t speak for the author of the blog post I referenced above (whom I LOVE, by the way), but for me – that guilt thing - well, I didn’t feel it all on my own. I wasn’t just making up guilt for the sake of feeling shitty. And, it pains me to say this, but I think blog posts like the one she wrote really did unitentionally make it harder for me to quit. And that’s a bummer, because she was trying to tell me NOT to feel guilty, but it was only MAKING ME FEEL GUILTIER, and then before I knew it was sucked in to this VORTEX OF GUILT and it was like IF I DON’T GIVE MY KID BREAST MILK EVERYONE WILL DIE and ALL THE BLOGGERS OF THE INTERNET WILL JUDGE ME!!!!
Now, don’t misunderstand me – it’s not JUST the internet that’s hard on formula feeding moms. This bullshit doesn’t help either:
Wow. There’s so much wrong with the cover of that magazine that I don’t know where to start. Somehow we’ve determined that unless motherhood is completely self-sacrificing – specifically, in this case, in regard to breastfeeding - we’re doing it all wrong.
But that’s an argument for another day.
But that gal? That gal on the cover? Guess what she does for a living?
She’s a blogger.
And listen, I get that she didn’t write that bullshit headline on the cover. But I think my experience with the internet – specifically in regard to its influence over my decision to breastfeed – can highlight a somewhat important message to moms who blog about stuff like this. Bloggers with a huge following who have a strong opinion one way or another on the whole “breast is best” debate have a responsibility to recognize how their vast influence might negatively affect their readers. Because when I follow a blog, I come to trust that blogger as if I know them personally (which, is kind of creepy, I know, but true, none the less). And so like it or not, their opinion matters.
And in my case, it mattered a little too much. And that’s why I feel a little ashamed. Because I kept breastfeeding because other bloggers and other strangers on the internet thought I should – not because I thought I should.
Now I don’t happen to have a huge following, but maybe some poor mom out there will find this someday and maybe it will help. So, here goes – breast feeding moms? Formula feeding moms? This one REALLY IS FOR YOU:
LET’S BE DONE WITH THE GUILT.
If you don’t want to mess with breast feeding because you don’t want to give up your double vodka sodas, GOOD FOR YOU. God knows if I had to do it over, I would have quit much sooner than I did. Hell maybe I wouldn’t have started at all. And that should be okay. On the other hand, if you want to breast feed your baby until they go off to college, I say good for you as well. But either way, let’s just quit talking about it and let each other do her thing. Without guilt. Without judgment. Without shame.
And WITHOUT mother-effing mastitis.