During my pregnancy, I confidently told my visiting nurse that I wanted to breastfeed for a year. The fact that breastfeeding provides numerous health benefits is undeniable. At every prenatal visit, I received papers filled with encouraging information that led me to think, “I wish my mom had breastfed me! I may have not needed braces or have to battle asthma or suffer from year-round allergies! I could have a higher IQ!” I felt determined to protect my son from all of my health woes; it was my DUTY as a nurturing mom to breastfeed. Besides, I thought, nursing would mean time for Mommy and Baby to bond, and it would be a fantastic way for Mommy to lose weight. Best of all, breast milk was my favorite word in the English language: FREE! Let me repeat: FREE!
But I paid for breast milk dearly. With my sanity. ...
In the hospital, Equis CRIED and CRIED and CRIED. I gave birth at 9:33 AM on a Thursday, and by the time I left the hospital at 5:40 PM on Saturday, I still had not slept for longer than 20 minutes. Equis could not properly latch onto my breasts, even with the aid of a nipple shield, and was not eating properly. (Sadly, my inverted nipples do not match the Super Mom nipples depicted on the You Can Breastfeed signs in the clinic.)
When my son was three days old, I labored to extract milk from my already sore breasts using a manual breast pump, which is THE WORST MOMMY PRODUCT EVER INVENTED. Marcy,* a very good friend of mine who had come to visit with her month-old daughter, watched as I threw the useless machine into the sink in exasperation. “I’m going to the store to buy him formula!” she declared.
“No, no!” I cried adamantly. Come hell or high water, Equis was going to get MY natural, home-made, God-given milk. For the next 45 minutes, Marcy pressed her fingers against my hard breasts and squeezed my chafed areolas until the 5 ounce bottle I held was half full. (Only a true blue friend exhausts herself helping you to feed your hysterical baby.) I will forever be grateful for her and for those few ounces. The bad news was she was leaving and the whole process would need to be repeated in two hours.
Those first months of breastfeeding hardship taught me that my son will probably best respond to unconventional methods of learning. He finally sucked best when laying vertically against me. (Vertically! Who knew?!) By the time we figured that out, however, (after struggling with the cradle, cross-cradle, and football holds), I was tired, Equis was frustrated, the tubes of my breast pumps were filled with backed up milk and my ducts were running dry. To make matters worse, the people immediately around me discouraged me with comments that made me feel as if I were starving my baby. That week, I guiltily walked to CVS and bought instant formula.
Once I started supplementing Equis’ diet with formula, I stopped crying every day; and months later, Equis switched over to formula completely. However, there is no better way to make yourself feel like a terrible feminist than to stop giving your baby Mom’s milk (because it’s a competition, people, to see who is truly the best mother in the world!). A week later, Equis caught a cold, and Mommy guilt cramped up my insides like a nice, long contraction. I had failed! I graded myself on breastfeeding like my middle school gym teachers did on sports: As for effort and Cs for skill.
It’s been months now since I first fed my son formula, and I no longer daily beat myself up over it. Every time I see a mother confidently breastfeeding her child, however, particularly while skimming through her smart phone, I berate myself for the envious feeling sneaking up inside me. I remind myself that I have a strong FED baby who is happily babbling away in his stroller.
Woman who breastfeeds, I admire you and I applaud you; but I will NOT apologize for not being you. I take great comfort in the fact that during one of those arguments teenagers have with their parents about how we ruined their lives, my son won’t hurl, “You formula-fed me!” as an insult.
*Name has been changed.