I didn’t have an easy time with my first. My husband and I called it The Dark Ages – and for good reason. She cried all the fucking time. Twenty hours a day. Every day. For three eternal months.
I had a hard labour, pushed for two hours, and wanted to die from the pain afterwards. Coupled with this was me getting to know this beautiful little monster who continually screeched like a dying cat. It certainly burst any euphoric bubble I was supposed to be floating in.
During the first night, I had an angel in scrubs float into my room and tell me my baby wasn’t getting enough milk and it was time for formula. I’m pretty pragmatic, and I also worked for a group of OB/GYNs for 10 years, so I understood birth weights and all that business. When this lovely nurse stated, “Honey, just give her a little until your milk comes in. Don’t stress,” I nodded with immense gratitude and let her help me through.
That was the last time I was treated with such humanity when it came to formula.
What came next felt like an apocalyptic battle between me and every fucking person who felt they knew me and my body better than I ever could.
We all talk about the guilt new moms feel, and nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to feeding. Everyone has an opinion and too many have clearly forgotten how to keep comments to themselves – you know, the ones no one asked them for? Those ones.
There is immense pressure for moms to AVOID FORMULA AT ALL COSTS. We make women feel guilty. We make them feel like failures. We make formula a last resort. We’ve created this false sense of entitlement to judge moms on the CHOICES they make for their family – their family alone. These judgments pervade our culture at every turn, thereby inherently pitting women against each other. Where is the logic in this?
There is none.
Because everyone is missing a very key point:
The only real thing anyone should be worrying about in those first days, weeks, months, is keeping mom and baby alive. Period.
And whether it’s breast milk or formula is none of anyone’s fucking business.
And this is what we ignore when we make women feel guilty for feeding babies formula.
And when society creates this divide between breast and formula, the undercurrent of all comments thereafter are laden with suggestions that ‘you aren’t enough’ if you cannot breastfeed. This is why we beat ourselves up and feel like giving formula is a sign of failure.
Let me exemplify how this happens:
- I get to the breastfeeding clinic after that night with the formula, and am scolded for listening to the nurse and giving formula.
- I’m told I have no choice but to make this work, otherwise I’m putting my child in jeopardy (like, do you fucking tell this to the moms with their babies in the NICU with IVs, heat lamps, etc.? Do you spew this? Shame on you.)
- I am told a nurse must come to my house to make me breastfeed. She comes and the baby is crying all day and she just tells me to be persistent.
- She starts putting together – what could only be understood with background knowledge in physics – a tube system that’s supposed to bring in my milk and prevent nipple confusion.
- I’m told by moms that I just need to do x, y, and z, and “Don’t worry it’ll work,” and “It worked for me! Just try a little harder.”
- I’m told my diet is causing the crying. Eliminate:
*Essentially living off of broth and water – fun times!
- The lady in the elevator tells me I’m not trying enough. Three other people give me similar unwanted criticism – that day.
- The lady in the grocery store gives me a Ukrainian home remedy to make the baby stop crying.
- People start bringing me pills to get the milk going so the baby stops crying. None of which work. Apparently, I’m “just not taking them right.” What the fuck does that even mean?
- The sleep nurse tells me I’m screwed; she can’t help with the milk or crying. But just keep trying. She took my money, though.
Remember your least favourite teacher who equated your lack of achievement to ‘simply not trying enough’? Multiply that voice by a million, and that is tantamount to the feelings swirling in the mind of a mom who has been made to feel like utter shit for choosing formula.
I did not listen to myself. I did not listen to my baby. And I did not definitively tell all those people to fuck right off (okay, I told some, but that’s for another time).
Three months of darkness and really truly trying to get this thing right, and lo and behold, the only thing that made Miss A stop and be a quiet baby was formula. That’s right, good old, gonna-damn-you-straight-to-hell, formula.
Why? Because in my case, my daughter was reacting to my milk. Every time I fed her, she got sick. Every time I fed her, her tummy couldn’t take it. Every time I fed her, I was ignoring her screeches for help. And the second I fed her formula exclusively, she went straight to sleep like the angelic little beauties mocking me on the walls of the breastfeeding clinic that very first day in the hospital.
Not everyone has ill intentions. Not everyone wants you to feel like shit. But you know what? The second someone makes formula-feeding sound like downgrading from a Maserati to a Golf Cart, that my friends, is the moment the vicious cycle of guilt is given a bit more fire.
Instead, here are some things you can do when someone whips out a bottle and starts feeding a baby formula:
- Say nothing. (The baby is eating. Fuck off)
- “What brand to you use? Do you like it?” (Obviously, only if you care. It would be weird otherwise.)
Here’s what to say/do when a mom tells you she has to formula feed and is feeling shitty about herself:
- “The baby obviously needs it; good on you for listening to your babe.”
- “Don’t worry about it! It’s not a bad thing. Do not sell yourself short. Baby is being fed. You are doing your job and a damn good one at that.”
- Give her a hug and tell her she just birthed a live person – she’s a hero. While you’re there, offer to do some dishes, or cook a meal, and let her have a shower while YOU feed the baby.
- Remind her that no adult gives a shit whether her friend/colleague was breast or formula fed – they’re too busy arguing between organic vs. GMO, and vegan vs. the world.
- Give her a bottle of wine.
And finally, if you (or a fellow mama) is still feeling guilty, just remember, in about 3 years you’re just going to be begging them to eat anything, even if it’s off the floor.
Feature Photo Art by: Briony Douglas