I only had one plan when it came to my son: I wanted to breastfeed.
I wanted to breastfeed all day, every day. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was willing to put in the hard yards to make it work. I had read all the articles and I knew it was ‘the right thing to do’. Believe me – I knew. And I was determined.
We all know what happens to plans. Even plans with the best intentions.
Sometimes it just doesn’t work. It hurts me to say this, but breastfeeding was one of those things.
And I have learned that it’s okay.
However, I have learned that it doesn’t mean that other people are okay with it. This is my story.
You weren’t there when the midwives told me that an ambulance was on its way to collect my son. An ambulance. They were coming to get him because his blood sugar levels had fallen to dangerously low levels and he was dehydrated because breastfeeding didn’t work. I remember climbing into the ambulance and being in shock. I had been doing everything right. I was eating, I was sleeping, I was drinking, and I let him hang off my boob whenever he wanted. And it still didn’t work. Breastfeeding just didn’t work.
You weren’t there when we were rushed to NICU and you didn’t have to watch the medical team hook him up to their machines. You didn’t see them run a tube down to his stomach. You didn’t have to hold a syringe of formula that slowly dripped into his stomach. You didn’t see all the leads attached to his chest and an apnea monitor attached to his foot. You didn’t have to sign a form that gave the medical team the okay to give your two-day old son formula. You didn’t hear the words code blue being thrown about by the medical team as they stood over your son. It was almost a code blue. Trying to breastfeed my son almost killed him. Breastfeeding just didn’t work.
You weren’t there when we started the new routine. Wake up. Drip feed C. Try change his diaper and give him a cuddle without disturbing all the leads hooked up to his body. Put him in the bassinet and head back to the room. Cry. Sit next to a giant blue box and pump for twenty minutes. Eat. Finally go to sleep. Wake up and do it an hour and a half later. It was exhausting, but it was working.
I eventually ‘graduated’ from having him in the NICU nursery to my room in the hospital to being able to take him home. Finally.
Things were going well – until they weren’t.
You weren’t there when I had to wake my mum up every three hours because I needed her help. I couldn’t breastfeed by myself. I had to have someone else there to hold my son’s arms, otherwise he would push against my boobs. He would physically hold himself away from them. At one week old. You weren’t there when he would be screaming against my boob because he couldn’t latch. You weren’t there when both of us were crying because it just wasn’t working. You weren’t there – at 3am – with a pump attached to your boob. You weren’t there when those pumping sessions only managed to get you 50mL. If you were lucky.
Breastfeeding was the only thing I had planned during my whole pregnancy.
I wanted to breastfeed more than anything. I read all the articles. I went to the antenatal classes. I read the books. I knew the techniques. I had the electric pump. Hell, I had ‘supply boosting’ supplements coming out of my ears. I wanted to breastfeed more than anything.
But sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work.
Everyone has a breaking point.
I reached mine when my son was five weeks old.
It felt like nothing was working. I was tired. He was tired. My parents were tired. I would hear my son’s hunger cry and I would instantly cringe. I always wanted a cuddle with my son, but that was a time that I would have been happy to hand him off to anyone else. I felt horrible, but I just didn’t want to do it anymore.
I could feel myself becoming more and more resentful of the situation. (Reminder: the situation – not resentful of my son). I was resentful of the fact that my supply was crap. I was resentful of my body. I didn’t trust myself. I became stressed and anxious every time I had to feed my son. Feeling stressed and anxious every three hours adds up to be a lot of hours. It began affecting my mental health and my relationship with my son. It might sound nuts (because it is) but I honestly wanted to wish my boobs away. I wanted them to disappear. Just so I didn’t have to breastfeed anymore.
Saying “no” to breastfeeding the first time was hard, but the utter sense of relief was worth it. Feeding my son became something I enjoyed again, and our bond started building. Even faster, if that is possible. It was easy to say “no” to breastfeeding after that.
Now, my son is (almost!) six months old and I get asked if I breastfeed.
I smile as I say “no”, but there is always a tense, standoffish sort of tension with this answer. Every time. Simply because I know that I am already being judged for being young and single. Now I’m being judged for formula feeding my baby, too. Sorry, Judgemental Susan, but I’m not going to apologise for not whipping my boob out every time I have to feed my son.
I’ve had people say that it is ‘probably easier’ to formula feed a baby. No, it is not. You have to buy the bottles, formula, cleaning equipment, and sterilising tablets. You have to measure out the water and formula just so every time. Hell, you have to boil the water for your formula or buy in bottled water by the truckload. You need to have something to heat the bottle up in. You have to carry a bottle (or two or three) around if you go out and then you have to rely on a kind cafe to heat it up for you. Does that sound easy to you?
People complain about the stigma surrounding breastfeeding (and there is – I’m not denying that), but they forget about the stigma surrounding formula feeding, too. I can see the shake of the head and the sigh when I say that I formula feed my son. I can see the ‘subtle’ glance up and down my body. I can see people jumping to conclusions about me while we’re still in the middle of a conversation.
Quite frankly: I’m sick of it.
I’m sick of being made to feel like a crap parent because I’ve chosen to formula feed my son. I had a lot of my choices taken away from me when it came to my pregnancy and labour. It was no picnic. In fact, all of it was a bit of a shit show. I didn’t get that moment of euphoria or accomplishment because something was always happening. I honestly felt like I didn’t get a moment to just breathe and appreciate the fact that I had managed to create a human. And that is shit, but I can’t do anything about it now.
Choosing to formula feed, however, is a choice that I get to make every day. Multiple times a day.
Have I ever had mum guilt?
Of course I have! I’m only human.
But I look at my beautiful little boy, and I have no doubt that I have made the best decision for us.
So do me a favour: Smile the next time you see a mum bottle feeding a baby. Smile the next time you see her measuring out the formula and water. Smile when you see the baby get excited because he (or she) knows what the bottle means. Smile when you see the mum cuddle her baby that little bit extra. Tell her she’s doing a good job. Because she is.
We all are.