I am formula feeding my baby.
I didn’t plan it and I’ve been afraid to say it out loud. In fact, the three health professionals that I have talked to about it have seen me get teary-eyed. It was a decision I came to after several very difficult days and I am terrified of being judged for not trying hard enough to breastfeed. I do believe I tried, and I will always ask myself if I could have done better or tried harder or started differently, but in the end I was too worn down and too emotional to continue trying to force myself on my baby.
In truth, things seemed to be going well early on. When she was born there were questions as to whether she was tongue-tied and the first time I tried to latch her I was suddenly surrounded with three women and their grabby hands who made things more uncomfortable and more difficult as far as I’m concerned. (I actually ended up with bruises from this help). On her third day of life we went back to the hospital because she was showing signs of jaundice. On her fourth day of life she was still jaundice, she was dehydrated and she was lethargic.
Everyone was asking if my milk had come in – it hadn’t – and the midwife and pediatrician agreed that she was too dehydrated and it was making the jaundice worse and we needed to start with formula. And I kept waiting for my milk to come in.
And suddenly it did and suddenly I was in a situation where I had to feed her from the breast and then supplement with the bottle and then pump to get my supply up and it was emotionally and physically draining. After a few days and some very difficult conversations I decided that it was worse for me to continue breastfeeding than it was to feed her formula. I knew, and my care providers knew, that I was at risk for postpartum depression and I’ve dealt with depression long enough to know my own symptoms and recognize the signs and the pressure, frustration and exhaustion were driving me right down that spiral. My mother put it best when she told me to let myself off the hook.
It is better for my baby to have a healthier mother that feeds her formula than it is for her to have a depressed, non-functioning mother that feeds her breastmilk.
But I’m still afraid. Every time I pull out a bottle in public I’m afraid that people are judging me. I’ve known too many people that judge others on their decisions without bothering to ask why those decisions were made. I know too many women now that fight for the rights of breastfeeding mothers to think that in the back of their mind, they won’t all be thinking that I should have tried harder, that I should have pushed through, that I should have realized it would get easier.
And I respect those women. I believe breastfeeding mothers should be proud. It takes work and dedication and bravery. And in all honesty, I wonder if I will be judged as weak for not being a breastfeeding mother. I feel weak. I feel as though breastfeeding activists will judge me for not loving my daughter enough to work through my own issues, but I have to love her enough to forgive myself and move on.