Maybe it wasn't all bad...I've been thinking a lot about breastfeeding lately. I got a couple of interesting emails from friends discussing their own breastfeeding issues (one is felt vilified by her small town neighbors because she chose boob over bottle, one wishes she'd introduced the bottle earlier because her preschooler won't wean) and I keep coming back to the thought that no matter what road you choose, whether boob or bottle, somebody's going to make you feel like you're effing up. In my community ("self-important urban bohemian"), formula feeding is akin to abuse, and I'm only slightly exaggerating. I remember a neighbor snapping at me when I told her that I was trying to breastfeed ("What do you mean 'trying'? Are you committed or not?") and the squinty looks I'd get from the Ergo-slung mommies when I'd pull out a bottle. (It's the same ones they give me when they see me with a stroller. God forbid you refuse to tote your 30 lb. kid.) I was spending hours shackled to an electronic milker, sobbing because no matter how long I sat there or how much I stared at my baby (looking at your baby is supposed to help produce milk) or how desperately I willed it, all I'd end up with were a few measly drops. I was in the throes of post-partum depression, unable to sleep, living on one piece of toast a day because I was too exhausted to consume anything else, losing ludicrous amounts of weight (I was under 100 lbs. six weeks after giving birth) and convinced that I was starving my kid. (Considering it took him months to regain his birth weight, I think it's safe to say that I was.) But I wanted to do what was best for my baby and I fully, absolutely, to the core of my being believed that breastmilk was it. It was the perfect food! It raised IQ! IT WAS FREE! No amount of reasoning could sway me.
There was also the small fact that everybody else was able to do it. If I couldn't make milk - the most natural thing in the world! Monkeys do it! - what kind of mother would I be?
While I was in the hospital, I overheard a conversation between a nurse and my roommate, a wonderful woman who'd almost died giving birth to her baby girl. She'd called to ask for some formula to feed her newborn. As the nurse handed it over I heard her mutter, "You should be breastfeeding."
"Then why aren't you? She needs to bond with you. She needs the nutrition."
"I just can't do it."
"Because I have terminal cancer."
I understand the nurse's position. She was just trying to do what she thought was best. But the fact that it didn't enter her mind that there was any reason whatsoever for someone to choose bottle feeding confirmed everything I already thought: mothers who give formula are uncaring, irresponsible, unnuturing rubes.
I hired lactation consultants. One told me to repeat, "I'm doing what's best for my baby. I love my baby and I can do this," while I pumped. What little milk I was able to save was stored in baggies and hidden in the freezer like heroin. I'm not sure what I was supposed to be saving it for because I was warned repeatedly not to introduce the bottle or my milk would REALLY dry up. Eventually I had my son on my tit almost every minute of the day. He would alternately suck and scream while Matt begged me to give him formula but I was convinced that if I tried harder or put him on longer or, or, or...
I finally caved after 5 months.
Once I weaned things got better. I'm lucky enough to able to stay home and bond with the boy. (Childcare would have cost more than I was earning.) My son and I are totally attached, he's happy and smart and funny and awesome and yet it has taken almost a full year to shake the guilt. I hated watching my newborn gulp down vegetable oil (one of formula's main ingredients). We did a lot of research and made the best choices we could, shelling out $10 a day for organic, pre-made formula. (No mean feat on a writer's salary. I tried to go with powdered formula which was significantly cheaper but the tins are lined with BPA. Liquid formula comes in BPA-free plastic which won't poison anyone, and it was recyclable.) Breast may be best but formula allowed me to be sane, so formula it was.
It's amazing to me to think that in most of the country, the opposite is true. That there are still people who freak out over a boob, no matter how well concealed. I don't know... it seems like there should be more help. Everybody has to feed their baby. Why does it have to be so hard?