One night when my son was a baby, my husband and I went to dinner. “I’ll take a margarita on the rocks with salt,” I told the waitress. She looked at my baby boy in his carrier and then back at me, “Oh, you’re not breastfeeding?”
Sigh. “Whether or not I’m breastfeeding is none of your business,” I thought to myself.
“Not anymore,” I said. “Now how about that margarita?”
My story is very similar to my fellow writer, Janie’s. From the beginning, I was unsuccessful breastfeeding. Ben was born with a recessed chin and couldn’t latch. Since he couldn’t latch, the lactation nurse advised me to pump at least 20 cc of colostrum to feed to Ben in the hospital with a syringe. I was able to pump 1 cc. ONE. On the advice of my lactation consultant, I bought nipple shields that helped with his latch, but I wasn’t producing much and he would cry out in hunger. We began an exhausting feeding cycle of me offering my breasts, then supplementing with formula, then pumping to try to build my supply. I washed and sanitized more bottles and pump parts than I can count. I met with lactation consultants. I drank the gross tea. I ate oatmeal. I took Fenugreek. I chugged water. I rented the hospital grade pump. My supply never increased. After three months of telling myself “one more day,” I finally completely stopped breastfeeding about 12 weeks into motherhood when I was hospitalized with a health issue and put on an aggressive treatment of intravenous steroids followed by oral steroids.
My Fear of Judgment
From the moment I was noticeably pregnant, too many people to count would ask me if I was going to breastfeed, as though it were a public health issue. My plan from the beginning was to breastfeed because of the health benefits for my baby. And if I am being completely honest, another reason I didn’t even consider bottle-feeding was because I was afraid of being judged. If you’ve been on any pregnancy/parenting board or read the comments on any article that has anything remotely negative to say about breastfeeding – let’s be real – the claws come out and the judgment tigers pounce. Yes, people who choose to breastfeed are also subject to judgment, but it is generally about where they feed or how/if they cover themselves while feeding or how long they breastfeed. They are not being told that they shouldn’t have had children or had their abilities as a mother questioned.
I have the BEST mom in the world, and I was formula fed. Some of the smartest, most loving moms I know have fed their babies formula. My son was mainly formula fed. I know that breast is best, but I never saw and never will see anything wrong with bottle-feeding, whether by choice or circumstance. But I worry too much about what people think of me. And I was afraid of the judgment I would receive when I had to stop breastfeeding.
Throughout my struggle, I kept beating myself up. I was ashamed that I couldn’t do something that I set out to do. I was ashamed that I had failed. I asked myself the same questions over and over again. As I pumped, when I showered, driving in the car, when I rocked Ben to sleep, I constantly thought, “What am I doing wrong? Why am I not producing enough milk? Before there was formula, how would I have fed my baby?”
The Answers to My Questions
When visiting my obstetrician for a checkup, I told her about my trouble breastfeeding. I asked her the same questions I had been asking myself for three months. That’s when my doctor said (I’m paraphrasing):
“Marie, you weren’t doing anything wrong. Back in the day, if you couldn’t supply enough milk for your baby, you would hand him to another woman in the village to feed him. Some people don’t produce enough milk. The same with cows. That’s why there are dairy cows and there are beef cows.”
“There are dairy cows and there are beef cows,” I thought slowly to myself, the light bulb turning on above my head. Dairy cows turn food into milk. Beef cows turn food into flesh. I suddenly felt the weight of my shame lifted from my shoulders. I am not a failure. I am a beef cow. Of course, I am a beef cow. And I am a frickin’ outstanding beef cow! I have never had a problem turning food into flesh.
I know comparing women to cows isn’t the most flattering metaphor. Some people might even be offended by it. But it made me feel so much better about my situation, so I’m hoping that by sharing it, someone reading this might feel better about themselves, too. And knowing that in the pre-formula days, mothers would hand their babies to another mom to feed them also made me feel better.
The next time I have a baby, I will breastfeed again, even if it’s as hard as it was with Ben. I will give it the same effort I gave it the first time. But the next time, I won’t beat myself up if I under-produce. The next time I won’t feel ashamed.
I’m a dairy cow from a family of dairy cows, so I never questioned if I could do it. I did realize that I had to drink more to get my supply up and did that. But what I had a problem with was formula moms telling me I wouldn’t be able to BF. I had one out right say that she couldn’t so I wouldn’t be able to either.
Um yeah, because we must share boobs or something.
I’ve been lucky to have a mother that is very pro BFing, it’s nice to have someone to answer my questions when other people would say formula feed bc I don’t know how many ounces he’s getting. (When in reality pumping to save milk for work has given me a very good idea of what he is eating)
I’m a dairy cow and my daughters were dairy cows to all eleven of their children, they even breastfed each others children at times. I’m the very pro-BF Mom/Grandmother. My mother BF four children but she chose to only BF us for two months each. My husband’s Mom was the, “Oh! You may not be able to feed them with just your milk, you may not make enough for them and you’ll be starving them if you don’t give them a bottle.” Because I didn’t have support from family and my friends knew nothing about breastfeeding, in 1976 and again in 1979 I sought out Le Leche meetings and found very supportive mothers to help me on my journey. I would have been devastated if my body didn’t produce milk for my babies. God “blessed” me with huge breasts and I wanted small ones, I decided if He gave them to me it was to feed my baby not to fill out a swimsuit.
But, If another mom decides that she doesn’t want to ever put her baby to her breasts or she tries it and it doesn’t work for her it’s her baby, not mine, it’s her body, not mine, it’s her life not mine, so, it’s none of my business what she desides to do.
I am a beef cow!! I had the same exact struggles with breastfeeding and I did feel a lot of guilt over. But I am a proud momna to a happy and healthy four month old formula fed baby! I love this post!!
I am a beef cow!! I had the same exact struggles with breastfeeding and I did feel a lot of guilt over. But I am a proud momma to a happy and healthy four month old formula fed baby boy! I love this post!!
Awesome post!! I Was a beef cow with my first and a combo with my daughter. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We all have very, very different circumstances. The variables vary widely and I find it hard for anyone to place blame on another’s choices. I hate being judged as a negligent mother for not BFing my son, but boy I tried and tried and it didn’t work out. I didn’t know a wet nurse since we live in the 2000s, so I was grateful for formula to feed and nourish him when my body failed me. I made the very best choice for my children, as did all of you. I’m so grateful for all of you moms for stating your truth. Whatever worked for you and your baby was the very best choice. Here’s to putting the mommy wars to rest!
I hear the beef cows say, “Let’s put an end to these mommy wars.” But, Then I constantly see them posting things on Facebook to try and make themselves feel better about not being a dairy cow. So, They’re in essence still coming across as feeling bad about their choice or that their body failed them when it came to BF, etc.
It’s really nobody else’s business how she is birthing her baby, what kind of diaper she is putting her baby in, if she gives her baby a pacifier or not, if she is going to put her baby in MDO/Childcare while she stays at home or goes to a job, if she sleeps with her baby or puts the baby in a crib in a bedroom on the other side of the house, if she rocks her baby to sleep or lets it cry it out during sleep training, if she’s an attachment parent or not, if she’s a homeschool mom or not.
When I raised my children beginning back in 1976, nobody seems to care what another woman did concerning her own children and family, they did their thing and I didn mine. Why are their mommy wars at all? I truly don’t undertstand the fuss.
Sorry about the improper grammar/spelling and using the wrong there or their, etc.
As a fellow beef cow who struggled to breast feed, I could totally relate to this story. What helped me to overcome my guilt for not being able to feed my baby the way nature planned was the realization that the most important thing was that I was providing nourishment for my baby the best way I could. Also, feeding time was so peaceful and loving once I wasn’t completely stressed out and I knew my baby was being satisfied.
I didn’t breast feed my daughter because I knew I was going right back to work as a waitress after she was born. In those days the formula was accepted as a good alternative to the breast milk. My mother didn’t breast feed us. Times change and so do the opinions of the medical field. Now they stress the importance of breast milk. My daughter had a really stressful time because of the low amount of milk she produced. She was already stressed out with a premature baby with severe medical problems, so I hated to see her worry so much about getting the milk to flow. As a mother, I think you should absolve yourself from guilt. You decide what you can or cannot do, your baby will be fine because you love him.
Both me and my brother were allergic to breast milk so we were raised on Soy Formula some babies just can’t stomach milk protein.
I feel you. I adopted my son and tried to do adoptive breastfeeding. It was the worst. I was constantly having to hand my baby off to my husband so I could pump. I felt terrible about myself when it wasn’t working. I was stressed out and miserable. Finally, I decided that my son would benefit more from a mother who was present and happy. It still hurt when I would go to the pediatrician and they would give me something that said Breast is Best!! all over it, or when I would get the side eye for buying formula. That being said, it was absolutely the best decision I could have made. My son is happy and healthy and I was able to spend more time snuggling with him. That is what matters.
Amazing article, Marie! I also felt shame and judgment after not making it past 5 months breastfeeding both my boys. I even felt the need to hide the bottle sometimes, for fear that someone would question my judgment, or assume I didn’t even try. Kudos to everyone who can make it work, but it’s so nice to hear that I am not alone!
I grew up on a dairy farm and as I was struggling with not producing enough for my first born I heard my dad say to my mom: “If she were a cow, I’d sell her!” It wasn’t funny at the time, but 7 years and 3 formula-fed kids later, I can laugh about it!