We met at the park. She invited me to the zoo. So I went. We chatted about all things motherly. Our children aren’t the same ages. We are not similar. But we had fun. And in chatting about those universal motherhood truths, she said, with shame in her eyes, “well, I failed at breastfeeding.”
I waived my hand somewhat dismissively and said, “oh me too.” You see, I let that go long ago. My son is 5. As the years have gone on, the pain has faded. No harm, I say. No foul. Just love (and the requisite annoyances.)
But, if I go back in time, I see a weepy and strung-out mother, stressed and anxious and trying desperately to establish the breastfeeding that came so much more easily the first time around. I can see the concerned look in the doctor’s face, hear the words “he’s hungry” and feel that sick sensation in my tummy. I remember the flat dread I felt when I learned that he lost 4 ounces in 2 weeks. I remember his discomfort as an infant, probably due to hunger. And at 2 months, I stopped breastfeeding. He was voracious. And I just couldn’t keep up. Thank God for formula.
I remember that feeling of failure.
It certainly didn’t help that as soon as I stopped he was admitted to the hospital for a UTI. The implication to me was that my breastmilk somehow protected him from infection and when I stopped he got an infection. Not true, I’m sure. But….the things that go through the sleep-deprived mother’s mind.
I could not be more in favor of breastfeeding. I did it with all 3 of my kids, some more than others. But in all the online press about breastfeeding mothers being told to cover up and find more acceptable locations, in all the attachment parenting advocacy and accolades for breastfeeding on FB and elsewhere, it is important to remember some mothers simply can’t. It just doesn’t work; or the toll it takes on Mom is far more dangerous than the toll of formula on a child. And that is how I have always seen it. After all, Moms have to be well– physically and emotionally. And while the child does too, and breastfeeding is a *very* wonderful and important component to that wellness, the truth is that no child is alright if Mom is not alright. Because Mom is everything. Not just in the early days, but for the long haul. Breastfeeding is only a relatively short time in a child’s life. The scars it leaves on Mom can be permanent. And I saw that in my new friend’s eyes when she looked at me with true sorrow and said, “I failed at breastfeeding”.
Breastfeeding is not and should never be a defining criterion for a loving and good mother. The sacrifice or pain–or even suffering–we endure is not the hallmark of our motherhood. I think that very standard is often times an obstacle because mothers are SO STRESSED about the importance of breastfeeding that they can’t breastfeed. Literally.
I wish we could remove these artificial criteria that so many women use to judge themselves and others. It isn’t as if women don’t have enough to contend with in the first place, both at home and in the workplace. New motherhood and the accompanying hormones, all the doubts, fears, questions, and worries we already have– and if we don’t have it just so, if we don’t breastfeed for a FULL YEAR AT LEAST well, then, FAIL.
To me it is the antithesis of feminism, and utterly lacking in kindness and compassion. The drug-free Mommy, the C-section Mommy, the epidural Mommy, the formula Mommy and the breastfeeding Mommy all have to go home at the end of the day. They all still have to be there through the good, the bad and the ugly. Beyond the birth. Beyond the breast. Beyond the bottle. You are Mommy forever.
So, let’s drop the labels and rhetoric. The world judges us enough already.
Let’s tread lightly around each other and remember that what matters is much larger than our breasts. Remember that we all carry *great* pain and tender hearts when it comes to our birth stories and those early infant days.
I applaud every. single. mother who breastfeeds her baby for any amount of time. But let’s remember to take it easy on the Mom with the formula.
And you there, Mom with the formula. Me too. I know. It hurts now, but it will get better. Be gentle to yourself, because in so doing, you are giving the greatest gift you can to your child: an intact, calm, peaceful mother who loves herself enough to move on.
Don’t give those doubts or worries any time. Put them away. You are so much more. And your child knows it. You didn’t fail at anything at all. Your name is Mommy and that makes you a super hero. That’s all there is to it.