It’s 6 p.m. on a Monday. I’m wheeling my shrieking baby across the store. We power-walk to the very back aisle. I’m looking over my shoulder the entire time. Had any employee been around, they probably would have suspected shoplifting.
We finally make it to the right aisle. I cautiously look around once more and enter quickly. Relief. I didn’t run into anyone I know. I select my item off the shelf and quickly hide it behind the baby’s car seat in the cart. So far so good.
Now at this point, you’re left thinking: 1) I am, in fact, shoplifting as the imaginary employee suspects, or 2) I’m buying home pregnancy tests for my mom.
Just a hint: Both are false. (Side note: She is expecting now. No, I’m not joking.)
So what am I doing?
Well, friends, I am purchasing formula for my really hungry baby. On our quick trip to the checkout counter, I continue to survey the area, ready to duck out of the way should a familiar face appear.
Halfway over, I stop right where I am. Wait a dang second. What am I doing?
My baby is hungry, and I’m buying him some food to fill his empty tummy. Why should I be ashamed of that?
I grab the container from its hiding place and put it in the seat of the cart. My head held high, I slam the container down near the register and confidently swipe my card. I thank the cashier and proudly walk to my car, screaming baby and all. We make the two-minute drive home, and I give him a bottle.
As he lies in my arms sucking away and happy as can be, I think the whole thing over.
Why do I feel so much shame for giving my baby a bottle? I believe there are more than a few contributing factors. In the circles I grew up in, breastfeeding was it. I knew moms who exclusively nursed their babies until they were 2 or 3 years old. While I support mothers in their right to choose, there seemed to be an unspoken judgment on anyone who didn’t follow their example. “So how long do you plan on breastfeeding?” they ask, as if bottle feeding hasn’t crossed their mind a day in their life
When I lost my milk supply back in April, the few people who knew about it pushed me to do every possible thing to bring it back. While I appreciated their encouragement in my decision to breastfeed from day one, it became a little less like support and a little more like pressure:
Pump as often as you can.
Eat oatmeal with every meal.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Get more sleep.
(Ha, as if.)
Breast is best — that’s what they all say.
I became consumed with getting my milk to come back in. I felt like such a terrible mother for being unable to give him “organic” straight-from-the-source nourishment. I beat myself up for letting stress and postpartum depression take this opportunity away from me. I left a few “crunchy” Facebook groups because I was worried what criticism and hate would be thrown my way if they somehow found out. Hell hath no fury like when those women find out a member is bottle-feeding. (I probably should’ve never joined in the first place, honestly.)
We have a few precious pictures of my husband feeding our son that I never posted only because of the condemnation I worried people would cast upon us. Looking back, I realize all of this was absolutely ridiculous. Yes, breastfeeding does have many benefits, both emotional and physical. But if I’m so focused on trying to force it that it takes away the beauty of what I’m doing (nourishing a baby human) then I need to stop.
I need to stop trying to make it happen because one day my baby will be grown up and I will never have this chance again. And I’ll regret it. I’ll regret spending so much time trying to make nursing work for us that I didn’t take time to relax and bond with my baby properly. Right now, we’re doing a mishmash of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. We do what we can. And that’s okay.
Bottle-feeding will not cause my baby to struggle with bonding. It will not make my baby sick, nor make him feel loved any less. If his belly is full, I am a good mother. Repeat that out loud. If his belly is full, I am a good mother.
Losing your milk supply from postpartum depression does not make you a bad mother. Being unable to breastfeed because of a medical condition or necessary medication does not make you a bad mother. Bottle-feeding because your baby can’t latch properly does not make you a bad mother.
Breastfeeding does not always equal success in motherhood.