Dear Formula-Feeding Moms,
After I had my first son, I was the one rolling my eyes at your can of Similac and grimacing when you whipped out the bottle. I pointed at you and whispered, I admit it. I figured you fell into two categories. Either you hadn’t had enough breastfeeding education – we’d failed you! – and you were to be pitied. Or because of societal pressures and a good dose of I-don’t-want-to-do-this, you decided you’d rather feed your baby formula. I had contempt for you. I admit it. I thought you were just putting your own needs before your baby’s, and I thought less of you for it.
Need to sleep through the night? You’re being a wimp. Have to go back to work? You should use a breast pump. Need to leave town before baby’s a year old? Heartless harpy.
I admit it. I really thought these things. Breast was best. No – breast was normal, and everything else a poor substitute.
I knew some moms couldn’t nurse, but I knew they were few and far between. I didn’t think of moms who had undergone cancer, or a breast reduction, or who had conditions that made breastfeeding impossible. Eventually, I met a woman who did formula feed for medical reasons. I would have cut anyone who dared glare at her for that bottle. But I still thought there weren’t many women like her.
Here’s why I felt like this, formula moms. It’s not pretty. It’s not excusable. But here it is, in all its ugliness: I sneered at your parenting choices because I felt insecure about my own.
I know you’ve heard it before, but nursing is hard. In my community, nursing was isolating – I never saw another nursing mother other than myself. I constantly worried my baby wasn’t getting enough to eat, wasn’t peeing enough. My son had a milk/soy protein intolerance and reflux, so I worried that my milk was hurting him. In my new-mom insecurity, I desperately needed assurance that I was doing the right thing – in nursing, in swaddling, in just about everything. I got a little jolt of that assurance every time I rolled my eyes at you.
Breastfeeding was part of a set of parenting choices I desperately wanted to make. I’d read my Dr. Sears. I wanted to birth right, and breastfeed right, and babywear right, and do all the cool things the other hippie moms did. The easiest way to make yourself a part of a tribe? Attack the another one. Not that other hippies joined me in my contempt; they didn’t. But I felt more securely included when I shook my head at the mom mixing formula.
Things changed. I became more secure in my own choices. I didn’t need someone from the outside to tell me I was a good parent. But mostly, I calmed down. I realized there’s more than one way to parent. And as I realized the world wasn’t all black and white, I started to see that there may be some reasons to use formula. Like tongue tie. Like mastitis. Like sexual abuse. Like you just damn decide breastfeeding doesn’t fit into your parenting style.
Do I still think all moms should try nursing? Yes. Do I think, like Gisele, that nursing ought to be a legal requirement? Nope. I know too many friends who’ve gone to formula. I know too many friends who could never nurse in the first place.
So I’m sorry, formula moms. I’m sorry that, for a short amount of time, I was That Lactivist. I’m sorry for the eye rolls, the head shakes, the comments made behind your back. I can’t take them back. But I can explain why I was doing it. And maybe that explanation will lead some militant breastfeeder to think about why she’s sneering at formula feeders. Please forgive me for being so insecure, so worried about my own parenting that I took it out on you. I’m sorry.
And I hope that next time you see a mom sneer at a formula feeder, you think about what might be behind that. Glare at her. Feel righteous anger. But empathize with her, too. She’s only doing the best she can – and she doesn’t think it’s enough.