If you’re in a certain demographic of impending motherhood, breastfeeding is not really a recommendation: it’s an assumption.
And although I feel like I should have a lot more money to be in the mandatory-breastfeeding demo, I am an older, college-educated, white female person — which means that I’m part of the club, whether I want to be or not. (Note: plenty of women breastfeed who do not check all these boxes. We’re talking assumptions, not reality.)
I’ve written extensively before about my decision to exclusively formula feed, and I meant every word. But to be honest, even I suspected that I might waver in the face of overwhelming pressure. It’s really hard to stick by your choice when the whole world seems to be telling you that it’s a bad choice for your baby.
Only sociopaths don’t care what people think.* I care what people think. A lot. And I want to be a good mother. But I also know that breastfeeding is not for me.
How do I know?
- Well, I once had a panic attack during a mammogram and had to be talked down by a nun in a full habit. She wasn’t there to minister to the mentally ill. She was just trying to get a mammogram. I helped her make tea with the fancy clinic’s fancy coffee pot earlier, so maybe we’re even?
- I can barely stand to have my breasts examined during my annual, and have considered resorting to shots of tequila to get through my monthly self-exam. The only thing stopping me is that I’m pretty sure that’s a step on the path toward alcoholism, as I’m a nervous person in general, and once booze becomes part of my regular toolbox, I might as well book myself into a facility.
- The other day — oh God, this is horrible — I saw some stuff coming out of both my nipples and I almost fainted dead away in the bathroom. It’s probably still there, but I can’t look. I’m just sort of washing and moisturizing while averting my eyes.
Still, I felt guilty, so I tried to work through my feelings with my therapist, with a view toward breastfeeding at least a little, or maybe combo feeding. My therapist is a very all-natural sort of a person, and has spoken before of how much she enjoyed breastfeeding and how positive it can be, so I thought she might be strongly in favor of my giving it a try.
“I think I should breastfeed, but the thought of it makes my skin detach from my body and run through a wall like a Looney Tunes character,” I told her.
“It sounds like breastfeeding isn’t a good choice for you,” she said. “And if not, your baby will be just fine on formula.”
“But breastfeeding is better.”
“Maybe not for you,” she said.
I really love my therapist.
However, I’m super pregnant now, and as a result, I’m a walking target for parenting advice — and for some reason, a lot of that advice revolves around feeding. (The biggest surprise: no one has said a word to me yet about natural childbirth. Maybe I don’t seem like I’d be a receptive audience.)
As far as baby-feeding advice goes, the common theme seems to be:
- You must breastfeed.
- You will hate breastfeeding.
- You will never sleep again, because of all the breastfeeding.
- Your sleep deprivation and hatred of the totally-required-and-not-at-all-optional breastfeeding will make you hate your husband.
- Your nipples will bleed and crack and maybe pop off like dandelion heads, and then they’ll be masses of scar tissue and also totally numb.
- You must breastfeed.
- But really, it’ll be the best thing you ever did.
You can see why this pitch leaves me skeptical. I still feel bad when someone starts lecturing me, but I no longer tear up immediately like I used to. The other day, during a harangue, I found myself drifting off into my own feeding-related concerns.
“Just give it a try,” my friend urged. “Even a little bit of breastmilk is better than none.”
I wonder if Beano will take to Kirkland formula, I thought. That would be super convenient. God, I love Costco. We should go back soon, and buy a metric ton of toilet paper and canned goods.
Still, for all that, I hadn’t told my OB about my feeding plans — and I was nervous. Really nervous. I love my OB, and therefore want him to love me. I also didn’t want to start crying in front of him, lest I get pegged as a hysterical female and slotted into the “manage, but don’t listen to” mental file. (I don’t think he would do that to me — he’s very kind — but I’ve had bad experiences with past providers and am a little gun-shy.)
This morning was my 25-week appointment, and I decided that I needed to get it over with. I told Adam about my plan, and enlisted his help.
“No one is going to fuck with you,” he said. “If there’s a problem with any of our medical team or the hospital staff, I’ll use my magical man powers to make people listen to you. I hate that it sometimes comes down to that, but we should take advantage of my penis.”
“I always try to take advantage of your penis,” I said, waggling my eyebrows.
He ignored me, which in this case was warranted.
In the end, we didn’t have to worry. Toward the end of the appointment, while our OB was entering orders, Adam mouthed “formula” at me, and I took a deep breath.
“We’ve decided to formula feed,” I said. “And I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of information in the practice’s welcome materials about formula feeding.” (Note: there was none. It was like formula didn’t even exist. Whee!) “I also understand that the hospital will prefer us to breastfeed, but we’ve made a decision not to. Can you recommend any particular brand of formula?”
He was really cool about the whole thing. Without missing a beat, he said that our pediatrician would be able to advise us on the various types of formula, and that some of it would depend on the baby’s tolerances and any allergies or other issues. He also acknowledged that the hospital would try to convince us to breastfeed, to give the baby the immunities in breastmilk.
“But it’s your choice,” he said. “They’ll try to convince you at the hospital, but I can put a note in your chart that you’ve made an informed decision.”
Adam then asked about whether the hospital would attempt to deny us formula.
“That’s not allowed,” he said. “You choose.”
Honestly, those might be my favorite two words in the English language: “you choose.” When it comes down to it, that’s the most important thing, to me — having support from the folks around me, and knowing that we all agree that my body still belongs to me, no matter what awesome and terrifying things are happening to it right now.
It’s something that men might be able to take for granted, but women can’t. (At least, not yet.) As I head into the third trimester, and toward the millions of choices beyond, it’s nice to know that people have my back.
* I feel like I heard Amy Poehler say this, or possibly Tina Fey, but Google is drawing a blank. If you know who said it first, tell me and I’ll credit them.