I gave my son formula. There, I said it.
As I sit here on my couch, I gaze over at my almost 8-year-old and try to remember the early days with him. They were tough. Really, really tough. We left the hospital with a bag of free formula and a nipple shield. In my head swam the memory of a nurse? LC? rushing into my hospital room, declaring my nipples “flat,” shoving a nipple shield onto my boob and dashing back out the door without a hint of what to do next. The first few days at home were fraught with tears, worry and more tears. I called a couple lactation consultants who refused to come to my southside neighborhood and had no recommendations for me. My doctor hooked me up with some LCs at the local hospital who told me everything “looked” fine. I was in so much pain, I cried every time he nursed. By 8 weeks, he was starting to pull my nipple through the little holes in the nipple shield and I gave up. I pumped for him for a year and it was not pretty/fun/easy, but I did it, and I’m proud of every drop of breastmilk I gave him.
During that time, I supplemented with formula from time to time. I’m not going to justify it. I’m not going to feel bad about it. I’m not even going to regret it. I did what I thought I needed to with the information and support I had at the time.
5 years later, I started Breastfeed Chicago. Sometimes I joke that running Breastfeed Chicago is my therapy – a way to get over the awful experience I had with my first. Actually, that’s not a joke. This is my way of telling the universe that the lack of support I felt sucked. Big time. I believe we can do better as a culture, as a city, and as a community of moms.
So why this confession? Why now?
Today I (and the organization) was called “condescending,” “disingenuous,” “Type-A,” “quasi-natural,” and “elitist.” Damn.
My first reaction was, “Wow! Are the formula companies coming after us with fake moms now?”
My second reaction was, “Have you *heard* my Wisconsin accent???” ‘Cause, really, if you knew me, “elitist” would not be the first thing to come to mind.
My third reaction was, “What the heck is she talking about?”
Apparently, some moms in our Facebook group have taken issue with our policy to not allow formula recommendations in the group. This means that if a mom posts to Breastfeed Chicago asking for advice on what formula to use with their baby, we kindly point them to our policy post, encourage them to talk to their doctor, and delete the post. We do not shame them, berate them, or in any way indicate they are a “bad” mom for wanting or needing to supplement.
Here’s the thing, I personally don’t believe that the policy above deserves the accusations we got. I am, however, starting to notice a pattern. The more we take a stand for breastfeeding, the more we hear the same tired tune in its many variations: “If you’re a breastfeeding supporter, you must be a total raging lunatic that hates anyone who doesn’t breastfeed.” That’s ridiculous. As the old cliche goes, some of my best friends fed their babies formula, and I think they are fantastic people and mothers. Yeah, we live in a polarized country that likes to sort things into black and white, but we all know that motherhood doesn’t work that way.
And sure, there are those outliers who will question a mom’s integrity if she doesn’t breastfeed. They’re jerks, and we all like to ignore them and hope they will go away.
However, true “lactivists” are folks who promote and support breastfeeding. Period. No need to read into it or make assumptions about a dozen other things that may or may not be true about us. (See the adjectives listed above for ideas on what we are probably not.) What we are are mothers, fathers, partners, grandparents, sisters and friends who who want the mamas they love to have easiest route to breastfeeding possible.
We’re not fanatics. We’re not dogmatic. We’re not even hydromatic. (Cue the Grease soundtrack.) We’ve got long and sordid histories just as much as the next mama.
Katrina Pavlik is the founder and board chair of Breastfeed Chicago.