World Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7.
When I originally sat down and wrote this post, it poured out of me: every feeling of bitterness and regret, every detail that I've hashed out over and over again. Looking at it when I was done, I realized how bitter and angry I sounded--and ultimately, how unfair that is to both myself and other moms.
In an alternate universe, I would probably consider this week a celebration. But the reality is, every mention of breastfeeding still feels like a wound. This is not the fault of other breastfeeding mothers, but it is a reality for a vast number of moms out there--and sometimes, we get ignored.
I pumped for 6 months. This is a well-known fact on this blog, on my Twitter, on my Instagram, everywhere. I "exclusively" pumped, if we use the word "exclusively" kind of loosely, considering I supplemented formula from around 2 months on. I hated every second of pumping--and all those seconds add up to hours and hours of self-hatred, anger, and actual, physical pain. Every time I pumped, it was a reminder of what I was ultimately incapable of doing.
In my mom groups, I have a select group of friends who agree with me: sometimes, articles and blogs related to "normalizing breastfeeding" come off as self-congratulatory and braggy. I know they are often done in the attempt to stop discrimination against breastfeeding mothers, but sometimes, it's just a little too much--and I also know this is a combination of general insensitivity to how they can come across and how my friends & I interpret them.
I feel very emotionally conflicted about World Breastfeeding Week. On one hand, I believe strongly in breastfeeding as a relationship. I do not believe in the health benefits of breastfeeding, as the studies I have read are most inconclusive or badly performed. There are only 3 reliable sister studies on the benefits of breastfeeding versus formula feeding--and the benefit is almost entirely for moms, not babies.
On the other hand, I also do not believe that breastfeeding needs to be normalized; I do not believe that breastfeeding mothers are discriminated against. I believe that the same things that happen to them (the outrage of absolute strangers telling them how to raise their kids) happens to every mom, regardless of how they choose (or have to) feed them. A woman being told to cover up while breastfeeding is not worse or better than the fact that an old woman yelled at me for slowing down the line at Target while I was buying formula when I "should have just breastfed"! This isn't about normalizing anything: this is simply about ignoring crappy people and/or reminding people to stay out of other peoples business.
People need to feel that they made the right decision and that's fine. But I believe that arguments and weeks dedicated to breastfeeding advocacy do so at the expense of women who are legitimately struggling with something that they weren't allowed to decide. Congratulations! You chose not to use formula! Neither did I. It wasn't a choice. My son was starving.
The truth is, some people would say I did breastfeed for 6 months. But looking back, those six months were the worst six months of my life. Instead of enjoying my son, I pumped to the detriment of my mental health. I deteriorated while my son thrived.
Breastfeeding is hard work. It is emotionally difficult and physically painful. Motherhood is about sacrifice, ultimately: you give up your body, you grow an entire new organ as well as an entire new human, you give up your free time, your sleep, and your sanity. And then, for an extra one or two years, you give up your body still. It is selfless and magical and wonderful. I look at breastfeeding mothers and I feel nothing but intense jealousy at what I don't have.
But at the same time, there is strength in saying "no, thank you" to all of that. The advocacy of breastfeeding hinges far too much on stressing the inferiority of formula, which only serves to shame moms who bottle feed and make them fear they are poisoning their child. Not only is this kind of misinformation damaging to the mental health of moms, it is damaging to the health of infants who may need formula to survive.
Is formula the perfect food? No, but neither is breastmilk (it lacks vitamin D, as well as iron). Should a mother ever be discouraged, directly or indirectly, from formula feeding? Absolutely not. We cannot advocate breastfeeding to the detriment of mothers any longer.
I have written and re-written the end of this blog post several times now. Here's what I think I'll end with: I breastfed, technically, for six months (with supplementation). I am proud of those 6 months, because I can barely stick to anything. However, I am more proud of the fact that, when I needed to, when it got too bad, I decided to stop; instead of forcing myself to eat another batch of bitter oatmeal lactation cookies, instead of taking more fenugreek and More Milk Plus, instead of going back to 12 pump sessions a day... I decided to put myself and my mental health first. I'm more proud of that than I am of those 6 months of sacrifice.