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The pressure to breastfeed is strong. Breast is best! Breast is best! Breast is best! I hear that mantra over and over with drums of mommy wars beating in my ears. I was only able to nurse for six weeks and pump for six more while also supplementing with formula. I managed to give my son some breast milk every day for three months but the guilt I felt over not breastfeeding for the recommended year nearly overpowered me.
In fact, just a few weeks ago it was so strong that a friend of mine who cares for her granddaughter three days a week offered to come over to my house and watch my newborn so I could take a shower and a nap. I wanted to take her up on the offer so badly, but she had also mentioned that her daughter had plenty of breast milk in the freezer and she could bring it over. I couldn't figure out how to say no,that I didn't want the milk. How could I turn down such a generous offer? How could I say no to liquid gold and reject the gift of mother's milk? So I never responded and I never got that nap or shower.
Last month a piece in the New York Times entitled "Over Selling Breast-Feeding" by Courtney Jung provided me with some relief from my guilt over my inability to breastfeed. In her article Jung discusses the idea that advocates cross a line in "supporting a woman in her decision to breast-feed into compelling a woman to do so". La Leche League, please don't send a sniper to my house but I would rather give my baby formula than someone else's breast milk. I don't know why I feel so strongly about it, I just don't like the idea. I think it's weird and a little gross. I admit I am a bit of a germaphobe. The only person I will share drinks with is my husband and I don't even like doing that.
I was ashamed that I wasn't making enough milk and even more ashamed that I didn't want to take their breast milk because it sounded icky to me.
I recently met this super cool first time mom at a friend's barbeque and she mentioned she was still nursing. I must have looked surprised because her kid was running around and mine couldn't hold his head up yet. She made a face kind of like, 'yeah I can't believe I'm still doing it' so I confessed that we were heavily supplementing my pumped milk with formula and that I felt so guilty that I wasn't nursing. We both laughed ruefully at how there is just no winning when you're a mom. We made plans to get together. As we texted back and forth, she asked me if I wanted her leftover milk because she was weaning her son. Thankfully, she prefaced the question with "This might be weird," which made me feel comfortable enough to politely decline, but again, it stressed me out to say no.
My husband had a simple explanation to my revulsion, "You hate leftovers and won't eat them. So why would you give them to our baby?" We both laughed but the thing that haunts me about these two interactions is that I stopped talking to a friend who could have really helped me out in the first couple of months with my newborn and I almost didn't respond to a new potential friend out of fear and shame.
I was afraid they would judge me for not wanting to give my baby donor milk and that I was a horrible mother for giving my baby the poison of formula instead. I was ashamed that I wasn't making enough milk and even more ashamed that I didn't want to take their breast milk because it sounded icky to me.
The truth is formula is a great alternative and if we didn't have it our son may not have survived. He's nourished and thriving and smiles and coos all day long. He doesn't need milk from some other mother's breast. I don't need to find another nursing mother to feed my baby because it's not a zombie apocalypse with no formula anywhere to be found. I don't like the idea of giving him donor breast milk. I'm not comfortable with it and that's okay. If anyone else wants to offer me breast milk from their freezer stash, thanks, but no thanks.
We've got all the food we need and we're so lucky.