I've always made a point to be open and honesty about one undeniable fact when it comes to how I do motherhood: I have absolutely no freakin' clue what I'm doing. I really don't. I didn't know what to do when I was pregnant, I was clueless going though labor and delivery, and feeding my baby was like asking me what the square root of something was. Breastfeeding was challenging in ways I couldn't have imagined but, thankfully, there were more than a few things a breastfeeding mom taught me about formula feeding that made a difficult transition not-so-difficult after all.
My son took to the boob almost directly after he was born. Within a few minutes of his precious life he was eating, and we never experienced any issues when it came to latch, milk supply, or infections. While I was grateful, I can honestly say I would have rather experienced those complications. I had planned for those complications. I could have tackled those complications. What I didn't plan for, however, was how triggering the simple act of breastfeeding would be. As a sexual assault survivor, I had a very hard time separating the sensations of breastfeeding with the trauma I had experienced years prior. I was sent back in time, and made to re-live my assault every time my son was hungry. It was devastating. It was taxing. It was taking a toll on my mental health, and driving me further down a dangerous postpartum depression spiral.
So, after seven months of exclusively breastfeeding my son, I ended that relationship. I switched to formula, dealt with the guilt of doing something so many people told me was a "failure," and held tight to the lessons a breastfeeding mom taught me. I found support and encouragement from a few nursing women when I thought they would judge me, and their kindness made all the difference.
My Body, My Choice
There were other moments in my life that made the importance of complete bodily autonomy painfully obvious, but the wisdom and determination of breastfeeding mothers definitely adds to those moments. I had so many breastfeeding moms remind me that I have every right to breastfeed my son when and where I want, but I also have the right to stop breastfeeding when I think I have to or just need to. It's my body and, in the end, I am the only person in charge of it.
I Have Nothing To Be Ashamed About
When I breastfed my son I was on the receiving end of more than a few rude comments, judgmental stares, and obviously shaming whisperings between strangers. Sadly, I became somewhat accustomed to it and came to just assume I would get a load of unnecessary commentary when I fed my son with my body.
What I didn't anticipate, however, was how much judgment and shame I would get when I switched to formula feeding. Dear milk gods it was unbelievable. From other women to non-moms to breastfeeding mothers, I was told I was "lazy" and I was "selfish" and I was "failing" my son, all from people who had no idea why I had made the decision to use formula.
Thankfully, I did have a few breastfeeding moms that reminded me that just like when I was breastfeeding, I didn't deserve judgment and shame and unnecessary, rude, derogatory comments about my parenting. I was feeding my son and doing what was best for me and my family. That's all that mattered.
Fed Is Best
It's kind of awesome that a breastfeeding mother was the first mother to tell me that "fed is best." Yes, breast milk is undeniably beneficial and I was well aware of the benefits, but when breastfeeding is also triggering for a sexual assault survivor, "breast isn't best." That mother gave me the silent permission to rid myself of the guilt and shame I had accumulated in the pit of my stomach, thanks to rude comments about my parenting. I was free because, well, "fed is best."
You Don't Have To Explain Your Parenting Decisions To Anyone
A mother who breastfed her son for an extended period of time (he was a 4-year-old toddler and still going strong) told me that I never, ever, owed anyone an explanation as to why I was making the choices I was making.
Sure, if someone well-intentioned was genuinely curious, I might find it beneficial to let someone know why I made the switch from breastfeeding to formula. Otherwise? Yeah, not worth it. She had grown tired of having so many conversations with people questioning why she was still breastfeeding her toddler, and her hard-earned resolve definitely rubbed off on me. If she could hush the naysayers about extending her breastfeeding journey, I could do the same when it came to formula feeding my 7-month-old son.
There's More Than One Way To Bond With Your Baby
Another breastfeeding mom reminded me that there are more than a few ways to bond with your baby. When I was breastfeeding, I was worried that my partner was missing out on a chance to grow closer to his son. This breastfeeding mom told me that skin-t0-skin, cuddling, rocking, co-sleeping, swaying, and so many other moments are bonding, too.
So, when it came time to make the switch to formula, I held onto that bit of information. I knew that while I was going to miss those feeding sessions and how close I felt to my son because of them, I had so many other chances to continue to bond with my baby, too.
You Need To Take Care Of Yourself, Too
It was my best friend and exclusively breastfeeding mom who reminded me that I am a useless mom if I don't take care of myself, first. She was breastfeeding her baby, taking care of her three stepchildren, going to work part-time, and going to school full-time. In my eyes, she was doing it all, but she reminded me that having the energy to breastfeed in the middle of doing life, meant stopping to take care of herself.
That lesson is why I ended my breastfeeding relationship with my son much earlier than I really wanted. It was a heartbreaking decision, but I knew my mental health was suffering. I needed to take care of myself first, so my son could have the best mom possible. After all, I think he will always deserve the best.
We're Not "All In This Together...."
While I understand the sentiments behind the notion, "We're all in this together," the reality of the situation is: we're not. We're all from different backgrounds, with different experiences. We all have different socioeconomic statuses, privileges and disadvantages, and beliefs that make each and every one of our mom-lives unique. A woman who has exclusively breastfed doesn't know what it's like to make a formula bottle in the middle of the night or deal with the relentless judgment from other breastfeeding mothers. A woman who has only formula fed her baby has no idea what it's like to be shamed for breastfeeding in public without a cover.
That. Is. OK. That's what makes motherhood so amazing. It's a shared experience between so many women that in no way is the same for every woman who chooses it.
...But That Doesn't Mean We Can't Support One Another
While I was pretty much attacked and judged by a lot of breastfeeding mothers after I switched to formula, I was also encouraged, supported, loved, and genuinely cared for by a lot of breastfeeding mothers, too. Those kind moms reminded me that we don't have to share the exact same experiences to support one another through them. It was awe-inspiring, comforting, and something I have continued to carry with me now that my son is a tantrum-throwing, 2-year-old toddler.
I can always support the woman next to me —whether she's a mom or not, breastfeeding or not, co-sleeping or not, parenting like I am, or not — and in helping someone go through this crazy thing called motherhood, I'm essentially helping myself, too.