If there's one thing I've learned about friendship, especially since becoming a mom, it's that it's not always worth the effort. As a mom I don't always have the time or energy to invest in friendships. And with a whole new set of potentially contentious issues to navigate, those friendships are often harder and harder to maintain. Motherhood has cost me relationships, yes, but the time I ended a friendship over breastfeeding was easily the most heartbreaking. I'm not sad about this split now, but at the time ending a relationship that meant so much to me was incredibly difficult, disheartening, and a truly lonely experience.
My now-former friend was the alpha or queen bee of our friend group. She never had a problem asserting herself in a conversation or speaking her mind, and, as a result, she seemed to always have a crowd of adoring fans agreeing with her often contentious opinions. Her unapologetic personality and willingness to always stand her ground was, honestly, what I loved most about her.
In fact, I idolized my friend, and before I became a parent I considered her to be my role model. She was the pinnacle of successful motherhood in my mind — smart, funny, driven, and able to find a beautiful balance between working and being a mom. I thought she was who I should be. I thought she was who every mom should be.
But a few weeks after having my baby, that all changed. I was sipping a glass of beer in her living room with other friends, trying to relax, when my friend said, "I don't know how anyone can just not breastfeed. It's just so selfish. Don't they love their babies?" Everyone in the room nodded their heads in agreement. When her eyes locked onto mine I knew I had to say something, though, so quietly I asked, "Well, maybe it doesn't always work out?"
My friend laughed and replied, "Everyone can breastfeed." Her statement was so matter of fact and dismissive, as if I was an idiot for suggesting otherwise. I opened my mouth to respond but decided to take another sip of my beer instead. I knew this was a conversation I wouldn't, I couldn't, win. And I knew that if I continued to speak up, I would end up saying something I would later regret.
Whether she knew it or not, my friend had blindly dismissed me.
I'm positive my friend assumed everyone in that room, and probably outside of it, simply agreed with her. I am relatively certain that my friend had no idea that I was struggling with breastfeeding when she claimed everyone could nurse. I would like to think that she had no idea how cutting her words really were, and that she had no idea that I felt embarrassed and isolated as a result of her blind assertion. I want to believe that my former friend didn't intentionally put me in that position... but to this day I don't know for sure.
I never told her that I wasn't able to breastfeed exclusively, despite trying everything I could and every "remedy" imaginable. I didn't tell her how hard it was for me to supplement with formula, and how my postpartum depression convinced me that I had failed as a mother. I never told her that when she claimed "everyone could breastfeed" she made me feel like I was broken and as if something was fundamentally wrong with me. Instead, when it was time to feed my baby that evening, I asked for privacy, mix a bottle in her bathroom, and combo feed my baby breast milk and formula on my friend's toilet and in secret.
I felt so ashamed, and so alone, that I hid how I fed my child from my friend.
I never went back to my friend's house after that evening. I just couldn't. Not only was I humiliated, but I knew I wouldn't be able to bring myself to spend another minute of my precious time around a person who said such hurtful, ignorant things about mothers. I knew that her opinions about breastfeeding and bottle-feeding were only going to hurt my mental health, my overall wellbeing, and my confidence. I wasn't willing to put myself in that position for the sake of a friendship that, at that moment, I could only question.
I know that what you say about motherhood to other moms matters, because you never know who might be sitting in your living room, at the bar for cocktail hour, or in an mom group on social media.
In the end, my friend's views on breastfeeding were views I couldn't stomach. I didn't care that she exclusively breastfed her kids. In fact, to be honest, I was envious and wish I could have done the same. But her dismissal of other women's experiences and struggles was so judgmental, so unkind, and so untrue. Whether she knew it or not, my friend had blindly dismissed me.
So I let our friendship slip away. I didn't answer her invitations to moms' nights and candle parties, and I unfollowed her on social media. And after a while I realized that I didn't really miss my friend, either. My life was more positive without her in it, which let me know that, in the end, I made the right decision.
Now that I've breastfed and formula-fed three babies to varying degrees, I've learned a few things about being a mom and having mom friends. I've learned to stand up for my mom friends, and for other moms I don't even know. I've learned to speak my mind when facing someone else's ignorance, and that it's OK to draw a line in the sand and rid yourself of someone else's negativity. I know that what you say about motherhood to other moms matters, because you never know who might be sitting in your living room, at the bar for cocktail hour, or in an mom group on social media. They might be struggling and in ways you know nothing about.
I've now surrounded myself with friends who understand that there's not a "right" way to feed a baby, but there is a right way to support new moms in feeding their babies. I have friends who speak with love, understanding, and judgment, and as a tired mom I know those friendships are the friendships worth holding onto.