Today’s post in the “No More Mommy Wars” series features Michelle from Endless Strength. Michelle is a mom of five and one of my oldest “blogging friends”. Her blog was one of the first I found back in 2008 when I started writing here. In fact, when I was struggling with breastfeeding Maggie, Michelle was the one other Catholic mom that I knew who used formula. She was a mom-hero for me. She still is. Thank you and welcome Michelle!
As I prepared for the birth of my first child, everyone asked me if I was going to nurse. “Of course,” I would say.
Along with completing the hospital’s birth preparation classes, I signed up for the breast-feeding class, too. From what I remember of that breast-feeding preparation class, I received a few booklets, they discussed different position holds for nursing, and told us all, “And don’t even let formula into your house – it gives you an out.” I left the class thinking, “Yeah, I got this.”
Because the class told all of us that breast-feeding was NATURAL, it was the HEALTHY way, our babies would be getting the BEST START! The judgments started there, now that I look back on it.
Fast forward to my first three weeks with my first-born child, and I was a wreck. Breast-feeding felt anything but natural, and healthy or best start be damned, my child was starving and fussy and the only way she was getting anything was from a bottle anyway. The first night at home, my baby girl didn’t get anything to eat. My breasts were engorged and she sometimes seemed to latch on, but my let-down was slow and she was impatient. I couldn’t relax because I was sleep-deprived and had no idea what it meant to have a slow let-down. I was pumping all day and we were giving her breast milk via a bottle. Supply wasn’t my issue this time around, thank goodness, but my emotional state could not handle this continued pumping-only breast-feeding relationship. And it killed me, emotionally speaking, that my baby wouldn’t nurse at the breast. What was the point of this nursing thing, if not to get the bonding that they all said was so important?
As we transitioned to formula, I was grateful to the pediatrician we’d chosen who (it turned out) had a wife who had struggled with breast-feeding. He told us about the regulation in the United States with regard to formulas, encouraged us to see for ourselves that the exact same vitamins, minerals, etc., were present in the least expensive can of formula we could buy, that it was made by the same companies producing Similac and Enfamil, but was in the Wal-mart brand, called Parent’s Choice, at the time. He reminded us that feeding our baby was important, and while maybe our dreams of “natural” and “best start” and “healthy” may be dashed right now, there was an alternative, thank God!
While I didn’t suffer judgment in the pediatrician’s office, unfortunately, there were two major life decisions as we became parents that put us in the crossfire of Mommy Wars. The first was that I was a WOTHM (Work-Outside-The-Home-Mom) and my husband was a SAHD (Stay-At-Home-Dad) at that time. But, that one was easy enough to fend off – after all, I made more money than my husband and had completed half of my credits toward an MBA, meaning I would most likely ALWAYS make more money. But the breastfeeding/formula feeding criticism cut me right to the core of what it means to be a woman, to be a mother.
I heard judging comments in some of the most unlikely situations. People who knew me well and people who didn’t know me at all had an opinion. I heard comments from family members who had nursed and from sisters who planned to nurse and from well-meaning friends, too. And I got interesting comments from strangers, who suddenly spoke to me like they had a leg up on me mother-wise because their babies were exclusively breast-fed.
I was told, “That formula stuff tastes awful!” and “Breast-fed babies have poop that doesn’t stink.” I was encouraged endlessly to “give it a try next time” and received pitiful sympathy that my baby must be sick quite a bit, and most definitely suffered “a lot of ear infections.”
My opinion is that I doubt anyone really knows what formula and/or breast milk tastes like to a baby, since it seems they aren’t able to communicate that. I know that my babies have always “sucked it (formula) down” almost as well as I have seen babies guzzle at the breast. And, having had babies that formula-fed and breast-fed (my #3) for a time, I can attest to the fact that poop is poop no matter what. I did, over time, learn from using the Similac brand of formula samples I received, that my babies process that particular formula in such a way that their poop is especially offensive. But it’s not like I smelled roses as I dealt with my third child’s breast-fed poop. And as for the illnesses and ear infections, interestingly enough, the only child who suffered what seemed like a year-long ear infection was my third daughter, whom I breast-fed for 5 months, and she received tubes in her ears when she was 13 months that put an end to her ear infections.
The best thing I did was that I learned to avoid breast-feeding threads on message boards or on Facebook groups. (My other no-no is circumcision threads.) I often skip blog posts on breast-feeding. Often the discussions on Catholic message boards and in Catholic groups is a great support system for breast-feeding moms. I also know that I made the best decision for my family, each and every time I chose not to breast feed. I had different reasons each time I went for the formula, but they were all, ultimately, the best decision for me, my baby and my family at the time. I have posted on my own blog about my experience and I will offer my experience to others when asked. I am also not anti-breast-feeding even though I have chosen to go a different route with my babies. I have often thought that should I ever win the lottery and have another baby, that I’d stay home and breast feed to my heart’s content, if I could physically. But honestly, I am just glad that babies get fed – however that may happen.
If breast feeding your baby works for you and your family, good on you!
If formula feeding your baby works for you and your family, good on you!
Personally, I think it’s high time that we all praise each other for caring for our babies, raising our children, in whichever way makes the most sense for our situations rather than nit-pick to death every parenting decision made from birth until preschool.
Michelle is a Catholic wife and mom to five children. She works full-time outside the home, is a member of her parish school board, spends most of her free time driving kids to various activities and loves to watch college basketball with her husband. She blogs at Endless Strength when the mood strikes.