My son recently celebrated his 13th birthday. Despite that fact that I am now the mother of a teenager, I still get this question, usually from other (newer) mothers who have not yet figured out how to have conversations that aren’t about their children.
“Did you breastfeed?”
There is literally no other question about being a mother where the answer can yield such an explosive result. Breastfeeding is one of those "fraught with controversy" areas. You get the hard sell when you’re pregnant. You get the pamphlets and the nurses and the lactation coaches all reminding you "breast is best."
My answer to them was "Yes, but formula works, too."
I knew from the beginning that I had no intention of breastfeeding. It had nothing to do with economics, or heath. It had nothing to do with studies or pamphlets. It was a personal choice. I just didn’t want to.
Other non-breastfeeders have a more "valid" reason: Maybe their milk didn’t come in, maybe they weren’t heathy enough or the baby was losing weight. My reason was much simpler.
I wanted my body back.
We talk a lot about the "miracle of motherhood" without mentioning the sacrifice. All the pamphlets you get feature a mom, happily snuggling her bundle of joy, her body magically returned to pre-pregnancy weight as she sits around glowing like a Madonna.
My post-pregnancy body wasn’t like that. I looked like a greasy deflated balloon. I was depressed, felt disgusting and still had to wear maternity clothes. While it might sound selfish to some, I had no desire to add leaky boobs and chapped nipples to that equation.
I’m not uninformed. I wasn’t when was son was born. By the time he was born, I knew full well that breastfeeding is believed to be healthier by medical professionals. I knew the statistics and the rumors. I knew everything there was to know about why breastfeeding was better.
I had no problem with people giving me the information. The problem I had was that when I said, “I know all that, but I’ve elected to go with formula,” the hard sell continued. They would not let it go. Even today, I still get the occasional “Well, it was your choice, but you know breastfeeding is best.”
That’s all well and good, but I doubt my 13-year-old would be agreeable to starting up now. Thanks for the hindsight advice, but I’m not stupid. I’m not uniformed.
People need to accept the fact that breast feeding is a personal decision. I am not required to provide an excuse as to why I didn’t. It’s my body, not yours and I don’t need your approval on my parenting style.
Despite the fact that I bottle-fed my son, which if you ask some people, is on par with feeding him a steady diet of heroin, he still managed to come out OK. We didn’t fail to bond. Even at 13, when he’s turning into an angst-filled teenager, we’re still incredibly close. He’s neither overweight, nor underweight. His childhood wasn’t plagued with ear infections or gastrointestinal problems.
To anyone who says, "Well that’s just anecdotal evidence,” it should be noted that much of the data that supports breastfeeding is anecdotal as well, and is frequently developed by comparing groups of women who have completely different educational backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses.
Am I saying the studies are wrong? No. I’m just saying that you can’t put down my anecdotal evidence, while using non-controlled studies as your support. Either both cases are valid, or neither is.
One of the biggest fallacies about bottle feeding, frequently touted condescendingly by sanctimommies, is that I’m somehow less of a mother than them. I’m less nurturing or I care about my child less because I chose not to breastfeed. I was less willing to make sacrifices for him.
I’ve sacrificed plenty for my son. I’m a single mother who held down a full-time job, while going to school full-time in order to give him the kind of life he deserves. I completely changed my life when I learned I was going to become a mother, in order to ensure that I would be the best possible parent I could for him.
And I loved every minute of it. Having my son made me a better person. He gave me ambition and goals. He’s a heathy, intelligent teen who makes me proud every day. This didn’t happen despite the fact that I bottle fed him. This happened because I’m a good parent.
Let’s not pretend women aren’t informed about the benefits of breastfeeding. While this might be the case in less affluent countries, any women who is getting appropriate prenatal care knows the deal.
The fact that less than half of babies are still breastfeeding at six months is not because women are uninformed about the benefits of breastfeeding. It’s for a number of reasons that frequently have nothing to do with that, like lack of milk, health concerns, convenience, or maybe, like me, that they just didn’t want to.
There are plenty of excellent mothers out there who chose not to breastfeed and those women are not required to provide anyone with a reason. While breast might be best for babies, it might not be best for the mommies that are expected to feed them.
If I have more children in the future, I won’t breastfeed them, either. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my kid. It means I love myself enough to not do something I don't want to do in order to please the sanctimommy society.
Loving myself does not make me a bad parent. It makes me someone who isn’t just a mother, but a person. A person who is confident enough (and informed enough) to make the right decisions for myself as well as my child.