My chest was so lopsided. My left breast felt like an overfilled water balloon while the right one looked like someone had forgotten to fill it. I stood in front of the mirror twisting and pulling at my nursing bra, but no matter what, I could still see it peeking up through the neck of my t-shirt on the smaller side—with nothing to fill the cup on the pancake side, the fabric just kept creeping up.
My son would be six months old in four days. He'd been nursing since birth, and I was ready to quit but felt like I couldn't.
I was already feeling judged for supplementing with formula when my issues were related to oversupply, not undersupply, and although pumping and leaking through my shirts was making me miserable, I told myself I had to carry on.
Luckily, someone else told me I didn't. "Just stop," my husband told me while I struggled with my bra straps and complained about my breasts. "Just feed him the formula all the time, he likes it."
And with that, I felt like I had permission to call it quits. It happened to be my husband who said it, but I think I just needed to hear those words from someone, anyone, besides myself. It could have been a friend, a family member or even the cashier at the store.
I just needed to hear that it was okay to not nurse at all. That can be hard to understand after a lifetime of hearing how "breast is best."
Before I got pregnant, I never doubted that one day I would follow in my mother's footsteps and exclusively breastfeed. I was very judgemental about formula until I realized, halfway through my pregnancy, that I might need it myself. I was feeling what I now recognize was probably some form of perinatal mood disorder. I went from being thrilled to finally find myself pregnant (after a lot of trying and negative tests) to suddenly, overwhelmingly, over it.
The swing from enthusiastically shopping for nursery decor to being too exhausted and anxious to even bother painting the baby's room was dramatic. I hung decor meant for green walls in a depressingly taupe room before collapsing to nap.
The second half of my pregnancy felt like it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r, and every day I felt less and less love for and connection with my body. I resented that my days had become a blur of puking and napping. As much as I loved and wanted my baby, I hated what pregnancy did to my body. I couldn't trust it not to have to pee a block away from home or throw up on my neighbor's lawn while walking my dogs, so I didn't feel like I would be able to trust it to produce milk when my baby came along.
I started stockpiling formula, but when our son arrived we found we really didn't need it. Despite being born with a tongue tie and being fed from a syringe for the first few days of his life, my son only drank one ounce of formula during his first month in the world. My breasts got the hang of milk-making real quick. Soon I was making more breast milk than my son could eat.
Oversupply sounds awesome in theory, but in my experience, it was painful and annoying. I hadn't planned to pump at all (after all, I had all the formula stashed away) so when my breasts kicked into overdrive on my son's third day in the world my husband had to run out and buy a pump so I could relieve the pressure.
It turned out to be a good purchase because it allowed me to pump enough for my husband to take night duty every other night and give me time to sleep, but I really hated pumping. After nursing my son all day, the last thing I wanted to do was pump (and then wash the pump).
Around the three month mark, I put the pump away and we broke into the formula stash for dad's nights. Our beautiful baby adjusted and I was relieved to not have to worry about washing flanges and breast shields when I could be sleeping. Life was great, but my breasts were not.
As we went from nursing all the time to nursing just 50% of the time, one of my breasts decided to nearly quit making milk, while the other decided to double production.
I knew I should see a lactation consultant, but the breastfeeding mamas group in my neighborhood was not known for being friendly to formula supplementation, so I skipped it. I felt like I was already being judged by people close to me who were critical of my choice to supplement, and I didn't feel strong enough to face more.
I felt like by choosing formula when my body was capable of producing breast milk, I was a bad mom or a lazy mom. I felt guilty making the choice to stop nursing because I was well aware that for many other mothers, it isn't a choice at all. 'Breast is best,' and mine (well, one at least, makes it) so why quit entirely?
"Because you hate it," my husband reminded me.
Sometimes, that has to be a good enough reason.
Quitting breastfeeding made me a happier mom. It made me a mom who didn't have to pump. A mom whose breasts (eventually) started to resemble one another again, and who could feel like herself again.
It's not the right choice for every mom, but for moms who can't breastfeed for physical—or emotional reasons—formula is a valid one. And it was definitely the right one for us.