Is it National Feed-Your-Baby-the-Best-Way-You-Know-How Month, yet?
My baby is made entirely out of formula. She’s been on formula since the day she was born. She’s happy and healthy and gorgeous. She’s the second baby in my family to be made out of formula. The other one is 2-years-old now, and she’s happy and healthy and gorgeous, too.
When I was pregnant, I didn’t know you could make such happy, healthy, gorgeous children out of formula. Because when you read about it in baby books, or hear about it in child-birthing classes, formula is made to sound like soda for babies -- or worse, cigarettes. Breastfed babies are said to be healthier, more adjusted and have higher IQs. If you don’t breastfeed, say the experts, your baby will be at a disadvantage for life. Life? Really? Should we assume breastfed babies more loved by their moms then too?
Despite the well-known benefits of breastfeeding, I chose formula. My decision to introduce the bottle to my babies was just that: my decision. Neither me, nor my babies, had health issues that kept me from nursing. I didn’t have work commitments that forced me to rely on someone else to give a bottle, or other “legitimate” reasons to throw in the breastfeeding towel. I stopped breastfeeding because it was hard. And I was unhappy. Sound a little selfish?
I don’t see it that way. One of the best pieces of advice I got in my first few days postpartum was the simple, yet powerful, truth: Happy Mommy = Happy Baby. It’s sort of like how a bear can smell your fear -- a baby can sense your nervousness, feel your anxiety, and most certainly, reflect your unhappiness. Not the best way to start off a lifelong relationship.
For me, the day I stopped breastfeeding was the day I became a mother. As mealtimes became easier, and the stress of nursing melted away, I could indulge in all of those oh-so-magical newborn moments that I was missing before I started the bottle. And once I discarded the notion that I had to do everything “by the book” in order to be a great mom, I began to trust my instincts. “The book” had 95 pages about breastfeeding, and two about formula-feeding, so maybe “the book” wasn’t for me. I could do this. I could be the best mother for my baby, which was not necessarily the mother that “the book” said I should be.
Two years later, I congratulate myself on a mothering job well done each night (sometimes just making it through another day can feel like cause for celebration!). It works the other way around too: Happy Baby (or in my case, Babies) = Happy Mommy.
Yet, unfortunately, when it comes to talk of breastfeeding, I -- and others who chose formula over the boob -- still feel judged. We get stares from the other moms at the cafe when we pull out the life-sustaining powder. We feel we have to apologize, justify or defend our particular happenstances when asked about our decision to turn to the bottle. We’re not supposed to say: I formula-feed because it makes me -- and my baby -- happy.
Society applauds those that can “make it” to three months, six months, a year, or longer of breastfeeding. And I applaud you too. But I also wholeheartedly applaud formula-feeding moms. Because are we not all mothers after all?
Earlier this month -- National Breastfeeding Month -- I read Lisa Belkin’s touching Huffington Post article about the incredible “I Support You” movement, started by Kim Simon of Mama by the Bay, Suzanne Barston of Fearless Formula Feeder and Jamie-Lynne Grumet of I am Not the Babysitter (aka, Time Magazine cover breastfeeder). If you haven’t already tuned in, I Support You is “the first step in helping formula-feeding, breast-feeding, and combo-feeding parents to come together and lift each other up with kindness and understanding.” Now that’s something worth applauding. For much longer than just a month.
I lied when I said my babies were made entirely out of formula. They -- just like the babies of breastfeeding moms and combo-feeding moms -- are also filled with love.