Dear formula mom,
I see you and you are doing great. You don’t get told enough, but you are successful and strong.
Before I became a formula mom, it wasn’t something I ever thought twice about. In my head, I assumed everyone breastfed, because we are taught to believe that’s what’s “normal.” I never thought about all the reasons someone might not be able to (or not want to) breastfeed.
Then I became a mom to my 34-week-old preemie.
Eventually, I started to see our feeding journey for its successes, even if outsiders couldn’t.
As I sat and stared at him in his isolette, I felt like I had failed him. I hadn’t been strong enough to carry him to term. He was developmentally not ready to breastfeed, so I pumped round the clock because it felt like the one thing I could do to support him. As he started to take larger bottles, I wasn’t able to keep up. He wasn’t gaining enough weight. The anxiety around my supply only made it worse. By the time he was two months old, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to support his nutritional needs.
I stood in the formula aisle feeling like a failure. But as I slowly stopped pumping altogether, something happened. I had more time to spend interacting with my child. I wasn’t spending my time anxious about when I would pump next and how much I would get, knowing that it wouldn’t be enough. I was happier and more present for my family. Our baby started to finally gain appropriate weight. Our upside-down world slowly started to right itself. Eventually, I started to see our feeding journey for its successes, even if outsiders couldn’t.
When our second was born, I decided to give breastfeeding another go. I thought for sure that, with a term infant, it would be a breeze. It wasn’t. My experience with my first left behind some trauma around feeding that I hadn’t anticipated. We quickly switched to pumping and bottles because I needed to know the quantity of milk he was getting. Still, he wasn’t gaining weight and we had to start fortifying. Then came supplementing.
Making a change from the societal norm that keeps you and your baby healthy is a success.
This time around, I couldn’t fall back on the preemie “excuse.” I was sure this time it was 100% my fault, but as the weeks have worn on, I have pushed myself to keep pumping what I can with peace of mind in knowing that I can make up the difference with formula. It’s not a failure.
As formula shortages pop up across the country, the feelings of failure are starting to come back up. I couldn’t breastfeed. I couldn’t pump enough. And now what if I can’t find the formula I need? I don’t have any secrets about where to find formula right now, but I can tell you this little-acknowledged new mom secret: Making a change from the societal norm that keeps you and your baby healthy is a success. Don’t let anyone make you feel less than because you have chosen (or like many of us, life chose for you) the formula route.
If you need help finding formula, ask. Tell anyone and everyone what you need. Now is the time to crowdsource information, and my hope is that no one is sitting at home embarrassed that they need formula because society tells us it’s the second choice. A happy and healthy baby and family is always the first choice— no matter how you get there.