I see you peeking over your shoulder as you mix a bottle, wondering if eyes watch you in judgment. I am sure you bite your cheek when the cashier rings up the expensive can and the lady behind you clucks in disapproval. I know you feel like you need a tattoo or a tshirt or a banner above you that screams your valid reason for not feeding your baby with your breasts. I hope you found a pediatrician that supports your choice. But you probably feel unsure about it all, right? I know that I did.
I know that I wore my formula feeding badge as both an honor and a scarlet letter. That I was both proud and certain in my decision and simultaneously ashamed in our world of over-share and over-opinion.
I want you to know that it’s okay. That you’re making a good decision and your baby is going to be just fine.
That’s all you want, right? To be told that you are doing the best you can?
Then I repeat: you are doing the best you can. And you’re doing it beautifully.
I see you pulling your baby in tighter against you, his little hand curling on yours while you hold the bottle. I see the way he relaxes into your mother-soft belly and I see that little smile that you can’t help but give when you look down at him. I see that bond that you share, that you’re providing him with life and food and love and that’s something that flows from a mother’s heart, not just a mother’s breasts.
There were so many slight comments that hurt me, about how breastfeeding created the closest bond and how sterile formula must feel. I wish they could have seen me and my boy in the dusk-lit nursery when he giggled at me and I’d tap his lower lip with the bottle, so gently as a game. I wish they could have seen the nights that I stayed in that chair and rocked my milk-drowsy boy until we both nodded off. That my story was so similar to my friends who breastfed, but with a bottle. It never felt forced or unnatural or sterile – it felt warm and full of heart. I want them to know that my boy is one of the smartest in his class, that he’s already learning a second language and is tall and thin and beyond athletic. I want them to know that there is no difference between him and his breastfed peers. Then maybe they wouldn’t have made those comments.
I hope you’re never hurt like that but to be frank, you probably will be. It’s okay. You’re doing the best that you can.
Sure, there were moments of frustration. Like finding a bottle I forgot to put away and seeing the dollar signs wash down the drain. There was the fight to find the correct formula for his acid reflux and allergy to dairy. Leaky bottles were never my favorite. There were moments where I wistfully gazed at a mother nursing her child and my own breasts stayed empty and I wondered for a moment, a thousand moments, what that might feel like. I will never know and sometimes it feels like mourning but most of the time, it feels like peace in my choice.
My one piece of advice – in your frustration, in your hurt, please do not lash out. Remember that the mommas who breastfeed face their own set of fears and judgments. They’re also doing the best they can and this isn’t a me versus her or a battle to be won. It’s simply motherhood and we’re all scraping by and exploding with love at the same time. So please, put down your harshness and give what you hope to get in return.
You’re doing beautifully, momma. Pick up the bottle, set down your fears, and enjoy this wild ride of uncertainty that is motherhood.