When I was about 25 weeks pregnant with my twins, I attended an antenatal class. It was an all-day session split into various topics, one of them being breastfeeding. Having battled cancer when I was 28, which resulted in a double mastectomy, I already knew I wasn’t able to give this to my babies. The room of mommies listened carefully, raised their hands to ask a range of questions and ease their fears.
I sat quietly in the corner feeling so guilty that I wasn’t going to be able to offer my babies this. Like I was robbing them of something they desperately needed in order to grow into well-rounded children. After about 45 minutes on the topic, I raised my hand slowly. The nurse pointed at me to ask my question.
“What happens if you cannot breastfeed?”
Her response was that moms of today just give up too easily. We don’t try hard enough because it is draining or painful or might ruin our bodies. We just need to try harder and not accept anything less than giving our babies the best. She then pulled out a banner that listed about 200 health benefits and ingredients in breast milk in one column, and about 10 that were present in the formula column.
I remember my heart sinking, and my eyes welling up with tears. I swallowed the lump in my throat and walked out. It was at that moment I decided that I wasn’t going to give anyone else the power to make me feel bad for the way I raise my children, whether it was by choice or not.
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There is a terrible stigma in society that shadows parents who do not breastfeed their children. Of course, breastfeeding has many benefits for mommy and baby, but it is not always feasible. My case is probably less common, but even those who choose to use formula should have the choice to do so without the large “Guilty Parent” label attached to the formula tin.
Parenting is hard enough as is. Postpartum depression, colicky babies, sleep deprivation, hormone changes, and multiples are all real experiences that challenge any mother’s sanity. Sometimes it’s a win just to be able to get more than 40ml down their tiny throat without bursting into tears. On more than one occasion I topped up my coffee with colic drops, because that is what no sleep does to a person’s mind. If I had decided to carry that guilt of not being able to breastfeed my children on top of all that, I don’t think I would have made it out the other side of those first three months.
Yes. I wasn’t able to nourish my babies with my body, but I was able to bond with them in other ways. We embraced things like skin to skin; I sat in the dark with them many nights singing my favourite songs and watching them smile when they heard my voice. Today, my two-year-old daughter is absolutely obsessed with music and she often sits quietly singing to herself as she zones out. I know it’s because the music was her comfort as an infant, and it still connects us today. Breast milk didn’t need to do that for us.
For those able to breastfeed, I feel nothing but happiness and joy. I have no doubt that it is a beautiful thing to experience. But please mommies, let us not be so quick to judge each other. We just don’t know the battles that other mothers are facing, and we are too quick to make assumptions about the way others choose to raise their own. For those like me that do not breastfeed and might have attended an antenatal class in guilt like me, I’m here to tell you … my formula-fed children are alive, healthy, active, and just as cheeky as the next breastfed child.
Written by Wendy Meyer, cancer warrior x2 and mother of IVF twins.