Monday, April 15, 2013

StrongMoms Empower: A Tale About Breastfeeding and Judgement

When I had my first child, I had grand plans
and many ideas about what motherhood would be like.
After giving birth to my first child, the days wore on and on,
and I all too quickly discovered that my vision of motherhood was about 95% wrong. Motherhood is the most amazing experience in this world  - period!
But motherhood is a daily challenge,
a daily exercise in patience and understanding,
and a lifelong commitment to creating responsible, caring individuals.
StrongMoms Empower

Since becoming a mother, my days have been filled, as I am sure every mothers have, with life changing experiences. We say things, do things, and experience things we never imagined. Being a mother is powerful, but as we travel this path, it cannot be denied that motherhood comes with judgement - from family members...from friends...from strangers. This story is about one of my biggest challenges, disappointments, and the judgement I faced as a new mother (both times). 

I had a hard time after the birth of my son. A slight case of postpartum depression was my co-parent and I did not even see it at the time (and neither did my husband). To top it off nothing - not one thing about parenting came close to what I planned or dreamt about, other than the love I felt for this baby - that is the one thing that did exceed my expectations. I daydreamed that once I brought this heavenly bundle of joy home, we would spend our days at the park, reading, napping, and we would bond and everything would be beyond perfect.

I have never been more wrong.

I had put so much pressure on myself to be this perfect mother that I barely remember anything good that happened. The biggest disappointment accompanied breastfeeding. I had so desperately wanted to nurse this sweet baby and it was not working...I was not making milk, not enough anyway...and there were other problems as well. Days and days of a screaming hungry baby...days and weeks of lactation consultants, pediatricians, and trip after trip to the health store to buy vitamins and supplements that were supposed to make the milk come in. You name one could help the issues we had. I had assumed that nursing would be a piece of cake, no issue at all...but it was not. They tell you it might be difficult, but they never really say how difficult. 

Infections and engorgement and a multitude of other not so pleasant experiences led to days spent frustrated and crying - me and the baby! I made the decision to pump...and was absolutely scrutinized by many of the mothers in the baby groups I joined.
"Why wouldn't everyone breastfeed? It is so easy. "
"Mothers who do not breastfeed are selfish."
"I cannot believe she isn't nursing that baby."
I could hear them. I hated listening to them. It hurt. It hurt bad.

Of course they had no idea that the milk in those bottle was breast milk - precious breast milk that had to be coaxed and cajoled to come out of my body. They had no idea that I slept about 3 hours a night because the process of pumping, cleaning, and then feeding a newborn the baby and starting all over again was laborious, tedious, and took a lot of time.  The peaceful image of a mother nursing her newborn in bliss did not exist in my house. But I did it because I believed in breast milk and breastfeeding and wanted to do everything I could for my baby. (For the record...I did eventually have to supplement with formula. As my son grew I could not keep up with his needs. I pumped for about one year.)

StrongMoms Empower

Fast forward 6 years...and a new baby girl entered our lives. I was much more prepared for the fact that things may not go as planned this time, but it did not make it any easier. There was still disappointment and frustration as I encountered the same problems with nursing. I refused to bring this baby home and live in a fog of screaming and pumping and utter devastation and disappointment in myself. I also had another child to care for and could not lose myself in the despair that followed my son's birth. 

At the hospital, I made the decision..I was going to ask for the "F-Word" - Formula - to supplement the breast milk. In the area I live in, formula truly is the F-word and I was scared to ask...the nurses encouraged me to keep trying and tried to avoid my requests (in a pleasant and encouraging way). Finally I worked up the nerve to ask our wonderful pediatrician. She understood, and it took her to finally get me what I needed...what my baby needed.

I wanted to enjoy this time. I regret the moments I missed with my son, and I did not want to relive the experience - the angst and the crying and the beating myself up. I did still want to breastfeed. Again I visited pediatricians lactation consultants and read everything I could...and again, ultimately I found myself "tied" to the pump. I had come to terms with what I was and was not capable of...but I again was devastated by the lack of decency and understanding of other mothers.

Snide comments, whispers, not-so-quiet discussions were all too common at Mommy and Me. No one would sit by me, no one would talk to me because I was not able to whip out a boob and feed during circle time. And again, they had no idea that I had slept only a few hours each night so that I could pump maybe one beautiful, precious bottle of breast milk to feed my baby. They assumed. They judged. And it still hurt.

Being a mother is no easy task and there are so many ways to be a good mother. What leads us to criticize other mothers, other women for the decisions they make. 

I have many, many (many) opinions about what I will allow or not allow my children to do/see/watch/participate in/behave. As a mother that is my job to determine what I feel is appropriate and right for my children and my family. If another family chooses otherwise...fine, but I will chose to not let my children participate. I am not judging that family but I am making the best decision I know for my own kids...that is my job.

And...surprise, surprise I do not agree with everyone I know about how or what they chose to let their children do...BUT that is their choice, and as long as their children are not in danger and they are being cared for that is their prerogative...EVERY FAMILY, EVERY MOTHER has the right to make the best decisions for her family
StrongMoms Empower

I am not a perfect mother - far, far from it. So, in the interest of full disclosure...I will admit the following...(I am sure there is much more I can admit to...but for now this is it)

  • I have been that mom at the park on the phone.
  • I have been that mom with the screaming child at the grocery store.
  • I have (I am) that mom who lets her little girl wear sundresses to school even when it is cold outside (with a jacket in tow as well).
  • I have handed my toddler a frozen pancake while in line at the grocery store as everyone looks at me in horror. 
  • My kids are all too familiar with the phrase, "Just a minute."
  • I believe in the 5 second rule. 
  • I have let my kids drink soda and processed foods.
  • I chose to go back to work.
  • I chose to not work.
  • I chose to breast feed.
  • I chose to not breast feed.
  • I yell.
  • I am honest.
  • I tell white lies (but for the good of the family!)
  • I make mistakes.
  • I give myself time outs.
  • I apologize.
  • I admit...I have judged other mothers...
...but I have also learned, and come to understand that we all have our own way, and we are doing the best we can for our own situation. It is not for us to judge what another family needs or chooses to do...and now when I find my mind heading down that path, I try to catch these thoughts - to remember that I have no idea what is going on with that family, what their situation is, what has happened earlier in the day, what phone call they just received, what their life is like. All I can do is be the best mother for my own kids, and be there to support and encourage other mothers if they should need and ask for it.

How about joining the movement of encouragement and help us moms unite by taking the Strong Moms Empower pledge

Take the StrongMoms Empowerment Pledge
This post is written and created at 504 Main by Holly Lefevre
I am participating in a blog campaign with One2One Network. I have not received any payment.
All opinions are my own.


  1. Holly, my experience was so much like yours. My girls, as preemies, wouldn't latch and I was tied to the pump. I remember feeling self-conscious as I took out a bottle in public. I was even given the most condescending, unprofessional lecture by a midwife at my ob's practice when I stopped (she also bragged about her own breastfeeding triumphs). Thanks for are definitely not alone in your feelings and experiences!

  2. It is so sad to me when mothers judge other mothers when they formula feed. I know we always hear that breast milk is the best thing, which it does have wonderful benefits, but in the long run I think formula fed kids are just as smart and just as healthy. And I even breast feed my babies! I'm so sorry you had that experience. It's a good reminder to try not to judge other mothers in any situation. You just don't know what's going on in their lives.

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  4. Well said, Holly! I agree with all the things you've said at the bottom of your post. It's wonderful to have aspirations about how you will be a mother before your first child was born but its okay that it turns out differently. I know I felt that way too.

  5. I am the mother of two grown daughters and five precious grand-children. I went through some of the same things that you did with my girls and I watched them struggle with the breast-feeding issue as you did. I tried, but have to admit that I gave up sooner than you did on my attempts sooner than you did. It seemed that in that era it had become quite passe and formula was "the thing" to do.I think, in part, maybe because this was also the era of women's lib and bra-burning.Now, I believe in a woman's being able to work, attain her goals and become a professional success as much as the next gal. I also think(and I'm sure that some will disagree and they are entitled to do so)that some of the ideas that came along with the "movement" were somewhat detrimental to the family unit.

    You are right that a mother should be able to what she deems is best in rearing her children when it is done with love and their best interests when it comes to feeding them, both in body and mind!

    I didn't sign up for the pledge because even though I play an important part with my grand-children,as I provide day-care, I am no longer the "mother" of growing children.

    Thanks for a great post and one that I feel will be an encouragement to other mothers!

  6. Wonderful post Holly! I definitely took the pledge. Even though I'm almost out of a a job with my son in college ( HA).

  7. Such an honest and emotional post, Holly. I don't think that anyone can truly prepare for the transition from non-parent to parent. It is wonderful and exciting and heartbreaking and humbling. The guilt that we all carry around with us isn't healthy, nor does it help. I think that we all need to realize that our "village" needs to be rebuilt, and that only we can do it. Instead of knocking each other down, we need to say, "Well done, mama. You knew what was right for you and your baby."

  8. Thanks for this post, Holly. Well said. The honesty is refreshing....and I love the non-judgment pledge!

  9. Beautiful post!! I hate when other moms criticize and judge so much, what good does it do? Did they really think if they talked bad about you or refused to sit by you that that would make you suddenly start nursing your baby?? I don't think anyone ever changes because someone was mean to them.

    Especially as my kids get older, I am having to talk with them more and more about why our family chooses not to do certain things and I always try and present it and teach it in a way so that they won't think poorly of others who choose differently and that it is just that different than what we have chosen to do as a family.

  10. This is a wonderful post Holly - thank you so much for sharing. Pumping can be so soul destroying - I remember one day a half bottle of pumped milk accidentally getting thrown out from the fridge and I just wept because so much effort had gone into getting that precious milk.

    I would be so honoured if you would share this at the Friday Baby Shower - my link party for all things new baby, Alice @ Mums Make Lists x

  11. You know, one time I got a comment that broke my heart! I still remember it after 3 years and I will always remember it. She told me "why would God give you breasts if they can't work, I just don't believe in "unable to breastfeed!" It's like having a teapot that can't pout tea. You are selfish..." There was more but I stopped reading. I was told that by another mother after sharing my story. My son was a preemie. I had breastmilk, oodle of it, but he just wouldn't take it. Tried everything. Finally I was told my pediatrician to not try anymore and just pump. I did. Hours and hours and hours a day with an uber hospital pump. Milk soon started disappearing. (I had a mild ppd too). I finally broke through and asked my mommy group for help dealing with it. I got so much support and encouragement that I finally started feeling good about supplementing. I have a wonderful, healthy boy and no...formula is not bad. No one should ever be judged! Even if it's just their decision not to!

  12. Great post Holly. Like you and so many of the comments, I had trouble breast feeding too. He just couldn't latch on. Pumping, lactation nurses, etc. etc. The happiest day was when I gave him that bottle of formula and he sucked it down. He was so hungry! I also got a lot of snide comments because I had a c-section. Some women are so into the birth - the reality is I wanted a healthy baby not a birth process to talk about.

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing this at <a href=">The Friday Baby Shower</a>.

    I have featured the post at this week's party, Alice x

  15. Thank you for sharing your struggles! I had trouble breast feeding because my son had a tongue tie, and even after getting it fixed we never managed to learn how to latch the correct way. I also resorted to the pump, but it ended up being just as painful as breast feeding itself. I can't believe you pumped for a whole year! I felt like I cried almost every day for the 6 weeks that I breast fed, either from the pain or from the thought of switching to formula. I know there are some moms that judge others for using formula, but I have also come to realize that most of it is in our heads. Sure, we think everyone is judging us for bottle feeding, but I think most of the time they are just staring at our cute babies! Either way, it is still difficult. Btw, you have encouraged me to share my struggles!


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