By: Mariah Johal
To the woman about to read this –
your feeding journey is unique to you. You had a choice to make or maybe a choice was made for you medically. I, as a mother, a woman and a friend support your choice. This is not a one sided story adding to a never ending debate between which is the lesser evil. This is in no way shared to make any woman feel bad for her own feeding journey. This is the only journey I know – this is my feeding journey.
I never wanted to breastfeed. It was something I was against. Time and time again I compared it to dairy farm animal behavior. I didn’t care how others chose to feed their children but for me it was a absolute no. I couldn’t even be in a room with a breastfeeding mom… the whole thing creeped me out and made me uncomfortable. Coming from a family of formula feeders it really is no surprise where my negative feelings started. Myself and my 2 cousins are among the first generation of exclusive breast feeders in our family.
If I’m being honest, we still really don’t have the support we need. I don’t really think those who chose not to breastfeed understand how hard, exhausting and lonely the journey can be for an exclusively breastfeeding mother. In the second and third trimesters of my pregnancy I started buying formula and bottles. Stocking up on every brand and option available. I signed up for samples and coupons and collected all that I could for my formula feeding journey. I can’t express how strongly I felt that I would never breastfeed a baby in my life… yes… by choice!! I received a lot of negativity on my opinion from breastfeeding friends and a lot of support from my formula feeding family. I didn’t know much about being a mom but I knew that this was a area of motherhood I had all figured out.
The day Imari was born was magical and the second she was out they asked me if I wanted to latch her. NO! I had been through this a thousand times. NO! NO! NO! Within 30 or so minutes of her being born the midwife suggested it was time for her to eat. “Are you sure you don’t want to latch her?” …. AGAIN… NO! My husband opened a bottle of infant Similac and was the first person to feed our daughter. There was no looking back…. or so I thought. Bottle feeding a newborn is stressful. Measuring bottles, sanitizing, preparing…. its insanely stressful and you really are never sure if they are over eating or not eating enough. After 2 days on formula Imari was not doing well. She was born extremely jaundice to the point that her eyes were yellow like the walls of someone who chain smokes in their apartment. The midwives were worried. After a blood test confirmed that she had very high levels of bilirubin the midwife suggested and pleaded with me to try latching her. She told me it was a good alternative to a night in the hospital and something in human milk was really going to help. I chose a home birth to avoid the hospital. I wasn’t about to admit myself and my daughter now. At that point I was still extremely uncomfortable but my mothers instinct took over. I would try anything to help her. I tried to latch her…. I tried and tried and I just couldn’t do it. So my midwife suggested getting a pump. And so the journey I was determined never to embark on began…
I pumped and pumped and pumped. Every 2 hours for 20 minutes. I pumped 3-4 times in the middle of the night. I pumped while my husband fed our daughter. I missed out on so much. The opportunity to hold her and feed her and nourish her with breastmilk or formula because of my own reservations and adamance not to breastfeed. When I wasn’t pumping I was washing bottles and organizing the pieces. She was formula and breastmilk fed from day 4-7 and then a plethora of other issues presented themselves. Inconsolable crying, not eating, not getting comfortable, uncontrollable vomiting. Imari was born with severe acid reflux. On top to this she had food sensitivities to almost everything. We realized quickly that she was allergic to dairy and quickly switched to supplementing with soy based and she broke out in hives. At this point the stress levels were high and we had a very unhappy baby. I decided that we would exclusively give her breastmilk and we stopped all formula at 7 days old. Again…. pump pump pump, sanitize bottles…. over and over and over… day and night. Still, never feeding her because I was busy… you guessed it! Pumping!
One day between the baby blues, the pumping and the realization that in a few weeks my husband was going back to work and I would be doing this all alone I decided enough was enough. Let’s try latching baby again. We called in a private lactation consultant into our home to sit with me to privately and properly show me how it’s done. Imari had latched herself within 20 minutes thanks to the lactation consultants help. I had spent hours and hours and hours trying alone and all I needed was someone, a woman, to empower me and give me the confidence that I could do this. I was lucky. Imari wanted to breastfeed. She was a baby who never gave up on her mom. She kept trying to feed even when I was holding her with tears running down my face and milk running down my chest. I cried, I cried day and night. I cried because I was frustrated, I cried because I needed support. I cried because I felt ashamed to breastfeed my baby. I cried because inside I was fighting an emotional war with myself. The one side that was disgusted with myself and the other side that was just trying to be a good mom.
Imari was resilient to her stomach issues and looked at me with understanding eyes every time I had a emotional breakdown. She truly went through every bump in the road with me. The troubles didn’t end there. With Imari’s acid reflux breastfeeding was still a struggle. I would feed her and she would be calm and comforted one moment and the next moment she would push off my chest hitting me, hands in the air, screaming bloody murder and projectile vomiting. This went on for 2 weeks and with the reflux getting more and more difficult for the 3 of us we decided to have her put on Ranitidine. That wasn’t a first choice and as a couple who doesn’t believe in pharmaceuticals, a very hard one.
From the day she was put on antacid she was a brand new baby. I had also dramatically changed my diet – I was a proud vegetarian but her allergies and gassy food sensitivities included soy, dairy, nuts, beans, lentils and cocoa. I decided against my personal beliefs to start eating meat again… to nourish her with protein the only way I knew how. She was finally, no longer in pain and could feed how a baby is supposed to. That day, at 2 weeks old we boxed up all of our bottles and formula and put them away. We haven’t used either since. Breastfeeding, once my anxiety was gone became easy to us. Imari wanted to feed and I wanted to feed her. The journey was long, the journey was hard, but the journey was worth it.
It really doesn’t matter if you choose to breastfeed or formula feed your baby… either way it’s going to be a struggle. I am a mom who started my path on formula and took a fork in the road for a journey into breastfeeding. I can honestly say both were exhausting. I have tested myself emotionally and mentally for the past 4 months. I was ashamed to tell my mom and grandmother that I had to start breastfeeding. Can you believe that? Literally ashamed in fear of what they will think. Are they going to call me disgusting behind my back? Something so natural had me emotionally hating myself. I still can’t feed in public. It gives me anxiety and I feel very awkward. Thankfully my daughter is amazing and understanding. She is right there with me every step of the way. I’ve become a pro at car feedings and recently fed her in a restaurant with a cover up. I’m extremely proud of that. The feeding only lasted 4 minutes because she couldn’t concentrate, but it’s these baby steps that are important for my growth as a new mom.
My husband and I often reflect back to that person I used to be, before Imari, before being a mom. We are still so shocked at how far I’ve come. Freezing breastmilk is a hobby for me now, literally. I challenge myself to how much I can get in one sitting. I’m very fortunate to have an abundance of milk and can easily pump 10 oz in under 15 minutes. That’s something, this new me, is also extremely proud of. I decided to post this picture in support of a ongoing breastfeeding movement because what I’m doing is not disgusting, it isn’t shameful. It’s beautiful. It’s how my daughter is growing and getting her nourishment. I don’t think that’s something to be ashamed of. What I ask for is love and support from the women in my life. Regardless of your personal views, regardless of how you were raised or your beliefs, please be kind. It takes a special kind of woman to make the sacrifices I’ve made emotionally and mentally. My journey has been long, my journey has been hard. I have cried more tears than I ever dreamed imaginable. I have given my feeding journey a good fight. Please do not fight against me. Please fight with me.