When my daughter was an infant, I wrote a lot here about my experiences breastfeeding her: the elation, the frustration, my ongoing milk supply drama. At the time, when there was honestly very little for me to do as a mother beyond love her and keep her alive (which is simultaneously extremely simple and soul-crushingly hard), breastfeeding felt like the one thing I could do to be a good mother.
I knew logically that was ridiculous. After all, I knew plenty of wonderful mothers–my own included–who had formula-fed their children. I was hopped up on hormones, sleep deprivation, and PPD/A, though, and all I was really thinking was that most of my contemporaries either breastfed or had an elaborate story about why breastfeeding hadn’t worked for them. Choosing formula seemed like something between a cop out and a relic of motherhood past, like letting your kids run unsupervised about the neighborhood all day and putting balogna sandwiches in their BPA-filled lunch boxes.
Totes cool for 80s Mom but not okay for 21st Century Mom!*
Anyhow. I woke up one day when my daughter was 8 months old, and my milk had dried up literally overnight. I tried to reverse course but alas. We switched to formula, and…everything was fine.
4 years later, I was extremely pregnant and considering how I wanted to proceed with feeding my new baby. On the one hand, I’d breastfed before, had been quite emotionally invested in it, and then heartbroken when I was unable to continue. On the other, when I accompanied my 4-year-old on a preschool field trip, I realized I had no idea which of her classmates had been breastfed and which had been given formula. Her own exposure to formula had had no real adverse effects as far as I could discern. And perhaps most importantly, when I thought of all the mothering I’d done over the years, all the things I had done to mold and shape my daughter into a healthy, caring, joyful little girl, breastfeeding didn’t factor into the equation at all.
When my son was born, I breastfed him. I kept it up for 2 weeks…then I quit. We switched to formula. There were a lot of reasons for this, but I owe no one an explanation for the decision. Ultimately the only reason that matters is this: I didn’t want to.
Moms often tell ourselves that what we want or don’t want doesn’t matter. All that matters is our children. And we should be willing to sacrifice anything and everything–our bodies, our comfort, our sleep, our sanity–to do what is absolutely best for our babies. What’s more, our choices should be hard, should make our lives more difficult, and making those hard choices is what proves how much we love our children.
Motherhood can’t just be something we enjoy. We’ve gotta shed blood, sweat, tears, and gallons of breastmilk for it, or we’re probably not good moms. In fact, if you’re enjoying it and making decisions that make your life easier, you’re probably actually a really selfish mom. I mean, we’ve all heard some variation on this before, either implied or outright stated by some internet troll, right?
Having a 4-year gap between my kids gave me a good, long time to gain critical distance from my daughter’s babyhood and some of the choices I made then because I thought they were what a “good” mother would do. With my second kid, not only did I not breastfeed him, I got a Baby Brezza. All I had to do was press a button to get a bottle of perfectly-mixed formula at the perfect temperature. Hallelujah!
I also let him sleep in a swing until he was 8 months old. (We even replaced the motor in it–with the motor from an automatic air freshener, no less–twice.)
I swapped out nights with my husband on doing middle of the night wakings and even let my mom take him for the night a few times. I got 8 hours of sleep more than once before he was a year old.
I saw a psychiatrist and poured my heart out on her couch and actually got medication for my PPD/A, even though it meant admitting I was not a perfect, joyful new mom.
I made choices because they were right for me, not because they were what I thought the perfect mother would do or be in the exact same situation. And I’m not even going to argue that doing better by myself has made me a better mother, because not every choice you have to make when you’re a mother has to be in service of being better for your children. Sometimes it’s okay just to be better for yourself.
* 80s Mom is a figure I’d really like to revisit in another post, because I think we could learn a lot from her.