On Breastfeeding (Or, On Depression. Also, on Beauty)


I sat at a coffee shop with a friend recently. She told me (and I can’t remember the context) that I was, in fact, a writer. I told her that was silly. And then, in what I can only imagine is true writer fashion, told her about all the things I had in mind to write about. This topic was one of them. The end point of this article is the result of that conversation. I hope you enjoy.

I hope you enjoy.

When I was first pregnant with our oldest I read an article in a pregnancy magazine about perception on public breastfeeding. It said (this was 10 years ago) that 75% of people felt that nursing in public was inappropriate and made them feel uncomfortable. I shared it with Joe who immediately agreed. Poor guy. I’m pretty sure I ranted for a while after that one. But it stuck with me and when B was born, I wasn’t sure what to do. I think in my head I would just hide away in a hole whenever he was hungry. So I did. We couldn’t afford formula so I plugged along, nursing in half confidence but not aware of any other options. I’ll never forget being at a work party with a 3-week old baby and, not finding anywhere I could go, went to the car to nurse. In the dark by myself.

Fast forward a few years and I had nursed both my babies way past the one year mark and most definitely in public. I had gained confidence in my approach to mothering and, what proved most valuable, finding a group of others like myself.

My daughter never had a single drop of formula.

And, for that, I was proud.

I think many of you can see where this is going. Our first placement came and I went to the store, kids in tow, to find the formula aisle of the store. I found a bottle and hoped that I would make it right. I knew I was “sometimes” mom and that was ok. I did my job without thinking twice.

“Oh, that’s so sad you have to give him formula!” –on one of our first outings

“is the formula any good? where does it come from? I mean, foster care” –a few months after Voxx’s placement.

Doubt crept in just a little bit at a time. Until, one day, at a family camp with our newest little one, I found myself hiding the Similac bottle so those mamas wouldn’t see.

I’m not proud of that.

Along this journey, I found out that there are a million and one awesome adoptive mama’s that have found ways around the formula conundrum. And that doubt, those insecurities kept building. These mamas have spent hours rounding up donated milk. They have appealed to the state to get milk from the hospital. They have induced lactation in their own bodies and nursed those babies as their own.

And I, I never even asked.

A few months ago I did ask. So we tried it.

And it sucked.

I don’t know what I was hoping for. But God certainly had a lesson in humility for me. Humility and compassion. The medicine I was on started a depression that went hard and deep. I couldn’t feel happy.  I was spending every hour either pumping or feeding (formula still, mind you). My kids were left to fend for themselves after finally getting through a season of self-fending. My toddler was a mess. Tantrums lasting upwards of 2 hours. And my marriage- well- it was holding on by a super fine thread.

So we stopped.

The point I am trying desperately to get to is this: For me, stopping the medication helped me feel back to normal. For some of you, taking the medication makes you feel normal.  For others of you, deciding to take that that medication means you can’t nurse. And what I want you to hear is that- that is more than ok. Taking care of your body because you too are human is not just good- it’s beautiful.

I saw a post on social media that was something along the lines of “fed is best.” You can only guess the hullabaloo this caused. Breast is best. There is no comparison. You are a failure as a mother. You are poisoning your children. There is no such thing as good formula.  It was bad.

I am so grateful that even though we have a way to come, nursing in public is generally supported. I am grateful that we can see as a society the beauty in a mother feeding her children. Those images of the mama and baby nursing and the tree of life connecting them? Beautiful.

I am so grateful we have scientists that struggled to find the right combination of minerals and vitamins to not only keep our kids alive but to thrive. I am grateful that our country will make sure that newborns have food via programs like WIC. Regardless of race or income. The powder that we mix with clean water to nourish our babies? It’s time we start saying what it truly is- a beautiful mystery.

You know your homebirth perfectly documented. The moments in your home surrounded by only those that care deeply about you while you bring a new soul to this side of the earth? Beautiful.

You know your c-section. The one that wasn’t planned. Or the one that was. The one that the doctors used their knowledge and professionalism to bring your baby into this world? It’s time to stop saying “I’m sorry” when we hear that story and start calling it something else- What a beautiful story.

To the father feeding their child on a regular basis. In the middle of the night, night after night after night.

To the mama pumping and pumping and pumping for her baby that won’t latch right. Doing this because she knows, somewhere, that it’s worth it.

To the mama sitting in the NICU, hearing those god forsaken beeps over and over and over. Those cords. That IV. Those nurses.

To the mama whose heart is broken beyond relief.

To the mama whose heart is stretched more than she thought possible.

To the mama in wait. Waiting and waiting and waiting.

To the papa desperately searching the aisle for the right can of formula.

For the mama’s heart broken on a thread of hurtful words in the middle of the afternoon.

all little, teeny tiny inklings of beauty.

If we stop and look, we can start to see the beauty in all the things the world tells us are wrong. The things that suck. The things we aren’t proud of. There is beauty in my biological children’s story. There is beauty in my adopted children’s stories. The point is not that it’s just there, but when we see it, when we really truly see it, we won’t be quite so quick to hide in the car. We won’t be nearly as ashamed of the branding on the bottle. We will be better mothers for it. Better fathers. Better friends when we lift up their stories as something of value regardless of ideology. It’s not about being a nursing mom or a bottle mom or a homebirth mom or a c-section mom or a homeschool mom or a public school mom.

It’s about being a human. 

The tiniest sparkle of a beautiful story.


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