Feeding Your Adopted Infant

As a two time mom myself, I am grateful to have breastfed two babies.  For me, the experience was uncomplicated, fulfilling, empowering, lovely.  I wrote about it here in one of my favorite parenting posts ever.  Long story short, it’s hard to argue that breast is best.  Scientifically, it just is.  GO BREASTS!  GO LACTATION!  WOO to the HOO-TERS!

That said, breastfeeding is not always easy nor possible for all women.  I assumed that with our third child, a child we knew would be coming to us through adoption, that bottles and formula would be the only options.  And I was A-OK with that.

Breastfeeding never defined my being a mother, and it was never a huge part of my mom identity.  It was just something sweet and intimate and amazing I got to do with my kiddos and I felt lucky for it, all 28 months of it.

Then a few days ago, I read this piece from Huffington Post about an adoptive mom breastfeeding.  What the what?  The headline alone kind of grabbed me.  I knew somewhere, in the back of my mom brain, that breastfeeding an adopted child was possible, but assumed it was the tube taped to your nipple and the plastic bag of formula thrown over your shoulder kind of breastfeeding.  More like “breastfeeding.”  Nope, not for me.

But the gal in the article (Catherine Pearson) described her own experience of breastfeeding her newly adopted infant.  It involved inducing lactation with prescribed synthetic hormones.  Now mind you, these prescribed hormones are not approved by the FDA for this purpose, so are not covered under insurance.  Inducing lactation also involves days to weeks of prepping with manual breast stimulation and pumping to simulate an infant’s sucking.  The author describes it best:

I pumped every three hours for the six weeks before our son was born, even at work. I got up in the middle of the night. For the first week, I made literally drops. But slowly, I was able to increase that to about 5 ounces each day.

She goes on to describe that she was never able to pump enough herself, so had to rely on supplements for her baby to get the proper nutrition necessary for proper growth and development.

Honestly, a third of the way into the article, I knew that inducing lactation was not a choice I would ever make.  There is something decidedly unnatural about taking synthetic hormones to induce lactation.  And, for me (not you, me), inducing lactation after adopting an infant seems as if I would be fighting nature.  There is more to motherhood than breastfeeding.  There, I said it.  Yep, I did.

But still, Catherine Pearson’s article grabbed me, and I was having a hard time letting it go.  I am a huge advocate for live and let live.  The fact that Ms. Pearson was willing to do things that I was not in order to breastfeed her adopted child should not impact my life in the least.  Maybe it was this sentence that did it:

Within the first hour, I was able to breastfeed him, and I stayed with him and breastfed him every time he woke just like any normal mom would.

Yep.  That’s the one.  What, on earth, I wondered, was a “normal mom”? Seriously.  And because I am hoping to be an adoptive mom, is that somehow less than normal?  It seemed as if Ms. Pearson was working awfully hard to help herself feel like a “normal mom,” and in doing so was casting judgment on other adoptive moms who opt out of round the clock pumping and taking synthetic hormones.

I posted a link to the article on my personal Facebook page (yes, along with my outrage) and one friend made the point that the author wasn’t disparaging other moms, just writing about her own personal experience, which is true, but as I always say, language is powerful.  POWERFUL.  POWERFUL, people!  By suggesting that she felt like a “normal mom” by breastfeeding, just like she had with her other children, anything other than breastfeeding would be less than normal.

Yeah, whatever.  I don’t need to breastfeed to feel like a normal mom for a few reasons:

  1. I know there is no such damn thing as a “normal mom”
  2. Motherhood is about more than genetics and biology
  3. I feel secure enough in myself and in my mothering that I don’t need to go to such extremes to prove my maternal worth or my mothering abilities
  4. Bonding is about more than breasts

The other thing that got me is more an issue specific to moms who parent children who come to them both biologically and through adoption.  I will be the first to admit that part of the reason we want to adopt an infant is so that we have baby stories for ALL our children — that we can share as much with our kids as is possible.  I would hate to talk to them in a few years and be able to share intimate details of Mary Tyler Son’s very early days and when it comes time for our youngest, not have that information or experience. Selfish?  Yes, absolutely.

But it leads to a larger issue I grapple with myself on many days.  I know our children will be different.  They just will be.  Our oldest is dead and buried. Different.  Our middle is biological and looks just like Dad.  Different.  Our youngest will have two moms and two brothers, only one set of which will live with him.  Different.  Not less than, not more than, just different.

Adoption is its own unique and amazing and lovely experience.  Isn’t that, even minus the biology and lactation, inherently worthy and special?  I hate the notion that if biology cannot be duplicated or simulated, it is somehow less than normal.  Why can’t adoption be celebrated for what it is — the coming together of adults who make the most sacred of pacts to honor and ensure the health and well being of a child.

And that, my friends, goes so far beyond a bottle or mammary glands or synthetic hormones that I haven’t figured out how to put it into words yet.  But, yes, my bottles are ready and my nursing bras are long since gone.  And I’m okay with all of it and so very, very grateful.

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