Breasts, Bottles, Babies, and the Internet: A Cautionary Tale

I was a formula fed baby.  My Mom also smoked throughout all four of her pregnancies. Somehow, she was not demonized for these sins of motherhood while her kids were in utero.  These days, other mothers on the Internet will cut a bitch for the choices she makes.

Motherhood for me started ten years ago.  A lot has changed in that time.  With my first, I felt very much on my own.  The Internet was not yet something I turned to for advice, guidance, or direction.  It was there, for sure, but I didn’t rely on it the way I do today.

Man, am I grateful that my first go around at motherhood was pre-Internet crutch.

There is too much damn information these days.  Way, way, way too much.  And too many other mothers happily willing to step up to the screen and keyboard to tell you how to do it right, how you’re doing it wrong, how to do it better, and everything in between.

It’s exhausting and overwhelming and truly complicated to navigate.  Ten years into this motherhood thing, I know enough to turn off the computer, step away from the screen, and rely on my instincts.  But I know from some online motherhood groups I am in that not all new mothers can do that.

Every rash, every poop, every belly button stump is photographed and slapped online for other new moms to weigh in on.  Seriously.  People photograph their newborns seedy poop diapers and slap that shit online.  Literally and figuratively.

Is this normal?  What should I do?  I’m so worried! — these are the choruses of modern motherhood.  Women are reaching out to their peers, equally new and freaked out for their answers.  Part of me wants to step up and provide comfort and support for these worried moms.  The other part of me just scrolls on by, fast as I can, grateful not to feel that unsustainable level of anxiety.

My own Mom died when I was first pregnant.  I never had that wisest of ears — the woman who raised me — to lean on for advice and support.  I did my best, and fumbled through the rest.

Almost a year into breastfeeding I remember wondering about weaning.  How to do it, when to do it, was I putting my needs over my babies if I weaned too soon?  I called up my aunt, a mom I knew had opted to breastfeed in the 1960s and 1970s, for advice.  “Oh,” she said, “I don’t remember that.  It was so long ago.”

Honestly, that was the best unintentional mothering advice I had ever gotten.

“I don’t remember,” became something of a soothing mantra for me in those early years of motherhood.  Choices and decisions in those early days that seemed so dire, so consuming in the moment, would someday be forgotten.  I was reassured by the idea that everything would be okay, all would work out, and someday, even forgotten — not even significant enough to remember.

Mama and Donna, nom nom nom.
Mama and Donna, nom nom nom.

My aunt’s admission of forgetting the details of something as MONUMENTAL as breastfeeding absolved me of so much of that fear and anxiety I see in online motherhood groups today.  It’s important now, it passes quickly, and most things work out.  You move on.

I remembered my aunt’s words, too, when our third baby came to us through adoption. Not wanting to go through hormone therapy to attempt breast feeding a child I had not conceived, I embraced the idea of having a bottle fed baby.  Hell, my husband would now be able to handle overnight feedings on his own!  That right there was revolutionary.

The truth is that I completely enjoyed breastfeeding my first two babies.  It was powerful and empowering and lovely and intimate.  It came to me easily and felt natural.  In the end, my oldest weaned herself at eighteen months.  I was more sad about it than she was.

But all those months of breastfeeding didn’t protect her from the cancer that would take her life a few years later.  My second was breastfed through ten months when my milk supply dried up overnight, coinciding with the death of our girl.  He is now a healthy, growing six year old.  Those few months of formula that bridged him to his first year don’t seem to have negatively impacted him one bit.

When our youngest was born, formula it was.  I worried I would miss the connection breastfeeding provides.  I worried that the bottle would just be one of many things different about raising a child who had come to us through adoption, a compromise, somehow second best.

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry.  The tenderness of providing for a baby through a bottle felt just as lovely and sweet to me as providing for a baby through my breast.

Photo courtesy of bum bul bee photography.
Photo courtesy of bum bul bee photography.

I think the moral of this story is that motherhood is so very much a personal phenomenon.  Others have done it since the dawn of time, but when it happens for us, it is a once in a lifetime (or five in a lifetime, depending on how big your brood is) kind of thing.

Trust yourself.  Let your own instincts guide you.  Believe me when I say that you know just as much as that stranger on the Internet who has the same questions you do. You’re alright, Mama.  You’re doing just fine.

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