I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of the F-word. It’s extremely versatile and can be used in so many different situations. As a writer, I love that it can be a noun, verb, adjective, and more. As a mom, it comes in very handy when I’m frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed or I feel the need to be dramatic about all the above. You step on a Lego and scream, “FUCK!” Your kid wakes up four times in the middle of the night and you quietly pray each time, “Stay the fuck asleep.” You get projectile vomited on and blurt out, “Fuck me!”
And when you can’t take it anymore you dramatically declare that if anyone needs you, you can be found hiding in your closet with that pint of Haagen Dazs chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream because you are frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed “As Fuck” (AF). I’ve even recently heard it used to describe the phase my son just entered: “The Fucking Fours.”
When I gave birth to my son almost four years ago (before I made regular use of the F-word in everyday motherhood), I discovered my second favorite F word. Formula. Yes, you heard me correctly. Formula. Let me say now that this is not an anti-breastfeeding, pro-formula-feeding post, nor am I exclusively in support of one food source over the other. I am exclusively for feeding your baby, however that works best for you. Now back to our regularly scheduled program…
During my pregnancy, I had always believed I would breastfeed my son and supplement with formula if necessary. But really, I would just breastfeed him and be a breastfeeding superstar— because breastfeeding would simply be that easy for me… like it was for all the moms I knew (they must have forgot to mention the struggles they experienced while going on about how much they loved it). And it was easy that first time my son latched right after being evicted from my stomach. Then it wasn’t.
After that first feeding, he repeatedly struggled to latch and would cry out in frustration. I just wanted to give him a bottle because I was exhausted. My mind and body shattered from 24 hours of labor, pushing for two of them, and having a C-section after all that. I wanted him to be fed and I wanted to be sleeping. Also at that time, the beginnings of postpartum depression were beginning to slowly creep into my brain. I just didn’t know it yet.
I refused to admit defeat. I did everything you are supposed to do. I saw lactation consultants in the hospital. They tried to fix our latching issues and helped me pump. I made an appointment to see the one at his pediatrician the week after we got home from the hospital. My son continued to struggle with latching so I continued pumping. I started to hate pumping because it took too much effort and I just wanted to go to sleep and never get out of bed. That was the postpartum depression making its entrance.
Even as the postpartum depression symptoms made themselves more visible in those first few days home from the hospital, I still thought I had to breastfeed. Even when I didn’t want to. I remained determined to be that breastfeeding superstar. Yes, I had been supplementing with formula, but what would it say about me as a mother if I couldn’t make breastfeeding in any capacity work? I was already failing at wanting to be a mom and feeling close to my son. At least I could succeed at feeding him the way I believed he needed to be fed.
A few days later at my son’s bris, a group of New York Jewish Grandmothers (mostly friends of my mother-in-law) saw the despair in my eyes when I asked them how their kids chose to feed their babies. And just like Jewish Grandmothers do, they told ordered me to “F**k breastfeeding!” Their kids were formula-fed, and now, most of their grandchildren were too. I needed to do what was best for me and that would be the best way to take care of my new baby. It was then I discovered my second favorite F-word, which also sounded pretty awesome used in conjunction with my other favorite F-word.
The next morning at my appointment with the lactation consultant, I immediately informed her, “I’m not doing this anymore. Tell me how to make the milk go away.” And so, after a week of being a mom, I quit breastfeeding and began exclusively formula feeding my son. My son and I were not destined to share the experience of breastfeeding together and I came to accept that. Today if you ask me if I breastfed my son when he was a baby, I would tell you without any guilt, “I sucked at breastfeeding. I quit after a week.” The reality is I had to take care of my health so I could get to a place where I could love and take care of my baby. My second favorite F-word, formula, allowed me to do that.
Would I have stuck with breastfeeding if I hadn’t been hit with severe postpartum depression one week into motherhood? I don’t know. What I do know is that choosing formula was the best decision for me and allowed me to hold on to some peace of mind while the rest of it surrendered to what would be a year-long battle with postpartum depression.
My new favorite F-word provided me with a way to feed my son so I could take care of myself. Formula also allowed others to feed my son while I focused on my health and fought my illness until I won. Some might call that selfish, but I would argue that a happy, healthy mommy is the best gift we can give to our babies. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the F-club like me or you rock the breastfeeding thing like I could never do. Some moms don’t ever get the luxury of choosing.
Whatever the reason is behind a mom’s decision for how she feeds her baby, we need to remember, fed is fed and we are all on this rollercoaster ride together. And if someone ever tries to shame you for choosing formula, I give you permission to use my other favorite F-word for some extra emphasis when you tell them you don’t remember asking for- nor do you give a f**k about- their opinion.