And if shame is a burglar casing the joint, the days after childbirth is Christmas season. Homes stocked with gifts and light - all the while being vulnerable to shame's stealthy penetration.
And I want to share that there was a Christmas season robbery as little Liv finally arrived and joined us in the world.
I am not producing much breastmilk.
I have been planning on breaskmilk exclusively throughout the first year and continuing as a time of bonding and source of nigh magical nutrition for this little girl throughout her first years. I've been planning on that since before I knew she was coming.
And, my body just isn't making it happen.
I am making so little that she is meeting most of her nutritional needs through formula.
Let's stop here to say: If you are about to comment and give me advice on increasing my supply, let me say: Thank you so much for caring! ...and let me also say: I've already heard it. Three lactation consultants. Research. Research. Research. Friends. Websites. Wives tales. I'm drinking stout (I don't even like beer). Oatmeal for breakfast religiously. Lactation cookies so filled with lactation goodies that they taste terrible. So many herbs I can't remember them all. Mother's Milk tea. Pumping. Water. Everything except de-stressing and getting rest - which, after all that other stuff, I'd have no idea how to do...So, thanks for wanting to share your wisdom on how to potentially fix the problem, but I'm on it...and it's just not making much of a difference.
Ok, back to the story:
After spending my pregnancy avoiding GMO's and non-organic foods and chemicals used in washing them or producing them or keeping little pests off of them, after spending my pregnancy eating as healthy as I could and avoiding corn and sugar. After working so hard to feed this kiddo only the good stuff while she was inside, I was thrown when I suddenly lost control of what she's eating.
We bought an organic non GMO formula. But it turns out there are little loop holes and the organic non GMO stuff you can buy at your average grocery store is filled with neurotoxins and sneaks in GMO's through some unregulated ingredients.
So, I began to research what is the best thing I can do for this kiddo since my body doesn't want to do what is best for this kiddo. And I found some answers as I researched. But mainly what I found was shame.
Every website began with something to the tune of: "Any mother that is feeding her infant formula is doing her baby a great disservice. But if you insist, here's what we think is best." Ultimately, we ended up going with an organic non GMO hydrolized formula that is really expensive. We're having to reimagine our budget to keep this 9lb person fed. I'm looking for extra work to afford this stuff. But it's the best I can do while feeding her formula.
And get this: even this pricey formula shames moms who use it. It has a note on the back of the package explaining that this is toddler formula. It is not for infants. Nutritionally, it is fine for infants. Excellent even. But it is for toddlers. Why? Because the company believes infants should only have breastmilk. Even if you are feeding your infant this pricey formula, the mere act of feeding your child formula is a moral failure that will cost your child greatly.
She is more likely to die of SIDS. She is more likely to develop diabetes or heart disease. She is less likely to excel academically. She may have behavior problems. Essentially, my malfunctioning body has entirely screwed this little innocent person. And website after website reminds me of that. And if I just want to know what the best possible plan B is, no one wants to tell me that without telling me how terrible any plan B is for my baby - how much harm Liv is receiving because plan B is our only option.
I managed to navigate the hormonal readjustment of the postpartum period just fine. No crying spells. No depression. But the formula shaming got me. I often wept over what my body is costing my child. It is not fair to her. I have failed her. Already I am a terrible mom and I've barely done anything in relationship to her.
To help her get as much breastmilk as possible I'm using this difficult system of supplementing at the breast. It means I have little plastic bags and syringes and tubes that I have to use to fool her into sucking both my breast and formula at once. And there is this complicated multi-step process to prep and then to wash these pieces. And we add in probiotics because formulas are still experimenting with how to add probiotics and we still care about her gut health even if the options haven't been developed yet.
It is messy. Time consuming. It means I have to be awake and cleaning implements at each of her overnight feedings. It means I lose an extra hour of possible sleep time at each of her feedings. It means that my feminist soul has to chose between: A) Not going out in public around a feeding time (aka every 2-3 hours aka not go in public at all), B) Covering up when feeding her and feeding into the system that shames moms who don't cover up, or C) Feed her that way in public and deal with strangers gawking or inquiring at why I'm shoving a tube into my daughter's mouth while feeding her. Then, if I do feed her in public, I have to find a place to clean and prepare and re-clean all these pieces of the exhausting and complicated puzzle.
I am tired. I am always working to get her every drop of breastmilk that I can. And I am exhausted.
...And I am ashamed as I do all of this. Ashamed of my body. Ashamed of being a mom who is already letting my kid down.
And I hope as you've journeyed to this point of the story with me, you are reaching the conclusion I finally came to last weekend: I am the last person that should be ashamed about feeding my kid. I should be proud. I am a warrior for her. I am fighting and giving all I have to provide the very best for her. I do more work to get her the best possible nutrition than any mom I know right now. And I've been ashamed of it? No. No more. If shame is a burglar and I am vulnerably at home alone, shame is getting an iron in the face!
And yet, I spent her first five weeks racked with shame that I am letting her down. I slinked away from time I could have spent staring into her beautiful eyes to weep in the bedroom curled up not with my fresh baby but with the staleness of shame cuddled up like an old blanket that needs to be tossed out as the rubbish it is.
As I've found courage to share this story with others, what I've found is that almost no one has a story of easy breastfeeding. Almost everyone has a story of frustration compounded by shame around the act of doing our best to feed our kids.
And I have this sneaking feeling that this paralyzing shame while doing the best I can is just the beginning in this world of parenting. And it's just got to stop. More than any formula, introducing my baby to this cycle of shame will do her mountains of harm.
So I share this for a few reasons:
1) If you are a mom and your breastfeeding (or not) journey is difficult and shame inducing. Pause. Get some perspective. Realize that you are fighting for the best for your baby and you should be proud of it. Expel shame with all the creativity and tenacity of a young Macaulay Culkin!
2) If you know a parent of a young one, for Christ's literal sake, support them. Encourage them. And don't create spaces for shame. "Why aren't you breastfeeding?" is never a helpful question. "You know what I would do..." is almost never a helpful phrase. "Have you tried..." when someone hasn't asked for advice is usually pretty harmful. Instead, let's try on: "Knowing you, I bet you are doing the best possible thing and you should be proud of yourself."
3) Even if you aren't a mom and you somehow don't know any parents, shame is still lurking around your neighborhood. And it does nothing good. We need to stand up to it together and steal back those moments where we hide in corners clutching our shame when life and lightness and relationship is calling us out to play.
Whatever places we find that despicable thief - in ourselves, in our families, neighborhoods, churches, schools - we need to booby trap and give shame an iron in the face and burned off hair and all the torture of a Home Alone franchise film until it runs away and frees us to come out and play in all that light and connection that God created us for.