Best. Post. Ever.

No, not one of mine. This post I read over at the Fearless Formula Feeders blog a couple days ago. Really. It is the best. post. ever. So I asked her if I could use it as a guest post on my blog, and she said sure! Yeah!

Below the post I am also going to include links to a number of amazing videos that the FFF did regarding the formula/breastfeeding debate. When they were first put up those of us in the ‘formula feeding community’ thought ‘we’ (meaning our beloved FFF) was going to get a whole lot of backlash. Somehow, by miracle, it didn’t seem to happen. I hope I am not tempting fate by re-publicizing them. Anyway, what I love so much about FFF, her blog and these videos is that she is supportive of all mothers. It is not about encouraging people to formula feed, it is about providing support for parents who find themselves there by choice or not. Anyway, enough of my rambling… here is her post.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On letting go of guilt

Look to your right. See that little “ask me anything” box? That links you to a site called Formspring, which is pretty rad in the sense that you can literally ask me anything, completely anonymously, and I will answer you. Sometimes it takes me a few weeks to actually remember to check the darn site, but eventually, I will get around to it.

The cool aspect of this feature for me is that often, the questions people ask me on Formspring become fodder for future posts, and in these dog days of late-late-late pregnancy, I just don’t have the mental fortitude to come up with my own creative ideas. The other day, someone inquired if I had any tips on getting over the guilt of formula feeding, and I was shocked to realize that I’d never actually written a post specifically about this. And dammit, it’s high time I did.

Ironically, this issue has been on my mind quite a bit lately, as I work my ever-expanding ass off on my book, which deals with all the emotions surrounding our feeding experience; and as I sit here, 37 weeks pregnant, still ambivalent/confused/conflicted/undecided about how to feed Fearless Child #2. What is this thing we refer to as “formula feeding guilt”? Is the very fact that we feel it evidence that we should feel guilty, as Jack Newman and numerous others believe? Is it true that no one can “make” us feel guilty, and that if we think we have something to feel guilty for, we probably do?

If it’s not obvious from this blog, I don’t think guilt is a controllable emotion. Maybe it’s because I’m Jewish; guilt is built into our genetic code, and even if you believe more in nurture than nature, the Jewish mother stereotype is spot-on (and as my husband and I were just discussing, sometimes dads can be just as effective in inducing this potent emotion – my father-in-law is a guilt zen master). Guilt is something I feel comfortable with; it’s an old friend, at this point in my life, and a highly effective tool that I am already using to discipline FC. Who needs time outs when a simple “do you want to make mommy sad?” can get the job done?

Seriously, it works. And you should try it, if simply for the sake of experiment, because that is the crux of my argument on formula feeding guilt: it’s a highly effective tool. Advertising executives know this. Politicians know this. Advocacy groups know this. It’s time we did, too.

This might sound odd, coming from me, but it’s okay to feel guilty about your parenting decisions. It means you care. It means you know enough to realize what society expects from you, and what you expect from yourself. It means you are lucky enough to have options, to have been given the luxury of making a decision.

Now, when it comes to formula feeding, things get a tad more complicated. Ask me if I think anyone has a reason to feel guilty for using formula, and the answer will be a resounding hells-to-the-no. And I can say that with a clear conscience, because I have spent two years looking at all the studies, research, politics, commentary, internet chatter, etc. My stance is that breastfeeding is a personal choice, like any other. No more, no less.

But just because there’s no good reason for you to feel guilty, does not mean that you won’t. You will feel guilty because you want the best for your child, and everything we are told is that breastfeeding is the superior choice. You’ll feel guilty because you wanted to breastfeed, and you feel like you failed. You’ll feel guilty because you’ll read something three months down the line about someone even worse off than you who “persevered” and is still happily nursing her two year old. You’ll feel guilty because you’ll read articles that portray you as a victim of the system, someone who fell prey to the “booby traps”, and you’ll hate yourself for being so naive and weak, because every other mom around you is nursing, and the booby traps didn’t catch them, so why you? You’ll feel guilty because you imagined yourself as a breastfeeding mom, and here you are with your bottles and expensive powdered food which apparently can now be spiked with bugs. Good, good times.

Or, you’ll feel guilty because you hated nursing, and turned to formula right away. Or because you never even tried. You’ll feel guilty because you hate your body so much, hate how large and out of control you felt through the nine months of pregnancy, and can’t handle the thought of not having that control back at the soonest point possible. You’ll feel guilty because someone hurt you, badly, many years ago, and now the thought of feeding someone from your breast makes you want to scream… and you already feel guilty about being abused, despite years of trying to work past it, so the guilt just builds, and builds. You’ll feel guilty because you’re putting your own needs before your infant’s.

If you are formula feeding, there’s a good chance that at some point, you will feel guilty. Because guilt is closely related to self doubt, and self doubt is part of being a parent. Of being a good parent. Self-doubt means you are flexible, that you are a thinker, that you question your decisions. It means you are not dogmatic, that you have empathy, that you are human. It means you are educated and responsible, because you have listened and read and absorbed enough to realize what the “right” choice supposedly is.

So… back to the original question: how do you get over the guilt you feel about formula feeding?

You don’t.

Don’t even try. Rather, you claim that guilt as a badge of honor. You taste it; roll it around on your tongue, and spit out the bitter parts. Suck out the kernel of truth that’s hiding in there, the truth that negates all the hyperbole that reduces mothering to a pair of mammary glands and an over-simplified vision of what it means to love and nurture a child.

Do your research. Read studies. Talk to parents who have breastfed, and those that have formula fed, and hear what they have to say about their kids. Seek out others who have had similar experiences so that you know you are not alone. But don’t do these things to erase your guilt. Do them to seek the truth. Do them so you can viscerally, intellectually, and emotionally feel secure with the path you’ve chosen/been forced to walk down. Trust me, if you do this, you will feel better. The truth is comforting.

By consciously trying to “get rid” of the guilt, you are telling yourself that you have something legitimate to feel guilty about. You don’t. At the same time, you have a right to feel whatever you feel about your experience, and it’s tough to shut out those ominous voices when you are already riddled with regret and anxiety. The last thing you need is to feel guilty about feeling guilty. Even my grandmother, the Grand Pooba of Jewish Guilt, may she rest in peace, would agree with me on that one.

Link to the original post.

Link to the video’s.


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7 responses to “Best. Post. Ever.

  1. janetlansbury December 3, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Gorgeous, passionate post. FFF, you are EVERY mother’s champion because you help us understand each other and empathize. Happy Chanukah! And, Kathleen, thank you for sharing this.

  2. SlackerInc December 4, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Babies were designed by millions of years of evolution to receive breastmilk, and formula is only a rough substitute. Breastmilk is an incredibly complex substance whose composition changes as the baby grows and in response to challenges like infection. It is not only a form nutrition but contains all kinds of living cells, making a mother-baby breastfeeding dyad biological symbiotes. Breastfeeding creates a physical and emotional connection that goes beyond delivering breastmilk to a baby’s mouth.

    If you tried your reasonable best to breastfeed your baby and it didn’t work out, you should not feel guilty. Feel disappointed, sure; but not guilty. If you didn’t try your reasonable best, then sure you should feel guilty.

    • amoment2think December 4, 2010 at 4:47 pm

      At the risk of being a bit snarky and sarcastic (forgive me, I have a killer headache), I am so glad that I have your permission to not feel guilty.

      • SlackerInc December 4, 2010 at 6:38 pm

        Kathleen, I genuinely do come from a middle ground on this one. Did you read my blog post on lactation failure? I really do believe lactivists often tend to be inflexible in their ideology (“every woman can breastfeed” and other such nonsense). But I similarly dislike the opposite extreme that says it is purely a mother’s choice, with no value judgments allowed, not even toward those who don’t try to breastfeed or who give it a brief, halfhearted effort.

  3. Fearless Formula Feeder December 5, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Kathleen, you’ve totally made my day with that introduction. Thank you for all your support- you’re the absolute best. 🙂

  4. Mama Tortoise December 5, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    As a breastfeeder, I was really saddened by this post. I find it astounding that when statistically so few mothers breastfeed, formula feeders feel such a great amount of guilt. It’s not ‘choice’ when the decision is made by many external forces. You haven’t made a choice if you’re on a path that may have been unavoidable. I regret if I’ve ever used language that makes formula feeders feel like “victims of the system.” Mothering is difficult. I believe that it is a role that isn’t given nearly enough respect. Mothers need to aim for cohesiveness in order to support one another rather than divide themselves along such lines as breastfeeding and formula feeding.

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