The last can of formula (and some emotional purging).

I’m really good at sharing cute pictures of my daughter and laughing as I look back at tough times. I can write about the hardest days and eloquently embrace the lesson or the good parts. But some hard times are particularly rough; less fun to write about and remember. Not everyone is going to agree with my thoughts and decisions, I don’t expect or ask you to. But I do hope if there’s someone out there who needs to hear this, it comes at the right time. I’ve debated sharing this for a year, but for some reason I’m compelled to share this now. 

Tonight we threw out our last can of formula. Lila is on whole milk now and we finally used up our stores. It felt symbolic. 

Instead of the guilt and shame I associated with feeding formula for months, tonight I felt gratitude. That this wonderful alternative existed and was available when I needed it, to ensure my baby was happy and healthy. I felt pride. That I made a hard decision in a dark time and can now recognize that it was the right decision.

When I was about three weeks post partum, the “baby blues,” as they’re so often called, weren’t lifting. In fact, they were getting worse. You know the little black rain cloud that follows Eeyore around? Mine was a little black tsunami. 

I was fortunate to be surrounded with support, but unless you’re the one going through it, it’s hard to know exactly how to help. I don’t know that I can share it all in detail in this kind of forum, as much as I love truth telling, but if you’re experiencing anything you think goes beyond typical new-mom exhaustion and stress, I urge you to be brave enough to ask for help. There is nothing wrong with you. No one will judge you. 

Throughout this early period, nursing was – for the most part – going really well. I was fortunate that we didn’t experience any of the dozens of challenges so many women and babies experience. I produced enough, she latched. Just the usual learning curve. But as the tsunami darkened, I started to resent this attachment I was told I should be embracing.

One day it came to a head. I completely freaked out one of my best friends the night prior when she came over with food, and I couldn’t compose myself the whole time. I was shaky, unable to eat or sleep, and saw no light at the end of the current tunnel. I saw my doctor around this time, desperate for anything that could make me feel better. And fortunately, her office was nothing but supportive and attentive as I sobbed in a crumpled heap, communicating more through nose blowing and sign language than actual English. 

There was no condescending, “All moms go through this,” or “Hang in there, it gets better.” They identified what I was feeling and knew that I wasn’t positioned to be the best mom I could be. It was at this time they asked if I would consider not nursing.
Sound the alarm bells. Were these people…these medically trained experts, who dedicated their careers to  bringing babies into the world safely…actually suggesting I stop doing the one thing I was convinced I had to?

I was indignant. No, I would not consider stopping. I’d never heard anything but praise for nursing mothers, and had been subtly convinced through the mommysphere that formula was akin to lead paint. Why would I give that to this perfect human? I was disgusted.

My doctor’s office was respectful, but did their part to educate me that making a decision that could help me and my baby feel better, and bond better, was not “giving up.” It was not failing. 

They simply wanted me to see that if I stopped, my body had a much better chance of feeling better faster. And that would allow me to enjoy motherhood. 

Without giving you a biology lesson, there is significant regulation of hormones when you stop nursing, more options for medication, and access to better sleep. Things that help in tsunami abatement.

Flustered, I left. Then a day or two later I called my best friend, crying outside a smoothie shop, sweating my face off in the Arizona summer. I laid it all out: I felt weak giving up, like I wasn’t enduring this essential rite of passage that unites good moms. I felt lazy. I felt worried I would change my mind. But I also felt desperate. 

I talked to my mom and my mentor and lots of friends – and was touched and surprised that those who’d been the most committed to nursing themselves, were the most supportive that I stop . I think these mommas, being ahead of me in this journey, had the wisdom to know how hard everything is as a new mom, and that you need to do Whatever It Takes to be the best mom you can be.

So I stopped. I switched to formula. For 11 months.

And I’m blessed beyond belief with a happy, healthy and spitfire little girl. 

They told me she’d be a picky eater. She’s not. They told me she’d gain too much weight. She didn’t. They told me we wouldn’t bond the same way. We did.

So without dipping my toes into the madness that is mommy wars, I want to share that it took a long time to get here, but I am ok with this decision. Better than ok – I’m proud of it.

And while sure, I sometimes have pangs or moments of questioning and wondering, “what if…” I have those in every area of my life (don’t even get me started on my college major), and I’m sure there will be hundreds more of these feelings on the parenthood path. 

I think this whole story supports the notion that when you make the best decision for you, OWN IT. You don’t have to rationalize or explain it, it’s yours and yours alone. 

And moms, we’ve heard it before, but my hope is we can all be respectful of whatever feeding choices we make. And acknowledge that there is no “best,” there only the best for each family. Breast, bottle, SNS or feeding tube. If you’re feeding you baby, you’re winning.  


13 thoughts on “The last can of formula (and some emotional purging).

  1. Great post! I have also been a formula feeder almost from the very beginning. The first week post partum I developed a uterine infection that caused so much pain and hit so fast, i was unable to stand up or walk. The medicine I was given, as the lactation nurse pd it, completely depleted my supply and I would probably never get a good flow going again. I was devastated when she told me I needed to add formula feedings to our routine cause my baby girl want getting enough from me alone. It did make me feel like a failure. Breast feeding is supposed to be natural, every mom does it, formula is the devil… at least this is what reading the Internet makes you think 😉
    Coming into my own realization that formula is just as good, provides the right nutrition and has come a long way in recent years to be close to breast milk, took a few months. But like you, I lost that shame of using formula, of mixing up a bottle of formula in public, and learning that I am more often than not, not getting the evil eye from other women for using the canned stuff! Reading your blog is always a comfort to me also! I will have this same feeling on our last can in a few months.

  2. I’m SURE you writing this is helping someone out there, searching the Internet in the dead of night trying to find validation for a decision that seems so looked down upon. I was that person! It’s crazy to take a step back and realize how almost unimportant the decision was…but at the time it seemed so devastatingly weighty. BFing, and then pumping, was awful and I should never have stubbornly let it go for as long as I did…only 2 months, but seemed like 2 lifetimes. At the flip of a switch I became a better mom, and whatever it takes to get there, we should do that. Thank you for putting this out there!

  3. Love. I always love how real you are. Thanks for telling it like it is. My firm belief is that as a mom you have to do what’s best for you and your baby first. Forget googling, others advice etc. Proud of you and happy that you have come to a place of thankfulness for the your decision.

  4. I nursed for four months. My husband tried to get me to take a break, but I was determined. I had to come to terms with it myself. It was the best decision I ever made. With my second, I really wanted to give him the same, but he developed thrush, and I just couldn’t do it. It took a couple of months to come to terms with that too, but again, it was the best decision for me and my baby. I’m the best mom I can be for my kids because of it.

  5. I’m glad you are proud of that decision, because you’re right – making those tough decisions for whatever is best for your baby is something to be proud of. I was not able to breastfeed Finn as long as I wanted. For me this already emotional thing was tied up in losing Cale because I had really wanted to breastfeed Finn (and Cale) and it felt like another way my body was failing another baby of mine. I know that’s not the case, but logic doesn’t always apply to emotional situations.

    But how lucky we are to live where we do where we have access to these healthy options for our babies – formula is an amazing thing, though it’s a shame it has to be so effing expensive!

  6. Thank you for writing this. For my own reasons we are not even going to try breast feeding and are just formula feeding. But oh, the shame and guilt that people put upon you for it. You are right though, own it and move on. Formula fed kids do not have to carry a sign on their forehead. There are worse things in life.

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