When I say I hated breastfeeding, I don't just mean I was relieved to be done with my breast pump or happy when I was able to wear normal bras again. I mean i hated it- so badly that whenever I'm out in public and an Iphone goes off with the same ringtone I used as a feeding alarm I feel physically ill. My tongue dries up, I'm horribly thirsty and nauseous, my head spins and my chest gets tight. It's a visceral reaction I can't control, and as soon as I calm down I am racked with guilt over hating something society tells me I should want to do.
I didn't plan to breastfeed. When I found out I was pregnant with twins, I did a lot of research about the various methods of breastfeeding twins and decided it wasn't practical for me. I was going to be at home alone with the babies and wouldn't have an extra set of hands to help me adjust them for feeding at the same time. Feeding them individually seemed like it would take up all of the hours in the day, plus three more hours that didn't technically exist. Back then I planned to return to work and my husband wanted to be able to bond with the babies through feedings. Also, I have a hormone condition that requires medication that isn't safe for breastfeeding. All factors considered, formula feeding seemed like the right choice for us.
Then my babies were born prematurely. Suddenly, the doctors who had been completely supportive of my decision to formula feed were asking me to consider breastfeeding. They told me the antibodies in my milk would help protect the babies' weakened immune systems. I couldn't hold the boys much and I would have felt like a heartless monster mom saying anything other than yes, so I started pumping every three hours, 24 hours a day and breastfeeding the stronger twin whenever the doctors would allow it.
Part of me was happy to have something to do- when you have a baby in the NICU so much of your time is spent feeling helpless and out of control. The other part of me hated every aspect of breastfeeding and pumping. The back pain from trying to get comfortable while keeping a good latch, the milk splatter from the pump and its ten zillion pieces. I was thirsty and in pain and exhausted. I divided my emotions between being bitter over feeling pressured into a part of parenting I never wanted to experience, and relishing the torture, because it felt a bit like penance for not being able to keep the boys inside of me until they were full term.
A couple weeks after the boys were born they were cleared to come home, healthy but still very underweight. The NICU team had been adding special formula to my breast milk, but our pediatrician commented that the boys would gain weight faster if they were just on the formula. Thrilled to have a medical excuse to end my misery, I weaned myself dry faster than any health professional would probably recommend and tried my best to forget the entire experience.
When I meet other moms and we share our parenting experiences, I no longer share how I hated breastfeeding. The first few times I mentioned it, I got a head tilt of concern and a knowing comment about poor supply or blocked ducts. Once I set the record straight- that my supply was actually more than my kids could drink, my breasts handled the task like blue ribbon dairy cows and I just didn't like how breastfeeding made me feel, then the questions began. Why wouldn't I want what's best for my baby? Don't I worry about what's in formula? What about the mother/child bonding time? Implicit in all these questions is the judgement- that I am less of a mother because I didn't want to breastfeed.
I know this judgment isn't imaginary. Stores and hospitals are limiting access to formula in an effort to coerce moms into breastfeeding. And for the record, I'm not against breastfeeding at all. I'm all about the boob being called into service whenever and where ever a baby happens to be hungry. If anything I'm a little jealous of women who can do it and enjoy it and make it look effortless.
I wish that society would rally around the idea of not breastfeeding if you don't want to the same way we rally around a breastfeeding mom's decision not to use a cover. There needs to be a safe space for women to say they don't breastfeed. Not because of a supply or medical issue, but just unapologetically because they don't want to.