I chose not to breastfeed. I made that choice and lost a friend because of it.
During my first pregnancy, a friend told me that her child, who had just turned one, was sick for the first time ever. I told her that although I was sorry to hear her son was ill, I hoped my child would also have the good fortune to not be sick in the first year of her life.
“Well, that won’t happen,” she said.
I thought perhaps she misunderstood what I was saying.
“Why? What do you mean?” I asked.
“Because you aren’t planning to breastfeed, you won’t provide the nutrients for her to prevent illness,” she said.
I was stunned. Did she really just tell me, a first-time mom, that I would cause my daughter to be sick in the first year of her life? I explained my reasons for not breastfeeding, and at the end of our conversation, there was silence on her end. I gulped, then asked her the question I never expected her to say yes to. “Is me not breastfeeding going to affect our friendship?”
She paused for a second then answered, “Yes. I just can’t respect someone who won’t even try to do the best thing for her baby.”
What I did with my body seemed to somehow affect her. She was judging my parenting choices before I even had a chance to give birth. Needless to say, our friendship slowly faded. However, that moment made a huge impact on my life.
I have always held breastfeeding in the highest regard. Just because I didn’t feel it was right for me did not mean I thought it was wrong. I understood the merits of it – the added vitamins, the ease and the economic factors – yet I still had to do what felt right to me as a mother. And what felt right was not breastfeeding.
You can say that it depends on what you were exposed to as a child, whether your mother breastfed. My mother didn’t. Her mother didn’t. And I can’t remember a single family event as a child where I saw someone breastfeeding. But the real reason I didn’t breastfeed is that I simply didn’t want to. I didn’t look at my breasts as a feeding device. It wasn’t that they couldn’t produce milk or that I had an illness that prevented it. They just didn’t serve that purpose for me. Most important, I didn’t look at them as a way to bond with my child. I felt that holding my child, caring for her and loving her with all my heart and soul would be all the bonding I would need.
And I was right.
I don’t feel like I missed out on one single moment with either of my children because I didn’t breastfeed. I don’t feel like my children were sick more, lacked antibodies or felt less loved. I simply held a bottle in their mouth instead of a nipple.
The irony is that I never heard a single word of warning or backlash from any medical professional. My child’s pediatrician never told me I was hurting my baby. She never warned me about my child getting sick because of formula vs. breast milk. She did what I longed for my friend to do – she supported me.
After the hurtful words by my “friend,” I searched online for a non-breastfeeding support group. My search came up empty handed. The majority of support groups focused on breastfeeding mothers. I wondered why they needed more support than I did. It would have been nice to find a support group to share stories with other moms about why we chose to not breastfeed.
Only now, a few years after my second child was born, who I also didn’t breastfeed, am I finding other mothers who made the same decision. But it wasn’t something we talked to each other about immediately. It’s almost as if we had to feel each other out first. Only later did we admit that we all feared judgment by breastfeeding mothers.
The hard part about motherhood is realizing that we all have to find our own path. And not only to walk that path, but to support each other as mothers, not as mothers-who-feed-their-child -in-a-certain way. I am proud to tell my daughter that I stood up for myself and did what I thought was best for us. But I also make sure to tell her that babies get fed in all different ways – and each way gives you a happy, healthy baby.
And isn’t that what all mothers want?
Danielle Herzog blogs about her life as a mom at Martinis and Minivans
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