By Daniella Cornue
I sat on the edge of my bed staring silently out the window. I was trying to will the tears back into my eyes. It all felt silly and impossible, and I knew what everyone would say. I’d already heard it.
We’d just gotten back from the doctor’s for our first visit. One week earlier, Vivie had been born perfectly into this world, 7lbs, 7oz. She’d latched right on and I had felt pretty invincible for about a day. But then my nipples cracked and bled which was horrifying. The lactation consultants assured me that was normal and reiterated that “she’s got a great latch”. We took our tiny bundle home and I felt completely clueless — but stuck my tattered boob in my kid's mouth every time she fussed and hoped it was enough. Had I had a letdown? What does that even feel like? I pumped to try to get things moving. I got a little colostrum out but not milk. It had been days. And Vivie was very fussy. My mom watched silently letting me find my own way—but I could see her concern.
“Is she starting to look yellow to you?” I asked Nate. We held our infant at different angles in the evening sunlight. “Maybe? Maybe it’s just the light?” he said, looking as lost as I felt. “Hmmm.” I said spiraling in my head.
But everything I read said, “Breast is Best. Breast is Best.” And to boot I had read all these horror stories about how if we gave her a bottle she’d never breastfeed ever and formula-fed babies lacked antibodies and weren’t as smart later (or something). I was sleep-deprived and terrified.
It all seemed so big.
When we got to the doctors' office, I fidgeted in the waiting room. “Nate, maybe we should give her some of that colostrum to give her a little punch before weigh-in.”
I felt judged. I had pulled myself together with a little makeup and put Vivie in a cute onesie with a little bow. Would the doctor see me and see what I felt? That I was absolutely not ready to be a mother? Clearly, I should have read more infant books because I had no idea what I was doing. He’d know. Would he shame me? What do they do with stupid would-be mothers?
Nate maybe felt the same because he nodded solemnly with wide eyes. “What should I do? We don’t have anything to like…give it to her with.”
“I dunno…like. Maybe hold it to her lips and see if she can sort of…or… dump just a very little bit in her…” I said. He leaned over the car seat to try to angle some of this liquid gold into her mouth.
Suddenly Nate froze. For a moment, he just sat there obstructing my view of my child with his back which was a mess of tense muscles. When he looked at me, his bloodshot, sleep-deprived eyes were as wide as quarters. Fear. Real fear. What the hell—is she choking?!
“I spilled it!” he blurted out and squeezed his eyes closed.
I looked over at Vivie covered in 1 oz of colostrum and sort of sucking on her lip. Her cute onesie was yellow down the front. My hard-earned liquid gold was gone. Nate looked at me holding the empty bottle and awaited his fate. His face was terrified.
The ridiculousness of it all fell on me and instead, I burst out laughing. I laughed like the crazy person I was, while people stared. Eventually, Nate joined in and we both laugh-cried until a very puzzled nurse came to get the two hysterical parents and their dirty infant from the waiting room.
They did the check-up and our fears were confirmed. She’d dropped half her weight. Jaundice was setting in. We needed to give her formula. It was probably all very routine for the doctor’s office. But all I heard as they shuffled around for the Infamil, was that I had been starving my daughter. They handed Nate a bottle and our baby. In 3 minutes flat Vivie sucked it down. He turned her over to give her a little pat and they prepped another bottle for him. The tears started at the back of my eyes. I don’t really recall the rest of the appointment.
When we got home I didn’t say anything and went up and sat on the edge of our bed. It was a bright blue day out and our maple tree waved slightly just outside the window. My mom came up quietly behind me. And all my defenses came down. “I was starving her!” I sobbed bursting into tears. “My milk still hasn’t come in and they don’t know why. And she’s lost all this weight and it’s my fault. Why can’t my body just do this?! I can’t make babies right, I can’t make milk right. Everything is so hard and impossible!”
My mom let me rage until I had cried myself quiet. Finally, she said, “Your body is amazing. It did make a perfect baby and she is not starved. You are a wonderful mother. I am so proud of you.” She gave me a squeeze. “You of all people should know, sometimes, it just takes a little longer for everything to work out.”
I could feel her watching me. “You know, I didn’t breastfeed you, and you turned out pretty great.”
I did know. But I had chalked that up to the 80’s—when holding your child in your lap and driving was still socially acceptable. “But everyone says that breastfeeding is best.” My tone was pleading. Like that of a whiney 13-year-old. Mommy fix this for me. So and so was mean to me—except this time it was my own body.
She smiled—“I thought you’d say that. We called in some reinforcements.” Nate was standing at the door with a phone. It was my sister-in-law Amanda. She had basically taught me everything I knew about anything parenting-wise through her own trial and error with her own kids. I was 23 when she had her first baby girl. I watched her grow into the no-nonsense, joy-filled working mother that she is today. It was her kids that made us want to have kids. It was her and Ben that made us want to become parents. They seemed to balance it somehow—with themselves. With their souls. That sounds dramatic—but they still seemed to be them after they became parents and that was important to us.
“What are we doing—Omg!” she quipped happily on the phone. “Girl! Are we crying?! Nooooo! We’re not crying! This is insane. You are doing fantastic! Stahhhhhp it! Give her the damn bottle!”
I laugh-sniffled. “B-but. Breast is best. And I can’t even feed my own kid!”
“Oh screw that. Fed is best. A happy sleeping baby is best! Girl! Stop reading the internet! You can feed your kid. Formula! And if you want to and if you are ready…You can absolutely breastfeed still.”
“I can? But everyone says she won’t latch anymore.”
“Seriously, screw the internet. Breastfeeding is kinda terrible anyway, but I get it. I did it. And I know you wanna give them those nutrients. So we figure something out. You can get a consultant. I will go over there and help you sandwich your boob right in there. It’ll be fine! But give her the bottle and stop beating yourself up okay? The worst thing for babies is stress. So take a deep breath and say, “I am a great Mother.” Say it!”
“I am a great Mother.”
“There. See? And you are. This is not the end of the world I promise. She’s perfect. She’s healthy. Stop reading the internet. Promise?”
“Yes.” I Iaughed.
I did not ever stop reading the internet.
I did however stop beating myself up for having to give my kid formula. I successfully combination fed Vivie from birth. A close friend donated breast milk to supplement the formula to start. (I love you Allison!) I got a consultant and my milk came in another week later. I “sandwiched” my boob and fed Vivie 80% breast milk and 20% formula. Nate got to bond with her for her evening and her overnight bottle feed. And I pumped what I could during those times and stored it. We did this until she was 9 months old and my supply dried up again because of my work schedule. Then I had a freezer stash that got us to 10 months. By then we were done anyway. Vivie had gone from underweight to a full-on “Choocher Babe” with 5 thighs. She was eating solids and walking. And now she’s a smart and healthy little girl. But breastfeeding was never easy for me. It was impossibly hard with my work schedule and everything else. I fought for it.
I share this now because every time I see something that tells another mother how to feed her child, it makes me cringe. For the love of god, STOP. You have no idea. NO idea what their scenario is. So keep your opinions to yourself. And stop saying anything is best—but fed.
A formula shortage is terrifying. I remember looking at my husband and admitting to him that I had an anxiety dream that we lived in medieval times, and we were poor, and that I couldn’t feed our baby, and she literally starved to death. It sounds dramatic, but don’t tell a hormonally-crazed new mother what to think. And then I get a message from my Le Village mom-group and it’s like—wait? What?! Are we in medieval times? Last I checked it’s 2022. What is happening?! And all these folks out there with their noses up saying “Just breastfeed them.” I can not even.
Fed is best. Always.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was written during the formula shortage in 2022. However, we felt it was still particularly relevant during this season of gratefulness and food. We give thanks for the healthy children in our lives, our strong and capable bodies, and our ability to provide nourishment no matter what form. It truly takes a village - thank you for being a part of ours. Happy Thanksgiving!