by Jessica Martin-Weber
“How did you become so passionate about breastfeeding?”
This question comes up often. For a while I would hem and haw an answer, stringing together some words that were an attempt at sounding intelligent and reasonable as to why I would have created and continue to run The Leaky Boob. Awkward and fumbling, I hoped it covered the truth.
I’m not passionate about breastfeeding.
My second daughter received formula starting at 4.5 months and by 5 months was completely formula fed. The reasons are hardly the point of me sharing this fact. It was, we believed, the right thing for our family at the time and, like these things are want to be, complicated.
I never felt guilty about it, never even thought about feeling guilty about it. It just was. I’d like to say she was perfectly healthy and no issues what so ever but that wasn’t our experience. Between reflux that took months to resolve, constipation issues that took just as long and several expensive experiments, and then RSV, pneumonia, strep throat, multiple ear infections, and more than I care to recount, her first year was more difficult than I had ever anticipated. Formula didn’t make it better, much it was exasperated by formula. Still, through all that, guilt about stopping breastfeeding never occurred to me. Nor did anger, bitterness, or even hurt. I was sad, disappointed that it didn’t work for us but that didn’t last long and there wasn’t really anything I could do about it. Fighting like hell to be able to breastfeed had taken a toll and I was confident that giving it up was actually better for my daughter and I by that point.
I was right.
Later, when I shared my story with someone they comforted me, telling me dealing with that guilt must have been hard. Strange, I thought, why would I feel guilty? In that moment and many moments later as I reflected on the guilt I didn’t have, my confidence in my parenting and decision making began to erode a bit. Already struggling with postpartum depression, this little chink in the foundation of my parenting led to me believing that I was not fit to be a mother. It wasn’t this person’s fault but I entered a place of shadows and shame, afraid that I couldn’t trust myself to make decisions for my children.
Time, therapy, medication, and some really good friends supporting me by encouraging me to see that I was not, in fact, a horrible mother, helped me turn things around. Through that though, I began to understand something far more important than breastmilk or formula: confidence isn’t being right, confidence is more than believing in yourself to do the right thing, confidence is having peace with who you are even when you make mistakes. With my confidence growing again, I moved forward with my husband, embracing that doing the right thing for our family wouldn’t always be an issue of black and white, A and B, or left and right, but rather a sensitivity for all parties involved doing the best we could with whatever circumstances we would face with whatever resources, information, and understanding we had available at the time.
My next baby was breastfed, up until 18 months we had an easy, simple breastfeeding relationship that working full time and caring for 2 other children only complimented, never hindered. Weaning with her came unexpectedly when the single most difficult and devastating parenting experience we have encountered to date hit us: the sexual abuse of our two eldest by a very dear friend.
It was tempting to unravel in that time and in many ways I did. But our daughters needed me. Faking it often, I attempted confidence even as I asked how could I let this happen, how could I not see the signs, how could I… have failed so badly?
More time, therapy, and really incredible friends supporting us, we got through the investigation, trial, and agonizing fragmentation of our family. Each step was in uncharted and sometimes lonely waters with swells of failure sweeping over me. There was grief, pain, hurt, bitterness, doubt, and anger, so much anger. My confidence wavered and so did my husband’s. We considered a cabin in Montana and cutting off the outside world.
Our daughters didn’t need Montana though, they didn’t need to go off the grid and be isolated. What our daughters needed most was someone, something to be a safe landing place for them. That was us. There was never a moment that I was sure we were doing everything right as we walked the path in search of justice and healing and there were plenty of people telling us how we should be doing it or how we were doing it wrong. In the midst of the pain, grief, and anger, the truth we had learned before became an anchor along with our faith and love: confidence is having peace with who you are even when you make mistakes. Our daughters needed us to have confidence to help them land softly. There was space for us to be honest about our insecurities and fear but the greatest gift we could give our children along with our love was to have peace in our ability to love them well even through this.
Today, 9 years later, I know my husband and I are not perfect parents, we’ve made choices that we would change if we were to have the chance to make them again. Maybe I would fight harder to be able to breastfeed my second baby longer. Maybe I would have feed us all with better food. Maybe I would have done things differently in our relationship with our daughters’ attacker. Maybe I would handle the abuse another way. Maybe. I don’t really know. But I do know that having peace in who we are, holding on to peace even as it shreds in my hands pounded by guilt, bitterness, and anger, helped our daughters find peace in who they are. Together, we found healing.
Any more when I am asked why I’m so passionate about breastfeeding I tell the asker the truth: it’s not breastfeeding I’m passionate about. I support moms in breastfeeding because of the gift of confidence breastfeeding can be. Maybe it won’t be for everyone but for many it is, it was for me and so this is one way I can offer support. The science and relationship bonding are compelling on their own but they aren’t why I talk about breastfeeding so much. By not apologizing for our bodies, not suppressing our bodies, and having peace in who we are and how we are can help mothers find the confidence they are going to need for the really tough parts of parenting. Feeding their children, be it breastmilk or formula, is one of the very first steps all parents must take, undermining their confidence there is insidious and damaging. People that are confident are more free to love, learn, and live with joy. Babies with confident parents have a place to land softly no matter what life throws at them. I’m not passionate about breastfeeding, I never have been. People are my passion. People start out as babies. Babies are cared for by parents. Parents are people.
This may not make me popular in some circles, I don’t mind. But I believe that having a hurt, angry, bitter mother struggling with their own confidence and ability to parent is far, far worse than feeding a baby formula could ever be. I think breastmilk is great but I think caring for people is even greater. The benefits of confident parenting far outweigh the risks.
I would never tell a woman, or anyone, what to do with their body nor what to do with their child. Respecting their ability and responsibility in making the right decision for themselves and their family based on the circumstances they face with the information and resources available to them at that time means I don’t know what they should do. All I can do is offer support, information, and encourage them to embrace their confidence and move forward with peace.
This is why at The Leaky Boob we believe:
Feed the baby, care for the mother, support the family.
But if you need some help or support to feed your baby how you want: we are here.
If you need help with how to correctly mix and prepare a formula bottle: we are here.
If you need help with breastfeeding: we are here.
If you need help going back to work and continuing to breastfeed: we are here.
If you need help weaning (at any age): we are here.
If you need help starting solids: we are here.
If you just want to talk: we are here.
Walk in confidence, live with peace, land softly.
Community. Support. TLB.