Why I am not passionate about breastfeeding

by Jessica Martin-Weber
TLB creed

“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.

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To make a difference for one

I feel so blessed, I get to combine so many of my passions.  Both my family and the organization I work with are incredibly supportive and understanding of how important The Leaky Boob is to me giving me time to write, speak, and otherwise advocate for moms, babies, and families. One of my biggest supporters is Anna, my boss at work.  I asked her to share why she believes so deeply in the work we do with Initiative 31.8 and I’m honored to share it here.  While you’ve never heard Anna’s voice in the context of TLB before, her wisdom and passion have been influencing this community for over a year as she has mentored and encouraged me.  Reading this piece helped me better understand why she so freely supports my involvement with The Leaky Boob, her heart is in supporting women.  Meet Anna, one of the most influential women in my life.  ~Jessica

Have you ever had a moment in your life that you knew would forever change you?

That happened to me several years ago during a trip to N’Djamena, Chad in sub Saharan Africa.  Ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world and harshest places to live as a woman, its beautiful people and land have found a permanent place in my heart.

One evening near the end of my trip, I went to visit the home of a young woman in her early twenties named Sarah*.  Sarah wanted to show me where she lived.  As I stood on the dirt floor of her tiny room, I listened as she described her life to me, a life of hardship, suffering, abuse, and loneliness. Her room had barely enough space to spread out a mat on the floor. There was a curtain serving as a door for privacy, and she had a small shelf against the wall, holding a bowl, a bar of soap, and a change of clothes.

She didn’t seek my sympathy, but rather we were two women sharing a private moment.  And yet, I saw how hungry she was, being given just one meal a day by the extended family that had taken her in. I saw how trapped she was by her life circumstances, desperately trying to get an education and find work. I saw how much she sought meaning from empty pursuits, relying on harmful relationship after relationship to survive. Even though our lives are so very different, we connected on a deep, soul level.

As my heart broke for this new friend, I knew in that moment that I wanted to devote my life to being part of the answer for people like her.

Through my work at International Teams, I have found myself in the company of many more people who want to take part in transforming lives of people like Sarah, of seeing communities become a place where no one is invisible.  Where a young woman in hunger, isolation, and powerlessness can build a life of opportunity.

I am just one person, and there is so much hurting and hardship in this world. But if my life can be part of seeing change in the life of just one person, then it is worth it. I would do it for Sarah, and I know she would do it for me. By joining together, we can all make a difference.

If you knew that you, just one person in a world of great suffering and injustice, could make a difference in the life of just one other person, would you do it?  As mothers we’re drawn, compelled to invest in the lives of our children and know first hand the meaning that comes from doing so.  It is in our nature as humans to feel compassion for others, even those that don’t call us “mom.”

You can do that right now. Saturday Jessica and I will be hopping on our bikes to ride to raise funds for the oppressed in the RIDE for Refuge.  Jessica thinks she will be sore and barely able to walk after. Possible, but I just smile and know the great sense of accomplishment we both will feel after giving just a few hours of our lives to change the life of another.

We haven’t reached our goal yet, but it’s not too late! Will you donate to our sponsor page?

 *not her real name

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Have you ever had a moment that forever changed you?  Did it alter the direction of your life?  Did it develop new passions?  Has it inspired you to help others and make the world a better place?

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