“Breast is best”—that popular phrase haunted me throughout my pregnancy. I knew before I became pregnant that breastfeeding was not best for me, but I didn’t think I had a choice. I feared I would resent my innocent newborn for their continued need of my body, or that I would resent my partner for not being able to do more because my body fed our child. I didn’t want to judge my body’s worth based on my milk supply. And I really didn’t want my boobs, that had already swollen from a DD to a G during pregnancy, to get any bigger.
As I discussed my anxiety about the impending need to breastfeed, a non-mom friend asked me why I didn’t just choose to not do it. I never thought that was an option. You had to at least try; society would think you were selfish otherwise. But, for the first time, I felt like not breastfeeding was a choice I could actually make. So now, my back hurt from carrying my newly G-sized pregnancy boobs and the weight of this decision.
I made the decision to not breastfeed, to not even try, around 34 weeks. I did my research and learned that many of the benefits of breastfeeding are overstated, so my baby would be fine breastfed or formula-fed. My partner fully supported me, but I was terrified of the world’s response. Would I instantly be categorized as a lazy mom? Would people think my vanity overrode my concern for my child’s health? If everyone thinks breast is best, was I the worst for not choosing it? So, I started slowly telling people, testing out my messaging.
I told friends without children who were like, “hell yeah, you go girl.” My sister, who has also carried the weight of big boobs, really understood my desire to get back to my pre-pregnancy bras. This part was easiest. I really just told them first for a confidence boost.
Next, I told a few mom and soon-to-be mom friends, all of whom supported me, even though all of them breastfed their kids. Do you see how it feels like it isn’t a choice to not breastfeed? I had no one to follow.
Then, I told the patron saint of informed motherhood: Expecting Better author, Emily Oster. And by told, I mean I asked her via her weekly Instagram Q&A if it was okay for me to choose to not breastfeed to protect my mental health. She answered my question with a simple yes. My baby would be fine and she appreciated the fact that I was considering my own mental health.
And, I told my mom, who had the best of intentions when she tried to convince me to try breastfeeding because she’d enjoyed it. She espoused the health benefits of breastfeeding for the baby. I countered with my own research: a chapter in Emily Oster’s other book, Crib Sheet. She brought up that it makes the weight “melt off.” But I knew I shouldn’t make this enormous life choice around my desire for my pre-pregnancy body to “bounce back”—even though I really wanted to bounce back. Spoiler alert: I didn’t, but neither do a lot of women who breastfeed. And she told me about how bonded it made her feel to her babies.
But by this point, I knew I wasn’t going back on my decision. I was prepared to bond slowly with my baby. The sudden feeling of love that so many mothers describe sounds magical, but I assumed it wasn’t for me. My love is more like a Kacey Musgraves song, a slow burn. In life’s most emotional moments, my initial anxieties usually overpower any other feeling.
Despite the mostly supportive responses, I was still too scared to tell my OBGYN for fear of her reaction, and I prepped diatribes for the nurses who might make comments at the hospital. But at the hospital, no one said a negative word. Nurses simply asked, “breastfeeding or formula?” And when I finally told my OBGYN, when my baby was two days old, she laughed at me, saying, “I just assumed you would breastfeed because you seemed so granola. But I wish you had told me earlier. I hated breastfeeding.” I was so scared of formula-shaming that I literally kept the knowledge from my doctor. In the fragile days right after giving birth, my doctor’s support filled me with hope. My first choice as a mom was doctor-approved.
In the end, I did it! I left the hospital with my baby, a bag of formula samples, and instructions from the lactation consultant on how to wean. And after two weeks of wearing an ace bandage around my boobs like Roberta in Now and Then, I had my DD boobs back for the first time since my first trimester. My anxiety over mom-shaming from friends, family, doctors, nurses, and the greater world burdened me for months, but in the end there was no shame. I learned a very valuable lesson early on in my new role as mom. Mom-shaming is real and it can hurt, but don’t let your fear of what might happen drive the decisions you make for yourself and your family.
If you thought I was scared of breastfeeding, you should’ve heard me talk about my fears of the first months of having a baby. But it turned out to be okay—great, even. Not breastfeeding meant my partner could feed the baby half of the time in the middle of the night. And while my hormones were raging, I bonded with my baby just fine. When I was not crying about crazy things like missing my cat—who was simply in the other room—I would cry about how much I loved my perfect, little, formula-fed baby.
So, other moms or future moms, please know you have a choice! I am always thrilled to hear from anyone who enjoyed pregnancy. May you and Kourtney Kardashian bond over the glow and power of your body. Kim and I will be lamenting about the pain and the swelling. Both are okay! And breastfeed, or formula feed, or find a combo that works best for you. And when you’re having bouts of inevitable mom guilt about this choice or any other one, think about the airplane oxygen mask instructions: secure your mask first before assisting others. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. You cannot take care of someone else, if you are not taking care of yourself first.
Image: Jeremy Pawlowski/ stocksy.com