Posted by: Kate | April 8, 2010

An Early Serving of Mommy Guilt, Similac-Flavored

Breast is best, right? That’s what the posters say. The ones in the maternity ward, the ones in the pediatrician’s office, the ones in the WIC office. Breastfeeding allows for better bonding, better nutrition, better everything. Just everything.

I know. I breastfed my older two, loved it completely, and grieved when I was done.

This time… I can start grieving early, so I suppose that’s more efficient, at least, right?

Because I can’t breastfeed.

The combination of very intense medications during and immediately following the infection/surgery/coma nightmare made it doubtful, with doctors on either side of the argument. I heard advice in both directions, but most leaned in the direction of trying to breastfeed. It was suggested that I “pump and dump,” that is, use my breast pump to keep the milk flow active (because it did, indeed, come in, after the colostrum, and I do take a tiny, tiny bit of comfort in knowing that at least Isaac got an hour or two of nursing with however much colostrum that produced). So I did, and slowly was working up a measurable output.

Then came the question of the pain medications; the ones for the surgery wounds were no problem, because I would stop taking those eventually, but what about the ones for the back pain? Could, and should, I breastfeed on those? There were tremendous doubts there, and again there were doctors on both sides of the argument, but my caregivers, the ones I had been seeing before and throughout the pregnancy, were on the side of nursing, so I was leaning in that direction. I continued to pump and dump, and to waver.

Then the decision made itself, in the form of night sweats and hot flashes, insomnia and radical mood swings, risk of numerous cancers and cardiovascular problems. Sometime in mid-March I was given a radical abdominal hysterectomy, a gift I very much did not want but couldn’t find a way to return, and the immediate side effects damn near drowned me. I have never sweat so much in my life, and all in the middle of the night, alone and miserable. “Hot flashes” and “night sweats,” they sound like such cute, pithy little experiences, how bad can they really be?  The answer is, bad.  They can be really bad.

I just could not tolerate the symptoms of abrupt, early, surgically-induced menopause, and I felt the long-term benefits of hormone replacement therapy were important, too. And so I put my own health first, ahead of my desire to breastfeed.  Ahead of the fact that I hate damn near everything about formula feeding: I hate how the formula smells, itself, and I really hate how it smells coming out, from either end.  I hate the extra work, all those bottles and sterilization.  I hate the quantifiable nature of it; it’s no longer, “He ate until he seemed full, and now he seems content,” it’s “He had 4 ounces at 2:00 and slept for 3.5 hours.”  And so on.

The priority here is that my child is being very well cared-for and nutritiously fed while I’m unable to do so, myself.  He’s thriving.  Willem is enjoying the chance to be more involved in Isaac’s care than he could with the other two.

I might, someday, feel less guilt. I don’t expect to feel none, I just hope to feel less.



  1. Oh, wow. What a story. I feel for you.

    It’s really easy for women to say “you shouldn’t feel guilty” or “no one can make you feel guilty”, but I really understand where you’re coming from and I just want to say, although you don’t know me, you’re doing right by your boy and you’re being the mother he needs. Best of luck to you.

  2. There are no words.

    I’m sorry you have to go thru this.

    Love you.

  3. I don’t think any comment can help to take away your guilt, but there are a few things that you can do to make bottle feeding easier… First, Similac smells awful. If possible, consider switching to Enfamil – it smells more buttery and less yucky or Parent’s Choice (exact same ingredients as Enfamil at half the price). Second, if Isaac will tolerate it, cold bottles are soooo much easier to make than having to warm up the formula. Just imagine that midnight feeding that Willem can do by simply grabbing a bottle from the refrigerator and cuddling with Isaac for a few minutes.

    It definitely isn’t what you had hoped or planned, but it will be ok – lots of people make the choice to bottle feed. It sucks that you didn’t get to make the choice, and it’s completely reasonable to be angry or frustrated about the situation and your lack of choice, but I do hope that the guilt fades eventually, because Isaac will turn out just fine regardless of what kind of milk he received in his first year.

  4. The truth is, you nearly died. Feeling guilty that you couldn’t do what you’d have done if you’d been healthy is just soooooo pointless and self-injuring. Isaac has you ALIVE to give him formula–all else is just self-torture for no gain.

  5. Hey Kate –

    I know I haven’t written before now, but I have been following your “journey” and praying for your continued return to health.

    I decided to chime in today, because I made the difficult decision to bottle feed after my oldest was born. I had made the decision before she was born to breastfeed, but my milk took 6 days to come in. My first child weighed 9 pounds when she was born and she was HUNGRY! I know, I know – they tell you that the baby gets what she needs from the colostrum, but you try telling that to a sleep deprived first time mother at 3:00 am on the baby’s first night home and the baby’s howling like mad.

    I felt guilty about the decision for about three days, but you know what – I got over it. I have a very healthy and happy 6 year old now.

    Keep hanging in there – I can only imagine how hard it’s been for you. But Kate, you’re one of the stongest people that I’ve ever met. You WILL get through all of this – the big things and the little ones too.

  6. Kate, I’m so sorry. I know how much breastfeeding means to you and I know you must hate this. Yes, there are health benefits but the benefits of having a healthy, healing, hormonally balanced and ALIVE mommy are so much more! Try to hold on to that thought.

  7. HUGS. Pumping and dumping. All a distant memory to me. And hopefully it will be for you too. Although my end result was different than yours I shared your pain for a brief period with “L”. If you remember I was in the hospital for 9 days when she was two weeks old. I pumped and dumped and although I was able to wean her back to 90% BF I do remember all the emotions you are going through. The Drs debates and the nurses telling me just to bottle feed. I felt it was all I had left to hold onto. I also shared in your feeling of missing the bonding time. I know that my time was much shorter and much less dramatic than what you are going through but I can tell you that it gets easier and once your regain your health you will feel that your health is important and your child will not remember the time that was missed during those early days. The pain is much harder on the mother than the child. HUGS HUGS HUGS

  8. At 37, I get night sweats every night during my period. I totally know what you mean about how much they suck. When you wake up cold, drenched, and miserable in the middle of the night…ugh.

    (I also bottle fed, through no choice of my own. It ended up being a good thing for me. As you continue to get better, I hope that aspect of things gets better, too. As trite as it sounds, a healthy mom is really the most important thing for a baby.)

  9. Breastfeeding did not go well for me both times. With J.T. I tried SO hard but it was like fighting a losing battle. I felt so very guilty. Then after that first bottle and seeing how content he was…most of the guilt started to melt away. With Sarah I tried but quickly realized it was not going to work & switched to bottle without the guilt. It sunk into me that my kids needed me to take care of myself first in order to meet their needs the best I can.

    I’m so sorry the choice was taken away from you. Please be gentle with yourself. You have been through so much.

  10. Yes, you need to mourn this too. I felt the same way when I had to stop breastfeeding Olivia when we finally got her allergy(s) diagnosis and the realization that it was I who was making her so miserable. The guilt & sadness I felt (I’m sure you remember!) that I didn’t get to give her the same experience I was able to give her siblings took me a long time to wrap my head around. In the end, we were both better off for stopping the BF process, something I now believe in my head, but not yet with my heart. Love you so much and I’m so, so sorry this is just one more thing you have to suffer through! ❤

  11. I’m sorry—I wondered about whether or not you were able to bfeed. This just sucks on top of everything else you’ve had to deal with—but, bottle feeding can be a lovely thing too, and your baby will just be so happy to have his mama back in this life. May you both thrive together!

  12. Mommy guilt is a you-know-what. It is easy for me to say from an outside view, but the beauty in it all is that you are HERE and Isaac has YOU! And you have the rest of your life to nurture him in so many awesome ways. Still, I am so sorry that this is yet another blow in this incredibly difficult situation. Big fat hugs to you!

  13. Guilt can only exist if something is in your control. This is so completely OUT of your control. No guilt is warranted. Not being able to breastfeed him is not your fault. It is what it is.

    And this is coming from someone with plenty of experience w/guilt. I attended 12 years of Catholic school, lol.

    It’s OK to be angry that breastfeeding was taken away from you as an option. But don’t feel guilty about it.

  14. {{{HUGS}}} Guilt is such a hard feeling to have, especially when you really did not have the opportunity to make the choices but rather forced to make ones that were against your beliefs. Your children are AWESOME little people who will become AWESOME grown-ups and it was so much more than breast milk that made them that way. They have been blessed with great parents especially a mother who fought and very difficult battle to be here with them. Isaac too will be an amazing person because of the love and strength of his parents especially a mothers love. The bonding will happen, he will know your loving tough, your smell and voice; a new and special bond will develop between the two of you I can feel it. Blessings and healing to your heavy heart!

  15. You would have nursed him if you could have. He’s alive and thriving, you do what you have to to keep him going and so he can have his mother home. Having his mama is more important than nursy milk.
    SO sorry about the hot flashes.
    I took replacement hormones for 20 yrs without trouble. They SAVED me from trouble in fact!

  16. I know you know it, but there’s so much for you to grieve right now, and I can understand your frustration with all of it. Every aspect has left you missing something so very base and fundamental and cherished. In your shoes I would be just so very angry and any other of a zillion other unproductive emotions. And what sucks is you can’t control how you feel. You can’t. But, and again it’s obvious you know this, but you can control what you do with those emotions, and how much you let them consume you.

    And missing out on BFing just plain sucks. We are on a similar emotional plane with it, and if I had to miss it, I would be distraught.

  17. I’m so sorry – not breastfeeding is yet another thing you have to grieve about. 😦 When it rains, it pours and I wish it would flippin’ dry out in your neck of the woods already, ykwim?

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