Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
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Breast Is Best. And Worst.

Six months before my daughters was born I was certain I wouldn't breastfeed. An hour after my daughter was born I breastfed for the first time. She took to the nipple like a frat boy to a beer keg spigot and proceeded to remain milk drunk for the next month. I had planned not to breastfeed not because I didn't think I could do it, because I didn't want to. Yes, you read that correctly. In a day and age when women are made to feel unnatural and almost negligent when choosing NOT to breastfeed, I'll tell you straight up the whole breastfeeding thing did not inspire within me visions of rocking in a chair whilst cooing dreamy lullabies. It left me feeling uncertain and uncomfortable. A person? Sucks my boobs? All the time? Tell me it's nature's way until you're blue in the face, and still, it felt, just...ICK.

I've been wanting to write about this for a long time. It's just that any discussion about breastfeeding seems to end in the same manner as political and religious talk around the family dinner table; forks embedded in foreheads, head-shaped imprints in frying pans, wine splashed in faces, overturned chairs or worse, awkward silences. Long awkward silences. I much prefer the stabbing and yelling. The topic of breastfeeding is a long and winding road scarred with potholes and I needed to gather my thoughts and fortify myself with much liquor in advance of the flash mob of mothers that will almost certainly jump me outside my workplace and jack me with a sock of pennies after reading what they'll consider motherhood apostasy. But, well, hey, I'm comfortable with apostasy.

I never wanted to breastfeed. That's right, I'll say it again. I didn't want to breastfeed and I don't think you or you or even you, lady shaking your head at my heartless desire to starve my daughter to death and expose her to vicious deadly diseases, should correlate my not wanting to breastfeed with my skillz in da motherhood. When I made this opinion known to my own mother the silence lasted so long I thought we'd been disconnected. Then I heard the sigh. Later, during an argument she questioned my ability to nurture. My best friend, a bigtime mucky muck nurse at a local hospital notorious for shaming women who choose not to breastfeed also immediately began a well-intentioned campaign to get me on board the breastfeeding bandwagon.


Not necessarily. What you mean to say is it's the most nutritious option for the baby but that doesn't mean it's the best way to go. If mom is a basketcase, up every three hours trying her damnedest to breastfeed for an hour as the hungry jackal jaws scabby nipples and then has to pump what remains for another hour after that and then falls asleep only to be jangled awake by watermelon tits 45 minutes after that to begin the cycle again, well, that's not exactly best for mom, baby or anyone else in the family. And when mom has to return to work with leaky, bouncing beach balls and sequester herself in a dirty, smelly restroom every couple hours to embarrassingly pump her rock hard ta-tas, well, that doesn't make for a pleasant motherhood experience. Granted, nobody ever said motherhood was a trip to the spa, but if your breastfeeding experience is a waking nightmare yet you're so fucking guilt-ridden by mothers, friends, and mommybloggers who wax poetic about breastfeeding until their child can walk that you continue to breastfeed in spite of yourself?

Let. It. Go.

And that's not to say that mothers, friends and the waxing poetic mommybloggers are wrong, they did or are doing what's best for them, but not me. Or you! Early in my pregnancy, after the tsunami of intense pressure roared my way when I announced I didn't want to breastfeed, I rabidly read everything about it I could get my hands on. The wondrous benefits of mother's milk and oh, my sisters, the womanly art that is breastfeeding! And then I turned to the trusty mommyblogs only to be confronted with stats. Breastfeeding stats. I lasted this long. I'm going to last this long! My best friend's cousin lasted that long! And then post after torturous post about how devastated women were to have to wean their babies. Not just that but several women constantly complaining about the massive annoyance of breastfeeding while simultaneously proclaiming how spiritual it is.

So I began to feel like a terrible mother before I was even a mother! Why didn't I want to breastfeed? How could one woman feel so uncomfortable with the concept while others unleash epic tomes on the devastation of weaning. I came away sympathetic to their struggles because they are, after all, womens' experiences and I am compassionate about any mother's strife whether or not it mirrors my own experience. Still, the obsession with lasting as long as possible, and further still, the accounts of moms desperately trying to foist boob on little ones no longer interested confused me.

Listen, I'm not saying la leche lovin' ladies are wrong but very often they have a tendency to be a bit, shall we say, exuberant, about it. And almost competitive. There's this sort of rivalry; I breastfed for nearly a year! I lasted two years and this other one, by God, she'll see that one's two years and raise it to four. As if the amount of time spent breastfeeding directly relates to your grade as a mother. I can't stand that shit. And I'm a damn good mom! But it's a careful weighing of my personality and comfort level and what is best for my child. Do these nutrients from breastmilk that are, nowadays, very nearly replicated in formula outweigh my psychological and personal discomfort and the trauma of cranking out the old pump in the work restroom while childless co-workers wonder what kind of machine work I'm up to in there? VREEM VREEM VREEM. Am I regrouting tiles? Snaking clogged pipes? VREEM VREEEEM VREEEEEM. No, honey, it's not a vibrator, I'm not masturbating, I swear. Actually, I kind of am. I'm milking myself.

All I mean to say here is that those who choose not to breastfeed for WHATEVER reason shouldn't have to deal with the subtle disdain that so often accompanies the attitudes of breastfeeders. Deciding to breastfeed is an intensely personal choice and should be treated as such. Whether aware of it or not, many women (men too!) react negatively to those of us who aren't as comfortable with breastfeeding, making us feel like we don't care about our children as much as you do, like, we're big, fat, failures as mothers. And we're not. We're amazing! And if we choose to breastfeed for a month, a week or not at all, it is okay! We are just as nurturing and selfless as the mother who lasted a year or two or eight, but, um, OH MY GOD that is a post for another time. Nightmares!

All the support for breastfeeders and antipathy for the rest of us initially made me feel faulty somehow, less than the ideal mother I wanted so badly to be. Now, I just sigh and hope another new mother isn't experiencing the same derision and feeling like a big pile of shit because her breastfeeding scenario didn't work out. Or maybe she never wanted to breastfeed in the first place.

It's okay!

I'm not trying to be controversial here because guess what? I breastfed for a month. And I'm glad I did. I'm glad my friend, Nurse Natalie, convinced me to do it. It was lovely. And it was awful. Will I do it again? I haven't decided. But when I do I don't need a bunch of clucking naysayers heaving laborious sighs when they hear my answers to the inevitable: are you going to breastfeed? and the even likelier; for how long? More than a few women need to adjust their attitude about this. MIND YOUR BUSINESS! Being a new mom is hard enough.

Reader Comments (26)

It's unfair that everything should need to become so politicized and ridiculous. If the baby is healthy and happy and the mother is sane, does it really matter if they're breastfeeding or not? I mean, really? We can't just let a newborn and the new mother get to a comfortable place with one another, we need to add guilt and pressure to breast feed and not just breast feed, but to love breastfeeding? Drives me insane.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeneria

I never got any milk....which category do I fall under? Bad mom? Mom that didn't last a year? haha Plus the thought of a baby sucking on my then 18 year old boobs made me want to vomit. It's a little different now, but I totally get it. Pretty sure the all the kids that got breastfeed until 2 don't make up the entire advanced math class so who gives a shit. It all comes out in the wash-Erma.:)

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKami

Monica, this is one of your BEST posts ever! I'm not a mother myself, but I totally agree with you 110%. Being a mother, I imagine, IS the absolute hardest thing on the planet--whether you're a new mom or a seasoned one! I think parenting choices ARE extremely personal and as long as parents (moms or dads) are feeding their children and not starving them, than how they choose to feed them is up to them. And you made a great point about being up @ all hours of the night, having to be on medication that could possibly get into the breastmilk and then the baby--can you even take a Motrin when you're breastfeeding? I don't know. But, you're right, what is best for one mother/family is not necessarily best for another! There's an extreme competiveness about motherhood, that I personally, as a non-mother, get tired of hearing about. I can't imagine what you moms going through the throes of it must feel. My heart, respect, admiration and appreciation go out to each and every one of you mothers out there! You DO rock and you ARE amazing. And it honestly my belief that the single most important thing that a mother can do for her child is show her/him that they are LOVED. If a person feels loved, and KNOWS they're loved, unconditionally, than they will most likely be a success in life. I wish nothing but the best for you, your daughter and mommies everywhere! Glad you stated your opinion, loud and proud and unapologeticaly--very cool! Thanks for this post!

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Liz

As a male, I can of course have a more objective view on this. My personal opinion is similar to the one of Sarah Liz above. I don't think it matters HOW you feed your child. What matters is that you DO feed your child. Show a child that you love it and you will receive love and respect in turn. Some people seem to be of the opinion that any child that isn't breastfed will grow up to become a retarded serial killer or something, which is clearly a load of rubbish!

Will your child remember whether it was breastfed or not? Unless you continue with it for much longer than you really should do, in which case it becomes something that the mother is doing for HER reasons and not the child anymore, then the answer to that question is NO. I have no idea if I was breastfed or not. But I think I turned out pretty much okay regardless of which way my mother chose to feed me in the earliest part of my life.

This is something that is more an issue for, in my opinion, insecure mothers who are trying to one-up all the other new mothers they know in order to make themselves feel more complete, than it will ever really be for the kids in later life.

I think this is a great post, if only because somewhere out there reading this there is probably another woman who is about to become a mother, who is under all the same kind of pressures you were put under, and who can maybe see that there is another option out there. Breastfeeding or not is not an adequate way to measure how much a mother loves her child. There are lots of other things that can be used to demonstrate that much more accurately. People should just get off their high horses and allow others to live their lives in their own way

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDamien

Hey Monica,
Well said. I have a six year old boy and a three month old daughter, and I chose to breast feed them both. My son went up til a year and a half and then weaned himself one day out of the blue, and my daughter is still on the 'ole boob. I breastfeed because I am comfortable with it, I enjoy it, and it's easier for me. Back in the seventies (in Canada, anyway) breastfeeding was frowned upon and bottle/formula feeding was pushed on moms right from the maternity ward. Now, it's the other way around. I think this shows the real problem, which really has nothing to do with breastfeeding, but everything to do with current trends and people thinking as soon as they become a mom they suddenly know everything about every other mom's business. Egad. You're being a good parent just by being who you are, and making choices true to you. And what's with all these mother martyrs? Being a parent is a blessing. Not a brutal chore.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwhimsy

Thank you for putting into words EXACTLY the way I feel. Not only did breastfeeding not work for me, but I had to have a C-section. Can't tell you how many "oh that's too bad" I got after mentioning my c-section. Took me years to get over the fact I couldn't birth a baby the "natural" way. I hate that so many women can't support and feel the need to belittle. Now I tell all my friends who get pregnant that if need be take your C-section with a side of Similac.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTricia

Wow, this is a post I have been wanting to write since before my daughter was born. I felt a ton of pressure from everyone, including my father, to breastfeed. I just didn't want to do it. I felt horrible and so guilty that I wasn't more selfless like my sisters who breastfeed. It was the most natural thing but felt so unnatural to me. I promised to give 6 months. And it was fine. I didn't love it, didn't hate it, it was fine. I never exclusively breastfed. We supplemented with formula as well since I went back to work at 3 months. She was formula fed then until she was bottle weened. I no longer feel guilty, she is sick less often than any of her cousins and so incredibly smart and bright and beautiful. I have no regrets at all. In the end I did what made us both happy and I think that is what matters.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Love the post, and for the record, just because breast feeding is what was best for me - was harder than hell for the first several weeks, but still what I wanted for us, I would have supported your decision regardless of what your choice was. Love you sister!

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNatty

Dude, you know I'm glad you talked me into it! That and taking the ACT and going to college. What would I do without you?

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Who...

My personal opinion is that it is nobody else's business. It has nothing to do with being a bad parent, neglecting your kids or not loving them enough. Do I think more people should try it? Yes. Do I think it is ok if they don't? Yes. And if they quit? Fine. At least you attempted it.

My SIL doesn't. She bottle feeds. And her son is much healthier than mine were (breast fed) is just as advanced socially as they were and has the same motor skills. He's much happier (I had a major screamer with reflux).

It's a personal choice. Just like I want people to stay the fuck out of my uterus, I also want them to stay the fuck outta my boobs.

The end.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDomestic Goddess

I'm not a mother, but I agree with the theme underlying this post- to each her own. I have decided BY CHOICE not to have chilldren. If you think the breastfeeding issue draws lines, see what happens when you have to repeatedly explain to your your granparents, aunts/uncles and friends that, while children are great, they are not great for YOU. People tend to try and push their vision of what is right onto others, but you are right to stick to what is best for you and your family.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSaffoula

I stopped reading your blog when you took it down and for ages I never even knew you'd put it back up again - I just stopped by here after what you wrote on Nat's facebook.. This was so funny (the pumping in the work loos) and so SO true! It is all a bit of a competition isn't it? A bit like how you gave birth, did you "give in" and have an epidural or did you have that wonderfully fulfilling spiritual (painful) experience that is natural childbirth? I'm not even going to say whether I breastfed or not and for how long because really and truly it's all irrelevant and totally personal and has no bearing whatsoever on how you are as a mother or how your child turns out (maybe they had one less cold). My mum never even tried with me, not one drop did I get from my mother's breast, and I think I turned out alright!

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

Oh Monica, how I longed to write this same post. I HATED breast feeding. I breast fed Ele for 6 weeks and cried and had anxiety the whole time. When I had to go back to work, I decided I couldn't do it anymore. Plus, I worked for Attorney's so l could just see me in my office trying be plugged in that damn pump, and having one of those damn blood sucking, demanding bitches i worked for need something, and just walk right in while I was hooked up to the utter sucker. I tried once again with Phin, and it only lasted three days. He was BIG baby and needed to eat all the time. Jac and I were constantly fighting because I was a basket case. I had a nipple nazi at the hospital with both of my babies, and also was guilted into breast feeding by all around me. Spiritual experience my ass! I couldn't stand my babies. HONESTLY. I would cry every time I had to feed them or pump. Both my kiddies are formula kids and they are very healthy. I am not opposed to breast feeding either. It is just not for me. But I will be damned if I will be judged for CHOOSING not to breast feed. My mother in law still looks down on me because of my decision and honestly, she will bring it up if my kids are sick. "well, they weren't breast feed." WHATEVER! All I can say is too each is own, AND mind your own damn business! I wasn't breast fed and my mom and I are EXTREMELY close. Do what you do best, and keep writing about this kind of stuff. It is so inspiring for me to read that there are other women out there who have felt the guilt and have gotten over it. I also look at it this way, I couldn't drink my coffee or my "other" beverages, and that isn't a happy Kelly.

September 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKel Scott

Where I am right now (Europe) and where I come from (N.Z.) women generally choose breastfeeding or formula feeding, or combine both, without a whole lot of fuss or criticism. I have thought about this and I believe the reason breastmilk has been elevated to LIQUID GOLD! status in the U.S. is this: once upon a time in America, until quite recently, women were considered immoral for breastfeeding in public, or even at all. Even now many feel the need to go to cars/restrooms to breastfeed or cover up with blankets or ponchos or similar nonsense. So, to JUSTIFY breastfeeding in public, or anywhere really, breastmilk had to be promoted as some kind of miracle salvation for your baby, and formula, well, it had to become evil. It's classic overcorrection.

In Europe no mother thinks twice about openly breastfeeding in a cafe or a park, but nor do they think twice about supplementing or choosing formula if needed or desired. I breastfed my son for three months, it was okay, I didn't love it, it was convenient at night I guess. Most of the benefit for baby is in the colostrum of the first few days anyway and after that the benefits are overblown. Wait and see what the experts say in another ten years, heh. Will not be the least bit surprised to see the next generation advised that breastfeeding is only suitable if mom has near-perfect nutritional status herself, etc. We shall see.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia

Saffoula I feel ya. People don't want to hear that you don't want to have kids. They act like it's the greatest affront to humanity possible. And like you said, it's a deeply personal, deeply private choice and it's really no one's business. But there is such an industry around birthing that to not participate makes you like a biker in the Hell's Angels--a total outsider and a freak.

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeneria

Well, sure, breast is best, technically, in a lot of cases, but that doesn't mean you have to do it. There are other almost-as-good options, a couple of generations were barely breastfed at all (OK I pulled that statement, free of any form of citation, totally out of my arse) and turned out fine, etc. The reasons you describe are fine. I mean, I don't particularly want to give birth vaginally, and although I'll give it a go, if it doesn't work out you won't catch me worrying about it (as long as the C-section doesn't go horribly wrong... OK, bad analogy, but you know what I mean.) My mother breastfed me, and I'm grateful, but to be honest, I think there are more important things for parents to do.

I didn't read the whole post, but what really jumped out at me was that you had to pump in the bathroom - surely your employer is supposed to provide you with a hygienic, comfortable place to do it?

(For full disclosure, I'm very strongly feminist and very into the theory of rights to breastfeed and education about breastfeeding... but only if women WANT to do it. I'm pro-choice that way.)

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterL

Oh, and another very good point has been made in my hearing - if the world expects women to breastfeed, then the world needs to come up with ways to support that - like paid maternity leave, breaks, a proper room in which to do it, daycare on the premises, whatever it takes (I wouldn't know) - otherwise, the world needs to shut the fuck up about it and acknowledge that they have made it impossible.

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterL

Oh, and not breastfeeding is not being a bad mother. Not, say, feeding your child at all makes you a bad mother, you know?

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterL

I don't want to breast feed. Why is this an issue again?

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa

I've had three kids, each with their own personalities and temperments. Hell, I had a different temperment with each of them myself! I attempted to breastfeed the first one, it didn't work out so good and I only made it 3 weeks. Guess what? He SURVIVED. He's now 18, healthy as a horse and huge. Second one I attempted to breastfeed, and that worked out well until I went back to work. Breast pump in a bathroom stall that smells of unflushed toilet and unwashed ass while I'm trying to focus on my wee one's picture so my milk will let down -- yeah, that lasted 2 weeks past my maternity leave. Guess what? He SURVIVED AS WELL. He's 11, terrifically smart and really excited to be in middle school. With the third child I was a SAHM, so I had more time to breastfeed. In fact, I just got the little parasite weaned like two months ago and he is the whiniest, clingiest thing I've ever encountered. But he's cute. And healthy. So there ya go. Two no boob and one on the boob FOREVER, which was a huge pain in the ass and if I could've gotten him to take a bottle and if formula wasn't so damned expensive and if I didn't really love having boobs for a change...oh, wait a minute -- where was I? Yeah, breastfeed, don't breastfeed -- who cares? It's an individual choice. Raise your kid to the best of YOUR abilities -- that means momma needs to decide what's best for HER as well as for her child. Judging by the pictures you post of Violet, the little booger seems to be thriving. You're never going to please everybody no matter what you choose, so just worry about pleasing Violet and Monica. And maybe Serge now and again.

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKim

i'm totally with you. My interest in breastfeeding is ZERO. And while I'm sure it is better for the baby or whatever, i am one of four kids none of whom was breastfed and we have all grown up to be happy, healthy, intelligent and well adjusted members of society. Whodathunkit? But worse than the pressure on women these days, so that they now feel as though they don't have a choice, I have watched too many friends go through the emotional torture of not being ABLE to the pain and sleepless and hormones wasn't enough, they had to deal with the feelings of failure and the kid hasn't even taken its first step. If anyone ever asks me I'll be sure to tell them the truth...."it's none of your effin business"

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Hey Monica, This has nothing to do with your post or the subject matter. You've mentioned Dave Ramsey before and I thought of you when I came across this article on AOL.

Check it out..|htmlws-main|dl5|link5|

September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGiGi

Thank you for this post. I had planned on being one of those crazy hippie breastfeeding moms who fights everybody who gives her a strange look when she whips it out in public and starts feeding her baby. I had planned on being a breastfeeding advocate. And then I had my baby and I couldn't. Literally couldn't do it. It "worked", don't get me wrong - but my milk was deemed low calorie and although she was eating all the time and I had plenty of milk, she wasn't getting enough calories and she was labeled "failure to thrive". I was crushed. I was doing everything right - eating right, seeing a lactation consultant, taking various medications to try to increase my milk production, eating foods high in fat to try to "fatten up" my milk... everything - yet my baby was considered "failure to thrive". I had to go to the pediatrician every other day for 3 weeks. Still - failure to thrive. I cried when I saw it listed as the diagnosis at the doctor's office. I thought it made ME failure. The first time it was no longer listed on my check-out slip was the first time I returned to the doctor after supplementing my baby with formula. She had finally put on the necessary weight and was a completely different baby at home. Happy - relaxed - smiling - NOT STARVING.

Thank you for this post. I dealt with a lot of bad attitudes when I tried to talk to people about not being able to breastfeed- people who thought I was a horrible mother for not doing so. (I was confronted 2 different times by women at Target in the formula aisle!) It is refreshing to read a different opinion on the matter.

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSandi

All i want to say is thanks for the post, it's really one of the bests, keep coming with such scoops!

December 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmeda Ultra

A-freaking men. Jesus Christ I can't take it anymore.

March 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTCB

I hadn't noticed before in my searches!
What a nice blog post! I am so glad you thought to talk about it.

December 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhow to make boobs bigger

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