To Stop the Mom-Shaming, Look in the Mirror

To Stop the Mom-Shaming, Look in the Mirror

I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff lately about how breastfeeding advocates shame mothers, mothers shame mothers, businesses shame mothers, healthcare providers shame mothers. It’s frustrating. I see a lot of this:

“That doctor made me feel bad for formula-feeding.”

“The server gave me the dirtiest look when I started breastfeeding in the café; it made me feel I was doing something wrong.”

“That sancti-mommy lectured me about using formula. It made me feel horrible.”

“My sister (who breastfed) said I was weird for breastfeeding my 3-year-old; it made me feel terrible.”

“That chick said I’m not a real mom because I work outside the home; that made me feel like shit.”

“It made me feel so awful when that mom told me bed-sharing was dangerous.”

“My doctor made me feel like a terrible mother when I asked about taking antidepressants while pregnant.”

These are just a few of the infinite number of ways parents could be shamed. Basically any decision we make as parents is probably going to be questioned by someone. When someone objects to what you’re doing, or says you’re doing something wrong, it can often lead to feelings of shame. But it doesn’t have to.

Do you know what I see in the statements above? A whole lot of refusal to take responsibility for how you feel. A whole lot of letting someone else tell you what your success should look like. A whole lot of letting some jackass decide that you should be ashamed of what you’re doing.

Here’s a way to stop the mom-shaming. Instead of pointing the finger outward at that mom, that breastfeeding specialist, that doctor, that other person – how about pointing the finger inward at yourself? In other words:

STOP GIVING OTHERS THE POWER OVER HOW YOU FEEL.

Photo by Flickr user Sansbury
Photo by Flickr user Sansbury

If you own your decisions, know they were the best for you and your family, and have the confidence to stand by them, nobody can make you feel ashamed. Nobody can make you feel anything – you get to choose how the actions of others affect you.

I’m not saying to never feel anything, or just to brush that dirt off your shoulder like it’s nothing. That’s not going to happen. Shit happens; we react. What I am saying is that when you start to feel ashamed of a parenting decision, take a step back and analyze it. Did I make this decision because it was what was best for ME, or MY family, or MY baby? If the answer is yes, then you have absolutely no reason to feel ashamed. Example time!!

Was switching to formula the best decision for you and your family? Then the next time someone says you’re harming your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

Does seeing the research on breastfeeding make you feel like a bad mom because you didn’t breastfeed? Don’t let it. Increasing risk of something does not equal harm. Infant feeding decisions are not made in a vacuum. There are so many variables to consider; risk reduction is just one of them and not necessarily the deciding factor for everyone.

Do you enjoy full-term breastfeeding? Then the next time someone says it’s tantamount to child abuse, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

Do you feel pressured by medical professionals to wean because [insert reason here]? Tell them you are the child’s mother and you know what’s best for your family.

Does safe bed-sharing allow everyone in your family to get more sleep? Then the next time someone declares you’re going to kill your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

See a pattern here? Own your decisions. If someone questions it, tell them to back off in whatever manner you choose (I’ve illustrated a more direct approach; some of you may prefer a more nuanced, less foul-mouthed response).

If I sound harsh, it’s because I’m so frustrated and saddened. I see so many beautiful, strong, amazing women question themselves because of the words of others. I see what amazing mothers they are; I just wish they did, too.

Who cares what other people think about how you care for your family! The only “right” answer in parenting is the one that works for your family.

Don’t let the actions you take as a parent, define you as a parent. You are not a breastfeeding or formula-feeding or bed-sharing or cloth-diapering or [insert label here] mom – you are a mom who loves her children and makes the best decisions she can, based on the information she has at the time.

Taking back power over how you feel isn’t easy. It’s taken me years to recognize that I didn’t have to let anyone make me feel bad and put that into practice. It’s something I struggle with almost every day.

Also, it will be different when the power balance is off. For example, it’s easier to shrug off a stranger’s disdain than it is to speak up against negative comments by someone in a position of “authority” – like a doctor.

If it’s someone you know and care about (such as a family member or close friend), it may be even harder because of the fear of hurting the relationship. But think about this: you can speak your truth gently and with respect; if the person you love reacts negatively, that’s their issue – not yours.

The following are some tips for taking back your power. It’s things I’ve learned through mothering, working as an IBCLC, going through the 12 Steps as an alcoholic, and just life in general.

  1. Grieve your losses. If you wanted to breastfeed more than anything, but formula ended up being a better option for your family, it’s ok to be upset. Grieve the loss of breastfeeding. If you got no support, or really shitty breastfeeding support (like someone saying the latch looks fine even though you’re in pain) – be angry! Do something to work through that anger, though – don’t bottle it up (no pun intended). Take however long you need to grieve, but try to work through it in healthy ways.
  2. Find a mantra. I personally like saying, “Well, that’s just their opinion” if someone says something negative about me. It’s true – it is that person’s opinion – but I don’t have to accept their opinion as my own. Find something that will help you put emotionally charged situations into perspective.
  3. Be confident. This can be really hard. I don’t think I became confident as a mommy until my first son was 3 and I was pregnant with my second. Even so, I still question my abilities. But if I can honestly say that yes, I am doing the best I can, then that is enough for me. If it’s enough for me, it’s damn well enough for the rest of the world.
  4. Be the change. If you catch yourself judging another mom, stop and think. It can be hard to see people doing things differently – after all, I picked my way because I thought it was best. But what’s best for me, may not be best for another mother/family. And that’s OK. Next time you feel yourself start to be a Judgy McJudgyPants, stop and say, “You know, I’ll bet that mom is doing the best she can. It’s different than what I would do, but I’ll bet it works for her.” Change how you think.
  5. Toughen up. You’re going to encounter Assholes – the ones who deliberately try to make people feel bad because it makes them feel better about themselves. Often, you can’t reason with an Asshole. At that point, pull a Jay-Z and brush your shoulders off. Assholes aren’t worth your time or your emotions. BUT…
  6. Don’t assume everyone is an Asshole. Maybe I’m being too Pollyanna, but I really think that most people say stuff out of a desire to help, not to be a jerk. Perhaps they say it the wrong way, with the wrong tone, at the wrong time, or they shouldn’t have said anything at all. Assume that people come from a place of love or concern for welfare, and you might be surprised at the positivity that comes your way.

Apology to my first son

Awhile ago, I saw a HuffPo piece called “An Apology Letter to My Second Child.” My second child was about a month old, so I was like, ok, I’ll bite. It was one of those funny/cutesy posts where the writer apologizes for all the awful things that happened (brother peed on you, didn’t do your baby book, etc.) but then declares she won’t apologize for loving you less. Slightly Hallmark cliche, but sweet nonetheless. It got me thinking, though…

…and I need to apologize to my first son. So, here goes:

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Colt, 6 weeks

I’m sorry I don’t remember much about your first few months.
Jack will do something adorable, like “shout” at us or make a funny face. I’ll remark, “I don’t remember Colt doing that; did he do that?” And my husband will inevitably reply, “Yes,” with only a hint of an exasperated sigh. I was in such a fog of exhaustion and untreated postpartum depression that I honestly don’t remember most details of his first 3 months. I took a crap ton of photos, so it’s not like it’s a complete blank. But those random moments of looking into his eyes, smiling at his coos, nuzzling my nose into his hair and breathing in his wonderful baby smell? No memory. Makes my heart ache a little.

I’m sorry I was afraid.
I was afraid to bedshare, because I was certain I’d kill him. I was afraid to babywear, because I read one random story about a baby suffocating in a Moby wrap. I was actually afraid to be alone with him at times, because I didn’t know what to do with him! I wish I’d educated myself more. Bedsharing has been a lifesaver with Jack; I get so much more sleep and I know I won’t kill him because I do it safely. I wear him in a wrap often – sometimes, it’s the only thing that calms him down! Again, I educated myself on the safest ways to wear an infant. I can’t help but wonder a bit that if I’d bed-shared (gotten more sleep) and baby-wore (less crying/stress), I might have more memories of Colt’s first few months.

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There was happiness…

I’m sorry I was so stressed and cried a lot.
Most of what I do remember about the first few months is how panicked I felt – especially while home alone. Bryce went back to work 10 days after he was born, he worked 12+ hours a day, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have any friends that lived nearby. Basically, I was too isolated while learning this crazy new job of mother. Plus, there was the untreated postpartum depression. I’d gone off my depression meds before trying to get pregnant. During Colt’s pregnancy, I had no symptoms of depression, so I didn’t think after pregnancy would be all that bad. HA. I had several risk factors for PPD, but ignored the signs when they showed up or lied to health care providers. I mentioned to Bryce once or twice that I thought I needed help, but did it kind of casually and never followed up. I should have told him I’d had fleeting thoughts of what life would be like if I was gone (how would Bryce raise a child alone?) and that I was afraid I could possibly hurt the baby.

With Jack, it’s been 180 degrees different. Bryce took a month off before going back to his laidback, 9-hour-a-day job. I have a car and an older son who loves to go do things. I’ve got several local friends I see regularly. I started taking my depression meds at 36 weeks, so it would have time to build up in my system before delivery. No sadness, anxiety, or unworthy feelings (unless I forget to take my meds for a few days!). I feel so much more relaxed. I’m sure part of it is just the fact that I’ve done this before. However, I think a large part of it is different circumstances (Bryce’s job situation) and that I worked hard to reduce my risk of PPD this time around. If things get bad this time, I will ask for help. If you have any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, please don’t be afraid to ask for help!!!

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Much more relaxed now

I’m sorry I went back to work because I thought being a SAHM wasn’t enough.
I took a full-time job when Colt was 4 months old. Part of the reason was financial; we were barely scraping by on just Bryce’s salary (damn student loans). Another part was me wanting to use my newly earned Master degree. But there was a part of me that felt being “just a mom” wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t fulfilled as a person. In reality, my disease was rearing up. I used to only find my worth in my work and felt like I wasn’t complete without validation from outside sources. This was my disease talking. I’ve since worked through that and I no longer need someone/something to tell me I’m worthy; I’m enough. I’ll be going back to school when Jack is about 5 months, but not because being home with the boys isn’t good enough.

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The moment Colt stole my heart

I suppose this is the part where the touching “I’m not sorry I…” comes in. I’m reluctant to add it – mostly because of the Hallmark cheese factor – but also because I don’t want to devalue what I just wrote. I loved Colt then, as I do now. There’s no doubt about that. He made me a mother. I am grateful that I learned from my early motherhood experiences, so that I could make different choices later. Colt is a bright, independent firecracker who tells me he loves me about ten times a day, so I know I didn’t ruin him in those early dark days. I just wish those early days weren’t quite so dark.

Sobriety: the best stress reliever

Today is my sobriety birthday. 8 years! Originally I thought I’d do something lighthearted; other awesome things that are 8 or notable stuff that happened today.

But then I had a shitty stressful day. ON MY (SOBRIETY) BIRTHDAY. Here’s the rundown:

Packed up both kids. Drove to grocery store. Unpacked kids. Halfway to store, realized I’d forgotten my wallet. This was me:

 

Fuuuu_Face

Packed up both kids. Drove home, found wallet. Finally back to store. Grocery shopping with two littles is never relaxing, especially when the almost-4-year-old chatters nonstop and the 6-week-old wakes up halfway through and screams for lunch.By the time I got home, got everyone fed, put the baby down for a nap and got the groceries put away, my nerves were shot.

And I was like, What. The. Hell. It’s my (sobriety) BIRTHDAY. I should be relaxing or doing something awesome – not feeling like a stretched-out rubber band that’s two seconds from breaking.

But after eating a bowl of popcorn and watching a few episodes of Agents of Shield, I realized this stress was exactly the right way to celebrate my (sobriety) birthday. The morning was shit, so what did I do with the afternoon? Not get drunk, not make bad decisions, not react and reach for something to numb the frustration. Instead, I ate a favorite food, watched a good show and gave myself time to relax.

Sobriety gave me the ability to do that. Sobriety also gave me the ability to still be a somewhat decent mother when my patience is so thin, it’s transparent. What better way to celebrate my (sobriety) birthday than to utilize the most precious gifts this day have given me?

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Jack be nimble, Jack be QUICK!

So apparently all my uterus needed was a firm but loving lecture about letting go, because my son was born the day after I posted my missive. Looking back, I was probably in early labor all day Sunday. I’d had contractions all day, but nothing too regular and nothing painful.

Things felt different on Monday morning. I had one of The Signs that labor might be imminent, which was very exciting. All morning, my contractions were about 4-6 minutes apart, but not painful. Still, something told me to skip my workout and just kick it. I made sure the hospital bag was completely packed and my labor playlist perfected. I was ready.

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Contractions started getting a little more painful around noon. Nothing big, but a noticeable change. I had an OB appointment at 3:00, so I figured I’d wait until then and see what they said. I had to meet Bryce at 2:30 to drop one of the cars off for service; by then the contractions made it a little hard to drive.

At the appointment, I was a little disappointed to find out I was only dilated to a 2. However, the nurse practitioner said she could feel the bag of waters. I figured that was a good sign, and she said it was up to me whether I went to L&D now or later. This was at 3:45, and I decided to go home and wait.

After my appointment, the contractions started coming every 3-5 minutes. And they got progressively more painful. I spent some time in the shower, on my exercise ball, on all fours. Around 5ish, I decided we needed to go in. When the L&D nurse checked me (at around 5:30), I was dilated to a 4 and she said my membranes were “bulging.” Time to be admitted! Which meant a half hour’s worth of stupid questions in between increasingly worsening contractions.

I also couldn’t get the epidural until they admitted me, took blood and got the bloodwork back. Son of a bitch. I had originally planned to do a natural birth, but at one point I looked at Bryce and said, “Fuck it, I want the epidural.” He nodded, eyes big and terrified. Good move. Unfortunately, it took so damn long to do all the paperwork stuff that I think it was about 7:00 by the time it was placed and the drugs flowing.

I was doing ok with the contractions. I focused on my breathing and when one would start, would chant in my head, It’ll be over soon. I think I had back labor, because my lower back and hips were in agony. I just prayed that the epidural kick in before my water broke. I was seriously terrified of what the pain would be when my water broke, because I remember how horrendous it was with Colt. When my water broke around 7:23, I was still feeling everything…sigh.

The nurse checked me then, and I was an 8. That’s when shit started going down, according to my husband (I was too focused on the intense, crushing pain in my back/hips to notice). He said about 6 nurses burst in and one started gloving up in these special brown gloves. Then the doctor ran in and pretty much jumped into his gown and gloves. He was a little surprised, because with Colt I didn’t start pushing until I was dilated to a 10.

At some point during this, they put my legs into the stirrups and it was time to push. This is when I was losing my head. I began screaming with each contraction because it hurt more than any pain I could have ever imagined. My husband said he’d never heard anyone scream so loud. At one point, I yelled that I couldn’t do it and honestly thought I was going to lose it.

Thank God the OB was a good one. He calmly and gently told me, “You can scream if you want, but when you do it actually makes the baby move up a little, makes it harder. It’d be better if you held your breath, grabbed your legs, put your chin to your chest and just pushed.” Something made me stop and trust him (even though this was the first time we’d met; my regular OB was on vacation). I quieted down and said, “Ok.” I did everything he said, and Jack was born about 3-4 pushes later at 7:33. In less than 4 hours, my body had gone from barely dilated to baby. I guess it’s true – when the baby is ready, he’ll come!

In a way, I got the natural birth I thought I wanted. The epidural didn’t numb anything except my left thigh, and that occurred after the birth. Now that I’ve done natural birth, I don’t think I want to do it again. That was pretty damn intense. And painful. More power to the mamas who do it and feel like warriors afterward, but I’m just happy I made it through without completely going crazy! He was 8lb, which helped (his older brother was 10lb 3oz, so 8lb seemed small!).

jack

We didn’t get immediate skin to skin, which was disappointing. They said he was floppy at birth, so they took him to get examined while I was stitched up. But once he was placed in my arms, I didn’t care that it wasn’t right away. He was soft and beautiful and absolutely perfect, and I’m madly in love.

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It’s ok to hate motherhood

It’s kind of funny that my last post was about angry music and in it, I asked my hormonal bitchiness to go away. The day after I wrote it, I had probably the worst day of my pregnancy, hormone-wise.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was the perfect storm of crazy. I was tired, sore from my Sunday run, short-tempered and low on patience. My son was whiny, tired and not really willing to listen to me. Everything came to a head when he refused to nap. I laid with him for a little bit and, of course, fell asleep just long enough to wake up groggy, tired and more irritable than before. I left him lying there awake and told him to sleep. About 15 minutes later, I hear a knocking on his door (his usual way of letting me know he’s up). I ignored it, until I heard him hit the door with what sounded like a hard toy.

I kind of exploded. It wasn’t pretty. I yelled about not hitting the door and he started crying. In a fit of rage, I showed him how his beloved Lego Marvel superheroes video game was going into the closet for the foreseeable future because he wouldn’t nap. All the while, he’s standing there with tears in his eyes, probably confused as to why I was freaking out so much.

Once I forced myself to calm down a bit, I held him for awhile and apologized for yelling. We talked about how it was scary that I yelled and how he shouldn’t have hit his door and I shouldn’t have yelled. He was running around and playing as if nothing had happened about 15 minutes later, but I was still in a state.

Fast forward, my husband gets home and they go outside to play. I sit down outside to watch and soak up some Vitamin D, but within two minutes I have to go lay on my bed and bawl my frickin’ eyes out. While sitting out there, watching my son run around, I had this fleeting thought:

I wish he’d keep running and not come back.

That instantly triggered the mom guilt and reinforced my thoughts of inadequacy; hence the tears. As I lay there sobbing, I alternated between beating myself up for having such a horrible thought and being terrified at the thought of having two children when I can barely manage one.

Now, normally this is the point in a blog post like this where I’d tell you about that magical moment where I realized it’s all going to be okay. That my son did something heart-melting and I saw what a joy motherhood really was. Not going to happen this time. I didn’t have an a-ha moment like that this time.

My son and husband did come in and try to make me feel better. My husband rubbed my back and sat there in silence, knowing I would talk if I wanted to. My son jumped around the bed, asking if I was ok, telling his dad that I was sad and giving me little kisses and hugs. It did help my tears subside and my calm (sanity) return, but it didn’t make me love motherhood again.

And that’s FINE. It’s okay to have thoughts like mine. It’s normal not to love motherhood 100% of the time. It’s all right not to have that Hallmark moment where you realize everything is going to be hunky-dory. If it takes you a little longer to find your calm again, you are still a good mama.

Note: If you have these kind of feelings, acknowledge them. Don’t force them away because you are ashamed, or think good mamas don’t have those thoughts. Let them out in some constructive way: crying, talking to someone, screaming (into a pillow, preferably not at someone else), doing a therapeutic activity (art, yoga, whatever floats your boat). If you hold these types of feelings inside, they will fester and possibly grow into something worse. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel like you’re drowning. Asking for help is a sign of strength. My support team is my husband, my parents, a few close friends and my OB. After I give birth, I plan to go back on my antidepressants (I know there are some I could take during pregnancy, but I don’t feel my need outweighs the potential risks to the baby at this point). Just please, don’t hide these feelings away out of fear or shame. You are a good mama, and don’t ever forget that.

When the past invades your present (parenting)

My son attends a gymnastics class once a week. On so many levels, it’s a good thing: he gets some socialization, gets a chance to learn new skills, gets practice with listening to authority figures, I get an hour to myself (stuck on a hard bench, but still). He enjoys it, and has been exposed to so many different new things. Did you know a 3yo can do the pommel horse, and rings, and high bar (all with assistance, of course)? When I did gymnastics camp in the 2nd grade, we only did floor, vault and beam.

Colt in the swing at gymnastics

So this sounds all find and dandy, right? Last week, I almost broke down in tears watching him. Not from pride or that sentimental “oh-he’s-getting-so-big” crap that frequently pops up. The tears were threatening to spill because I wondered if this gymnastics thing was a big mistake.

Colt is very spirited and independent. Sometimes, he has trouble focusing. This often comes out in gymnastics, when his coaches are asking him to do specific tasks and he just wants to screw around with the other little boys in his group. Last class, I watched the coach put him in a sort of timeout: a few feet away from the other boys, facing away, because he wouldn’t stop messing around while waiting his turn. I think it was the right thing to do (hell, I’d probably do the same), but it still broke my heart to see my boy singled out. When the same thing kept happening at every station, that’s when the doubt started to creep in.

Then I wondered if maybe these feelings were highlighting my own personality or parenting shortcomings.

I try not to be pushy with Colt. I want him to enjoy his activities and not feel like he has to succeed in order to be loved. But there is a part of me that wants him to be the best. I think it’s natural for every parent to have that feeling. With me, I also know I’m very competitive. I was an overachiever growing up and felt like my worth was dependent on how well I did in school, sports, etc. When I got my first B ever in high school, I felt like a complete failure. In sports, I was always second best, the 6th man, the first sub – never the starter, the star. It made me feel less-than, even though I was always on the varsity team and contributed greatly. I just never felt good enough.

I don’t blame my parents for this. They applauded my achievements and encouraged me to do well, but never tied their love to how well I did. I’ve read that feelings like mine are often seen in children of alcoholics, so I’m guessing I developed them as a coping strategy to my dad’s drinking.

I don’t ever want my son to feel that he has to be perfect to be loved. I also don’t want him to miss out on learning opportunities just because I’m afraid he’ll fail, or be laughed at, or feel inadequate. I think it’s important for him to experience these things, so he can learn healthy coping strategies now that will serve him well as he gets older.

There is proof that the gymnastics thing was more about me than Colt. At the end of class, I was waiting for the coach to come over and tell me that Colt was not getting his sucker today because he didn’t listen (this has happened before). Instead, I watched her put her arm around his shoulders and say, “Good job listening today, Colt.” From a distance, I only saw the negative, but up close she saw improvement. When he ran over to me, beaming and saying happily, “I did listen today,” I swallowed the lecture about listening to his coaches, hugged him and simply said, “I’m so proud of you. Thank you for listening to your coaches.” Apparently, Colt isn’t the only one who is learning from gymnastics.

I Support You: Gena’s story

I Support You: Gena’s story

This series was inspired by the I Support You campaign, which was created by three amazing bloggers: I Am Not the Babysitter, Mama by the Bay and The Fearless Formula Feeder. I want to provide a place where moms can feel free to share their experiences and find encouragement, love and acceptance – regardless of feeding choices. All moms deserve to feel supported. 

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Gena is the mother of two – one handsome boy and one lovely lady. Read her story below and give her some love in the comments!

Please share a brief summary of your feeding experience.

I formula fed both of my children, ages 6 and 2.

What was your original plan for feeding your children, and how did that compare to what you ultimately ended up doing?

With my first child, my plan was to breastfeed for a month or so.  I know many would think it sounds very unmaternal, but I was not really into nursing, but I thought I would give it a try for a month or so.  When he was born, I tried having him latch on, but he wasn’t getting anything so he kept stopping.  I tried using the breast pump and then they gave me some medication to try and get milk to come in.  Because he was so big (almost 11 lbs) we began giving him formula until I was able to nurse.  After about 5 days, there was still no milk or even colostrum, so we decided to stop and just use formula.  With my second child, I just went right with formula.  It was what I knew and it had worked well with my son, so we went that route.

What kind of support did you have for your feeding choice?

My husband did want me to nurse at first, but when it didn’t work and the formula was working well, he was on board to stop and use formula. My mom didn’t nurse me or my brother, so she was very supportive of my decision.

What was the best part about how you fed your children?

The best part, by far, was that other people could get up and help with all of those night feedings!!!  I also, would not have nursed in public, so I think it would have been difficult to adapt our lifestyle to staying home all the time.  With formula, I was able to feed him wherever we were.

What was the worst?

The only negative that I can think of is the cost!

What myths about how you fed your children were the most hurtful?

That my kids wouldn’t be healthy since they were not nursed!

What is your “truth” that counteracts those myths?

I had friends that had kids the same age as mine that did breastfeed and their kids actually got sick much more than mine! He was almost a year before he had his first cold or ear infection.  At that age, 2 of my friends children already had ear tubes put in!

What would help you (or would have helped you) to feel supported/understood in your choices?

I felt supported by those who mattered!  I didn’t pay much attention to those that don’t know me or know my reasons for my decisions.

Think ten, twenty years into the future. If you could give your grown children one message about how they choose to feed their child what would it be?

Do what you feel is right!  What works for you and your baby is the most important and you do what you think is right!

Thank you for sharing your story, Gena! You are a good mama.

Tell us in the comments about your feeding experience and how you rocked it like this mama!