Being a new mother has been understandably challenging (Ha, newsflash! Right?). Despite my frightening battle with severe antepartum depression, by the grace of God, I have been fortunate enough to not fall victim to postpartum depression. As unsure of myself as I am, the love that I feel towards my little Sebastian is undeniable and clear. He is the love of my life, and although he is not even three months old, I can’t comprehend how I existed on this earth without him. I swear, each time I can get my little guy to grin his toothless smile or coo or successfully burp him, I experience this unexplainable and powerful joy that is the best feeling I have ever known.
Of course, there are still moments when I feel utterly clueless and that lingering paranoia that I’m unknowingly doing something wrong, as all new parents do. But then there are external factors that only help to fan the wicked flames of paralyzing self-doubt and uncertainty. One of these factors is having experienced my share of random strangers who seem to sadistically relish imposing their wisdom, whether solicited or not, about what I’m doing wrong with my baby. Sigh… I can’t just be unceremoniously inaugurated into the New Mommy’s Club without a bit of hazing and gauntlet running, can I?
What is one of the greatest sins that I have committed? I made the decision before Sebastian was born not to breastfeed [*flinches and hastily blocks head with arms and hands*]
One of the many differences, subtle or not, between South American culture and that of the United States is public breastfeeding. It’s still undeniably somewhat of a controversy in the States. I’ve heard and read about several cases of nursing mothers being kicked out of places for breastfeeding in public, mothers staging mass “nurse-ins,” and people up in arms over imported breast-feeding dolls (and need I bring up the shit fit of Superbowl XXXVIII over Janet Jackson exposing her nipple?). But in the recent years, it seems, at least from a distance while I’ve been living abroad, to be making an overall comeback.
Since living in Buenos Aires, I’ve seen women openly breastfeed just about everywhere, including on public transportation. What’s more, in accordance with federal law, all employers are legally required to give one hour for each workday for working mothers to be able to go home and breastfeed for the first year of their baby’s life (“Ley de Lactancia”). I think it’s great that Latin American culture is so open about nursing and has a more evident respect for it. But when does it begin to cross the line?
I recently came across an article about Venezuela, a country that Argentina has very strong ties to and seems to be emulating in more ways than one (I’m not opening that can of worms… not yet). In short, law makers want to promote breastfeeding by banning baby bottles. If passed, it will impose fines as high as the equivalent of US$51,000 for those who break the law and bottle feed an infant under 6 months, and will also heavily fine those who promote baby formula.
Really? All of Venezuela’s political and economic problems aside, don’t they have anything better to do?
And yet, as Argentina continues to follow in its northern ally’s footsteps, it wouldn’t completely surprise me if the government here attempted a similar policy.
The general consensus that I’ve observed is that, if it’s not medically necessary, if you bottle feed, you are denying your baby not only of the nutrients found only in breast milk, but subsequently you are deliberately choosing to severe a bond that will result in significant adverse psychological effects on your child. You are compromising every aspect of the baby’s development. You are most likely selfish and poorly informed. And you are bad mother.
In the beginning, I admit, I lied to people about breastfeeding my baby (don’t ask me how small talk results in that kind of subject with complete strangers I met 60 seconds ago, it just does). At first, I went along with it. But I am the world’s worst, most pitiful liar.
“But why aren’t you breastfeeding your baby?!? Don’t you know that that’s the best thing for them?”
“Why? What do you think? Because I hate my baby,” I want to facetiously and sarcastically retort by this point. After hearing this indignation from people in the bakery, in the pharmacy, the green grocer, or anywhere else some undercover expert might be lurking more times than I want to recall, I just want to hiss at them, “I’m sorry, I don’t know you, and it’s none of your damn business.”
But for now, and probably until my son is ready for solids, I will continue to flatly tell people “I can’t.” I leave it at that, and let their imaginations wander, if they are so inclined.
What these nipple Nazis fail to comprehend is that perhaps, just perhaps, I’m not bottle feeding purely out of selfishness or convenience. Maybe I did want to, but had to more realistically opt for the alternative for a multitude of personal reasons. A part of it had to do with an emotionally complicated pregnancy that escalated and became frighteningly out of hand until the point where I became a very real danger to myself and my unborn child. In my unstable state, it was key for me to get back on psychiatric medications as soon as possible, in order to not jeopardize my fragile psychological condition. However, these meds are incompatible with breastfeeding and could harm the baby. It also had to do with the issue that, in order to avoid a potential postpartum mental collapse, I truly required a more consistent sleep cycle that would not be realistic given the demands of nursing an infant (there’s a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture).
Choosing to bottle feed was not an easy decision, but it has proven to be the best one. I feel that still share a very strong and loving bond with my son without having to nurse him, but one of the best things is that so does my husband, who takes an active role in taking care of his child. Seba seems no worse for the wear; he’s hitting all the right milestones, and at 11 weeks old is a healthy and robust little boy who already fits into clothes for a 6 month old. It also gives me more flexibility in my schedule to have the freedom to continue to go to therapy or other appointments.
The whole breast vs. bottle feeding thing is just one of the many decisions that I will face as a mother. I don’t regret my choice, though I do regret the need to seem to have to justify it to so many people, most of whom I hardly know. But in the end, the bottom line is that you have to do what is best for you and your family. A significant weakness of mine has always been being too concerned about what other people think about me. One of the greatest gifts that I hope to offer my son is for him to have a mommy who is emotionally stable, who shows strength of character and believes in herself and trusts her decisions. No child deserves anything less.
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