The Wyvern’s Opinion of the Mommy Wars: Of Boobs and Bottles
Continuing with the theme of Wyvern Mothers, I’m sharing my opinion of the Mommy Wars. Like our ancestors, the Dragon Mothers, Wyvern Mothers don’t have time for Mommy Wars because we’re battling on another front. Rather than fight our peers about the trending and temporary issues of modern motherhood, we’re fighting for our children’s survival.
So begins a series on this Wyvern’s Opinion of the Mommy Wars and how my other (literally life or death) battle experiences have formed my opinions. This is my truth.
Breast or Bottle, How About Both?
While my tiny newborn baby was laying in a hospital bed with his sternum split open beneath a patch of medical grade Gortex, I pumped my breasts every three hours. Every. Three. Hours. I pumped, and pumped, and pumped. I pumped until there was no room left in the Ronald McDonald House freezer cube or the small space in the Children’s Hospital Cardiac ICU refrigerator. I pumped my liquid gold that my baby could not eat and my hosts could not store, and with tears running down my cheeks, I poured my precious warm milk into the LA Sewer system.
When my baby boy’s chest was closed, the breathing tube removed, and his life began again, he ate my breast milk through a tube up his nose. Eventually, he took a bottle after occupational therapy worked. His bottle held my milk plus a few grams of formula to give him the calories necessary to get back to his birth weight. Eventually, he was able to take just my breast milk, but I never nursed him. There was a legitimate risk to his life if he expended too much energy taking in my milk, so for my son, bottle literally was best.
During Liam’s first six months, I pumped enough milk to feed my own child and donate a cooler full of it back to the NICU where my we spent Liam’s first week of life and feed some premature babies through their feeding tubes. All the while, some of my best Wyvern mom friends were buying ridiculously expensive medical grade formula that they fed to their babies through NG tubes, G tubes, and J tubes, the two latter surgically inserted into the softness of their sweet babies’ abdomens. Some of those babies died with those tubes in. Some of those babies are kids who still have those tubes and have never eaten whole meals with ease. Some of those babies are kids who never quite got as big as they should have been but the tubes are gone, though the memories remain in the form of scars on their flat little stomachs. We were the lucky ones, with me and my pump and bottles.
When I hear women going off about how evil formula is, or how they couldn’t possibly let their husband give their child a bottle of pumped breast milk over night but then complain about how they don’t get any sleep because they have to nurse, I think about my Wyvern ways and my days of extraordinary and terrifying uncertainty. I think of all the sleep I lost to panic and fear when my child couldn’t breath for himself, much less take to my breast. I also remember how my breasts ached while my son was not allowed to eat for hours at a time before his many sedations for multiple diagnostic procedures and invasive surgeries in infancy.
I will always remember the woman at the Ronald McDonald House whose daughter died, and how she just wanted her milk to dry up as soon as possible because she had no baby to feed. I remember buying her Sudafed so her breasts would stop weeping for her dead child.
Yes, my kids had breast milk and only breast milk for most of their infancy. Liam was ten months old when I ran out because I was very pregnant with his sister. Moira had it until she was eleven months old because I had to stop pumping during Liam’s third open heart surgery. If I hadn’t given it away in my earlier months I would have had enough to last them both well past their first year.
I really don’t want to hear about how great and important and superior is to nurse a baby any more. I couldn’t nurse my children because one kid might have died from the strain on his terribly broken heart, and the other wouldn’t latch on. I was too busy sending my first born to multiple surgeries to endure the stress of forcing nipple time with my second child. But, we were lucky that I was a good pumper. I’m tired of my experience being dismissed because my breast milk had to be delivered by a GOD FORBID bottle. I’m NOT morally superior to any other mother for providing all that milk. I pumped, it worked. Period. If it hadn’t I would have used formula, and I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. I’m tired of the guilt that the Mommy Wars produces. It’s a toxin and it needs to end.
Yes, women should have the confidence to make the choices that work for them. Yes, new moms should have access to resources to teach them how to nurse, IF THEY WANT TO NURSE. But we’ve gotten to the point where women who don’t want to nurse are bullied and belittled, and women who can’t nurse are ignored entirely.
This privileged assumption that all mothers have copious free time and absence of violent stress to breast feed at will is ridiculous and damaging. That is not every woman’s truth. There needs to be space for all varieties of truth without invalidating the imperfect experience. It seems to me that any variation from the ideal experience is rejected. Why can’t the truths exist in parallel? Well, they do exist in parallel, but it seems as if the inconvenient truth is the one shouted down by the pulpit of perfection. It’s annoying at best, insulting at worst. I’m tired of idealism applied to motherhood, it helps no one. I’m a realist, that’s my tag line.
If babies are alive and healthy, the only people who have any business in what they eat, how they eat it, or how often and at what age, is their parents. This Wyvern just wishes the moms who are lucky enough to feed their healthy children without fearing they’ll throw it all back up with their meds of die from the effort of it, would shut the hell up about breastfeeding long enough to appreciate their good fortune and leave all other mothers be with their priorities, needs, and choices. If a new mom wants to know more about breast-feeding, she’ll ask. I’m so over this part of the mommy wars, and I’m moving on.