My name is Chantal Saville and I am a formula feeder – by choice. I can imagine the audible gasps. Yes, I am coming out of the closet, throwing down the bottle and burning my breast pump.
My daughter was born 20 months ago after four years of hope, anticipation and two miscarriages. I would say she was one of the most wanted children on Earth, but I’m sure many parents would claim this title for their own, so I will only say that she was the most wanted child in our household.
My husband and I run a small monthly community newspaper from home, and while it’s gratifying, interesting work, it’s not spectacularly well paying. We’re the whole company plus or minus a freelance writer and photographer. So there was no way I could be replaced for any extended period. No maternity leave. No time to adjust to mommyhood. I’m talking about paying the mortgage here, not professional vanity.
When our dearest wee one was finally born, two weeks early and before the completion of our January, 2009, edition, I was worried about being able to get it all done. The 20 hours of labour and episiotomy did nothing to help my mood.
Prior to giving birth, I had read many books, visited many websites and was well versed in the advantages of breastfeeding over formula. But I was unsure about my being solely responsible for my daughter’s feeding considering that I would be returning to work within days.
It occurred to me that if I pumped, I might get the best of both worlds. So I spoke to a lactation consultant at the hospital postpartum and found out I’d have to pump about as often as I would breastfeed for weeks, if not months, to get the milk supply established. I had thought I would be able to pump through the day and still get six hours of sleep at night, all the while sharing feeding duties with Daddy. The whole advantage to pumping went flying out the window, along with the rental breast bump that my husband had trudged through the snow to pick up and then promptly returned.
In the hospital, a nurse sat with me and showed me how to get my daughter to latch on. There was some concern over her being two weeks early and a little underweight. The ability to know, not just assume, that she was getting enough to eat was a comforting thought and factored into my decision to switch to formula. All the nurses were helpful and passed no judgment. When I asked for formula, they didn’t make me feel as though I was letting my daughter down.
I knew that my daughter’s health and future well-being depended on my choices, but what about my health and well-being? I have heard people decry the choice of using formula as being made for vain and selfish reasons, but having a child in this day and age of terrorism and financial crises, of environmental decimation and political stagnation, is in itself a selfish act.
On my small and personal level, I knew that if I was going to function and return to work within five days of my daughter’s birth, I would have to do it in a way that maximized happiness and well-being and minimized pain and suffering, for both her and me. I knew I would need sleep if I was going to sit on an ice pack at my desk and get the job done. So I enlisted the help of my mother and my husband and we all got down to the business of feeding and caring for this wonderful girl.
Daddy and I alternated at night and Grandma took over during the days for the first six weeks. When she went home, I settled into a routine of spending my days with my daughter, watching her grow and getting work done during nap times. The beauty of a home office is that I could work in pyjamas and she could be in her bouncy seat right next to me.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it does. More importantly, it takes a society that understands there are many shades of grey out there and some tolerance and understanding wouldn’t go amiss. I had prepared myself mentally and practised responses in my head in case someone had the gall to chastise me for my choice, but I never expected to have to say them out loud.
One day, when my daughter was four months old, I sat in the café of the local bookstore to give her a bottle. A person whom I had never met stepped up to me to ask if I was properly informed about the benefits of breast milk. I loudly asked her: “How do you know this isn’t expressed breast milk?” I told her that as a matter of fact it was formula and then asked her who in the vicinity had asked for her opinion, because it certainly wasn’t me.
Seemingly surprised at my reaction, she turned and rushed away. Another mother with her baby in a stroller came up and said, “Good for you!”
Many months later, I have a healthy, happy child with whom I spend much of each day, learning new words, trying new foods, throwing new tantrums. She sleeps through the night (and has since five and a half months old, well topped up with “moo,” as we called her formula) and I sleep better too. I am healthier and happier for the experience, and for the fact that I did it my way. Maybe it’s not for you, or for someone you know, but that’s up to you or them and no one else.