Keeping my daughter healthy, happy, and fed — no matter the method — is what matters most.
We’ve all been told how important breastfeeding is for our babies. It’s listed on every single can of baby formula available for purchase.
I didn’t know about this label until it taunted me, and I began sobbing in the middle of a grocery store during a nationwide formula shortage due to a recall. The people around me looked at me as if I’d lost my mind, and at that moment, I’m relatively sure I had.
Rewind 10 years, when I had my entire parenting plan mapped out in my head from the time I was a young girl. I was going to have exactly four kids, breastfeed all of them like a champion, and then show them the entire world with enthusiasm.
But at the ripe age of 33, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Every dream I had of feeding my third baby the natural way was shot down in an instant.
I absolutely loved looking down at my oldest two children when I fed them. The thought that my body alone provided them with the liquid gold they needed to flourish was such an accomplishment for me.
But 10 years later, the experience as I feed my child is a completely different one. It started with me carrying a sign into the delivery room that stated I was a breast cancer survivor and that my daughter wouldn’t be breastfed.
You’d think that obvious sign would ward off the nurses asking if I needed a lactation consultant or nursing pads. It did not.
I was asked multiple times while in labor if I needed to speak to someone who could help me with feeding after she was born. I politely reminded them that I no longer owned nipples because of the silly bilateral mastectomy I’d had and that feeding my child would have to be done with formula.
I got asked if I wanted to apply through insurance to receive milk from “other mothers,” as if that phrase was any less painful.
In that one moment, I wished I could tell my daughter everything I had to go through just for her to even exist.
The moment my daughter was born, they laid her on my chest with my gown wide open. Her first cry made me bawl harder than I had in my entire life.
In that one moment, I wished I could tell her everything I had to go through just for her to even exist.
She was born less than 2 years after I had undergone 30 weeks of chemotherapy with some of the worst side effects my doctors had seen in their entire careers. A bilateral mastectomy had left me feeling ugly, ashamed, and saddened that I couldn’t provide that milk myself.
Looking down at my new daughter, I noticed right away that she started doing what babies do. She was rooting for a nipple to feed her that liquid gold she knew instinctively she wanted. I cried even harder.
Between those tears of sorrow for my inability to feed her naturally, there was a moment of sheer happiness as I held a premade bottle of formula to her lips. I watched as she effortlessly drank it as if there was absolutely no difference — because to her, there wasn’t one.
That single moment gave me all the realization that I needed to know that in the end, fed is best.
One would think that that moment would make me feel better moving forward, but unfortunately, it didn’t.
Our 1-week checkup was at a hospital over an hour away from our home. My daughter needed desperately to eat after the drive and refused to have a room-temperature bottle. I went in search of sterile water that also happened to be warm enough for her.
An elderly woman sitting in the waiting area took it upon herself to remind me that if I had chosen to breastfeed, I wouldn’t be having such a hard time feeding her. She knew nothing about my plight or about how desperately I wished I could just feed my baby myself. I reminded myself again that fed was best.
I watched as my daughter effortlessly drank premade formula as if there was absolutely no difference — because to her, there wasn’t one.
After months, things began to get easier. Then, in February 2022, I was notified via the internet of a massive formula recall.
Our daughter had been getting sick for days and was refusing to eat anything at all at this point. We had come to realize that buying in bulk was the best bet for us, and we happened to get an entire case of contaminated formula.
As a mother who had previously breastfed her older two children, I figured I would just change her brand of formula like it was no big deal. Wrong. It doesn’t work like that. She refused any and every type I gave her.
I raced around from store to store trying to find even a single can of her usual formula that hadn’t been a part of the recall. I cursed under my breath and cried thinking how unfair it was that I couldn’t just feed her myself.
We had amazing friends and family mail us cans from all over the country to help get us through. In those moments, I felt comfort knowing that people understood that fed really was best.
As of the date that I’m writing this, my beautiful daughter is almost a year old. You physically cannot tell what she ate as an infant, and for that, I am thankful.
She’s healthy and happy, and I tell her nightly as we lay down for bed how much I had to endure to love her. As she runs her tiny fingers along my scars during skin-to-skin time, I’m reminded that the truly great thing about being her mom is that I am here to do it.
I smile knowing that fed is best. She only knows the love I give her and not the brand of food I must feed her. I may not own nipples any longer, but what I do own is so much more valuable to me, and that is my life.
Fact checked on April 25, 2022
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