My Choice to Breastfeed Hurt My Friend's Feelings

Amy Keyishian

Here Comes The JudgeI’m a big fan of breastfeeding -- anywhere and everywhere -- but I’m also keenly aware that this is my choice, and that I’m able to do this because I can be near my kids, I have the kind of work that allows pumping and boob-breaks, and my body responded to my baby as it was supposed to. Other women do it differently, by choice or by necessity, and their kids will grow up just as loved, nurtured, and healthy as mine.

But the mom wars rage on, with bullies on either side insisting their way is the only way. At a certain point, it seems like we internalize the argument until we don’t even need criticism to be said out loud -- we hear it in our hearts, not our ears.

I wish we weren’t so hard on ourselves. I wish my choice didn’t make my friends feel bad.

This came to light for me when a friend of mine had a traumatic c-section and found she couldn’t breastfeed in the aftermath -- she barely pulled through, in fact. In the days and weeks after her baby’s birth, she and her kid bonded beautifully, and she is a fantastic mom with a well-adjusted baby today.

But in those first heady weeks, when she was suffering from the usual exhaustion, self-doubt, and joy that we all experienced as new moms, she found that she had to unplug from her social networks because every mention of breastfeeding felt like a slap in the face. “Why did everyone have to talk about how well they were doing with it?” she wondered. “They’re saying it because they think I’m a crappy mom.”

Her husband felt even more defensive and began hiding news feeds at an alarming rate. “I just don’t want to hear it,” he told me. “It’s like they think there’s no other way but theirs, and they won’t shut up about it, and I know that if I post any requests for information about different kinds of formula the way they post questions about breastfeeding, I’ll get berated, not supported.”

I felt horrible for him, because even though part of me thought, “Hey, you’re not giving your friends a chance,” another part of me knew he was right. It doesn’t matter how traumatic your experience was, how hard you tried to pump, or how well-thought-out and private your choice was -- if you say you formula-feed, the first thing people will do is ask “why,” not “what kind” or “how’s it going.”

Hell, I’ve done it myself, though only with one very close friend, and even I felt terrible when I found she had made that choice because she has a life-threatening illness that she doesn’t like to disclose.

So formula-feeding moms, I apologize for the times my kvelling about breastfeeding might have made you feel bad. I talk about it because I’m self-centered, not because I’m judging you.

And also, we all feel thin-skinned in these first crazy days. I felt indicted too, for other reasons -- because I needed an epidural, because my first baby was premature, because I seemed to need more help than some of my friends. Your uber-boober friends might be feeling just as defensive about something you seem to do better.

And breastfeeding moms, let’s make a pact: Don’t assume the worst when you hear someone is formula-feeding. Even if you’re sorely tempted to judge, just don’t. And be thoughtful about the things you post. You might be hurting feelings without realizing it. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t post about your own joyful, or frustrating, or downright bizarre experiences: just be sure to send friends messages of support no matter what their choices are -- because you never know who’s going to need it.

This is a lesson that goes way beyond breastfeeding, by the way. I'm using this as an example, but we can say the same about sleep training, feeding schedules, going back to work, choosing a kindergarten ... we're all just finding our way and doing our best. Let's remember we're all loving moms.

Have you felt judged? Have you accidentally hurt a friend's feelings? Tell us in the comments!

Image via bsabarnowl/Flickr

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