Girl and The Baby: Got Milk? by Stephanie Izard

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How Stephanie Izard became a happy, formula feeding mama

Whenever we do various charity or other food tasting events, we usually bring a dish featuring goat meat – with Girl & the Goat, Little Goat, and Duck Duck Goat is seems appropriate.  Plus its fun to get folks to try eating goat for the first time.  But often we get that grumpy bugger who makes, what I like to call the “goat face.” It’s hard to fully describe, but when I say, “Hi, would you like to try our goat tostadas?” they look at me like I just said, “Hi, would you like to try our gym sock tacos?”  Their faces crinkle up and their eyes fill with disgust.  I always wish I had a little video camera at events just to capture those beautiful moments.

Sometimes, it can feel like that when someone asks if I am breastfeeding Ernie.  Got milk?  Well actually, I do not.  And for a while I was embarrassed, almost ashamed, to say so.

Back in the hospital when Ernie was born, I very much planned to breastfeed.  I started out by having the breastfeeding consultant show me multiple times just how to position Ernie.  I think I called her back in to the room three or four times, almost in tears, because I felt I was doing it wrong.  On day two or three Ernie was just crying most of the day, because he was just beyond hungry. Although he was hanging on my boobs for periods of time, he wasn’t actually getting anything to eat.  Such a scary and terrible feeling to learn your baby is losing weight and it’s because your body is not giving him the nutrients he needs.

We added in formula bottles that had a tiny angel-hair-pasta-sized straw coming out of them that I attached to my nipple for Ernie to drink, so he would think it was milk coming from my body.  After a few days of this my nipples were torn up – it is pretty sensitive skin to tape a tiny straw to every few hours.  During the middle of the night feedings once we got home, Gary would find me stressed and crying as I tried to tape the straw to my nipple while holding the very hungry, crying Ernie.

I pumped in between all of these fun fake boob feedings to encourage my milk to come in.  Once I was sanitizing the pump after a few drops came out, thinking that this was all I had and I needed this milk to be drinkable, I didn’t dry the pump properly and broke it. I freaked out, and asked a friend to go buy another one from Target that day, all the while thinking that those few hours of not pumping while she drove to a couple different Targets were ruining my chances of a healthy baby.

I think the last straw was the night, or morning, at 3 a.m. when I was taping the tube to my nipple, with Ernie, of course, crying with anticipation, the tube started leaking formula all over my boob, and up comes our dog Burt to lick it off.  Not sure if anyone out there has had their dog lick their boob before, but it was the traumatizing moment that got me to the store as soon as it opened, to buy a regular baby bottle.  Ernie took to the bottle right away and it was as though a weight had been lifted.  He’s eating.  He’s happy.  I’m not crying.  My husband, Gary, can feed him too.  And the dog is never going to lick my boob again.  Ahhhh, sigh of relief.

But then when you leave the house and you get those first two questions from most every woman you see: “How’s he sleeping?  Are you breastfeeding?”  Instead of just proudly saying, “No, my happy baby Ernie is enjoying formula.” I quickly explain that my milk never came in and that I tried pumping hours a day and that I just couldn’t understand what went wrong.  Then I felt that look of judgment and thought I was getting the “What?? Goat meat?? Ick.” face from everyone.  I’m sure there were some of those judgments being made – after all everyone has their own opinions about what is right for your baby – but I’m also pretty sure I was imagining a lot of it.  I was feeling like I had failed at motherhood already, just because Ernie was going to be a formula baby.

This morning before I grabbed my computer to write this, after Ernie finished his 6 a.m. bottle in record time with his new stage 2 silicone nipples on his awesome Comotomo bottle (my favorite), he had the most adorable milk mustache and satisfied look on his face.  And he looked at me, so content and happy, it was almost like he was saying “Thank you mommy, that was delicious.” As a chef I always want to see that look of pure bliss after someone eats my food.  Ok, so with Ernie all I do is shake some Similac powder into just the right proportion of purified water, but I am still giving him just what he needs to grow and be happy.

Some people breastfeed.

But some women don’t breastfeed.  Whether, like me, nature just doesn’t agree or they go with formula because it is just right for them.

At this point I think my body just knew something I did not: that breastfeeding was not the perfect fit for me.  I can’t say scientifically that Ernie is the same as he would have been if my milk had worked out, but I can say that he is a healthy and very happy baby surrounded with more love than he knows what to do with.  So I think he will be just fine.  And I think I’m doing a pretty ok job at motherhood so far.