I went to the drug store today to pick up Evan's new antibiotic. The first one he'd been prescribed wasn't doing squat and he was still running a high fever 48 hours after starting it, so they upped him to Augmentin and recommended that I also pick up acidophilus to protect his stomach since this is apparently serious stuff for such a little guy. The pharmacist helped me to locate what I needed and assured me it was easy to use. "Just put it in his formula," she told me. This would probably have been the time to thank her and pay for my purchases, but as usual I couldn't keep my mouth shut. "No such thing," I told her. "He's exclusively breastfed."
As I could have predicted, all six people in the store at the time turned to look at me as if I had just announced that I had a giant nipple growing out of the top of my head. "He doesn't get any formula at all?" she asked. "Nope, just me," I replied cheerfully. "It's no problem... I'll just put it in his cereal or something." But she couldn't leave well enough alone. "Maybe you could, you know..." she fumbled for the word. "Pump? And then give it in a bottle?" This from a medical professional. "I could," I replied. "But he's sick and I think he needs the comfort of nursing right now. Is there any harm in just putting it in cereal?" She mumbled something about how she guessed that would be OK and escaped to the back, no doubt to look up Evan's birth date and figure out how old this child I was denying formula to was and whether she should put a call in to social services. Every person in the store watched me pay and leave. Even with all that society knows today about the benefits of breastmilk, I still felt like a social oddity for trying to give my baby the very best start I can.
I am a crazy breastfeeding Mama. Neither of my children have ever tasted formula, a fact of which I am immensely proud. While I try to be discreet and am always conscious of the comfort level of others in the room, I will whip out a tit anywhere to nourish my baby if need be. I never meant to be this way. Before Julia was born, I sat and studied the how-to breastfeeding materials they handed out in our prenatal classes in a state of utter confusion and more than a little dread. I promised myself I'd try, since I knew that was what was best for my baby, but I also said I wouldn't make myself crazy. I figured if I made it 3 months, I'd be pleased. If not, I wouldn't beat myself up over it.
Then Julia was born and couldn't figure out how to latch on and in a fit of postpartum hysteria, I became convinced that I couldn't be a good mother unless I breastfed my baby. Two mind numbingly exhausting weeks full of lactation consultants, nipple shields, pumping, bottle feeding expressed milk and panicky weight checks later, something clicked in and Julia started to nurse. With that first full toe-curling tug on my nipple, I knew I was in it for the long haul. This had been the first challenge my daughter and I had mastered together, and I was going to savor our victory for as long as I could.
I weaned Julia at 14 months, secure in the knowledge that I had done the best I could for her and comforted by the fact that someday I'd have another baby to nurse. When Evan came along, I promised myself again that I'd take each day as it came and if the challenges of parenting 2 made formula a necessity, I wouldn't hesitate to use it. I'm happy to say that the need has never presented itself. As Evan's first birthday approaches and I start to think about when to wean him, the idea of never nursing a baby again is too sad to contemplate. Lately, I've been half heartedly joking that maybe I'll just nurse this one indefinitely. Even the people I'm closest to, who have always supported my decision to breastfeed, look carefully at me after I say this and say "you ARE kidding, right?"
I have dozens and dozens of friends with young children, the vast majority of whom nursed their children. But I can count on one hand the ones who did so past 3-6 months. The same strangers who smiled tenderly at me when I found a quiet corner to nurse my newborn look at me as if I'm a little crazy when I give Evan a quick snack these days. Even my own pediatrician's office, when I called with concern over Evan's constipation issues at 5 months, was horrified to discover that I was exclusively breastfeeding. "But why aren't you FEEDING him," the nurse asked me when I said he hadn't started solids yet. "I AM feeding him," I replied. "I'm feeding him nature's perfect food. If he can't get that out of his system, what's going to happen with strained peas?" There was a pause and then "Well, if you're not going to feed him, then I'm not sure what to tell you."
For all of the progress we've made with the "breast is best" campaign, something's not getting through. The physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, for both mother and baby, are clear and undisputed and yet those of us who choose to reap those benefits for the long haul are still looked at a little funny for doing so, even by the same medical professionals who urge us to consider nursing in the first place. I'm not so militant about my breastfeeding beliefs that I condemn those who use formula -- I respect every mother's right to make the best feeding decisions for her own children and I recognize that there are many reasons why what I choose might not be right for others. But it irks me that people still look at me as crazy for what I consider to be one of my proudest accomplishments as a mother. And I confess, that's why I continue to announce, loudly and to the world, that my baby drinks from my breast -- because I'm proud of what I'm doing and I want the world to know it.
The Augmentin seems to have done the trick and the acidophilus worked just fine in cereal. Evan fell asleep on my breast tonight fever-free for the first time in 5 days. We may still have a ways to go toward an enlightened society where breastfeeding is concerned, but I guess the medical enlightenment behind antibiotics is all that we truly need to raise healthy kids. I'm nonetheless grateful to be able to provide both for my children. Augmentin may have made my baby well today. But I'm counting on my milk to keep him that way.