Lactation: I respect your choice.
January 14, 2011

Dear Friend,

You have a beautiful, bouncing little babe and you have chosen not to breastfeed.  Please do not, you begged this morning, think any less of me.

And with those eight small words, you broke my heart.

Watching you become a mother is a great gift.  You are my friend.  I love you as I love a sister.  You believe in me, cherish me, support me through thick and thin.  I believe in you, cherish you, support you through thick and thin.  I cannot imagine tossing aside a friendship we have spent years crafting together without good reason.  The fact that you even for a moment thought I might stings beyond measure.

Every day, women opt out of nursing their babies.  Some of them lack the education or the support they need to continue.  Some of them are made uncomfortable by our society’s sexualization of breasts or by prior sexual abuse.  Some of them have medical conditions or take pharmaceuticals that preclude nursing.  Some of them have children who have physical impediments or who have rare allergies to their milk.  Some of them try very, very hard to make breastfeeding work.  Some never try at all.

The reasons you have elected not to breastfeed are none of my business.  I will not ask you why.  I will not ask you for justifications.  I will not imply that you have somehow failed.  In a culture where nursing a child is not a constant part of the landscape and where mothers are discriminated against NO MATTER WHAT THEY CHOOSE, breastfeeding is a very personal decision.  Furthermore, how and why you opt to perform natural biological functions is a private affair.  I very strongly believe that every individual has the right to govern their own body.  I respect WITHOUT QUESTION that you have made the choice that you believe is best for you, for your child, and for your family.

Isn’t this what friendship is?

You are right: I believe in breastfeeding.  I believe that for most mother-child pairs, it is the healthiest and most affordable option.  I believe that with stronger community support, better maternity benefits, and more widespread education, breastfeeding would be more socially acceptable.  I believe that formula industry needs a massive overhaul.  I believe in boycotting companies who do not comply with the WHO Code.  I believe that milk sharing – be it raw milk from the neighbor, pasteurized milk from a bank, or fresh milk from a wet nurse – should be lauded.  I believe that breastfeeding is an experience that cannot be compared with any other.  I believe that women who choose to breastfeed toddlers and even school-age children and that women who choose to breastfeed adopted children should be as positively supported as those who nurse infants who grew in their womb.

But I also believe that you are a grown woman, a good person, a loving mother, who is doing all she can.  I believe that your reasons, whatever they may be, are valid even if I did not make the same choice.  In your shoes, maybe I would.  I believe that you and I are different people and that this is what makes our friendship special.  We do not have to make identical decisions for me to respect you, your choices, and your parenting.

I believe that you have helped me enormously by trusting my choices for my family and refraining from judgment when I nurse my child.  I believe that right now, the very best thing I can do for you and for our friendship is to trust you and refrain from judgment when you shake up a bottle for your own child.

If you want to talk, if you want to discuss your reasons, if you want to ask questions about my decision to breastfeed, if you want more information or resources, or if you just want a big hug and a strong shoulder and some reassurance, here I am.  Here I always will be, with open arms and listening ears.  And if you do not, then here I am.  Here I always will be, with open arms and silent faith.

I hope that you are confident in your choice, Friend, as confident as I am in you.  But more than that, I hope I never again give you reason to believe that I might ever think less of you for mothering with love.

Sincerely,
Sarah


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  1. By on January 14, 2011

    Sarah, you brought me to tears with your open, honest, loving, supportive communication with your friend. I support breastfeeding too and yet, like you, cannot find fault with decisions made in the privacy of one’s life, relationship or home. Care and love and respect spread far and wide will be a lot more beneficial than recriminations, blame and shaming women. Why are we so hard on each other?

  2. By on January 14, 2011

    Well said Sarah.

  3. By Bethany on January 14, 2011

    Goosebumps!

    Coming from a mother who formula fed my baby, I wish a friend of mine would have been open to expressing their support and knowledge about breastfeeding. I was one of the first women from my circle of friends to have a child and was very niave when it came to the choices I had. My sister had formula fed, so I thought this is what I was suspose to do. & once my child was born and I had expressed my decision to not breastfeed, not one single nurse offered any help to show me anything different. When I look back at it now, I am very saddened and wish someone - anyone would have just reached out and made me more aware or given me the knowledge I needed to make a more informed decision.

    Thank you for this post Sarah and for reminding me that being a friend is more than just coffee dates or gossip sessions on the telephone.

  4. By Megan R. on January 14, 2011

    True friendship, as you have written here, is acceptance of each other’s choices without harsh judgment and without question. 

    My best friend and I are extremely different people, and I have not liked every decision she has ever made…but I love her like a sister and only wish well for her in all of those decisions.  It is great that you have done that for your, friend. too.  Kudos…

  5. By Fearless Formula Feeder on January 14, 2011

    I think I love you.

    This is beautiful. Your friend is so lucky to have you in her corner, and you are creating a great example here of how we can support breastfeeding AND each other. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive!

  6. By Kimberly o'Rosky on January 14, 2011

    You truly have a gift for writing and expressing your feelings! This is beautiful and a great reminder about the meaning of true friendship.

  7. By on January 14, 2011

    Lovely.  After my daughter was still way below her birth weight after five weeks, my pediatrician and my TWO lactation consultants all urged me to switch to formula.  I did but, man, it was hard.  I had read all the stuff and wanted to breastfeed so badly.  I thought, well, supply problems are mainly a myth, kellymom and etc. say so.  Well, for me, supply problems were seriously real.  Fenugreek, oatmeal for every meal, nursing every hour, nothing cut it. 

    It’s hard.  I feel passionately about certain ideas too and that makes others feel judged.  But ideas don’t always take PEOPLE into account.  You’re a great friend for doing so.

  8. By Sarah on January 14, 2011

    AMEN!!! I tell new moms all the time to do what they need to do and quit worrying about others opinions. As long as your baby is loved and healthy, nothing else matters. Whether you nurse for 24 hours or 3 years, it is a personal decision!! You are an awesome friend!!

  9. By Weekend Cowgirl on January 15, 2011

    Very beautifully stated….you are a lovely friend.

  10. By on January 16, 2011

    In her memoir “A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother”, Rachel Cusk writes eloquently of the pressures she endured around her decision not to breastfeed.  She also writes beautifully about her particular experience, and difficulties with breastfeeding in her early life of being a mother.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is thinking of trying to become pregnant.  However, I wouldn’t give it as a baby shower gift, as some people find it a bit dark.  ( I don’t find it to be a dark or negative book, but definitely some people do!)  I would recommend reading it either before becoming pregnant for the first time or at least several months after giving birth!  Because I suppose if one were to read it during the immediate post-partum period, it might seem a bit glum.  It’s a wonderful memoir of motherhood, though!

  11. By Tracy Roberts on January 16, 2011

    Yes Sarah, i agree that this makes you a wonderful friend and I have been thinking about this post a lot since I read it.

    I have a hard time with this though.  Maybe that means you are a better person than me or maybe it makes me too judgmental, I know it makes me unpopular.

    Here is my issue:  Absolutely mothers need 100% support from their friends when they make decisions we dont agree with, but many times we forget about the baby and that the baby cannot make any decisions for themselves nor can they stand up for what is best for them.

    I AM not talking about the rare cases of inability to breastfeed or those who cannot for medical reasons, but for the other reasons listed above, I think we owe it to our friends and their babies to suggest they rethink the decision or at least ask why they came to that decision. 

    I consider it to be most important to stand up for children in issues of harm to a child like circumcision or hitting of children so this issue is one that I believe is more of a personal choice, however, formula’s first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup and I do believe it should be avoided if possible and certainly not used at the percentages it is today.

    That being said, once your friend has made her decision, I agree with everything posted above.  And of course, why would one ever think less of the person as a whole.

    I just thought you ignored in this post the importance of standing up for the baby especially when you apply this issue to other parenting issues.

  12. By Hollie on January 16, 2011

    I am a family therapist, and I work with kids who were/are abused or neglected.  Often drug affected as well.  I get them when they’re teens, long past infants or toddlers.  I became a mother twice while doing this job.  And what I know for sure is that if you are loving your child and meeting their needs—bottle or breast doesn’t seem to matter in the end.  I see how kids can persevere under the most dire of circumstances.  I have never asked if they were bottle or breast fed—I need to know if they were loved.  Were they comforted?  Were they hugged?  Were they spoken to with kindness and affection?  Did they know what was going to happen tomorrow?

    THOSE children need someone to stand up for them.  Not the baby of a loving mother who chooses to bottle feed for whatever reason.

    Sarah I loved this post.  I thought it was beautiful and spot on.  Thank you.

  13. By Sarah C on January 16, 2011

    Thank you for this post. I know I could have used a friend like you after my son was born. Every once in a while the guilt of using formula still creeps up. But then I think about how hard we tried, how depressed I was getting (is that good for a baby) and I look down and still see the scars 10 months later. My baby is happy and healthy and I know that our parent/child bond couldn’t be stronger. So I let it go.

  14. By on January 16, 2011

    Such a tired argument.. bottle vs breast..I formula fed all 4 of my kids and not only do I not regret it, but I would question the friendship if any of my friends looked down on me for something like that!!  I never understood feeling guilty about not breastfeeding.Who cares anyway? After a year or two, the kid’s eating regular food and done breastfeeding anyway and the argument is pointless. My 4 kids are as smart and healthy as can be!  Just MHO though.

  15. By Tracy Roberts on January 17, 2011

    @ Hollie, I hear ya.  I have a masters in early childhood and wholeheartedly agree that the way we treat a child is a million times more important than what we feed them.
    I am not arguing that and I think Sarah’s post is great.

    I do however think as a society we REALLY take nature for granted and believe that man knows as much or more.  I think this is a seriously dangerous route to take.  There is SO much we still do not know about breast milk.  We are beginning to learn about chemicals in our household items, pesticides in our foods, and harmful substances in our children’s toys when nature provides all we need without manufacturing, shipping, and creating things to take its place.

    I really trust nature and it scares me to think that the choice of formula over breast milk, Chlorox over vinegar, pesticide ridden genetically modified food over homegrown or organic, and plastic outrageous decked out fisher price kitchens over leaves and sticks are consider fine choices. 

    Of course we have to decide how much we lobby for these things with the people we dont know, but with our closest friends and family, the discussion should be had IMO.  This is the only thing I think Sarah’s post was missing.

    I hope Sarah that as close of a friend as you have become in the last year, you will always tell me the things you know and decide for your family.  It will make me the best mother I can be.  You already know I will do the same ;).

  16. By Chelsea on January 18, 2011

    Wonderfully written!

    I am about to do a post on breastfeeding and I hope you won’t mind if I link my readers back here so they can see your thoughts, too.

  17. By Sarah Christensen on January 18, 2011

    Chelsea - Feel free!

    Tracy - I keep coming back here, ready to write a response, but I think the reason I haven’t submitted one yet is because I’m still thinking about it.  It’s going to take me a day or two…

  18. By on January 19, 2011

    This is why I adore you and visit your blog daily!  Your friend is truly blessed to have you as part of her life!

  19. By on January 20, 2011

    I disagree.  It is your choice, of course, whether or not to respect your friend any less for not breastfeeding.  It is also your choice whether to continue your friendship with her. But I would and I have made different choices.  I simply cannot respect a mother who chooses not to breastfeed, for any reason.  (Obviously, I am not referring to anyone who physically can’t breastfeed.)  I would feel obliged to end a friendship with any woman I knew who chose not to breastfeed.

    I think one issue here is the obsequiousness with which we regard the word “choice.“  Just because something is a legal option, does not mean that all choices are equal.  You have a legal right in the U.S. to circumcise your son, but it is a bad choice, a wrong choice.  You have the choice to read to your child or plop them in front of the TV.  You have the choice to feed them healthy food or junk food.  These are legal choices parents have but they are not equally valid nor worthy of respect.  People hide behind choice as a defense of bad decisions, “But it’s my choice!  You must respect my choice!“  Actually, I don’t have to respect anyone’s choices.  I don’t even see how it is possible.  I suspect people who say they respect choices with which they disagree are lying to themselves & others.  They are afraid to judge, afraid of that word, choice.

  20. By on January 20, 2011

    These comments hurt my heart.  Lame, but there it is.    I’m an earlier poster who couldn’t breastfeed due to physical issues so I guess most people give me a “pass” on this.  I tried and my body failed.  Failed.  And that hurts.  But….  this hurts too in a different way. 

    If you are an atheist, would you not be friends with a Christian?  Or if you are Christian or Jewish or another religion, would you end a friendship if your friend became an atheist?  Would you want your CHILD to end friendships because a friend disagrees with them about religion, sexuality, education, or whatever?  I mean, I would be upset if my kid came home and said, “well, we’re Jewish and I believe strongly in that so I can’t be friends with Amy anymore because she’s Christian.“  That sucks.

    I mean, can’t you passionately disagree with someone and feel that their choice is wrong and still find some good or worth in them?  I obviously think people who don’t share my religious and political beliefs are wrong (or I wouldn’t believe what I do), but does that make it right for me to just shun anyone who disagrees with me?

  21. By Miami DUI Lawyer on January 20, 2011

    You have a great friendship. I admire that. Your friend should have more confidence in herself. I bottle fed and thought nothing of it. I have no understanding of breast feeding. You kind of hit the nail on the head when you said it’s more affordable. If you can’t afford formula you breast feed. I think breast feeding should gain a new prospective. People should think highly of it.

  22. By on January 23, 2011

    Sarah- I have two “just curious” questions (not judgmental in any way!):
    1- what was your friend’s response? (if that’s not too personal to ask/share)
    2- why did you decide to post this intimate letter to a friend on your blog?

    @ Tracy- There are infant formulas that do not contain corn syrup. Just FYI.

  23. By Sarah Christensen on January 23, 2011

    Kristi - I actually wrote this letter over a year ago.  I spent a lot of time going back and forth, back and forth, and finally after talking it over, I decided to post it because I felt that this relationship and this decision has been an integral part of my development as a mother.  So that’s why I made it public.  I did, however, twist around some of the details to make it a little less identifiable to people who are close to me.  It’s not fair to have them figure out who I’m talking about.

    My friend made her choice and I made mine and that was that.  We’re still good friends and we still talk about the many different aspects of our lives as mothers.  So we didn’t make the same decision?  Okay.  I can live with that.  And so can she.

  24. By on January 24, 2011

    I totally respect that!!


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