I Was Shamed Into BreastFeeding, Even by My Husband

Tonilyn Hornung
Tonilyn Hornung

I was alone. There was no baby in my arms. Instead I cradled my phone, writing a goodbye letter to my 3-week-old son. The irregular beeping on the monitor confirmed the fact that something was wrong. The rhythm of my heart was inconsistent, and even though I was in no pain, I was afraid my baby would never know me. Ignoring the strange feeling in my chest, I continued to write so my son would one day know how much he was loved.

I'd never experienced anything like this, but then I'd never had a baby, and I'd never breastfed. I'd woken to a hard lump in my breast. I tried to free what seemed like a clogged duct with warm compresses, a hot shower, some massages, and, of course, breastfeeding. Nothing worked. Then the palpitations started . . . and didn't stop.

"Breast milk is best, right? You should keep trying," [my husband] said. He didn't understand what I was going through. I felt alone.

My husband drove me to the hospital while my mother-in-law stayed with our newborn. I had mastitis, a breast infection that causes high fever, flu-like symptoms, and a lump deep in the breast. Mine had progressed so quickly that it was causing an irregular heartbeat. Breastfeeding had been the cause.

I had wanted to breastfeed. All the research I'd read clearly stated that breast milk was remarkable. I always knew my breasts were amazing, but now I had real proof! (I might have milked that joke.) My milk would help my baby fight illness, lessen his risk of SIDS, and help his brain develop. I wanted to give him this.

Good moms take care of their babies, and I was going to be a good mom.

Under my doctor's care, I continued to breastfeed after that health scare. Still, another infection came. My breasts were betraying me, and I was considering betraying my son. My mother saw how sick I was (again) and suggested that I stop. "You were formula-fed, and you turned out fine," she reassured. She was right, of course. But, just to be sure, I did my own research.

Some women feel very strongly about breastfeeding. I checked breastfeeding websites for some counsel, and I found rounds and rounds of chat threads where faceless advice-givers berated other women for choosing not to breastfeed. Never mind the reason: formula was the devil, and I'd be the devil's handmaid should I decide to use it. These women were so unmovable in their views, I was reduced to tears in front of the computer. I felt trapped. I felt ashamed. I felt like I should hide from the world who clearly thought I was a bad mother. The much-needed support I craved from my mom tribe was not to be found here. I wanted to feel like I belonged. Instead, I was shattered.

I turned to my husband for his support. "Breast milk is best, right? You should keep trying," he said. Generally, I rely on his positive attitude, but this time around I positively hated it. He didn't understand what I was going through. I felt alone. My shame grew. I was a failure for wanting to abandon breastfeeding and move my boy to formula. My own glands scared me, and these infections seemed to be recurring. Too afraid to let my baby and my husband down, I continued.

Good moms take care of their babies. I was going to be a good mom.

My body must have been listening to my scared sobs, because a few months later, my milk began to wane. I could have done more to build it up. I know I could have, because the scary, faceless internet women told me so — but I didn't. I started supplementing with formula, and my mom was right: my son was fine. (My husband and I think his second head grew in nicely.)

I wrestled with my decision to stop, and even after I'd made my choice, I cried on the last day my baby had my milk. But I finally stopped because I realized that while good moms always take care of their babies, they also have another very important job: taking care of themselves.

I am a good mom.