You Clearly Know: What I Should Have Said

A few days ago a meme was showing up on my Facebook account about a lovely story concerning a mother’s meal being paid for to show support for the mother’s public breastfeeding.  It’s a great story and deserves to be shared.  I believe we need to normalize breastfeeding in the eyes of the public so that mothers don’t feel like they cannot leave the home for their children’s first year or two for fear of retaliation.  I completely agree that breast is best in almost all situations where a mother is educated and supported, and I say this as an educated, supported mother who chose to formula-feed.***

*** For those new here a brief recap of my situation.  Due to my own struggles with severe anxiety and depression during pregnancy I chose formula-feeding to insure that my mental state would not impede my child’s health and safety; it was a decision I needed to make to help me be the best mother I could be.  I plan on breastfeeding in the future, and stand proud in my decision for my first child.

However, the article reminded me of something that happened while I was working a retail job while pregnant with my first child.

I was about 7 months pregnant and working the register at the friendly, neighborhood department store and had a couple customers in my line.  Next up was a woman probably in her thirties with a fairly normal pile of items to purchase.  At the end of her purchase were a number of containers of formula; quite a stock actually.  I rang them up without a word already knowing in my mind that this was going to be me in a few months.  My battle with my depression was not improving and I was terrified that my child’s health would be affected severely if I could not care and feed myself properly after he was born.  I had already made the decision to formula-feed.

This day and that purchase would have slipped out of my memory had it not been for the next customer in line.  It was an older woman, probably in her 70’s or more and she was quick to pounce as soon as the younger woman was out of earshot.  She looked right at me and sneered, “In my day we knew how to feed our babies!  Can you imagine feeding your children that stuff.”

I was in shock at the vitriol in her voice and to my regret I think I just shrugged her off while the anger bubbled under my skin.  If I could relive that moment I now know exactly what I would have said to that lady.

“I’m glad, ma’am, that you know her so well to make such a good judgement on her decisions.  You clearly know her well enough to know that she is throwing the health and safety of her child to the wind to fulfill her own selfish desires.  Thank you for informing me.
You clearly know that she is not the mother of an adopted child.
You clearly know that she is not a foster parent.
You clearly know that her child is currently and always has been perfectly healthy.
You clearly know that that woman is currently and always has been perfectly healthy.
You clearly know that there is no way she is not alone or unsupported.
You clearly know that that purchase doesn’t pain her greatly.
You clearly know that she never even tried.”
Breastfeeding is a lovely, amazing natural process and it and the women who use it should be supported in our society without a doubt, but never at the expense of judgement on the rest.  The facts are we don’t know a thing about that woman purchasing formula in the store.  We don’t know what she’s been through, what she’s faced and with what she has struggled.

I  hope all of us would buy a meal for a breastfeeding mother, it is a lovely sign of support and solidarity just as I would hope that we would stand up for that women ahead of us in the checkout line because, clearly, she deserves our support as well.

6 thoughts on “You Clearly Know: What I Should Have Said

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  1. Oh wow!
    As a mother who breast fed 4 babies some successfully; and weened others at a young age to formula. I've forgotten that there are two sides to that coin. But after reading your post…I've had a flash back to a moment in time when I allowed others to make me feel so inadequate about having to ween to formula. Emotions ran high, insecurity for me and for my baby…everything you mentioned.
    With the last 2 I nursed much longer…and weened to cups. I finally felt successful (for me)…But there my first tow being weened from a bottle to a cup was just as successful.
    thank you for always reminding us— we truly don't know what's going on with people we pass on the streets.



  2. Wow. That older woman clearly had some issues of her own.

    It's hard to know what to say in the face of such unexpected maliciousness. I don't think I would have known what to say in the moment, either. But your contemplated response is dead-on. How can we know ANYTHING about another woman's journey to judge her? We have no idea what she's been through. The more appropriate response (from the older woman) would have been, “She's probably been through so much — that sucks. We're lucky she has access to clean water and a nourishing alternative for her baby!”


  3. That's exactly how I think of formula Kathleen – a nourishing alternative. Is the same as breastmilk from a well nourished mother? Oh course not, but it's a good alternative to the other alternative.


  4. One of my husband's parishioners tried to make me feel guilty and inadequate as a mom because I gave my son formula. Emphasis on “tried”. When Daniel was born, I gained a backbone and went completely mama grizzly bear on her.

    Fellow depression and anxiety sufferer here. *holds your hand*


  5. Oh that hit straight through the heart. I remember feeling such shame when I got looks in the grocery store (or perceived I was getting looks) because I was buying formula….and sometimes I was using food stamps to do it because foster kids get them automatically to help defray foster parent expenses. You truly don't know why that mom needs to use formula. I also had a 9 month old who decided one day she wouldn't nurse anymore and pumping wasn't working. I already felt terrible, it would have been crushing to overhear a comment like that when I was at the store.


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