One year ago, Mandy Dukovan wrote about how she accidentally starved her baby for almost two months after he was born. She was convinced she had to breastfeed her baby, no matter how hard it was, and sensed the stigma around bottle feeding. Now, she writes about the online abuse she received after she shared her story, and what she’s learned.
It’s incredibly hard to put into words all the things that The Fed Is Best Foundation has done for me the past year. I happened to stumble upon the Foundation when I noticed a friend of mine “liked” one of their blog posts. I was a first-time mum who was struggling with many different feelings, and wasn’t sure who or where to turn to. My son was 2 months at the time, and was just beginning to thrive after I had begun to supplement him with formula. While I was so happy to see my baby finally gaining weight and thriving, I had haunting memories and raw emotions that I was struggling to sort out. I had immense guilt that I didn’t see the signs that my baby was hungry, which tortured me non-stop. I was embarrassed that I could look at his 1-month picture and now see that he was obviously malnourished, but how on earth did I miss this at the time?
I was angry that I didn’t follow my own instincts that something was wrong with him and was angry that I believed all the terrible things I was told from lactivists that would happen to him, if I gave him a drop of formula. I worried that we would not have the kind of bond that babies who were exclusively breastfed (EBF) experienced with their mothers. I now know that our bond is so much stronger because we bottle-fed him and no longer experienced the immense stress that came each time I tried to breastfeed my baby. I got to a point where I dreaded even trying to breastfeed him, but I was told that was the best thing I could do for my baby, so I kept going, at the expense of my baby’s health and my well-being. I honestly believed I was the only mother who had experienced what we went through because I only heard the stories about how amazing and natural breastfeeding was and every mother could breastfeed if only she tried hard enough.
Since I am a therapist, I knew I needed to share my story. I found courage in my strong desire for other babies and mothers not to struggle. I also found courage in the fact that I needed a reason for all of the suffering—I needed to know that Brock’s struggle was not in vain. I kept telling myself, “If I reach even one mother and prevent even one baby from suffering like Brock, then I have to do this.”
I had countless mums—some that I knew personally, many I did not—send me messages thanking me for having the courage to share and for saying the things they were too ashamed to admit to. I had a mother message me and tell me “these were the words I so desperately needed to hear right now”. I had friends and family message me to say that their friend or family member from another state had shared our blog and how proud they were to tell them that they knew me. I had friends message me that they never truly believed that there were mothers who “couldn’t breastfeed” until they read my story.
And then I received hate messages from lactivist internet trolls. I was called every possible name, but what still pierces my healing heart is that I was told I should go kill myself because I was a piece of shit mum and my baby would be better off without me. I believed them.