This is misogyny, no matter where it comes from. No one demands that fathers damage their own bodies to demonstrate decent parenting.
If we could imagine a world where men had to breastfeed their babies themselves — learning how to do it, enduring the frustration of the baby not latching on and the pain of chapped and inflamed breasts, and figuring out how to continue to do it despite long hours at work, little support, nowhere to pump and not enough sleep — the formula shortage might not be so dire. In that alternative reality, it’s hard to imagine that the industry in the United States would be dominated by just a few companies. Instead, I expect that we’d see a multitude of formula start-ups blossoming in Silicon Valley. Formula would not be stigmatized because it’s a choice men would want to have available to them.
This is not to say that formula is better than breastfeeding, or that breastfeeding is not the best option for some people. Of course it is. Many mothers have no problem getting babies to latch on, and depending on how the rest of their lives are constructed, breastfeeding may also be the most convenient option. In countries where clean water is difficult to find, breastfeeding may be the safest option.
Many people also find breastfeeding to be a beautiful experience, and it can have postpartum health benefits for mothers as well as infants. Even then, it is not, as breastfeeding advocates like to suggest, free or cheaper then formula — unless you believe that a woman’s time and autonomy are worth nothing.
The advent of modern formula is really as revolutionary as the advent of birth control, because it allowed many women to retain a degree of autonomy over their time and health while providing their babies with nutrition. For women who are dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety, on top of sleep deprivation, formula can be a godsend, something that allows them to restore some aspects of a normal life. This should be regarded as important by itself — and not only when it’s coupled with a qualifier that a healthy mother is also good for the baby. Women should be happy and healthy, full stop.
That awful day in the emergency room, as I panicked over the thought that my son wouldn’t eat, even though I knew we had formula at home, I asked through tears if anyone could find me a breast pump, but no one seemed to know where to get one — in the same hospital where on a different floor, new mothers were being lectured about the importance of breastfeeding.
In retrospect, this was sheer insanity. I was sleep-deprived and anxious, and my desire to be a good mother led me — a formula-fed adoptee — to see feeding my son formula as a grave personal failure.