My second son was born on March 30, 2020. Yep. He is one of the OG pandemic babies.
My part of the world had gone into lockdown thirteen days prior to his birth. My husband and I did not leave our house except to buy groceries.
For the first time in our life, my husband would return home with tales of the empty shelves. The ransacked toilet paper, the pasta shelves that had been wiped clean. Me, in my privilege, thought he was exaggerating.
When he went out a week later he took pictures to show me. Seeing the pictures was jarring. Immediately my heart sank, because there was one thing that came rushing in.
What if we can’t get formula?
I had a miserable experience with breastfeeding my first son, resulting in depression and sickness. Yet for whatever reason I was resolved to try again.
Even if I was more successful the second time, breastfeeding would be short lived, and I had preemptively made the decision that I would inevitably transition to formula once again. I didn’t sleep that night. I needed a plan.
The next day we frantically called our family to ask if they could pick up a box of formula for us to have during their weekly groceries.
We eventually got our hands on some to have in the pantry. I slept a little bit easier, but not well.
When my son did arrive the breastfeeding went as expected. I quickly moved to pumping.
I forced myself to pump longer than I probably would have wanted to because I wanted to wait out the initial rush of the pandemic to see how the baby formula supply would be. I was hyper-aware of the fact that I was doing this against my own will.
I pumped enough for a two month supply, begrudgingly, until I felt we were in the clear to be able to get our hands on formula. Even if our stores were empty, we were aware of suppliers that we could order from online. We felt like we had options.
But now, things are different. You don’t have as many options during this formula shortage, do you?
I have nothing but sympathy to offer all of you. It is not lost on me that I could of very easily been in your position a year ago.
I am frustrated for the parent who has spent hours carting their exhausted child around from store to store only to be faced with yet another empty shelf.
I am enraged for the parents who have children with allergies and are being told that their prescription formula is going to be backordered for six months. Your child will be well past their first birthday when it’s filled.
I sympathize with the parent who gave their lactose intolerant baby cow’s milk because she had no choice.
Perhaps she is now trying to soothe a screaming infant as their body breaks out in hives and writhes from the pain of what that milk is doing to their little body.
I see the mother crying as she attempts to ration her child’s powder formula because she doesn’t know when the next time will be that she is able to get her hands on a canister.
I applaud the father at the grocery store who is finally met with the mirage of three boxes on the shelf at his local store, resisting the overwhelming urge to buy all three.
He wants to, even though he can’t afford the $200 worth of formula this week, and takes one box to leave some for the parents eyeing him at the top of the aisle who are trying to do the same.
To the individual who is told, “well why don’t you breastfeed?” I am sorry they don’t understand.
I am so sorry that they don’t understand that many times people can’t breastfeed for a multitude of reasons that most people can’t even begin to comprehend.
I am most sorry for their ignorance that not breastfeeding is your choice and no one else’s.
The formula shortage has once again highlighted how undervalued parenting is in society.
And yet, I argue, parenting is a primary determinant of how a society functions.
At a time when forced parenthood is at the forefront of a global debate, we are yet again obligated to ask, well how do I take care of that child once they are here?
I only knew the possibility of a shortage, and that was horrifying enough. I do not know what it is like to not feed my child despite the hours of searching for something, anything.
I have nothing to offer you but anger that the formula shortage has come to this.
While anger is not always productive, it beckons an agency that thoughts and prayers do not.
When someone offers you anything but support and sympathy in this current struggle of parenthood, do not downplay this.
Avoid the cliches of “everything will work out alright.”
Be angry, be frustrated, be seen, because once again, parents have been told that what we do is not a priority.
The people who are not angry about this are the people who are not paying attention.
Make sure they start.