Shortly after the mask mandate was lifted in my North Carolina city, I heard warnings about formulation shortages. My family was thrilled that life was getting back to normal, that my eight-month-old daughter could finally see people’s faces in public, that I could comfort her with a smile at the grocery store. Our hope was short-lived.
The recall of the original formula announced by the FDA in February did not include the brand we used for our daughter, which I didn’t think would affect us. As a first-time mom already concerned about my baby’s safety during the pandemic, I didn’t need to worry about anything. I figured the government would step in before families bothered to find food. We saw large empty spaces on the shelves in every store, but we remained hopeful that help would come soon. But the shelves just went empty.
Stores began to limit the amount of formula each customer could purchase. I started getting frantic texts from friends saying they had to leave town just to find a box of formula. In March, getting up early became part of my routine to check websites and drive to stores, most of which were empty when I arrived. Internet moms groups were full of women asking for homemade recipes and wondering if they could start breastfeeding. Homemade formula recipes using raw cow’s milk, checked corn syrup, and even tea began doing the rounds on the internet. Our pediatrician warned me about these options, but nothing said these actions were taken to allay parental frustration.
As my concern for meeting my daughter’s basic needs grew, I felt guilty for choosing formula from the start; Because of my psychiatric drugs, I never tried to breastfeed. It didn’t help that so many people online were beginning to believe breastfeeding was the easy answer to the crisis. I couldn’t help but wonder if I shouldn’t have sacrificed more of my sanity to feed my baby.
Typically, a packet of formula lasts about a week; We were lucky that we were even on the shelves for a week. I got panic attacks that the next box wouldn’t be found and we were forced to use one of the ad hoc recipes online. My psychiatrist increased my medication to help me.
My mother-in-law agreed to see the formula while driving across Nebraska to meet us. We relaxed a little: Certainly a few formulas can be found on a 1,200-kilometer road trip. But we were wrong. Nobody was there. Someone in our church gave us several boxes of expired formulas from Germany. I’ve read online from several health experts that the nutrients in the formula deplete over time and that bacteria in the formula can grow past the due date – but we had no choice. Maybe I’m just a first-time mom who needs to stop googling everything, but I really wanted someone to reassure me that I’m making the right decisions and taking appropriate risks to keep my daughter alive. picked up
The problem with taking formula that your baby has never eaten is that there’s always a chance it won’t be digested well. Expired formula made my daughter constipated and miserable. It’s not just about finding any formula brand you can get your hands on. My daughter’s stomach, like many others, is sensitive and various formulas also contributed to her colic as a newborn.
I’ve built a network of moms-to-be looking for my kind of formula while they’re looking for my formula. That’s how we did it week after week. My gym became a drop-off point where women swapped containers. This all happened after my newsfeed was filled with articles showing how little our politicians care about the safety of women and children, even alive. The shelves of our wardrobe remained empty.
My husband called our pediatrician to ask if we could supplement whole milk, which we put off due to the risk of additional digestive issues. In the most severe cases, giving cow’s milk too early can lead to intestinal bleeding. Our doctor instructed us to mix half the formula with milk and watch for signs of upset stomach. I tried to keep calm even though everything we were doing seemed like a grand science experiment just to feed my daughter. I wanted to trust my doctor, but at this point I find it difficult to trust any authority figure with my baby as our own government waited months to respond to the deficit, leaving us with our most basic needs. He had to struggle to make ends meet.
Luckily our daughter tolerated milk. But even halfway through the formula, we’re still struggling to find what we need. Recently a friend from Boston sent me three packages which he received 30 minutes out of town. The support of my community is the only thing that gives me confidence in my daughter’s future. I agree that having a support system to help us get by is also a luxury.
I am counting down every day until my daughter’s first birthday in July, when she will be able to come off formula – when my family’s crisis is over. But that doesn’t bring much relief because I know many other people who will still be in despair.