To the pharmacist who sold me baby formula

"Every time she attached I would brace myself for that zing of pain that would travel right through my breast."
"Every time she attached I would brace myself for that zing of pain that would travel right through my breast." 

To The Pharmacist Who Sold Me Baby Formula,

It was a cold Saturday morning, and I was at the end of my tether. I’d gotten out of bed, dressed, and left my baby daughter with my husband in order to walk to the chemist and buy a tin of baby formula. I was familiar with the horror stories that some mothers had told on parenting forums about feeling judged or shamed by doing the exact same thing, and I hoped I wouldn’t get the same kind of service and, even if I did, I was sure as hell not going to take it.

I’d been breastfeeding for just over a month. It was hell. It was cracked nipple hell. Every time she attached I would brace myself for that zing of pain that would travel right through my breast. I’d narrowly averted one bout of mastitis but knew another was probably right around the corner if we didn’t nail the whole ‘fore and hind milk’ deal. The maternal health nurse drove this point home when, upon describing Keira’s ‘frothy poos’, she also said I needed to be careful. I was so close to being done and I just wanted that little bit of solace, or insurance, to help me get through “just in case”.

I looked dreadful – I was in dirty grey tracksuit pants and a yellow hoodie. The chemist was jammed with people, thanks to it being a Saturday as well as cold-and-flu season. I wandered over to the baby section and stood before the options in a state of bewilderment. What should I choose? What was best? I hadn’t done any research. Just as I was about to walk out again I saw you approach me, from the direction of the dispensary. Tall, be-speckled, and with a friendly face you asked, “Can I help?”

With the purest concentration of willpower I could muster in order to stop myself from crying, I explained – briefly – my predicament. What did you think?

The first thing you did was reach out and pull a tin off the shelf. I couldn’t even say now what brand or kind it was, all I remember was taking it from you and, after I cradled it under my arm, was readying my thanks because I thought you would turn on your heel to get back to the other waiting customers.

But, no. You kept talking to me. You engaged with me, asked questions. How old was my baby? (A month) Was she getting enough milk? (Yes) But you’re not adjusting? (No) The only caution you gave, spoken without any guilt-inducting tone, was this: “Just remember, the more you go down this road, the harder it can be to keep up your own milk supply”.

I nodded and said, “I understand. But frankly, at this point, I need this. Options are important.”

He smiled and nodded. “Yes, I agree.”

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I looked at my watch (I still had one back then) and stuttered, “I’m sorry, we’ve been standing here twenty minutes. I’m sure you need to get back.”

“I do. Good luck.”

I watched him leave, navigating his way around the crowd to get back to his former position.

Standing there, I felt thankful, for so many things. That I could even afford a tin of formula, that I had easy access to it. That I had been able to buy it without being made to feel like a failure if that was the route we ended up taking, and for that, I have you to thank.

At the checkout, I asked the assistant who rang up the purchase, hopefully without sounding too creepy, “Who’s the pharmacist?” What’s his story? was my silent question. “He was very kind to me.”

“That’s X. Isn’t he great? He has a young family of his own. He’s a great help to new parents.”

I arrived home that day, put that tin on the table and stared at it for a long time before I put it away in the cupboard.

One more week, I told myself. That’s the six week mark. I’ll keep trying until then. And then we’ll see.

And wouldn’t you know it, in that week, Keira and I got sorted out. We clicked. I smothered my nipples in lanolin, relaxed a little, healed a little, and the breastfeeding took a turn for the better.

I didn’t wean her until a year later. That achievement (and what I was similarly able to do for Riley) still ranks among my proudest achievements.

Dear Pharmacist X – you sure were a help, and I’ve never forgotten that. As fate would have it, our two youngest are in the same grade at school. On the rare occasion I catch sight of you at school, or around town, I think back to our earliest exchange. I’m sure you have no recollection of it at all.

But that’s the beauty of small gestures – they live longer in the taker than the giver.

Thank you for yours, to me.

This post was originally published on Karen's blog Miscellaneous Mum. It has been republished here with permission.

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