Last year, the most wonderful thing in the world happened – I had a baby girl. Not everything was great, as we all know. She came in the midst of a pandemic, and both my husband and I had COVID the day she was born, which meant she caught it, too. Luckily we all had a mild case, but that turned out to not be the worst problem; my daughter was unable to get enough food from breastfeeding. Her weight was low, and she would cry and cry from hunger. After months of trying everything the doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, and therapists recommended I was still unable to breastfeed. I admitted defeat and conceded that she would be a formula baby, although I had desperately wanted to be able to breastfeed her.
Unfortunately, this decision to go all-formula came shortly after Abbot labs announced their recall. We had previously been using Similac, but then started trying a train of different formulas – some of which caused her a lot of GI distress, until we found one that seemed to sit well with her. It was hard to find. We always started looking well before the can of formula ran out, sometimes going around to 6 or more stores around the city, sometimes trying again several days in a row in order to make sure she had food. But she did always have food. Now I am not sure that will continue to be the case. For some reason, the news only recently started heavily covering the shortage and the formula became even harder to find when more people started panic buying. For over a week, my husband and I have been going to stores daily, or multiple times a day to look for formula for and have not yet found the food our baby needs. It is impossible to order online. We are on the last can that we have in the house and I am getting anxious. My husband did find some the other day – it was not the brand we usually get, and rather being primarily made of milk powder, it is primarily made of high fructose corn syrup solids. I would rather feed my baby real milk, but I will do whatever it takes to make sure she does not starve. The stories of babies ending up in the ER because their formula was too diluted in an effort to make it last longer horrify me.
I am also horrified by the congress people who have decided to vote against the bills being put forward which attempt to address this urgent issue. There are currently at least seven bills in congress with titles relating to addressing the infant formula shortage. The first – HR7790 – provides $28 million (a relatively small amount in governmental terms) in emergency supplemental appropriations for the Food and Drug Administration address the current shortage of FDA-regulated infant formula and certain medical foods in the United States; and prevent future shortages, including by taking the steps that are necessary to prevent fraudulent products from entering the U.S. market. 192 Republicans voted against this, their argument against being that it will not actually help to put more food on the shelves. The second – HR7791 – allows for certain requirements to be waived to allow families receiving assistance to purchase more formula. (One of the therapists working with my daughter on feeding told me that WIC only covers certain brands, and some of these families were lost when their brand was recalled or not on the shelves.) In a move that reeks of bureaucracy and selfishness, nine Republicans voted against this. The rest have not yet been voted on: 7781 waives certain requirements to allow formula to be imported from the EU. The text has not yet been published for 7802, 7808, 7822, and 7830. Action is desperately needed so no more babies are hospitalized or die. I had previously been moving along with a false confidence that this shortage would not last too long. Now I wonder what kind of nightmare world my daughter is coming into in which feeding children has become a partisan issue.
I worry that she is going to live in a world where she cannot access healthcare, food, reliable housing, or clean water and in which her rights have been chipped down to nothing. My baby girl was oh-so wanted, and when that little blue line confirmed she was on her way I was more excited than I had ever been for anything – yet I wonder if someday she will resent being brought into this world. I tell myself I must make the world a better place for her. My husband says, “never regret raising a dragon slayer in a time when there are dragons.” How many babies won’t make it long enough to grow into a hero when legislators drag their feet on feeding them?