FFF Friday: “I realized a dead mother cannot take care of her baby.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

The term “traumatic birth” doesn’t really cut it for FFF Sandy, who found herself second-guessing medical decisions because of her guilt over formula feeding. Not that it should EVER matter why someone chose to formula feed, but reading Sandy’s story – and hearing how she was still judged, even after everything she went through – makes you wonder if there is such thing as an acceptable “excuse” for not breastfeeding in the eyes of a judgmental, overzealous, and unfortunately very vocal, few.

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So all my friends breastfeed, and when I was pregnant, it was what I was going to do too!. It’s the right thing to do, right? Best for the baby, best for everything. I was all for it and ready. My pregnancy was uneventful, except for the absurd amount of swelling I began to have in my second trimester. My blood pressure remained normal, and my blood work was normal, so no one thought much of it at the time. Then the week my son was due, my BP shot up to 165/90 and it looked like preeclampsia. I had some tests done that week, and on my due date, the doctor sent me to the hospital to be induced. Around 9am, the induction began. My labor was terrible. 12 hours of induced contractions with no dilation. My water broke on its own, but the baby wasn’t going anywhere. Around 9pm, I looked around and quietly stated “Everything is red” and then I turned and saw my BP monitor which was humming at 201/110. It was then I was rushed in for an emergency C. My epidural only took on one side, so I had to be put under. 43 minutes later, my beautiful son was born.

Everything seemed to be ok. I tried breastfeeding and he would latch a little, and let go, but I was determined. The next night, I get a call from the nursery. I’m thinking it’s time to go feed him, but that wasn’t the case. He was being sent to the NICU because of fluid in his lungs and some rapid breathing. Nightmare. So we spent our next few days visiting the NICU and working on breastfeeding. Sometimes it seemed like it worked, sometimes not. Mostly he would just fall asleep. Then his blood work started coming back strangely. His sodium was too low, his electrolytes were off, his red blood count was off. I was still determined, but now I started pumping. I wasn’t going to let him have to go on formula! I was determined to pump forever if I had to. So I pumped and pumped, and was starting to get more and more with each pump but it wasn’t enough. My time was getting short in the hospital and I didn’t want to leave without my baby since he obviously couldn’t leave until his blood work was better. Finally, I accepted using some formula to supplement. He started to improve! So we got into the routine of starting out with whatever I could pump and then topping him off with formula. I could live with that. Unfortunately, I was cleared to go home before he was… So I spent the next two days driving to and from the hospital, and pumping like a crazy person at home. I also didn’t sleep. Whenever I laid down, I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was having a panic attack My mom and I chalked it up to stress and hormones and missing the baby, and I had a doctor’s appointment Friday to check my BP (which was still 150/80) and other routine post-baby things.

I arrive at my appointment and the doctor looks at my ankles and we see that none of my swelling has gone down. She takes my BP which is now 180/100… I am promptly sent back to the hospital and admitted to the cardiac ward (at 33) with heart failure and pulmonary hypertension due to the massive amounts of fluid my body is refusing to let go of. The cardiologist gives me two options: They can aggressively treat or not. Aggressive treatment will NOT allow me to breastfeed because of the levels and types of medications. If they do not treat me in that manner, I can still breastfeed, but they are unsure of my recovery time. I must have been a moron, but I actually was thinking about the latter until I realized a dead mother cannot take care of her baby. A dead mother was not an option. I went with the aggressive treatments.

Over 3 days, I lose 40 pounds of fluid. I also pumped and pumped still because there was nothing else to do and I needed some relief from the huge amounts of milk I was producing. And I cried and cried as I dumped it all down the drain. My “poison milk” as I called it. My baby went home 4 days before I did. Breast feeding was no longer an option.

6 months later, I am only on one medicine for my blood pressure, and have my breathing and everything else back under control. My baby is drinking formula and started solid foods earlier than is “healthy” according to my breastfeeding friends. But he is happy and healthy at 19+ pounds and has been sleeping 11 hours a night since he was 2 and a half months old. He’s big and strong and beautiful. My husband loves being able to be a part of feeding time, as does my family. Formula has been great and I am all for the mothers who can’t/don’t breastfeed.

Some of my breast feeding friends and the advocates still look at me with a bit of a self-righteous air about my “choice,” even knowing that I was ill after he was born. I guess they just don’t understand. I guess they don’t know that I still cry about having to make that decision; how it still hurts my heart sometimes that I wasn’t able to give my baby what I thought was best. But no, I did give him what was best. I made sure that he would still have a mommy to give him that bottle, formula or breast milk.

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Haven’t sent me your story yet? Shoot it over to formulafeeders@gmail.com. Come on…you know you want to….

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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8 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I realized a dead mother cannot take care of her baby.”

  1. This brought tears to my eyes too, in part because I suffered tremendous water weight gain AFTER pregnancy and no one could figure out why. BP meds helped, but when they stopped working, acupuncture was the only thing that resolved the situation. People don't understand the fear of being told there may be something very wrong with their hearts.

    I highly recommend you look up FFF on Facebook; it is a hangout for other moms who like you could not EBF, many of whom could not BF at all. I find it very cathartic and a very supportive environment and a much healthier place than many of the mommy blogs/pages/online hangouts. Another FB page is Bottle Babies; it's a very supportive environment for people who bottle feed (whether it's BM or formula or some combination of both).

    My sister's been through a lot in life; without getting into the details, I'll just tell you her motto: “cut out the negative.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but this includes people, too. It's sad, but if someone cannot understand a situation as severe as yours, I question whether they care about you at all. Militant lactivists (and they never self-identify as such, you have to figure it out on your own) care more about the cause than about children, and you are definitely lowest on their totem pole. I don't know how they think a baby can get his own proverbial oxygen mask on if the mom can't get her own on, but suffice to say, they don't get the notion that you have to have something in your own cup before you can pour some out to give to someone else.

    I've found that it's more typical than not to have people ask you if you BF and expect themselves to be some kind of judge as to whether you tried hard or not. Don't play their game. You're feeding your baby. End of story. I highly recommend visiting a playplace, park, jungle gym, someplace where there are lots of kids, and trying to pick out the breastfed kids vs. the formula fed kids. I did this a lot, and it was very helpful.

  2. “A dead mother cannot take care of her child.” So true, also true in the cases of mothers who toy with taking their lives due to post-partum psychosis. Mothers do not need anymore stress after babies are born. If breastfeeding isn't going to work, we should be able to feel safe in letting go, not fearful of being tortured by militant breastfeeders!

  3. You are oh so right. And people do not have the right to judge.. But judge they do and that sucks so much. You made the best decision and yay for healthy baby 🙂

  4. Seriously, what is wrong with people?! What if you didn't do the aggressive treatment and were seriously injured or even died? Then who will breastfeed the baby? Would your death/disability be held up as the ultimate martyrdom by these idiots? Jeez—glad to hear everything is fine and I'm sorry you know such sanctimonious aholes.

  5. I am so grateful that I retained enough sanity when I developed PPD that I knew it was wrong to think that my son would be better off without me. It didn't stop me from thinking it, but when I would have those thoughts, there was still a tiny bit of rationality in there that would say “wait a minute, I can't tell you why right now, but that doesn't make sense, so just trust me and don't believe it.”

  6. So many scary situations! I am so glad to hear everything has turned out alright. Good for you for standing buy your decisions, a healthy family is (of course!) the most important goal. Enjoy your sweet baby. 🙂

  7. Wow! Sorry the pressure to BF has reached such unhealthy levels. Good for you for taking control of your health, though. To paraphrase Dr. Phil, you have to take care of your child(ren)'s mother. Enjoy your LO!

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