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.
Jennifer’s FFF Friday piece is one of the most striking submissions I’ve ever received, and somehow it got lost in the disaster zone that is my inbox. I apologize to her, and to everyone, for not sharing her incredible story sooner.
When I was a teenager I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), and told that when the time came I would likely be unable to conceive a child without medical intervention. This was fine, I didn’t care.
Many years later, my husband and I decided that we wanted to have a child. In the intervening years I had also been diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and I lived in constant pain. I was unable to walk unassisted and used a power wheelchair to get around in public. But this would not stop me. My husband and I wanted a child, and the one thing in my life that I had always been told was “You are so stubborn, you always find a way. No matter what it costs you.”
I went and saw an OB/GYN, who again reiterated that I would be unable to conceive naturally. She told me to go off my hormonal birth control, to go off my MS medications, and made me an appointment to see an RE (Reproductive Endocrinologist) 6 months later. I would be “fast-tracked” because of my health concerns, but I still had to have time for my body to “clear out” before they could start talk of hormone injections and the probably IUI or IVF I would need to conceive a child.
Imagine my and my husband’s surprise when two months later I peed on a stick and was pregnant.
We began researching like mad; we planned an all-natural childbirth which ultimately led to us planning a homebirth attended by a midwife. We planned to breastfeed, obviously. We planned to cloth-diaper. We planned to baby-wear and co-sleep. We were going to do this Right and Natural.
Pregnancy was good for my MS; I actually started being able to walk unassisted for short distances. It was amazing. I was sick my whole pregnancy, throwing up two or three times a day, but if this was the price I had to pay, that was fine.
We were shocked again when I went in to labor on December 26th, 2009. My due date wasn’t until January 15th, 2010! My parents rushed over to start putting together baby furniture and doing laundry. My husband helped me labor in our bed. My midwives rushed over to check on things.
And I labored for 36 hours at home. Around 2 am on December 28th, my midwives checked on the baby with a Doppler. The baby’s heart-rate suddenly dropped, then became erratic with contractions. This was not normal, this was not safe. My perfect natural birth was not going to happen.
I was rushed to the hospital. At 3:59 am on December 28th my son was born via emergency C-Section. My husband followed my son while they stitched me up. And I hissed at him “Do NOT let them give our baby a pacifier or any formula!”
My body had failed to bring my son in to the world naturally. But I’d be damned if my body was going to fail to FEED him naturally.
Trying to breastfeed after a C-Section is horrific. But I was determined. My son wouldn’t latch. He was a “lazy nurser” the LC said. I had to keep waking him up because he’d fall asleep nursing. I pumped and nursed, determined that I’d have enough of a supply. All I DID was nurse.
I was so tired. I was in so much pain. I didn’t take hardly any pain meds because I didn’t want them in my milk, and my son was nursing CONSTANTLY. I didn’t have the 2 hours to let them cycle out of my system.
My son was born at 7 lb 9 oz. When we went to the pediatrician a little over a week later, my son had dropped to 6 lb 7 oz. He looked so sick. I didn’t know what was wrong. He was so scrawny, so tiny, and so angry all the time.
But I kept trying. Because I was stubborn and determined and I NEEDED to be able to do this. Even when the pain from my MS was so bad I could hardly move, even when I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, even when my amazing husband said “Baby, please, please, let me just give him a bottle…”
The last straw came when my husband got called in to work at 3 in the morning. My son screamed for 2 hours while my husband was gone. My husband came home to find my son screaming beside me and me unable to stop crying in bed.
My husband took our son to the kitchen. He made him a bottle from a sample of formula that he had hidden from me. And I passed out, still crying.
When I woke up, my husband told me we weren’t doing this any more. He said that there was no way that the benefits of breastfeeding our son were worth this. He asked me when the last time I held our son and smiled was. I couldn’t tell him. But I looked at my baby, my happy, quiet, calm baby, and I smiled.
We ordered a case of formula online and had it delivered to the house. I couldn’t bear to go buy it.
I stopped crying every time I held my son. He stopped screaming all the time, he started smiling and cooing and being happy. He grew and thrived. People stopped being able to guess he was a preemie. I went back on medications and I stopped being in pain all the time.
My son is 9 months old now. He’s thriving and precocious, he keeps me on my toes and he is an absolute joy. He makes me smile and laugh constantly. He absolutely shows no signs of being “delayed” and he’s never been sick, not since I started feeding him formula.
I still struggle with the fact that I was unable to birth my son naturally and I was unable to feed him naturally. But I accept that my body has challenges, and that my job as a parent is to find ways to compensate for those challenges. I love my son unconditionally and I would do absolutely anything for him. I am a good mother because I put his needs ahead of my own. He does not suffer because he is formula fed, he thrives and all he knows is that his mommy and daddy and grammy and grandpa love him and make sure he is fed. All he knows is that he never goes hungry. Not any more.
I am the one who suffers the feelings of shame and guilt over being defective and over being judged by people who don’t even know me. When I give my son a bottle in public, I get looks. And it makes me angry. Those people don’t know me, they don’t know my struggles, and they have no right to judge me. But they do, and I allow them to. Because I allow me to judge myself.
Is breastfeeding more important than a healthy mother who is able to smile at her child? I don’t think so. Is breastmilk more important than a mother’s sanity? I don’t think so.
Will my son care that he wasn’t breastfed? I hope not. I hope that all he cares about is that he was loved and taken care of to the best of my ability.
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