FFF Friday: I placed my mental health above what my son ate…”

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 also are 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.

I honestly don’t know what more I can say to introduce this piece, because the title says it all. 

Thank you, FFF Abigail, for illustrating how individual circumstances are far more important in what determines a woman’s feeding choices than formula bags, societal barriers, pacifier use, sub-par maternity leaves, or any other “booby trap”. Sometimes, a family’s decision is less about confronting barriers to breastfeeding, and more about confronting – and overcoming – personal barriers to health and happiness. 

I feel stupid saying my usual “happy Friday” today, since everyone in the US knows it is anything but. So instead, let me close with this:

Stay safe and happy, fearless ones,

Abigail’s Story
My mom died during my birth from poorly managed pre-eclampsia that was detected at a routine prenatal appointment.  I was born via c-section, after she was clinically brain dead, at 32 weeks.  In 1980, my chances of survival at 3 lbs., 3 oz. weren’t so good.  Fortunately, I inherited the family’s stubborn gene, and I persevered!  Obviously, I wasn’t breastfed; Similac was the drink of choice.  Despite being premature and being deprived of oxygen for some time while my mother was comatose (long story here), I thrived.  I had a normal childhood, was rarely sick, excelled in school, and got my PhD when I was 25.  Not too shabby given the fact that I was raised sans breast milk!
When I got pregnant with my son, I was elated!  But, pregnancy was a terribly nerve-wracking time for me.  I worried about pre-eclampsia and pregnancy complications as well as miscarrying, birth defects, etc., all while dealing with my husband’s crazy, special-ops military schedule.  I’ve always dealt with anxiety and mild depression, and I could make a profession out of worrying,  but my OB felt that it was better for the baby for me to go off my medication while pregnant, and so I did.  In hindsight, that might not have been the best decision, but I wanted my pregnancy to be “clean.”  I did a lot of reading and researching during my pregnancy…birthing options, feeding options, etc.  Reading about breast feeding nearly sent me into a panic attack…thinking about having supply issues and mastitis and cracked nipples and having a baby attached to me all the time and having issues forming a nursing relationship.  The more I read on the subject, the more anxious I got about the whole notion.  And, after a lot of discussion, my husband and I decided it was probably best if I formula fed…he could share some of the feedings and take some of the burden off of me…it would give him some quality time with our son since his career takes him out of the country very frequently…AND, most importantly, I could go back on my anxiety medication after giving birth without worrying about how it might affect by son via breast milk.  To us, formula feeding made sense.  And, since I wasn’t breastfed and turned out just fine, I never thought of formula feeding as something detrimental.
Fast forward to my son’s birth…an uncomplicated induction…an uncomplicated vaginal delivery…a beautiful baby boy…and my worst fear…less than 18 hours later, we learned that something wasn’t right.  My son had a rare craniofacial birth defect that would require surgical correction.  Craniosynostosis, a skull anomaly that occurs in one out of every 2000 births, occurs when one or more of the sutures (fibrous material that hold the bones of the skull open while the skull grows), fuse prematurely.  In our son’s case, two sutures had fused in utero.  Left uncorrected, he would have an abnormal head shape, the brain couldn’t grow properly, and he would likely suffer intellectual and developmental delays.  We met with a craniofacual surgeon when my son was 8 days old and surgery was scheduled for three months later.  The surgical correction involves an ear-to-ear scalp incision, breaking of the sutures, stabilizing the breaks with plates and screws that will dissolve over time, and, in my son’s case, re-shaping the forehead and the eye sockets.  The news was DEVASTATING.  I went back on medication immediately, and the 12 weeks we waited for H’s surgery were AGONIZING.  Though we knew the surgery was necessary, it’s horrible to contemplate something so major happening to your tiny son, and I am SO GRATEFUL I was using formula!!!  Had I not been on medication, I wouldn’t have been able to be a good mother during those weeks of waiting…and had I breast fed while on medication, my anxiety would have been unmanageable.  It might not make sense to those not in my shoes, and that is OK.  I’ve been told I shouldn’t have had a child if I wasn’t willing to breastfeed…that I was selfish…that I was harming my son…but I beg to differ.  Because I formula fed and because I placed my mental health above what my son ate, I was able to be the BEST mother possible to my son.  The mark of a good mother is not found in how she feeds her child…it’s in how she loves and cares for her child.  I’m his number one advocate…and now…a year post-op, to look at my brave little hero, you’d never know what he’d endured.  He’s a happy, healthy, thriving 16 month-old.  Breast may be “best,” but it wasn’t best for us!
Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday. Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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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15 thoughts on “FFF Friday: I placed my mental health above what my son ate…”

  1. I'm so pleased your little fella is doing well, I can't imagine what you must have gone through. You sound like a fantastic mum and I totally agree you needed to be back on your medication to give him the best start you could.

  2. An amazing story. Bravo!! Good luck to you and your son for the future. Sounds like you've got a great attitude.
    I nearly died from preeclampsia in 2005 (my baby did). It's not often talked about. I'm so sorry for your mother.

  3. I think out of everything I have read on this blog, this post has been the one to touch me the most. I suffer from near crippling ADHD and have had to go off my meds since I got pregnant (at about 26 weeks right now). Not enough studies have been about Ritalin and its ilk via breastmilk and I am not comfortable with giving my daughter speed every two hours with each feeding. I was agonizing over the decision of my own mental health vs breastfeeding to the point that I have woken up my husband sobbing a couple of nights (love those pregnancy hormones!). When I first started doing real research on what EXACTLY was breastmilk going to do for my daughter, I realized so many studies were falling into the trap of correlation = causation. Back when I still planned on breastfeeding, I made a comment about those studies on my facebook saying while it might be cheaper most of the claims sounded like something you would hear on an infomercial. I was just dumbfound by how many of my friends (and even just vague acquaintances) came out of the woodwork to scream at me BREAST IS BEST even when I could see that all of the benefits they were quoting, the research was sketchy at best.

    I looked at my house and to some extent even my life falling apart around me because I just don't have to focus anymore to get anything done and just had to ask myself “how am I going to do any better when I'm sleep deprived and even more of my attention is divided?”

    A few weeks ago, I decided to exclusively formula feed and get back on my meds sooner rather than later. Shortly after I found this blog. While it has helped me feel more confidant in my decision, to some extent I could only relate to it so much. I haven't even given birth yet to even come across problems with latching/expressing enough milk/time for pumping/etc… But seeing this post has helped me finally put those last few niggling doubts to rest.

  4. If you don't take care of you, how can you take care of your baby? Only YOU know what you need to do to accomplish that (and if that doesn't include breastfeeding for WHATEVER reason, then so be it!). Screw everyone who came out of the woodwork to “scream” at you! I'd like to see them walk an hour in your shoes…

    People seem to get very threatened and uptight whenever anyone dares to suggest that the research on bf'ing isn't as stellar as we've all been led to believe. I guess they just don't want to believe it. Oh well, doesn't change the validity of it.

    Good luck to you as your delivery approaches and enjoy new mommyhood! 🙂

  5. Oh, Ashley, I am so glad that my story could help you! I have seen well-meaning lactivists dismiss mental health so often…and my question is: if we're supposed to put our babies first (because that is is an oft-heard argument for breastfeeding), how do we do that when we aren't healthy and whole and want to spend the day crying in bed?! I couldn't have been a good mother to my son if I let my anxiety and PPD get the better of me. Even with Wellbutrin, life was rough until we got through the surgery! And, while I absolutely believe and know that breast is best from a scientific fact sort of perspective…it's not always best in a given situation. Folks are welcome to think breast is best in every circumstance, but I simply don't believe it to be true. And, as far as SSRI and benzo use while breastfeeding goes, you'll never be able to convince me those medications are safe…it's not like droves of women sign up to breastfeed and take them so their effects on the breastfed children can be studied. I am incredibly uncomfortable at the thought of my child getting brain chemistry altering meds via breastmilk. I also question their safety during pregnancy unless their benefit greatly outweighs their risk. I will wonder for the rest of my life, if the two weeks I took Celexa between conception and a positive pregnancy test (or the two years prior to getting pregnant) had anything to do with my son's birth defect, as SSRIs have been linked with craniofacial defects. Of course, plenty of women take them during pregnancy with no ill effects. But, knowing my history, if we have another child, I won't take ANY medications during pregnancy, and I will likely formula feed again. I am of the belief that your child's “fate” has been predestined at conception with respect to intellect and general health and that how you feed them has less a role in their overall success in life than some folks might think! I will keep you in my thoughts, Ashley! I wish you a healthy pregnancy and smooth delivery. And, don't feel guilty for a moment for doing what is best for you so that you can be the best mother possible!

  6. Hugs to you other Abigail! Glad to hear your son is doing well. My sister is on anxiety meds and I'll show her this if she ever decides to have a baby. 🙂

  7. So happy that you can share this story Abby!! I hope that it brings light to the many, many decisions we have to make as mothers, and helps people make the right decision for them and their families.

  8. I'm not in your shoes but I 100% understand and applaud you for it! If someone fails to be sympathetic to that there's something wrong with them.

  9. For mothers who need medication that could adversely affect the baby through breastfeeding, formula is what they need – it should be free and on prescription and better quality than what is on the market now. Surely no one would argue with that? Formula should be made available on a needs basis not marketed to the general public.

  10. I have to strongly disagree with you about the prescription only part.

    For starters, mothers who didn't have an “acceptable” reason not to breastfeed would more or less be forced to use their private anatomy (breasts) in a certain way.

    And what are the criteria for getting a formula prescription?

    Is a baby who can't latch good enough? Or are their mothers expected to exclusively pump?

    Cracked and bleeding nipples?

    What are the rules for supply problems? Are hunger cues reason enough? Is it a certain amount of weight loss, wet/dirty diapers, or the quantity of milk the infant is getting? How long does the child have to go hungry before receiving formula?

    What if breastfeeding, feeding expressed breast milk, pumping and cleaning all the equipment… every two to three hours round the clock… is so time-consuming that a mom can't take care of herself and/ or her children? Is that a valid reason to use formula?

    What about work situations not conducive to breastfeeding/ pumping? Would mothers be expected to switch jobs or stay at home in order to breastfeed? Or would they have to prove they financially needed their not-so-nursing friendly job and/or couldn't find one that would allow them to breastfeed?

    Are medications where there are mixed opinions/ studies or little or no research on their safety while nursing good enough?

    Would women in a particularly stressful life situation (like say, father deployed in the military and no one be to help with the baby or recovering from a natural disaster) be allowed to have formula? Or would they just be told to get counseling, change their situation or just “deal with it”?

    What if nursing exacerbated a particular mom's postpartum depression or other mental health problems? (Yes, I know breastfeeding can help with PPD, but it can definitely go the other way, too. Just ask some of the ladies who frequent this site.)

    What about survivors of sexual abuse/ assault? Can they have formula? Must they undergo a certain amount of counseling first? Or would therapy– and never formula– be the policy?

    I guessing getting a prescription because of not wanting to breastfeed would be out of the question, right?

    Maybe you trust medical professional's discretion to dispense formula to those who need it. Well, some doctors are much more understanding/ sympathetic/ practical/ reasonable than others, in my experience. If you saw the wrong one, you'd have to go “doctor shopping” for formula… all while trying to cope with sometimes severe breastfeeding difficulties.

    Yes, some people would continue to breastfeed if they weren't approved for formula. And it would not always be for the best, in my humble opinion. See my reasons for using formula above and check out some more Fearless Formula Feeder Friday stories. Other desperate families (who couldn't get commercial formula) would turn to homemade concoctions, like the old-fashioned one made with evaporated milk and corn syrup or new recipes that use raw goat's milk. Or maybe they'd buy formula (containing who knows what) on the black market.

    The time it takes to obtain a prescription could also be a problem. Maybe your/ your child's provider will see you quickly on an emergency basis, or maybe you'll have to wait days or even weeks. And the need often arises during non-business hours. I guess new parents and babies could go to the emergency room. But American ERs are often overcrowded to begin with. Do we really want to add to that with moms and babies who need formula? Then there's the cost of an office or emergency room visit.

    Or we could trust and respect parents' judgement, continuing to allow the sale of formula over the counter. Just a thought.

  11. I think you rock and did the best thing for you and your precious son. I was bullied to breastfeed and was on medication for anxiety from years of sexual abuse. Was told by my doctor that citalipram was very safe to take while pregnant and then when I started to breastfeed. Now after 15months of exclusive breastfeeding and been told “breast is best” even on medication my daughter is not meeting her milestones. I feel such guilt for not standing up for myself and being strong with my gut feeling that formula was what she needed while I kept taking my medication. As I never pumped she refuses to take any bottle and is very dependant on me, the guilt I feel is horrible. I admire your strength, you are one great mumma….I also realize I will most likely be judged for my decision and I will forever regret that I took a doctors word over my own instinct..

  12. Thank you for sharing your story. I breast fed my son for two weeks and they were two of the hardest weeks of my life. Each time he latched my chest would tighten and I would verge on an anxiety attack. Finally after urging for my husband and OB I stopped breast feeding to alleviate the PPD and anxiety. I felt guilty that I chose not to breast feed but my son is healthy and happy and I was able to be a much better mother formula feeding. I'm glad to know I am not the only one who chose mental health over nursing.

    • I had a very similar sitch but I had to pump which for some reason I don't understand caused me to get very depressed every time i hooked up i would cry… Finally had to stop after 3 of the scariest weeks ever. PPD was truly terrifying. Am happy he responded well to formula but still have some guilt issues, which this blog is helping me with. However, my son is healthy as a horse and awesome. So am I. I would just cease to exist if i weren't feeling bad about something 🙂

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