FFF Friday: “I wonder how many other mentally ill mamas fall through the cracks…”

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 feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

This week’s story addresses something that is often ignored or dismissed in conversations about choosing whether of not to breastfeed: mental illness. For someone who struggles with any number of psychiatric disorders, pregnancy and lactation, with all the hormonal and emotional upheaval they bring, can be downright toxic. Or, as Caitlin puts it, a “living hell”. Making the choice to formula feed can be a matter of survival; while some medications are compatible with breastfeeding, others aren’t – and it’s overly simplistic to tell women (as many popular breastfeeding resources do) that “if your medicine is contraindicated, you should probably be able to find one that isn’t”. Treating psychiatric conditions medically often requires “cocktails” of drugs; it can take years to find the right meds, the right doses, and the right combination. We can’t allow the rhetoric to drown out the voices of women who are struggling, and who are trying to tell health care providers (and other members of the peanut gallery) that breast simply isn’t best for them or their babies.

And I won’t even start in on the lack of education and assistance Caitlin was given, because it may well drive me to drink. I’m already *this* close to cracking open a bottle of wine and I still have three hours of “day job” work to do, so that will end badly for everyone. I think Caitlin’s story does an excellent job of making the point I’d want to make, anyway, so I’ll let her go to it.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Caitlin’s Story

I wanted to share my story – the story of someone who knew from the very beginning of her pregnancy that she would not be able to breastfeed her child.

To say that psychiatric problems have plagued me my entire life would not be far off course – I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder at the onset of puberty at the tender age of eight. It was a long, hard struggle for me and my care providers to find just the right medications that would work for that, along with my anxiety disorder and my later-acquired post-traumatic stress disorder.

When I found out I was pregnant, that carefully-sought combination of medications had to stop. The psychiatric medications that were safe for pregnancy – and subsequently breastfeeding – would not work on their own without careful balancing by other non-baby-safe medications. In fact, they make my issues worse.

So I knew I was in for a rough haul, but never expected my nine months of pregnancy to be a living hell with daily battles against suicidal ideations. That said, my care providers knew from the beginning that it was of paramount importance that I start my medications, as one doctor put it, “as soon as the placenta hit the bucket.”

Despite the fact that it was well-known I would not be able to breastfeed my child, I was given no support or education on how to properly formula feed her. I was met with comments ranging from pity – “It’s a shame you won’t be able to breastfeed. You’ll miss out on some important bonding” – to outright derision, with one nurse even outraged that I would dare put my “imaginary” mental health problems above the well-being of my child.

At the time, I was too tired and too miserable and too out of my right state of mind to be outraged. Every time I think back on those moments, my blood boils. My care providers KNEW for nine months that I would be unable to formula feed. I spent several days in the hospital (courtesy of a crash C-section) wherein I was given no advice on how to feed anything other than the pre-packaged, already mixed formula that came, at great frustration and humiliation, from asking a nurse each time my child was hungry because they would not stock formula in the rooms.

But I endured. And my daughter endured. And everyone who was closely involved with my pregnancy knew that the best thing for my daughter was to have a healthy mother to care for her. So I tried my best to keep my chin up and remember that I was doing what was best for both me AND my daughter.

And lest I be accused of not advocating for myself, every time I asked for guidance or education, I was met with a brush-off, or a “we’ll talk about it later” or even just that withering look that said I was barking up the wrong tree. Or even just a shrug and an “I don’t know what to tell you.”

I was lucky – I had a team of mamas at my disposal who had “been there, done that” with their own children, and their children’s children. They were able to guide me and teach me the ins-and-outs of what to do and what not to do when it came to properly formula feeding my child after we left the hospital.

But sometimes – like now – I wonder how many other mentally ill mamas fall through the cracks, like I almost did? I wonder how many others don’t have that same support network to bolster them and give the education needed to properly formula feed their child? At a time when hormones and serotonin and dopamine are already imbalanced, how many other mentally ill mamas just snapped under the pressure?

I made it through – and almost a year later, my daughter (who is also lactose-intolerant and was fed exclusively soy formula) is thriving and ahead of her development, both mentally and physically. And most importantly, she has a sane mama to help her grow into a wonderful human being.

About the Author:

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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3 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I wonder how many other mentally ill mamas fall through the cracks…”

  1. This is much too Common, having bipolar is a real illness not imaginary, It seems to me that the midwife and the Doctor thought that having a baby would cure me of depression if I had a natural birth and breastfed… I cannot believe how stupid these kinds of people are, are they that clueless??? I went back on my meds after my c section and gave my son formula as soon as I left the hospital, but I was also bullied and givena alot of crap by my caretakers about how I did not need my medications if I was a good enough mother, well guess what. I have a lifelong issue of major depression and hormones will not cure it. neither will wishing it away….

  2. It’s disgraceful you were not given more support and information by your health care providers. Good on you for going back on your meds, a happy mum = happy baby, the benefits of BF in this sort of situation in developed countries seem to me to be grossly overstated, it makes me really cranky!!

  3. I had to start back on my heart medications right after birth…I already had been stretching it going 9 months without them. I too faced the hesitation and then the “Oh…well don’t you even want to try?” i’d done my research..i knew that my meds were transferred through breastmilk and would harm my daughter. It stung like a slap in the face to see the pity and to hear comments much like the ones you received. “Too bad, you’ll miss out on something important” or “your baby is going to be sick all the time!”

    <3 you aren't alone…there are more of us out here. My baby is now 2.5 years old and perfectly fine…formula fed since birth

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