An open letter to Chris Bingley: Your wife deserved better.

This is an open letter to Chris Bingley in honor of his wife, Joe Bingley, whom he lost to severe postpartum depression. 

Dear Chris,

I read about your beautiful wife Joe’s battle with postpartum depression, and I wanted to say… oh hell, I don’t know what to say. Because I’m afraid my anger about what happened to your wife will just feed your grief, and that is the last thing I’d ever want to do.

I write about the pressure to breastfeed, and what it is doing to women, and I hear stories every day that mirror what Joe went through. Women who suffer from a growing desperation, an inner knowledge that something isn’t right, even when everyone around them is willing it to be so; even when everyone around them is telling them it will all be okay if they just get some sleep, get some help around the house, or get over the “hump” of the baby blues.

And these women – more often than not – are seen by an array of healthcare professionals as they try to dig themselves out of this tunnel. The stories I hear have a common refrain – all they cared about was if the baby was breastfeeding. I came second. And all I heard was that breastfeeding was the most important thing a mother can do for her child and I was failing at that. This was my refrain, 5 years ago. I sang it and sang it until someone listened, until thousands of other women answered it with a song of their own. And our collective voices are rising, growing stronger by the day, shouting our song, screaming that we deserve more, that Joe deserved more, and that we will. Not. Let. This. Happen. Again.

PPD is a strange and mysterious beast; it’s not always tamed easily, and it feeds on different aspects of different people. For some, breastfeeding is a lifeline, the one thing they can do “right”. For others, it is the sandbag strapped to them as they are already sinking. But the problem is not breastfeeding. The problems is that we are so focused on breastfeeding that all of resources and energy are going to this one aspect of postnatal care – that we have forgotten that the mother’s mental and physical health should come first. I know most people will think that is a terrible thing to say – because doesn’t the baby’s physical and emotional health matter? But what they are forgetting is that a mother’s mental and physical health can afford to be a priority because there are other options to ensure the physical and emotional needs of the baby. Formula or donor milk can suffice. A father’s loving embrace, or a grandmother’s or aunt’s or uncle’s, can fulfill all needs until a mother is well. We are lucky to live in a time where moms can get well without sacrificing their babies’ well being.

But we are unlucky to live in a time where people are unwilling to see things this way.

Joe should have been helped. The professionals who she encountered should have looked at her face rather than her breasts. They should have seen she was sinking; they should have insisted that either a lifeline be thrown or a sandbag removed. There should have been protocols in place for her prenatal, delivery and postnatal care so that she was   screened for and treated for PPD. There should not have been so much pressure put on her to breastfeed; she should have been told that all that mattered was her health and happiness, and that her breastmilk or lack thereof had nothing to do with her worth as a person or as a mother.

I didn’t know Joe. I wish I’d had a chance to. I wish she could be one of the voices in our choir of healing and hope. That she could yell with us and demand better of our governments, our healthcare providers, and our society, so that no woman would be left to drown; so that no woman would ever have to sing that stupid refrain again.

Because I’m sick of the same old song. And I’m sure Joe would be, too.

Sending love from across the pond,

Suzanne Barston, aka The Fearless Formula Feeder

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

8 thoughts on “An open letter to Chris Bingley: Your wife deserved better.

  1. This story breaks my heart. All of the professionals missed her postpartum depression (likely, pp-psychosis). To be so narrowly focused on one thing, breastfeeding, and not see the mother, Joe, holistically is a huge failure of the medical system and the individual staff members who treated her. PPD and other postpartum mental health issues, are over-looked and downplayed in our society. It’s assumed the “baby blues” are normal and that women should just deal with it. In both the UK and here in the US we need better training for staff on the signs of PPD and better prenatal education on what to look for and how/where to seek help.

    We need to care for mothers as people, and not just as the caregiver of the baby. It’s a matter of priority. In our society, we prioritize the baby over the mother. So, sadly, mothers often get left behind. If we treated mothers and babies with equal value we might all be better off.

  2. This is just awful. As I read the article my anger was almost reaching a boiling point. If only just one person could have seen what was happening to this family and offered them help. What is WRONG with a society that casts women aside as baby making and feeding machines the moment they give birth. WAKE UP.

  3. Sadly, a woman’s focus on her children at the expense of her own needs seems to be the norm. What a heartbreaking example of a woman being viewed as second to the child she bore. The best moms are the moms who take care of themselves and have others who recognize the importance of this statement. I add my heartfelt condolences to those who are suffering because a woman was not viewed as an individual, with her own needs. Balancing the needs of those around us with respect and care — this is the path to a more caring world full of acceptance for all.

  4. That is heartbreaking. Poor Joe, poor Chris, and poor Emily.

    This line from the article killed me:

    I questioned why no one had suggested that she bottle-feed the baby. The midwife said that unless Joe or I specifically asked for advice on bottle-feeding, then they weren’t allowed to raise the subject.

    Seriously? Even if the baby is dehydrated? Even if the baby needs to eat? Really, what is the goal here?

  5. I think the breast vs formula and give or take pumping and bottles, as loud and harmful the messages they send the true probably lies more deeply. Our culture, and perhaps the further and further we are removed from agrarian society the more we fear nature and the more we fear the more we want to control. That combined with a general attitude culturally that many things are black and white and self confidence is often bred on the failures of others drive the issues that plunge women into ppd. More simply said, if you grew up around livestock you would know that miscarriage, still born, and defects (can I apply that word to livestock without offense) enable women to believe they can have control over the outcome of their pregnancy, we have forgotten that nature can’t always be controlled. As part of a desire to control we want rules. Black and white rules to determine of we are right or wrong, rules that give us confidence simply be checking boxes and through comparison. Personally I think simply telling women pregnancy is incredible difficult, while some love it, others hate the loss of control over their body, sharing their body, the changes the body undergoes, etc. Many women’s PPD starts during pregnancy when one is often feeling out of control, tired, stressed…and maybe a little depressed that they feel indistinguishable from a hippo. But everyone is told that having the baby (and breastfeeding it, possibly birthing underwater, as well) will be absolutely a divine and blissful experience sets women up to feel like failures. Newborn (children) are exhausting and difficult. You spent 9 months sharing every cell (or so) in your body to finally have that creature in your arms. A small fussing creature with poor communication skills and a serious lack of regard towards sleep. Maybe if women were given more reasonable expectations about all of it, the changes of your body, the fourth trimester (ouch), the difficulties of breastfeeding and formula feeding (I formula fed exclusively and it is not nearly as convenient or easy as it is accused of being. The main point being, if women had realistic expectations regarding pregnancies and newborns they might be less shocked about how exhausting newborns can be…I had incredibly low expectations of pregnancy and newborns. I still underestimated how much I would hate to be pregnant. Luckily my expectations regarding babies were SO low that mine has been absolutely delightful.

  6. What a sad story, but so true. Mothers need to be taken care off not just the baby.

    I struggled, I tried and tried to successfully breastfeed, I was sinking, but was told over and over to just keep going, it would get better… Do NOT give formula no matter what.

    In the end it was my mother, who arrived in the middle of the night after one too many tearful phonecalls. She was armed with a tin of formula, tucked me in to bed, swept up my baby, took her to another room and closed the door. My husband and I had the first stretch of sleep beyond an hour since our baby was born.

    The next day I asked why she did it, wasnt she worried about giving formula. She said, “i knew your baby would be fine, I was worried about my baby (me)”

    She went on to tell me later she was worried what I might do, after all if I was not there my baby would have to have formula, so why not have it now.

    That was the turning point for us, I now have a very happy healthy mix fed baby, after the fact all the doctor agreed it was the best decision.

    I am sad to hear for Joe and her family, and feel even more grateful to my mother, who proved that it is a mothers love that is important, not her ability to breastfeed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *