All I can say about Maria’s story is that it is not the first I’ve read that nearly ended in tragedy. And I know it won’t be the last, until we start prioritizing maternal mental health over meeting breastfeeding recommendations. There is a perfectly acceptable alternative when a mother does not breastfeed. There is not a perfectly acceptable alternative when a mother does not receive help for severe postpartum depression or anxiety.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
My name is Maria. I have two gorgeous children, who were both, ultimately, formula-fed. My youngest is nearing his second birthday, and I have found I still get bothered by the whole “breast is best” campaign. A part of me assumes I always will be. Since healing can be done through sharing stories, I thought I would share mine.
My first child was a girl. She was perfect, hairy, chubby, and amazing. I was a new mom of 22 with zero information on this whole parenting thing. Facebook was still new, and not every detail of life was out there. My choice to feed formula after a week of bleeding nipples was a quiet one, one met with little to no issue. My mother formula fed me, after all, and I was a single mom so it was no problem. Fast forward to my son. My husband and I anticipated the arrival of this boy like no other. We did not, however, anticipate preterm labor at 25 weeks, or preterm birth at 36 weeks. But he was perfect. 7 pounds, 12 ounces of perfection. His first cries were met with audible relief, as it meant his lungs worked. My first words were “He’s not small!”. He immediately latched to the breast, it was bliss.
He had mild jaundice at discharge two days later, and had lost 12 ounces. My first regained her birth weight in under a week, so I wasn’t concerned. I was determined to successfully breastfeed this time, but I did buy a pump and accessories in case the need arose. We went home a happy family. My milk came in some days later, and I knew something was wrong immediately. I wandering my son in bed, and when I pulled him away, I noticed my shirt was wet. Most of what my son pulled from me never made it into his mouth. Well, I figured my milk came in, so I will be more careful with latching after that.
Impossible. It was discovered at his 2 week appointment that he could not latch, due to a lip tie. I had already started pumping by then, and using bottles he could get his lips around. The downward spiral began.
He was barely gaining weight. 2-3 ounces were all he gained after coming home. His jaundice was technically in the zone of hospitalization, but the doctor said to try putting him in sunlight at home first. I was failing him. Then my milk started drying. I had a freezer stash. Excess coming out of my ears… and I was already dipping into reserves. His appetite grew, my supply shrank. I bought supplements, I pumped hourly, I drank dark beer, ate enough oatmeal to kill a horse, pumped less often, more often, for thirty minutes after nothing came out…. it was useless. He was insatiable, and drinking twice as much as I could produce.
I started to hate him. Every time he woke up at night I wanted to scream and run away. I would feed him and change him, then attach myself to the pump for an hour. Go back to bed and repeat. I got no sleep. Not “Oh I slept terrible last night” I am talking hallucinations. I hated my husband, he couldn’t help. He was on night shift and didn’t have boobs. I hated him. I hated this baby we made, I hated my family and myself.
One night, while the baby screamed in his pack n play, literally starving, I got the gun. I sat and listened to him scream for an hour, gun on my lap, weighing my options. Hearing over and over, “breast is best” “formula gives you cancer” “you don’t love your baby unless you breastfeed”, etc. Somehow I had the stamina for one more feeding.
The next day I went to the doctor. I was fine and then started bawling. After I became coherent I was scolded, lightly, for taking it this far. I should have switched as soon as I started having bad feelings towards my baby. He said breastfeeding is not at all a requirement of motherhood. He was formula fed and a doctor! I started antidepressants that day.
I switched my son to formula. He was 14 pounds by 2 months. By a year he had grown an entire foot! His jaundice was gone almost immediately, and he became a very happy baby. He is now nearly 2. One slight ear infection a month ago, a tummy bug last week are the only illnesses he can claim. He is happy, he is healthy, he is smart. All the things they say formula-fed babies can’t be.
So when I hear “breast is best”, I scoff. The breast nearly killed me, and was starving him. Tell me how that is best for anyone?!
Bottle or breast… FED is best!
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