My car caught on fire last weekend, with me and my two kids inside of it. We all survived unscathed (well, not the car, our carseats, my iPhone, or my yoga mat, but whatever), but for a few scary moments there as I ran down the freeway, away from the burning vehicle with two kids in my arms, I wondered: what if. What if we had gotten a new car last month when my engine died, instead of having a somewhat shady mechanic put in a “new” engine? What if I hadn’t decided to let my husband sleep, so that I wouldn’t have been all by myself on the freeway, in the rain, when my car exploded? What if I hadn’t switched out my daughter’s car seat with the other one – the one with the sticky latch that always takes forever to undo? What if? What if?
There’s a common refrain in so many of the FFF Friday stories: If I’d only known then what I know now…what if…. It breaks my heart, every time, because I feel like these parents are punishing themselves for not knowing the unknowable. There are so many what ifs in that question, so many regrets. But listen to me, my friends: there was NO WAY you could have known what was ahead, any more than I could have known my engine would spontaneously combust. There are usually no warnings, and even if there are, the noise of the parenting world (or in my case, the car stereo) drowns them out. All you can do is pull yourself from the wreckage, get your babies out safely, and feel proud of yourself that you did all you could do to make sure you all survived.
This is what I told myself, all week, and this is what I want to tell Samantha.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
When I discovered I was pregnant back in March 2013, I approached pregnancy with the same fervor and intensity as I did a final term paper back in college. I immediately began to meticulously research and plan. My to do lists were constantly evolving. I knew I wanted a natural birth with no pain medication and planned on exclusively breastfeeding. I rented every book at my local library about natural birth, hypnobirthing and breastfeeding. I researched local la leche league groups in my area and took a breastfeeding class at the hospital at which I would be delivering. I purchased a boppy, drank red raspberry leaf tea, and listened to my hypnobirthing cd every night before going to sleep. I took a class about cloth diapering and baby wearing and bought a boba wrap that I knew my baby girl would love to be carried in and would blissfully nurse away. I posted articles to Facebook about the benefits of breastfeeding and how “breast is always best”. When I received my sample formula packs in the mail, I was outraged. How dare they send their poisonous sludge to me!? I would be breastfeeding and had no need for their free products. When I found out my mom formula fed all three of her children, I secretly judged her wondering why she didn’t give us the best start in life.
Looking back, if I had the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with pregnant me, I would have cleared up some things. I’m almost ashamed at the naive way I automatically assumed that everything would just work out perfectly the way I planned. I am usually such a realist almost to the point of being cynical but somehow I approached childbirth and motherhood with the rosiest of rose colored glasses (I did end up naming my daughter Rose!). All of my research and planning did absolutely nothing to prepare me for the realities of motherhood. It actually did much more damage than good because I was utterly unprepared for how to adapt to my actual situation versus what I had assumed would occur.
My due date was December 16th 2013 and because my mom had gone into labor early with me, I assumed I would also deliver early. Well my due date came and went with no baby in sight. Being 41 weeks pregnant with Christmas just days away is no picnic! On Christmas Eve, my in laws stopped at our apartment to bring my husband and I some food and presents. I uncomfortably rocked back and forth on my birthing ball as I opened gifts. Around 11pm that night, I had a nagging feeling that something was not quite right so my husband and I drove to the hospital and sure enough my water was leaking. After a 2 hour wait to be seen by the doctor on duty, (the hospital was short staffed due to the holiday) I was hooked up to pitocin and the contractions began. I plugged my iPod in and tried to find my zen place. Well 10 hours later, there was no zen left to be found in my hospital room! I begged for an epidural as excruciating contractions rocked my weary body. Another 14 hours after my epidural, which needed to be redone twice by the way, around 11:45 pm Christmas Day night baby Rose made her debut into this world. At that point I hadn’t slept in two days and felt absolutely exhausted after 24 hours of labor. The nurse brought her to my chest and tried to help me breastfeed but I was covered in sweat and was trembling so much I couldn’t get a good hold of her. Tears welled up in my puffy eyes as I told the nurse I couldn’t, just couldn’t try breast feeding. I asked her to take my baby to the nursery. My husband fed me a few saltines and some sips of orange juice as I hadn’t eaten in over a day and a half. I felt dejected and disappointed that the first time my baby was handed to me, I didn’t even have the energy to hold her for long. Eventually I was taken to my hospital room where I was able to sleep for a couple hours before the baby was brought to me to breastfeed. I did attempt it this time and things seemed to be going fairly well from what I remember but I was so sleep deprived it’s hard to tell. Every few hours a different nurse would appear with my baby and I would breastfeed. My last day at the hospital, the lactation consultant finally made an appearance. I had put in a request for one upon going into labor but there are only a a few and they are in high demand. I told her the type of breastfeeding pump and pillow I had purchased and she immediately told me haughtily that both of those brands are terrible. As she arranged my breasts to try to get the proper latch, I felt like an object rather than a person. By the end of the hour, I was in tears of frustration from trying so hard to get the perfect position in order to feed my baby and falling short of her critiques. The experience left me feeling overwhelmed and frightened. It absolutely did not instill any confidence in me that I would be able to breastfeed successfully.
That afternoon we left the hospital and rather than feeling excited to bring my sweet, beautiful baby girl home, I was filled with a horrible, fearful dread in the pit of my stomach. The lack of sleep combined with the nervousness about being able to feed her snowballed into a dark cloud which remained over me for weeks. Those first few nights are a blur but what I remember the most is the constant crying, both hers and mine. My husband would prop me up with a thousand pillows and take note of how long she would latch on either side. It was never very long on either one and she would usually fall asleep at the breast and I would be unable to get her to continue feeding. My left breast had little bite marks all over the nipple from where she had tried to latch and each time she fed it felt like someone was stabbing me there. Around 3 am on the third night home, I had had enough. My poor baby cried constantly and only slept for an hour or so at a time. I felt like I was drowning, crying almost all the time. For the brief periods of time she did sleep, my heart raced and anxious thoughts plagued me so I couldn’t sleep. On that particular night, I opened up one of the formula samples we had received and shakily fed her the bottle. She sucked it down and quieted for what seemed to be the first time. She then slept for 3 hours. I still tried to breastfeed after that first bottle of formula but she never seemed satisfied or full and I was so weak and depressed, I did not have the energy to continue. My milk came in the next day but only one breast seemed to produce milk. I hooked up the pump as my husband’s mom who is a nurse assisted and milk only came out of my right breast. She advised me if I wanted to pump I would have to do it frequently to ensure my supply would keep up. At that point, I admit that I gave up. I literally did not have the emotional capacity to continue breastfeeding. Later that week temperatures dropped below zero in central Ohio where I live and the pipes burst, flooding our apartment so we had to pack up everything and move just a week and a half after my daughter’s birth. Thank goodness I stopped breastfeeding because my baby had to stay at my in- laws house that week while my husband and I packed up everything, signed a new lease and moved all of our belongings.
I do not regret trying to breastfeed, nor do I necessarily wish that I had succeeded. What I do wish is that I had prepared myself for the fact that breast feeding might not end up being the best choice for me. I wish I had looked into formula and bottles and known from the get go the proper amount to feed a newborn. I ended up being blindsided because I had only prepared for one option. When I ended up formula feeding, I not only felt guilt from failing at breast feeding but was navigating uncharted waters because I had not looked into formula feeding at all. I struggled with post partum anxiety and depression those first few months and it’s still something I deal with to this day. I believe my experience with trying to breastfeed led me down a dark road due to the tremendous amount of guilt I experienced for not fulfilling the expectations I had placed upon myself. Whether it be breast or bottle, the best way to feed your baby is the choice that results with a happy and confident mom. I am still coming to terms with this whole experience and healing but want other new moms to know that it’s ok to change your mind and your perspective. At the end of the day what really matters is that you are healthy and happy and able to enjoy your new baby. I was so stressed out and worried those first few weeks that I feel like I missed out on precious time that I can never get back. I try now to enjoy each and every moment with my snugly, sweet little girl because she’s already grown so much. I know that this time in our lives is fleeting and I try to appreciate the little moments such as seeing her joyful smile. If I do decide to have another baby, I would like to try breastfeeding again. But this time I am armed with the powerful knowledge that if it doesn’t work out, it’s perfectly alright to formula feed. Feeding your little one should be a positive experience. There is no shame in making the best choice for both you and your baby. Had I not changed over to formula, my mental health would have further deteriorated and that’s not something that should be jeopardized. Switching to formula enabled me to empower myself and take control of a situation which was rapidly spiraling downwards. This experience has taught me to keep an open mind and realize that there are always options. Never feel trapped and there’s always light at the end of the tunnel!
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