When you’ve been on the receiving end of judgment, it can be uncomfortable to admit to yourself that you’ve judged others in the past.
Feeling some inner judgment is normal and healthy. The problems happens when that inner judgment renders us unable to listen, or to consider that there may be a larger story, or make character assumptions based on one single action. The problems happens when we use our own life experience, our own reality, and foist it onto others. The problems happen when we don’t grow, when we don’t own up to our judgment, and address it, and conquer it.
Brianna’s story is a perfect example of how judging ourselves is part and parcel of judging others. Once we can release ourselves of one, the other will follow.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
When I became pregnant for the third time there were things I knew. I knew that my blood pressure would likely get high around my 37th week. I knew there was a chance I would not get the natural/out of hospital birth I had longed for with my other two children, and I knew I would breastfeed. After all, I had breasted my second baby for two years. I loved nursing him. Some women say they feel special or beautiful when they’re pregnant. I never felt that way, but I did feel beautiful when I was nursing. I longed to nurse again, and I felt this pregnancy, my last pregnancy, was my chance to do it all the “right” way from the start.
Despite the fact that I had been running 18 miles a week prior to getting pregnant, and despite my borderline obsessive reoccupation with maintaining a healthy diet, my blood pressure started climbing around 37 weeks just as it had in my two previous pregnancies. For the first time, I made it to 40 weeks gestation and I was grateful that my body had allowed my baby to reach full term. At my 40 week appointment my midwife swept my membranes and told me that if I wanted to birth at the birth center I needed to have the baby sooner rather than later. I went into labor the next morning and my third baby, and my only daughter, was born 4 hours later. She nursed immediately just as I knew she would.
During labor my blood pressure had risen to 150/90. That is the threshold at which you are considered hypertensive. Since I was only there for 40 minutes before she was in my arms there was no time for a transfer. Immediately following her birth my blood pressure fell as it had after the births of my first two babies. Seven hours after she was born we were on our way home.
Nursing was going fine, although I was a little concerned that it took over 72 hours for my milk to come in. Over the course of those three days my daughter had lost nearly a pound. When a nurse from the birth center came for my home visit she seemed a little surprised at my blood pressure reading, but not enough to be alarmed. I made an appointment with a lactation consultant because I was concerned about some latching pain and the fact that my milk seemed slow to arrive. That afternoon my milk finally came in and I breathed a sigh of relief.
We went to the appointment with the lactation consultant the next day, and though I was not as engorged as I expected to be, my daughter had transferred a little over an ounce and half during the feeding. I left feeling relieved, and a little silly that I had been so nervous.
A few days later we made a trip to the pediatrician for a weigh in. My little girl was gaining about an ounce a day and she was steadily climbing back up to her birth weight. On the way home I asked my husband to stop at the nearby drugstore so I could check my blood pressure. I wanted to know for certain that it was going down. I was shocked when the reading came back 160/104. I called my midwife who told me to have it rechecked. If it came back higher than 150/90 I was to go to the ER. She told me that though it was rare, women could become preeclamptic postpartum.
I sat at the Minute Clinic waiting to be seen in a state of shock. Would I be admitted? Would I be allowed to keep my breastfeeding baby with me? My blood pressure was rechecked and I resigned myself to the fact that I would be making a trip to the ER that night. I called my midwife back to let her know what was happening. I cried at the thought of being separated from my 5 day old baby, and I asked if they would let me keep her with me but she didn’t know. As a precaution we stopped home on the way and picked up my pump just in case.
All blood and urine tests at the ER came back fine, but my blood pressure remained high. I was able to keep my daughter with me the whole time, which was a huge relief. I was eventually given a prescription for a calcium channel blocker with instructions to see my family doctor on Monday. We left the ER and I began furiously Googling the medication that had just been prescribed to me. At the ER they had said it wasn’t contraindicated for breastfeeding, but what I was finding on the internet, including statements from the drug manufacturer, was not reassuring. I started to cry. I didn’t want my tiny baby to drink milk with medication in it, but I knew I had to take it.
I took the medication before bed that night and woke up the next morning feeling that something was not right with my milk supply. By this time, what had begun as preoccupation and some worry, was beginning to spiral into postpartum depression and panic. The panic came in waves at first. A few times a day I would become preoccupied and worried that I wasn’t producing enough milk, or that my milk was somehow harming my baby because of the medication that was in it. When I wasn’t worrying about those things I was afraid I was going to have a heart attack or stroke. I had no choice but to take the medicine, but I felt it was jeopardizing my breastfeeding relationship.
A few days later we made the trek back to the pediatrician for another weigh in. I was heartbroken to learn that since I had begun taking the medication 4 days earlier my daughter had only gained an ounce. I left with instructions to pump after feedings and to supplement with my milk or formula. I began taking my blood pressure multiple times a day with the hope that it would go down and my doctor would tell me I could go off the medication. It stayed dangerously high. I woke up every morning resolving not to take the medication, but by mid-afternoon I would start fearing that I was going to die, so I’d break down and take it. Even with pumping and supplementing, my tiny daughter was not back up to her birth weight 2.5 weeks after her birth.
The panic that I had been experiencing in waves eventually stopped subsiding. I woke up every morning terrified and shaking. It was like waking up from a nightmare. My husband had to hold me every morning so that I could calm down. I stopped eating. I was terrified of being alone with my children and could not be in my house. I went to my mother’s house every day because I was unable to care for myself or my children. My mom had to hold my hand in public to keep me calm. I felt strangely disconnected from and scared of my children and I cried constantly. At the supermarket a stranger casually remarked at how small my baby was and I burst into tears. I felt unbearable guilt that I wasn’t making enough milk and I believed that the milk I was giving my baby was tainted. I knew I was quite literally losing my mind. It sometimes felt like the small, rational part of my brain that remained was watching the rest of me fall to pieces. I knew I needed medication, but if I couldn’t bear to nurse her on one medication and remain sane how was I going to be able to do it on two?
I made an appointment with my primary care doctor in an attempt to convince him that I could go off the medication. My blood pressure was still dangerously high and as I sat there crying he told me I would need to be on it for 6 months. I was distraught. I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with what I was feeling for 6 months. I broke down and asked for an antidepressant knowing full well that if I took it that would be the end of nursing for me. It would take a while for me to feel well again and I knew I couldn’t bear the intrusive, paranoid fears I was experiencing about nursing on medication until then.
I filled the prescription for the antidepressant but didn’t immediately take it. That night my mother-in-law came for a visit. I sat motionless at the table while my family ate, unable to muster the willpower to nourish myself. I had gained 40 lbs. in my pregnancy and by 3 weeks postpartum I had lost 30 of those pounds. As I write this I am 3 months postpartum and my mother-in-law still wells up with tears when we talk about how I looked that night.
Later that evening, exhausted by my emotional state, I fell asleep on my husband’s lap on the couch. I woke up the next morning, shaking and terrified as always, but was still unsure if I would take the antidepressant. After dropping my older son off at school, my younger son, my baby, and I sat in the parking lot of a local convenience store. I reached into my glove compartment and pulled out the antidepressant. I took one of the pills out and placed it in my mouth, but didn’t swallow it. I sat like this, with the bitter pill dissolving on my tongue, willing myself to do what I knew I needed to do in order to get my life together. I finally swallowed it and silently said goodbye to my dreams of breastfeeding my last baby.
Roughly 12 hours after taking the first dose of my antidepressant I experienced my first wave of feeling like a capable mother. It came on suddenly and overtook me just as the waves of panic once had. I was talking to my mom when it happened and I told her I thought the medication might be working. I asked her if she could tell and she said my voice and face had actually changed in that moment. I started to experience hunger, something that I couldn’t remember feeling in nearly a week. Temporarily buoyed by feeling centered again I called the MotherRisk hotline to inquire about nursing on the antidepressant and blood pressure medication. The woman I spoke to indicated that the antidepressant was likely safe, and although the blood pressure medication was slightly less safe, it was not contraindicated. I decided to try to nurse my baby to see how I felt. I wanted to try to continue. Initially, I felt ok about it, but when we all piled into the car to head home I suddenly felt the panic returning. I turned to my husband with a very serious look on my face and told him I was feeling panicky again and that I didn’t feel like I could nurse her without the gnawing anxiety returning. Intellectually I knew that she would likely be fine if I continued to nurse her, but the overwhelming sensations coming from my body could not be ignored.
The panic I experienced upon waking didn’t subside for weeks, and though mornings continued to remain tough for me, I slowly started to get better. The panic and depression I had been experiencing while nursing began to dissolve, but were replaced with incredible guilt and embarrassment. I had been such a devoted breastfeeding mother to my second child after “failing” to nurse my first child due to PPD and lack of awareness. Between my first and second pregnancies I learned everything I could about breastfeeding, surrounded myself with breastfeeding women, and tried to correct all the things that I believed had caused me to “fail” the first time. For 4 years I had been a vocal and passionate supporter of breastfeeding, and I was going to have to admit publicly that I had “failed” again. The thought of bottle-feeding my daughter in public filled me with dread.
It was the dread that lead me to a painful opportunity for personal growth.
I was forced, in this moment; to admit to myself that I had once been judgmental of the women I had seen bottle-feeding their children. If I had been asked prior to this experience if I judged women for bottle-feeding I would have said no. After all I had bottle-fed my first child. It would have been a lie. I felt judgment because I had been judgmental, and that was a painful, but ultimately freeing truth to acknowledge.
Ironically, it took the birth of my only daughter to teach me how to support other women without judgment. It was with pure arrogance that I had once thought that with more education and support all women should or could breastfeed the way I did with my second child. The truth is I know nothing for certain. About myself or anyone else. Instead of looking at a woman feeding her baby with a bottle and thinking she should be breastfeeding I am keenly aware that she may have experienced something worse than I can possibly imagine which lead her to this choice. Whatever her reasons for not breastfeeding may be, they are none of my business.
It was only after I stopped nursing that I was able to fully bond to my daughter. I maintain the kind of relationship with her that breastfeeding would have fostered by wearing her often, holding her often, talking to her, playing with her, putting her to bed at night and being the first one to see her in the morning. None of these things are dependent on the way I chose to feed her, but have gone a long way to heal the disconnectedness I experienced after her birth. I’d heard the message that a healthy, happy mother makes a healthy, happy baby, but part of me discredited it. I still truly believed that self-sacrifice, nearly at any cost, was what mothering demanded. I no longer believe that to be true. When we take care of ourselves our children thrive. I see it now in every gleeful smile, in all the chubby folds of my daughter’s beautiful, growing body, and in the way she lights up when she sees me at the start of our day. I see it in the way my oldest son asked me tentatively one day after I started the medication if I was happy. When I said yes, he told me that he could see it in my face.
It was my love for my daughter, though distorted through the lens of depression that caused me to stop nursing. Someday, if she chooses to have children herself, I will look into her weary eyes and tell her this story. Perhaps she will breastfeed. Perhaps she won’t, and that’s more than ok. It’s best.
Want to share your story? Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.