Today, I read through a Facebook debate about whether the pressure to breastfeed is negatively affecting the mental health of new moms, and then stumbled across a great post on the same topic. Kara’s story, below, pretty much sums up my own argument. As someone who has the honor of being “keeper” of these stories of yours – all of your heartbreaks and frustrations and disappointments – I can’t believe the connection between depression/anxiety and breastfeeding pressure isn’t obvious to everyone. But sadly, it’s not. And until our society starts taking responsibility and changes the way it treats new mothers, this is going to keep happening. This isn’t our faults, as moms, for being too sensitive. It isn’t a matter of not getting enough practical support for breastfeeding. The fault lies in how we are overloaded with overly-dramatic information, taught about ideals, and then thrust into a reality that ignores us, berates us, and belittles us.
No woman should be feeling worthless or suicidal because of her breasts. For any reason. End of story.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
It’s hard for me to share my story, but I have been following this blog for a couple of months now, and I feel like there might be some healing that comes with getting it out, so here it goes.
I became pregnant with my son baby N at 30 years old, after almost 2 years of my husband and I trying to get pregnant. Just three months before we found out we were pregnant, I lost my dad to a long battle with cancer, and so my joy of finally becoming pregnant, had a shadow of grief tinged in there at the knowledge that my son would never know his grandpa who would have just loved him to pieces!
My pregnancy was pretty normal for the most part in the beginning. About half way through it I started spilling sugar in my urine tests so I spent the rest of my pregnancy stressed about Gestational Diabetes (not something I was ever actually diagnosed with, but constantly lectured about at every OB appointment from there on in). During the first part of my third trimester I also started experiencing constant pain in my upper abdomen that increased and lasted throughout the rest of my pregnancy (thought to be caused from a previous abdominal surgery I had). This pain was so terrible, that I had to be pulled from work 8 weeks early, which caused a lot of guilt on my part.
My due date came and went, and then another week came and went, and finally we were induced 11 days after my due date. My son was born on day 12 (he must have been very cozy;). He was a large baby 9lbs. 4 oz, and perfectly beautiful, healthy and just downright perfect! Finally all of that pain, and the depression I was feeling throughout my pregnancy (which I’ve battled for years), and all the anxieties would fall away now that I had my perfect little man in my arms. My husband and I felt like our life was complete.
Throughout my pregnancy I was convinced that I was going to breastfeed. While I was never anti-formula (in fact I and all my siblings were formula fed, as well as my husband and his brother), I just felt that breast feeding was something I wanted to try. The fact is I never thought it an option not to try really because it’s the “thing to do.” I could only think of one friend I had who had chosen not to BF from the start, but every other mom I was surrounded by in my immediate life BF, so I guess it must be best, right?!
Once baby N was finally born, and we attempted out first latch, it was noticed immediately that he was not properly latching. After about 5 minutes of trying, the lactation consultant told me that I had “flat nipples” and immediately handed me a nipple shield. There was no further talk about how to eventually wean off the shield, or if I was to use it permanently, just “here you go.” We saw 3 different lactation consultants in the hospital some were more helpful than others. One (who was the most helpful in the amount of time she actually spent with us), put us on a schedule of breastfeeding every two hours (at least 15 minutes on each side), then pumping for 10 minutes on each side, then hand expressing as much as would come out. Needless to say after this routine was completed I got about 10-15 minutes of sleep before I had to start all over again. To say I was exhausted was an understatement. On top of that I was in a great deal of pain from actually giving birth to my 9lb, 4oz baby (no c-section), which resulted in a 3rd degree tear and still needing an episiotomy. Not to mention that pushing for two solid hours left me with hemhorroids the size of baseballs, and so the physical act of even sitting to nurse was extremely painful (all I was ever offered was ibuprofen and some useless numbing spray, b/c hey, I was nursing).
We finally left the hospital and went home. The first couple of times I nursed baby N at home, it actually seemed to be successful. He would latch on (with the nipple shield of course) and go to town, and he appeared to be satisfied when he was over (at least I thought so, as he would pass out hard afterwards). Then around 6 pm the night we came home, he started to refuse to nurse at all. There was nothing we could do to keep him awake long enough to eat, or get him to latch when he was awake. By the time we had our pediatrician appointment the next day at 10 am, he had gone 16 hours without eating anything. Needless to say he was lethargic and we were extremely concerned.
At the doctor’s we were told that baby N had lost 12% of his birth weight. While he was a big baby, we and the doctor were all very concerned. In that moment in the pediatrician’s office, I broke down and cried tears of shame and guilt for the fact that my son wasn’t getting what he needed, and of course it was all my fault! Our pediatrician was amazing and quickly said that he wanted us to supplement with formula and reiterated to us that I am not a bad mom and that we would get this worked out. I want to note that our baby N’s doctor is a big breast feeding proponent, since I keep hearing women saying that we should just ignore the doctor when they suggest supplementing with formula b/c that will be the end of breast feeding. Now I can say “sorry sister, but starving my kid is not an option, and the doctor has our child’s best interest at heart!”
Fast forward, or this will be your longest post in history! So for the next couple of weeks we tried breast feeding and supplementing with formula. This took a few different shapes, sometimes it was nursing with the evil nipple shield, and sometimes it was pumping a bottle and doing it that way. Eventually we did seek the consult of a lactation specialist who came to our house. She was extremely nice, non-judmental and gave us some helpful hints and advice. As a result I continued to try to nurse baby N for another week or so using the nipple shield.
As time went on, each nursing session would get increasingly frustrating for both baby N and I. As a big baby, and impatient feeder, baby N was not getting milk quick enough once we started nursing (not due to let down, mine was pretty good actually, but due to having to use the shield). So for almost every nursing session we spent at least the first 5-10 minutes (on each side) with him screaming, kicking, and clawing at my breast. I was extremely sleep deprived, depressed, and frustrated, and a week later I finally said enough is enough, no more nursing. I had tried to reach out to the lactation consultant we met with to discuss getting my son off the shield, but she insisted my son was tongue-tied, to which his pediatrician examined him and said no he was not. When I further discussed this with her, the only advice she could give was to go have his tongue clipped, which my husband and I were not feeling comfortable with, especially b/c I knew that if we went down that route, then I could never give up on nursing if it wasn’t working b/c I would feel I had to commit after cutting my sons tongue! I decided that I was going to exclusively pump breast milk and just supplement with formula when I needed to.
Well for anyone who has tried exclusive pumping, you know it is not an easy thing to do. I would pretty much pump for 20 minutes, feed my son what I pumped, supplement another bottle with formula, then desperately get him to try to fall asleep so that I could start pumping again for his next feeding. Let’s just say mommy and baby bonding was starting to become non-existent and I was becoming a slave to this machine (which felt like some degrading torture device to me, and has anyone else heard their pump talk to them? Mine definitely did!).
I knew that I had to return to work after 6 weeks b/c I was pulled so early, a longer maternity leave was not an option for us. I quickly became despaired as to how I was going to continue this crazy pumping schedule, and work full-time, and actually get to spend any quality time with my son, who was spending a lot more time awake as he got older and really wanted my attention (and I desperately wanted to give it). I knew at this point that I had started to slip down the path of post-partum depression. I was not surprised as depression and anxiety are something I’ve struggled with since I was a teenager.
At about week 4 of my sons life, I was walking down the basement stairs with a load of laundry in my hands. Our stairs are kind of steep and narrow, and I lost my footing briefly and almost tumbled down. I was able to quickly catch myself on the railing, but the very first thought that popped into my head was “stupid, you should have just let yourself fall.” That moment was a very big wake up call to me in how bad my depression was getting. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a great life, a wonderful husband, and I am head over heals in love with my son. I don’t relish the idea of leaving them, however I was at a point where I personally felt like such a failure as a mom (all because I couldn’t make nursing work or give him only breast milk), that I was starting to convince myself that they would both be much better without me.
It was a terrible time, and I knew that something needed to change or the question wouldn’t any longer be how my son was fed, but who was going to be around to feed him. I started to realize that my “commitment/dedication” to giving him breast milk had become such an obsession and idol in my life, that I was allowing it to not only defeat me, but cause me to doubt whether or not I was the best mother for my son. I can say now, when people question my “commitment” to breast feeding, that if I was anymore committed, I wouldn’t be here anymore. I really connected with the post you shared on here, it was a letter from a husband whose wife had committed suicide due to post-partum depression, and she has also had significant struggles with breastfeeding. She ultimately laid down on the train tracks and took her own life. My heart broke reading that story, and yet I could completely understand those feelings.
A week before I returned to work, I wrote my husband a letter pleading with him to allow me to stop breast feeding. Please don’t get the wrong impression, he was not in any way shaming, forcing, or guilting me into doing it. Any encouragement he ever gave was because he truly wanted to be supportive of me being successful, and shared that common “breast is best” feeling that I had had as well. He really is amazing and only wants the best for our family. Once I shared what I was feeling with him, he immediately told me to stop, and that I was a good mother and we did not need to keep trying to provide breast milk to baby N. At this point, his formula to breast milk ratio was tipping higher on the formula side anyways, so really it started to feel like a lost cause.
Since the day I decided to stop pumping and just switched baby N to exclusive formula, there has been a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I will not say that I haven’t struggled with the decision. Like a lot of other women on here, I have gone, and sometimes continue to go through, feelings of shame when I pull out that bottle of formula in front of other people, especially my breast feeding friends (who have all really been nothing but supportive of me). I hope to eventually get to a place where I truly feel no regrets, shame or guilt over making the best decision I could have for my son (and I truly did do what was best for him, I decided to give him a mom who will hopefully be around long enough to see him grow up and nurture him in ALL of the ways required by a parent, not just what I feed him).
People have asked me if I am going to try to breast feed with my second child (if we are blessed with one), and right now I really don’t know the answer to that. I’m still too close to the situation (my son is only 13 weeks), to be able to feel positive about trying again. But I didn’t smash my pump in the yard with a hammer, or throw it in the creek behind our house like I wanted to so many times, just in case I do want to try again. I do know, that if I decide not to try it, or even if I do, I will be much more confident in my decisions and know that whatever happens I really do truly have my child’s best interests at heart, and no other person on the planet is qualified to tell me what that is!
My true desire is that someday no woman will have to feel so lost and desperate over what she chooses to feed her child. There are so many aspects to being a parent, and what you feed you kid is such a small one in the grand scheme of things. At the end of every visit to the pediatrician, baby N’s doctor always says “love him, grow him, keep him safe.” What words of wisdom!
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