FFF Friday: “I blamed myself for being too weak to cope emotionally…”

Thanksgiving is coming up here in the States, and everyone is talking about what they are most thankful for.

I am thankful for formula.

I am thankful it gives us the ability to nourish children who might otherwise not be nourished. I am thankful it can be used as a stop-gap measure to get breastfeeding off to a good start. I am thankful it can feed kids with severe food allergies.

And I am incredibility thankful it gives mothers like Emily an alternative. Because feeding your child should not be an act of contrition, nor should it serve as a means of re-traumatizing someone who has already suffered unspeakable pain. Nothing is worth that, and I am thankful that formula can give those of us whose bodies are bogged down by complex emotional histories a way to alleviate some of the burden. If you’ve never known what it feels like to shudder at someone’s touch – someone you are programmed to love, and to nurture – you have no idea the level of pain that can cause. So I am thankful. I am so thankful. 

I’m also thankful for Emily, for having the courage to share her story.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Emily’s Story

I have a history of severe, long term, childhood sexual abuse. As a result I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a chronic pain condition called Vulvodynia, and multiple minor physical pain and nerve damage issues. I couldn’t stand the idea of losing anything else to my past, but in the end, I lost breastfeeding to it. After 3 attempts I am finally at peace with that, but not before plenty of judgement, poor care and pain both emotional and physical.

In hindsight, I have no idea why no one even suspected the issues before my first was born. My issues meant that I had a few special requirements related to the birth, and as a result had to give some quick summary of my abuse to anyone I dealt with. Even after hearing about permanent issues I have as a result of my past, no one ever once questioned whether there had been any considerable physical trauma to my breasts, as indeed there had been. I was registered at a birth center, with midwives. I heard the statistics that 98% of women can breastfeed, I knew the ‘booby traps’ and I researched latch, I was ready. My mother had breastfed 4 children without a problem and was part of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (our own version of the LLL) and while she was no longer part of my life I still felt a need to prove I could do just as much as she did. I never anticipated a problem.

I had the right start, skin to skin, immediate feeding, rooming in, everything seemed to be going as it should. But within 48 hours it began to hurt to feed. On top of this, baby was HUNGRY. On our third night after the birth baby screamed for hours while refusing my breast completely. We called the midwives in desperation, asking what to do. She said about the only useful advice I ever received on baby feeding ‘Give baby some formula, and come in first thing in the morning to see the lactation consultant’. Formula? What kind? How much? She had no idea, and at 3 in the morning with a hysterical child neither did we. We don’t get formula samples here in Australia. Thank God my grandmother had more sense than me. She had bought me one box of single-serve formula sachets, and insisted that I keep them in the back of the cupboard just in case of emergency. I had done so to humour her, but I am so grateful she did it. We fed baby some formula from the one bottle which came with my manual pump and she guzzled it down. I remember feeling so terribly, terribly guilty. But, I didn’t feel guilty about giving her formula, I felt guilty about unknowingly starving her for almost 4 days. I suppose I was lucky that way, I always knew feeding my baby was much, much more important than breast vs bottle.

We spoke to the LC who sent me home with instructions to pump every hour and a half during the day and every 3 at night. I haven’t mentioned my husband yet but he was amazingly supportive. However, he had no choice but to go to work due to our situation at the time. My grandma came over and taught me how to sterilize bottles for supplementing after the feed and helped watch baby while I pumped. I discovered later that the LC had told my midwife that she suspected I was one of the few women truly unable to produce enough milk, but no one ever told ME that, I suppose for fear that I would give up ‘too soon’. On top of that, I’d had hyperemesis in my pregnancy and was still on a ‘liquids only before lunch’ diet (and continued to be for 3 months due to other poor medical care, but that’s another story altogether) which obviously impacted things on it’s own. I was far from healthy. And emotionally I was struggling, badly. PTSD coupled with the trigger of experiencing pain in an area where so much pain had been inflicted during my past was almost more than I could handle.

I usually pumped 10-15ml in a sitting, and never more than 30ml. And the pain got worse, and worse. I saw 3 different lactation consultants and all of them insisted my latch was absolutely perfect, and my nipples looked great. They all said a variation of ‘baby is getting what she needs, there’s no problem, so you just have to push through and hopefully the pain will settle down in 2-6 weeks, though for some women it’s always painful, but it’s worth it because breast is best’. One even went so far as to give me coping strategies for the pain! I didn’t realize until much later how very, very damaging this attitude was to me. I told all of these women about my past sexual abuse, and they basically told me that I needed to just suck it up because it was best. At that point in my life I was just beginning to piece together some self worth and feel valuable enough to stand up for myself and value my own desires even a little bit, so being attached to a milking machine, and being given no way out of something which was inflicting pain on me was a big issue. I resented my baby, I didn’t want her near me. My husband doesn’t feature much in this story, not because he wasn’t supportive, but because he was young, scared, confused and struggling himself. He had no idea what to do. But, in the end, he talked me into letting go of breastfeeding because, he argued, better for baby to have a bottle with a happy mummy than breastmilk with a crying one. He has held this stance ever since. Only 2 weeks after birth I couldn’t take the pain anymore, no one would give me a way out of the pain other than ‘wait and see’, and I gave up.

I bonded with my baby almost instantly from that day on. So much for breastfeeding being the be-all-and-end-all in bonding.

The second time I went in better prepared. Because I described the pain I had experienced as a graze or burning feeling, it was eventually decided that baby actually wasn’t feeding right, was running her tongue along my nipple back and forth, and that was the cause of our issues. The lack of milk production was blamed on the fact my baby was (and still is!) very impatient and would not stay on long enough to make things happen. She had no interest in comfort sucking, so once the milk slowed she would give up. I was reassured that this time around, if baby fed well, all would be fine.

My second baby arrived after a wonderful birth, latched immediately, and fed well. My milk came in, it seemed supply was better because baby was cooperating more and I was much healthier after having managed my hyperemesis far better that pregnancy. But it still hurt. So much.

I saw a new LC, and she told me to use nipple shields. I told her that I had been specifically told never to try and use them because my milk supply was already low and inhibited by my psychological issues, and she said that modern shields don’t harm supply and they were better than the pain. What a turn around! I still experienced pain, but instead of being an 11 on the pain scale it was somewhere around a 5, tolerable. Note that babys latch, again, was absolutely perfect. My nipples never looked bad, never once did I bleed or bruise, nothing baby was doing explained the pain. But this baby was a comfort sucker, she wanted to be attached constantly if she could. That made the pain so much worse, so after about a half hour I would give her a pacifier.

4 weeks in and baby got into this awful habit of latching and unlatching, again and again. Since latching was the most painful part, having her do that over and over was absolute hell. But women around me kept telling me story after story of how they, or someone they knew, breastfed despite a lot of pain, so I kept pushing on. Emotionally, I was a wreck again, constantly triggered. I did not enjoy my baby at all. I didn’t want to deal with her unless I had to feed her.

6 weeks in and I spoke to the LC again about her constantly coming off. She had not gained as much weight as she should have. We did a weighed feed and she didn’t gain enough either. (I now know that neither of these were necessarily accurate but at the time I trusted her.) She insisted we begin giving one supplement bottle a day, just to help bring baby’s weight up a little, and to try and tolerate as much ‘comfort sucking’ as possible to bring in some more milk.

I gave baby her bottle the first night and she refused her next feed. I gave it the second night and she refused to feed for the next 12 hours. I gave it the third night and she never latched to my breast again. I knew there were ways to get her back on and fix things, but I was in pain, I was emotionally spent, and I was done. We became formula feeders the second time, and suddenly, I found I liked my baby, and I wanted to be near her again. Yet again, no bond occurred until after I stopped breastfeeding.

Third time around and I knew what I was doing. I set a goal of two weeks, with an ideal goal of 6 weeks, and released myself from guilt if it didn’t work. I had finally realized after messing with the shields that the cause of the pain was nerve damage from past abuse. I thought I had dealt with that fact, but all I had actually done was hide the real issue with the hope that with the shields I could beat this problem and prove to myself that my past could not take the ability to breastfeed away from me. I was ok with letting myself stop when the pain got too bad though, and this time I would end it on my terms, if I couldn’t take control by breastfeeding, I could take control by protecting myself and choosing to stop breastfeeding when it hurt too badly. Health concerns about formula were long since squashed in my mind. I was a fearless (potential) formula feeder! What I wasn’t prepared for was it all going right.

Baby came, latched, fed perfectly and continued to do so. Not only did my milk come in well, but I actually had oversupply issues (we suspect the difference is that my husband had true paternity leave for the first time, which allowed me a lot more relaxation and skin to skin time than the last two times). She was gaining like a champ, she was bright, alert, sleeping well and a perfect poster child for breastfeeding. I began using the shields the day my milk came in, and to my surprise, by about day 12 feeding was almost pain-free! We had done it, I was successfully getting enough food into my babies tummy without severe pain.

But, I hated it. I hate breastfeeding. I hate the feeling. I hated having my PTSD triggered by it. And, I still had no bond with my baby. I resented her. I had always assumed the resentment came from the fact feeding my babies caused pain, but after a long talk with my husband I have come to realize that the reason I feel so much resentment is actually that, while breastfeeding, the baby controls that part of my body. I have to feed baby on her schedule, I get no say over when I feel capable of coping with someone touching my breasts, even if it is for food. I feel out of control of an intimate part of my body, and that’s a feeling I no longer cope well with.

I simply didn’t WANT to breastfeed anymore. And I felt like the worst mother in the world for it. I had finally achieved what I’d struggled with two previous babies to do, and now I discover that, actually, it’s not what I wanted at all. I wanted to be able to breastfeed like everyone else. But the fact is, even after beating all the other issues, I had to accept that I will never be able to breastfeed like everyone else. There’s too much baggage, too many associations. Too many memories. I can never have what I wanted, no matter how hard I try. That was taken from me long ago. What I can have, breastfeeding with all the psychological associations and physical reminders it brings, just isn’t a nice, or good, experience.

I felt trapped. It’s wrong to not breastfeed when I am capable of it right? But that feeling of being trapped only made me want to stop even more, because of my natural instinct to run from anything which might trap or control me. I blamed myself for being too weak to cope emotionally because it was easier than blaming those that hurt me for yet one more long term consequence of their actions. But that only made the feeling of being trapped worse, because if I was just a better mum I wouldn’t find feeding so upsetting.

There’s a big difference between having no choice but to switch to formula, and actually choosing to go to formula for no reason other than ‘I don’t want to breastfeed’. I have heard many, many times ‘I support formula feeders, as long as they have made a real effort to breastfeed’. Actually taking the step to formula feed just because that’s what I wanted meant going against that large group of people who would have previously supported me.

And then there was accepting that this door is closed for me, which hurt. I hate to accept that my past has any permanent effect on my future. I hate to admit anyone could effect me that way other than myself, because it makes me feel vulnerable.

It was easier to accept I couldn’t breastfeed a particular child but I could try again with the next than it is to accept that I can never have the normal, comfortable, enjoyable breastfeeding relationship I have watched, and wanted.

My babies thrive on formula, they are rarely sick, they are very bright, and happy kids. I suspect many of the ‘health risks’ of formula have more to do with the portion of the population that uses/doesn’t use it than with formula itself. A working mum is less likely to breastfeed, and we know that children in daycare tend to catch more bugs than children at home, for example.

My husband convinced me to do what I needed to, and I stopped breastfeeding my third child at 2 weeks old. She is now 5 weeks and thriving. And surprise surprise, I bonded and enjoyed her far, far more within a couple of days of stopping. We are a formula feeding family, and I’m mostly ok with that now. It’s what is right for me, and for my babies.

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If you feel like sharing your story, email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

 

FFF Friday: “This time, the choice will be mine.”

This submission comes from Lynne, one of the admins for the wonderful Bottle Babies group, and a long-time contributor to the FFF community. I know I usually write an introduction about the themes that appear in these entries, but Lynne’s story kind of defies categorization. If anything, I think it just reiterates our ongoing discussion about how the “breast is best/breast is normal” meme can be just plain WRONG in certain cases. But more importantly, this meme ignores the fact that even when it isn’t best, or normal, many mothers still want to do it. We need to stop pushing breastfeeding and instead, focus on helping women like Lynne achieve their goals in a sensitive, individualized, and positive way.

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Hi, I’m Lynne and I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. On my good days, I focus on the “survivor” part. I did survive, I’m still here, and that’s what matters. On my bad days, I feel like that should sound like “Hi, I’m Lynne? I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse? Is that, like, ok? Sorry? Um….” Because on those days, I feel like I wear it on my forehead, and everyone can see the scared little girl instead of the strong, grown-up woman.

So what has this got to do with breastfeeding, you may ask? The answer is: LOTS. Fully deserving of the capitals. I could cite studies (including ones by the almighty research goddess Cheryl Tatano Beck) on the detrimental effect a history of abuse has on not just breastfeeding, but labour and birth too. I could give you statistics, I could bore you to tears with the psychology of it all. But I won’t do that. I’ll talk about me, and MY story. It’s also my daughter’s story, and my husband’s story, and the partially untold story of the baby who is due in March next year. But first and foremost, it’s my story.

I’ve had negative associations with my breasts since the moment they appeared. Because the moment they appeared, they were abused. I was abused. But lots of it focused on my (as yet) fairly undeveloped breasts. I hated them. I blamed them. If they hadn’t grown so quickly, they wouldn’t have attracted him. It was THEIR fault, those irritating, painful, obvious signs of impending womanhood. And they hurt. All the time. Oh yes, growing breast tissue does hurt, tenderness is something a lot of girls live with. Mine were bruised. And bitten. And scratched. My breasts were the hidden, yet unhidden sign of everything that was wrong with my world.

Fast forward 10 years (from the time that it stopped – I was 16 when I finally said “Don’t” and to my utter shock, that was all it took). I was 26 and expecting a very unexpected baby girl. Hubby and I had been told we needed ICSI to conceive. Imagine our surprise when, 5 days after filling out all the forms and making all the decisions about how many embryos we’d transfer, I have a positive pregnancy test. It’s a miracle!

A few friends of mine had recently had babies. They’d talked about breastfeeding (or not breastfeeding), and I didn’t really get it. What’s the fuss? Why are you going on about it? What does it matter? Having not yet delved into the murky world of the online parenting community, I lived in blissful ignorance of the BF vs FF debate.

Then I had my first midwife appointment. I was 6 weeks pregnant. And the “Breast is best (aka breast is The One True Way)” message started. DVDs, check. Books, check. Leaflets on breastfeeding, check. List of pros and cons of breastfeeding and formula feeding given, check (that’d be all the pros of breast and all the cons of formula, and nothing mentioned of the cons of breast or the pros of formula). There was a checklist in my maternity notes which had little sections for the midwife to sign, to say that she had imparted all of the knowledge about how amazing breastfeeding is. And I drank it all in. Sure, I would breastfeed. Why wouldn’t I? Still didn’t get what the big deal was, but yeah, I’d breastfeed. Oh, did I mention that I was abused as a child and suffer from ongoing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result? It’s in my notes? Fab. Yes, I heard you say that breastfeeding has so many benefits… Never again did a single healthcare professional involved in my care mention that part of my notes. I didn’t bring it up. Why would I? How could I associate something so terrible with this amazing miracle growing inside me?

Fast forward 8 months (roughly). I’d planned a calm, peaceful hypnobirth. The calm bubble lasted until I was flat on my back on a bed in hospital, with someone sticking their fingers up me. Imagine my calm bubble turning to glass, and shattering. Things went downhill from there. Roo turned back to back. Her cord began to prolapsed and the resulting compression with every contraction led to her being in distress. I ended up with an epidural and ventouse delivery. But hey, baby was here and healthy, so that’s all that’s important, right? (It never ceases to irritate me how a woman’s feelings about her birth can be completely ignored as long as the baby is alright in the end). I wanted to try and breastfeed right away. But my midwife was busy writing up her notes, and was too busy to help. I’d be able to feed her on the post-natal ward, apparently. OK, midwives know best…

So, down to the ward. It’s 4am, 2 and a half hours after Roo was born. I explain I want to breastfeed, and midwife says “OK”, grabs my breast and my baby’s head, and applies baby to boob. Yowser. That feels uncomfortable. And I feel weird, because in general, people don’t just grab your breasts. But, hey, look, baby is feeding. Yay.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. Or the next night. I occasionally managed to get baby latched on myself, but it was ALWAYS sore. I would buzz for help, and generally got an irritated auxiliary nurse asking what I wanted, then tutting and going to get a midwife when I said I needed help latching her. Oh yes, we don’t have lactation consultants in the UK. Any breastfeeding counsellors don’t work weekends either. So it was midwives or nothing. Come Sunday night, I was exhausted, traumatised, and sobbing because I wanted to just go home and sleep. A midwife tells me I can sign myself out, but leaving hospital too early is one of the most common reasons for breastfeeding to fail, and “You don’t want to be a failure, do you?” I can’t tell you how long those words haunted me.

Hubby and I decided we were going home. And the agony of feeding (psychological and physical) continued. My milk came in with a vengeance, and I was so engorged that poor baby was bouncing off as she tried (badly) to latch. Even just moving my breasts caused pain, and suddenly I was a teenager again. I had to somehow find the words to explain how much I hate the feeling of my breasts being touched. I had flashbacks. I was in pieces. By 3am on Wednesday morning, I was sobbing, baby was screaming, and my husband was just about crying with frustration himself. I don’t remember who eventually said to get the carton of formula. But what I do know is that for the first time, I could feed my child without wanting to hurl her to the floor. The sense of relief was absolutely indescribable.

At least, until a breastfeeding counsellor came along to my next home visit with the midwife. She was brought into my house uninvited, with no explanation of who she was. I said that in desperation we’d given formula that morning, as Roo wasn’t latching properly and I was in bits. The disapproval in the room could’ve been used to make ice, the atmosphere got that chilly. I couldn’t say to these stone-faced women that actually, I was really struggling with feelings about my childhood abuse which I’d thought were long-resolved. That somehow, labour and breastfeeding were leaving me feeling just as violated as I did when I was a child.

The breastfeeding counsellor sat with me for hours. But baby didn’t want to feed, she was full and happy, thanks very much. I sat, and this woman pinched and tickled baby’s feet to try and make her wake up and feed (to check the latch, of course). I hand-expressed drops of milk into baby’s mouth. She wasn’t having any of it. Eventually, the woman left with the parting shot that if baby hadn’t fed by X o’clock, I needed to take her to A&E. Obviously the formula may have damaged her tiny, fragile tummy.

Out of sheer guilt, I tried one more feed. I didn’t know that would be the last one, but I’m glad it was. From that point on, my daughter was formula fed. There was a brief period about 8 weeks later when I had full-on Mummy-guilt, bought an expensive breast pump with my saved-up store points, and tried to re-lactate. I took fenugreek and blessed thistle. I scoured the internet for tips. I bought nipple shields to see if it would help. But baby had other ideas. Why go back to that scary, maple-syrup-smelling squishy thing, when that lovely bottle gave her all she needed? Nuh-uh, no way. So I expressed until it became apparent that it wasn’t working. I grew to hate the pump. I felt like I wasn’t spending any time with my child, as I was pumping so often. In the end, I chose to enjoy my baby, take solace in the fact that myself and my husband were both formula-fed with no obvious ill-effects (darn that anecdotal evidence!) and sold the breast pump.

That baby is now 2 years old, and one of the brightest, happiest, healthiest children I know. Far from being obese, she is absolutely tiny, in both height and weight. I know she loves me (because she tells me so!) and she’s obviously not fussed about what was in her bottles! So I now take my cues from her. She is happy, I am happy.

I hope to breastfeed my next baby, who is due in March 2012. Another unexpected miracle (we’re not doing badly for an infertile couple, eh?). But this time, no tears over spilt milk. The first time around, breastfeeding became something else he took from me. This time, I’m going in with the attitude of forewarned is forearmed, and my eyes are wide open. This time, my breasts are mine. This time, (barring unexpected complications) the choice will be mine.

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FFF Friday S-bmissions: What’s missing is “u”. 😉 Email your story to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “The price of failure is so high…”

The following FFF Friday story might be a difficult one to read. FFF Brenna has struggled with issues that go far beyond the scope of this blog, but much like Lilllily’s experience, it is a vitally important story to include in any discussion of infant feeding. We need to consider all types of possibilities when looking at an issue as personal as formula feeding vs. breastfeeding, and I hope this reminds everyone not to make snap judgments when you see a woman holding a bottle. You never know what went into her decision, and what emotional odds may be at stake.


I want to thank Brenna profusely for sharing her story with us, as I’m sure it is not an easy one to tell. Her honesty and clarity humble me.

***

I have been thinking about submitting my story because although it’s not the perfect tale of overcoming odds, I do believe each of us has something unique to contribute that goes a long way to supporting all mothers, regardless of the choices we make. So here it goes!
I’m the mom of 2 sons, and my 1st daughter is on the way. My boys were born in 2001, 2003, and my newest is due to arrive this November.
When my oldest son was born, I had just turned 20 about 2 weeks prior. I don’t want to blame my relative youth for the choices I made, but it is what it is. T was formula fed from the very start. Breastfeeding never even crossed my mind. All my in-laws bottlefed, and to my knowledge no one in my own family breastfed beyond 6 months. Breastfeeding was just one of those things no one talked about. At that time in my life, we were not connected to the internet. I had no idea that there even was a battle amongst mothers over such things! Ah, blissful ignorance.
26 months later, my son E was born. I had enough mommy friends by then to know that there were “right” and “wrong” choices when it came to motherhood. I made the choice to breastfeed him, not knowing what I was in for.
Aside from issues such as zero support and flat nipples, I was equally unprepared for how my status as a childhood sexual abuse survivor would affect my nursing experience. Oh, if I had only known! I had had no formal therapy for my childhood traumas. I told myself I didn’t need it, that there was nothing wrong with me, and if there was indeed something wrong with me, it was not my fault. Somehow to me, that also meant it was not my responsibility to address any issues I had.
Although our VBAC attempt failed, I was still determined to nurse E. I did not see him until he was about 3 hours old. My husband was snuggling with him in the nursery! By the time they did bring me my baby, I was too zonked to really care. 35 hours of labor will do that to a person. The next morning, I made my first attempt to get him to latch on.
I was shocked to find not only was it not easy, but that it creeped me out. Badly. I was not prepared for the first of several flashbacks that would come that day. I felt horror at my perceived perpetuation of the cycle of abuse upon my newborn son. Good Lord, I just shoved my boob in his mouth! He was crying! What had I just done?
Then as the day wore on, it became increasingly difficult to be around E. Each time he was put to breast, I wanted to fling him across the room. I would close my eyes and cry while the hospital LC tried to get him to latch. She probably thought I was having a typical mommy meltdown I’m sure. I had not told anyone of my past. In retrospect I should’ve at least made mention of it to my midwife, but hindsight is 20/20.
By the time we were ready for discharge 3 days later, breastfeeding was still not established, and I could not look my sweet baby in the eye. I felt like the most horrible of people- a child abuser.
The very next morning, my husband and I decided to put E on the bottle. What a relief! I could hold him and not be repulsed. I could kiss him while he drank his bottle, and know I was indeed giving him my best. A mother on the verge of a breakdown is not a mother at all became my mantra.
1 week later, I began intensive therapy to deal with my past. I spent the next 4 years of my life regaining what was mine by right, taken from me far too soon.
My sons are now 9 and 7 years old. While I do not regret for a minute that I bottlefed them, I now find myself in a position to try again with my new daughter when she is born. You would think that’d it be a no-brainer. I only wish it were that easy. The price of failure is so high, and I’m not talking health benefits here.
I keep going back and forth on it. My boys and I are so close that I cannot imagine that feeding method would make my bond to my child any stronger. The boys are also healthier by far than I ever am. They may get that from my hubby though. And I never found bottlefeeding to be difficult or a pain. Then again, this may be my last chance to breastfeed. It’s also the last thing I cannot do because of my history. Somehow, it feels like I need to reclaim this too so that my father has not won. Then I can say I truly have taken back all that was took from me. Those are just the surface issues that come to mind as well! It’s so much deeper than that alone.
I admit I am very undecided about how to feed the new baby. I’ve got time yet to make a choice. I just know that whatever choice I make, she will be fed and I will be doing the best I personally can for her. That’s all I can ask of myself. Love my kids, meet their needs, and be more forgiving of myself. We’ll all be better off for it. 

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to share my story. And thanks for being a “port in the storm” for FFF everywhere!

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If you have a story you’d like to share for an upcoming FFF Friday, please send it to formulafeeders@gmail.com. Any and all experiences are welcome.

FFF Friday: “Why I just didn’t even try.”

One of the reasons why I insist on supporting all formula feeders – regardless of their reasons for not breastfeeding – is because we can never know someone’s entire story. There are a myriad of complicated factors that play into our feeding decisions. The thing of it is, this isn’t like any other food or health-related decision. Feeding a child from your breast is not like spending your food budget on healthy choices/organic brands, or quitting smoking, or limiting television, or exercising. It’s not just a lifestyle choice. For some women, the act of nursing can be physically or emotionally painful – and frankly, that’s not anyone’s business but her own.

The woman who shares her story for today’s FFF Friday wants to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons. But I hope she knows how incredibly brave she is – and how incredibly considerate to tell the truth about her decision in the hopes that it can aid the cause of supporting all women, breastfeeding, formula feeding, or anywhere in between.

*** 

I was 14 when I was raped. Or maybe I was 15. I don’t really know…and to be honest that fact blows my mind, considering every other detail, like the way the forest smelt, the way my throat felt like it had a hot poker shoved down it and the way his eyes looked at me is embedded in my mind like little shards of glass. And wow how those shards have affected ever facet of my life since.  
Truly it doesn’t matter though what age I was. What does matter was that it was someone I trusted. Not a family member or even a family friend but my own boyfriend who I had said no to repeatedly. The fact that I was confused about even calling it rape for many years is important to, because it dramatically shaped the way I felt about my body, who touched it and what I considered trust for over 10 years.
It affected my relationships with almost everyone, but the worst type was the Boyfriend type. Some were understanding and gentle when I suddenly stopped in the middle of being intimate with them, screwed myself up into a ball and sobbed my way through a couple of hours or when everything was going fine and they would touch me in a slightly different way and I would go stiff and unresponsive. Some were impatient and they didn’t stick around. Some like my poor ex husband suffered in silence for years until he was too scared to even touch me. Yeah, so it was a catalyst to ruining my marriage too… when we get down to it. 
But this is a breastfeeding story, not a story about boyfriends.
I come from a place where breastfeeding rates are high. It’s the normal, responsible and practical thing to do. When friends and family did it, I thought it was the most natural thing in the world. When I thought about having babies in the future, I imagined holding that child in my arms and breastfeeding it. 
I felt that way right up until about the 6 month mark of my first pregnancy. At first it started out with feelings of dread. A person, using my body again… even more than it already is during pregnancy. Relying on only me and that’s it – it scared me. It filled me with dread. But I told myself that was nothing, that I’m sure most people feel that way briefly if they would care to admit it. I countered it with positive thoughts and used a sort visualization technique to make my brain realise how wonderful it would be. I read up on breastfeeding benefits, how truly wonderful our bond would be. Etc etc. 
Then I started waking at 2am in sweat after nightmares of a baby suckling blood from me. I tried the visualization stuff some more. Then I started having panic attacks during the day about it and I broke down in tears more than once about it, lets even go as far to say more than once a day about it. I tried talking to people who knew about my past about how I was feeling and they told me it would be fine, to just do it. Others had been through this before, they are fine. 
Then, I started to hate the baby growing inside me. I truly and utterly hated it. Oh god, I resented it. I hated the fact I would be made to feed this thing from my body, FROM MY BREASTS. My most sensitive part of my body, that had had so much damage done to them in the past, the part of my body that my partner had to be careful about touching in case it made me fly into one of my sobbing fits. Someone FEEDING from me? I couldn’t cope.  
I let the hate fester for a month or so. I felt I couldn’t discuss it with anyone because I got the ‘it will be fine’ talk or looked down at for feeling this way about my baby. . I couldn’t even discuss it with my partner or my best friend because I felt like such a failure. My mother doesn’t even know what had happened to me, neither did most of my family so there was no one to turn to there – not without opening a can of worms I didn’t want opened. I felt so ashamed, so guilty… but more than that I hated that creature for making me feel this way.
During the next visit with my midwife, I ended up breaking down. My blood pressure was sky high, I was obviously stressed beyond belief and she asked what was up. I told her I didn’t want the baby to come, that I really didn’t want to be a mother anymore. I was too scared to tell her why because I know how pro breastfeeding they all were but she got it out of me anyway. She looked at me carefully for a minute or two before taking my hand and saying the one thing that stuck with me since.
‘Then you will use formula, it’s a fine replacement and your baby will still thrive, be happy and healthy and more importantly, you will bond with him and love him more than anything you have ever loved before.’ She told me to let it go, to just look forward to holding the baby in my arms and the rest will happen. 
So, that’s how it happened. My hospital notes got changed to ‘will artificial feed’ and we did. My partner gave my baby his first feed and the love on his face said how privileged he felt doing so. When I held my baby in my arms and gave him a bottle I felt so at peace. I could touch his little face and stare into his big bright blue eyes and tell him just how much I loved him and how he was the best thing to ever happen to me… and oh how I meant it.

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If you’d like to share your story with the FFF audience, please email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.
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