My mom told me a story last night that got me thinking and made me feel like I needed to sit down and properly write this post.
She recently started watching the TV show A Million Little Things and is loving it. I don’t watch the show myself so I can’t profess an opinion on it or speak to whether or not she told me the following story accurately, but apparently the episode she watched last night had a lot to do with breastfeeding. As my mom told me, one of the characters had a baby, but she was struggling to breastfeed. She was anxious and really suffering through it, and her lactation consultant kept repeating to her over and over, “This is the most important thing you can do for your baby. This is liquid gold for your baby.” The character was apparently moved fo tears until her friend came into the room. This friend had had a mastectomy due to a battle with breast cancer, and she immediately told the lactation consultant to leave. She said that she knew one day she would be the best mother to her child even though she would never be able to breastfeed him or her because of her mastectomy, and she admonished the lactation consultant for making a new mother feel so guilty and incapable.
When my mom told me this story, I was also reminded of an article I read shortly after my son was born. It was written by a lactation consultant who was meeting with a new mother who was having such a hard time breastfeeding that she was riddled with anxiety and depression. This lactation consultant actually told her patient to stop breastfeeding because her mental health was the most important thing she could maintain for her child. I found this story very moving and relevant.
I mentioned in my last Real Pregnancy Talk post that I am not breastfeeding my son, but after speaking to my mom, I felt that I had to share my story more thoroughly here. I started off breastfeeding my son and had every intention to continue. In the hospital, I felt uplifted by how easy I found breastfeeding and my son seemed to really be taking to it. But then, when we returned home, things took a turn, both for me and my son. My anxiety started to increase in severity, particularly as my body began the process of withdrawal from the extra medications I was given during my emergency C-section, and my son was constantly crying for food, as if he was never satisfied. My husband noticed some orange, dry spots in his diapers, and after looking up what this meant and speaking to a lactation consultant, we realized that my son was dehydrated. The lactation consultant suggested that I try hand expressing some milk and giving it to him, and my husband and I decided to go stay with my parents so that I could get help from my mom with this.
Fast forward five days, and I am sitting in the ER, having been rushed there by my parents and husband due to a severe anxiety attack. I hate thinking about this particular day in my post-partum journey because it was by far the hardest day of my life, but suffice it to say I was extremely unwell both physically and mentally. I had reached utter exhaustion point in both body and mind, and when my son began fussing outside the ER where my dad was watching him, my husband and I had to finally decide if I could continue to breastfeed him in the state I was in. We spoke for a long time about it in that hospital room, weighing the pros and cons for myself and our baby, and we finally chose to begin giving him formula. Two days later, my psychiatrist put me on an anxiety medication that I would not have been able to take if I were breastfeeding…and now, almost four months postpartum, I have never felt happier, calmer and less anxious in my entire life.
I’ve found it paradoxical when I think about it that there is so much support of female rights and equality these days and yet the push for new mothers to breastfeed is overwhelming. All I saw on social media and at my hospital were examples of breastfeeding moms. While there are undeniable scientific benefits to breastfeeding, I think it is also important to remember the bond between mother and child and the fact that the mother’s mental and physical well-being is a crucial component of this. I have never once feared that my son will feel less loved because I am feeding him formula – on the contrary, I recall how rough breastfeeding was for us, with him crying and screaming and me on the verge of tears, pleading with him to “please latch on, baby, please”. Now, when I feed my son, I am calm and at peace, and I can sing to him, tickle his nose and make direct eye contact with him. We are both happy and smiling, and my son is fed, which is ultimately all that matters.
There is no right way to mother, or indeed to parent, and I wish we as a society would start to do away with guilt tactics and leave each parent to do their own thing. Parenting is without doubt the hardest job in the world, and sometimes hard decisions have to be made for the good of the family. Love is everything, though, and I love myself and my son so much that I brushed all guilt aside and chose to do exactly what was right for us.
(If you’re a mother who is struggling with any of the choices we new moms face, know you are not alone and always feel free to reach out! xox)
Janille N G
Girl with a Green Heart