Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Breastfeeding battles (with myself)

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a sneaky feeling I would be one of the millions of women who suffers from post-partum depression. I was also afraid I wouldn't be aware of It. So, I asked my husband, Paul, to be on the lookout for the symptoms. Turns out, I was right. It was a bumpy road. First, I tried very, very hard to breastfeed. Cave women did it. Pilgrims did it. Surely, I, a well-educated, healthy woman, can master this natural, motherly experience. Wrong. She and I tried and tried. We tried until we were both beyond upset and frustrated. I felt like a huge failure as a mother and a woman. It's supposed to be this simple, magical bonding experience. For me, it was a painful, frustrating experience. So, I decided to pump. Ok, not ideal but I could live with it. Turns out it was the best of both worlds. My daughter got breast milk and I could hand her off to anyone to feed her- aunts, husband, friends, my father. Everyone loved being able to help out. But I wasn't myself. I cried for no reason. I was terrified to be home alone all day with my new baby. I was terrified to take her anywhere by myself. I hid in the bathtub when Paul was home and able to take care of her.

Then, things got even worse. I woke up in the middle of the night with fever, sweats, chills and pain. I got mastitis 3 times. Yes, it took 3 bouts to convince me to stop pumping and switch to formula for both our sakes. In the midst of all this, I went to the doctor for a checkup. While describing my symptoms, I realized I was crying for no reason. That was my first clue that maybe there was a little bit of post-partum depression mixed in with my mastitis. Turns out the mastitis added even more hormones to my already out-of-wack system, making me a complete and total madwoman. A lovely combination for a sleep-deprived new mother. So, I got cut off from pumping cold turkey. I was put on antibiotics and anti-depressants (a lovely combination I highly recommend). Within a few days, things were getting better. Yes, my daughter still woke up every 3 hours to eat but I feel better- mentally and physically. I realized that putting her on formula was the right call for both of us.

All over the news, I hear about hospitals advocating and promoting breastfeeding. Do women really need to be convinced to breast feed? Most women go into it knowing whether they want to try to breast feed. They don't need external pressure. It isn't always the right, best or easiest choice for new mothers. I was very lucky when I had my first child that our hospital didn't push breastfeeding. They encouraged. They offered support but I didn't feel outside pressure to do it. When I had my son 4 years later, things had changed. Everyone wearing a white coat or scrubs felt like they had to keep asking me to try breastfeeding. And go through that mental and physical hell again? No thanks. I had to think about myself, our 4 year old girl and our newborn son. I couldn't go through mastitis and post-partum depression again. I firmly explained my last attempts and stayed firm in the belief that my son and my family would be better off with formula and a slightly less frazzled mom.

I truly admire, respect (and envy) women who breastfeed. I have no opinions about how long or where you breast feed. It doesn't bother, upset or offend me when I see nursing moms in public. They are feeding their children. Nothing wrong with that. Trust me, it's more disgusting and way messier to see my 3 year old eat ice cream in public. My daughter thinks it is very "cool" that mommies can feed and snuggle their babies at the same time.

Every mother struggles with making the right choice for herself and her child. There is so much external pressure. We need to trust our instincts and our judgement. And learn to tune out all the nonsense coming from others. I've been a mom for 7 years and I still get unsolicited 'advice'. I don't take it.

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