Category Archives: Breastfeeding

A Simple Dream

A mum in the UK recently took her own life. Fellow PPD blogger Ivy Shih Leung wrote a very long and insightful piece about it here.

While I have not read anything beyond Ivy’s piece, I want to address one of the issues Ivy touches on in her post. For me, it is one of the primary reasons women who struggle with a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder still fight so desperately with reaching out for help and then with actually receiving the proper help.

Our battle has multiple levels. Were PMAD’s a video game, we would have to survive level after harrowing level before finally reaching a properly educated doctor or therapist. Some of us may be lucky enough to skip all these harrowing levels but for most of us, we are destined to fight with all we have while we don’t have much just to get by in a world expecting us to be super mom while we are at it.

First, we have to fight with ourselves to acknowledge that there is a problem.

Then, we fight with loved ones for help with every day tasks and with reaching out for help.  We fight the argument that we are “faking” or “pretending” just to get out of housework or parenting. We are, some of us, told to suck it up and get over it. Move on. We’ll fall in love with our children eventually. Worse yet, some of us are told depression is some sort of luxury the former generations did not have time with which to deal.

Next, we fight with the front desk folks at the doctor’s office who may tell us such things as “If you’re not suicidal, don’t call us until you are.” (And yes, shamefully, that DOES happen in real life).

We then level up to arguing with a doctor who may brilliantly tell us that our hormones should be back in order by now so of course it can’t be Postpartum Depression despite the fact that we just admitted several high risk symptoms to them. So we are referred to the therapist who calls and reschedules until we are exhausted and cancel altogether.

So we suck it up and try to make do on our own until the next baby when we completely fall apart and start the entire routine all over again. Only this time around, there is a little less resistance from family members and friends because they have seen you go through this before and realize that maybe, just maybe, she isn’t making it up this time around.

But we have to stay off the Internet because it’s a dangerous place for a woman with a PMAD to be – we will be judged for breastfeeding while taking medication or for giving formula because we have to medicate. We didn’t try hard enough to protect ourselves, there is something wrong with us. Damn straight there is something wrong with us – it’s an illness, it’s real, and it is hell.

Psychiatric stigma is bullshit. The divisiveness motherhood brings to a woman’s life is bullshit. Hell, sometimes just being a woman altogether is bullshit. Why we judge each other so harshly for our choices is so beyond me I don’t even know how to begin to understand why we do this. I’m serious – I truly do not understand the in-fighting or bickering.

It comes down to understanding one simple truth:

Each mother needs to do what is best for HER and for HER family. As long as she is doing just that, we do not need to judge, we do not need to place blame, stigma, guilt, or any other negative blanket upon her or her family.

The Internet can be a fabulous place for support if you end up surrounded by the right people and ignore the wrong people. It’s finding the wonderful people that is the challenge.

I have a simple dream, in closing. It’s a dream that one day, mothers of all sort of different beliefs, will be able to have a discussion about parenting without inadvertently reducing each other to panic attacks and/or tears because they’ve judged someone for doing something outside the realm of *their* comfort zone.

One day, right?

Just Talkin’ Tuesday: Breastfeeding & PPD – What Advice Would You Give?

justtalkingtuesdaybuttonBreastfeeding is such a rocky road for those of us who struggle with a Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorder, isn’t it?

We worry if it’s not going right. We worry about being put on meds. We worry if our babies are getting enough, we worry what people will think if we stop, we measure, we pump, we wonder about working, supply, the additional frustration of it all can really wear us down. Sure, a lot of our concern is the same as a mom who isn’t struggling with a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder but we also have to worry about how it’s affecting our PMAD or how it will affect baby if we decide to take meds.

I’ve been invited to participate in a telesummit with an organization focusing on encouraging breastfeeding mothers to take care of themselves properly. Of course they want to encourage and foster the breastfeeding relationship but you and I both know that sometimes, it doesn’t work out when a PMAD hops aboard the Motherhood train. Before agreeing to participate, I asked if they would be open to discussing the possibility that breastfeeding doesn’t go well if a PMAD shows up. They were very open to it, happily.

This is where you come in – of course I can share my own experiences and talk about how I know it’s gone for others in the past, but I’d really like to have the community chime in with their tales and share what worked for them, what didn’t work for them, and how to deal with the issues that crop up when it doesn’t work (because that guilt is like no other!) well.

Breastfeeding is one of two things when you have a PMAD, the one thing that’s going right, or the one thing that’s really exacerbating the issues at hand. I always advise mothers to do what’s best for THEM and their situation – and above all else, put their mental well-being ahead of themselves.

If you have any practical tips, ideas, stories, etc, to share, please post them in the comments. Tips on how to talk with your partner, doctor, a lactation consultant, etc, would be particularly welcome.

Can’t wait to hear from y’all!

Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression – Again

A recent research article, posted by The Postpartum Stress Center on Facebook, looks into the relationship between postpartum depression and breastfeeding.

The findings? Women who breastfeed are less likely to experience postpartum depression.

Here’s what The Postpartum Stress Center had to say about the study on Facebook:

“Uh-oh. Here we go… research shows reciprocal relationship between PPD and breastfeeding. Women who breastfeed were more likely to have PPD and women with PPD were less likely to breastfeed. Now, that being said – this is NOT what I see in my clinical practice. In fact, we see more evidence of women feeling BETTER when they stop breastfeeding. For a number of reasons that vary from woman to woman. This is why it continues to be important that we read the studies, but not jump to conclusions that may not relate to each individual woman.”

Here’s my reaction:

Caveats:

  • Small study – only 137 women
  • Mentions employed mothers who were formula feeding but the abstract makes no mention of employed breastfeeding/pumping mothers.

As a blogger focused primarily on Postpartum Mood Disorders and emotional health for moms, this study raises my hackles.

I’ve blogged about the whole breastfeeding v. not-breastfeeding thing during a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder thing before – several times- and each time, I conclude the same thing.

YOU have to do what is BEST FOR YOU. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, it doesn’t matter what the research says, it doesn’t matter what is best for baby food-wise. What matters here, the most, is that you are addressing your needs, healing, and doing so in a manner which alleviates the most stress and anxiety for you.

Your motherhood journey is just that – yours.

The only thing which matters is that you, your baby, and your family, are thriving. If your path includes breastfeeding, great. If it doesn’t, that’s great too. When you struggle with a mental illness, your emotional health absolutely comes before everything else –at least in my book it does.

If you wanted to breastfeed but find it’s too stressful because of your Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder, talk it over with your care-provider. Let them help you make your decision but don’t let them pressure you into continuing simply because the research claims breastfeeding is “protective” against PPD. Guess what? You’re already struggling. So unless breastfeeding is the ONE thing to which you’re clinging and the ONE thing which helps you heal, helps you feel like you matter, it’s OKAY to stop.

It’s okay to use formula.

Frankly, it’s sad we have to give ourselves permission not to breastfeed in this day and age. Moms use formula for a variety of reasons –as long as baby is growing, healthy, happy, and loved, it shouldn’t matter what form of nutrition is used.

So go. Do what feels best for you, for your family, and for your sanity –and don’t let anyone judge you for it.

Daly Response: Breastfeeding, Family Dynamics, and Communication

Starting a family is no small decision. Expected or unexpected pregnancy involve major decisions and choices. How will you parent? How will you care for the child? Who will be the primary caregiver? Will you share responsibility equally? Attachment parenting? Extended breastfeeding? No breastfeeding? There are so many decisions to be made once a child enters your relationship. These decisions affect family dynamics and should not be made independently of your partner. They should be thoroughly discussed and mutually agreed upon. One of you may end up having to compromise but ultimately, you must do what is best for your child within your personal parenting philosophy, hopefully with a partner who sees along the same lines.

Parents these days have a bevy of knowledgeable resources available to help with their decisions regarding parenting. Pediatricians, lactation consultants, other parents, and just about everyone on the planet.

We all love to chime in on how others parent, don’t we? Especially with the explosion of social media. Judgment runs amok when a parent asks even the most innocent of questions.

Today, the NY Times posted a piece by James Daly which explores the effect of extended breastfeeding on a couple’s sex life. Daly states:

“Other men — me, for example — might be driven to engage in something even worse: sexless fidelity. Mine crystallized in Central Park one evening, while watching my wife sit under a tree with my older son, a five-and-a-half-year-old young man with a full set of teeth and chores, stretched out to roughly the size of a foal, suckling. By the time they strolled back to me and my already-nursed toddler son on the picnic blanket, I had lost my appetite — and not just for the smoked salmon. There are some things in life most men cannot share with first-graders, and two of them used to be called breasts. Now, my first grader called them boobalies, and history is written by the victors.”

Breastfeeding is recommended for at least two years or beyond by WHO, exclusive nursing for the first 6 months with complementary foods added until two years. Now, the WHO code implies “beyond” is solely between the mother and child. While I don’t think Daly’s threat of infidelity based upon his wife’s choice of extended breastfeeding is kosher, I understand where he’s coming from.

A family, when a father is present, is not just a mother and child. All too often, the father’s needs and desires are often thrown out the window. He doesn’t matter and should shut up if he so much as voices any disagreement to how his wife chooses to raise their children, run the household, or anything else.

It’s not about who wears the pants in the relationship. Feminism doesn’t mean we get to make decisions without our partner. it means we are equal to them, not above them. Isn’t that what we fought for? Not to be beneath men? So why should they be beneath us and suddenly not matter? Where’s the victory in that?

Granted, women HAVE run things in the home and the childcare realm for quite some time. But more and more, men are involving themselves in these situations. Stay at home dads are increasing in number.

Sex is also an important aspect of a relationship. It’s how we’re intimate with our partners. It’s nurturing, releases hormones, stress, and brings us closer. Yes, intimacy IS possible without sex. However; intimacy is NOT possible without communication.

That’s where I believe this issue with Daly and his wife has broken down – at the communication level.

Clearly he’s not happy about his wife’s extended breastfeeding to the point of losing his appetite. Whether he’s actually considering infidelity or not is up in the air – he may just be using that as an example. I know that when I was breastfeeding, I was not terribly keen on my husband playing with my breasts. When I’m breastfeeding, my breasts are functional, not sexual.

What many men miss is that breasts are primarily designed to be functional, not sexual. Yes, breasts are visually appealing and nipple stimulation does provide sexual pleasure for many women, but ultimately, the breast is phenomenally designed to create and make milk to feed infants, a process which starts during pregnancy.

At the end of his piece, Daly states:

“I say that the foundation of the parent-child bond is the parent-parent bond. Unlike the baby chicken or the fertilized egg conundrum, partnership precedes parenthood. That’s how you got into this position to begin with: by attracting a man who liked what he saw, and wanted to see more of what even the scientists researching extended breast-feeding call mammaries, not Mommaries.”

Daly is right but he’s also wrong. The parent-parent bond IS important to the development of a child. But many successful children are raised by single parents. We’re specifically discussing a partnership here though so we’ll address this aspect. This goes back to what I stated earlier – when you decide to have a child, how that child is fed should be a mutually agreed upon decision. Granted, that doesn’t always happen as life does not occur in a vacuum. But Daly himself states that he SUPPORTS his wife’s choice to breastfeed their sons, thereby accepting the flashing of “mommaries” instead of the “mammaries” which allegedly attracted him to his wife in the first place.

Attraction should be comprised of several things –not just appearance and physical attributes– it should include intellectual capability, sense of humor, communication skills, compassion, etc. There’s a reason eHarmony is so successful –they don’t just toss the physical at you. (not a sponsored mention.)

Physical fades. It changes. Your spouse/partner may have medical conditions (mental or physical) which impede sexual interaction. What then? If you don’t have any other basis for attraction to your spouse/partner, you’re screwed, and not in the way you desire. But is that justification for infidelity?

No.

Daly and his wife need to have a discussion about the state of their relationship because for now, I have a feeling he’s going to see a lot more of the “mommaries” than the “mammaries” if he fails to vocalize his feelings about his wife’s extended breastfeeding of their sons.

You could argue that extended breastfeeding has amazing benefits – nurturing, intellectual, etc. But you could also argue, as Daly does, extended breastfeeding impinges on the sexual relationship and therefore the intimacy of the parent-parent bond.

Here’s the thing – if your parent-parent bond relies solely on sexual interaction and seeing her “mammaries” instead of her “mommaries”? Your relationship may not have the best foundation.

Communication. THAT’S where intimacy starts. Daly should give it a shot.

Time - Are You Mom Enough

TIME Magazine fails to support mothers

When Jamie Grumet was tapped for an interview and photo-shoot for the most recent issue of TIME magazine, her goal was not to raise our hackles. Her goal, according to a Q&A at Time was: “There seems to be a war going on between conventional parenting and attachment parenting, and that’s what I want to avoid. I want everyone to be encouraging. We’re not on opposing teams. We all need to be encouraging to each other, and I don’t think we’re doing a very good job at that.” Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/10/q-a-with-jamie-lynne-grumet/#ixzz1uUnnAmrE

I have to say —I kind of agree with Jamie— but I disagree with about where the judgment is originating. For instance, this weekend is Mother’s Day weekend. Instead of celebrating motherhood for the amazing and difficult job it is –regardless of your approach– TIME magazine instead chooses to share an incredibly divisive article with an even more divisive headline, “Are you MOM Enough.” The real title, as accessed at their website is: “The Man Who Remade Motherhood.”

As for the photographer, Martin Schoeller, who took the photo, in an article focusing on “Behind the Cover,” he stated: “I liked the idea of having the kids standing up to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.” He also further stated, “It was important to show that there’s no stereotypical look for a mom who practices this kind of parenting.” Oh Martin. There’s no stereotypical Mom either – aside from, you know, a woman who has a child. Beyond that though, everything is up for grabs.

It’s time to stop judging each other for our choices. To stop allowing the media to get us all riled up. To stop thinking “Am I Mom Enough?” You are. No “as long as…” attached. There are, of course, mothers who don’t even try, mothers who have truly given up and are absent. But we’re not discussing mothers who are absent. We’re talking about mothers who give enough of a damn to raise their hackles in response to an article like this.

I don’t want to play the game anymore. But, as a mom who blogs and actively supports mothers who struggle with Postpartum Mood & Anxiety disorders, I feel I would be remiss in not addressing this topic.

Mothers, all of us, are different. We are unique in our approach to how we mother our children. These philosophies are rooted in how we are raised, how we relate to our partner, how our children relate to us, and the needs of our children. We adjust our lives in order to provide the best for our children with the resources we have and the beliefs which live deep within our hearts. If your children are secure, happy, and loved, there really isn’t any issue as to what your parenting philosophy is or if it’s any better than the mom next door.

All that matters is that what you’re doing WORKS FOR YOU.

This weekend, don’t wonder if you’re Mom enough.

KNOW you are. And know I love you for it.

Postpartum Voice of the Week: Bravado Designs

Tuesday morning began like any other. Until I saw a tweet from @phdinparenting referencing an earlier tweet by @postpartumprogr, Katherine Stone. This tweet questioned the title of a giveaway post at BabyCenter involving Bravado Designs products. At the time, the title of the post was “Can Color Cure PPD?”

I discussed it briefly on Twitter then decided to do some research into the legitimacy of colour and PPD. I’m always wary when someone, anyone, claims to be able to “cure” PPD. It turns out Chromotherapy does indeed exist and has a long history. But nothing I found directly linked it to treatment of PPD, let alone a cure.

Having read the post at BabyCenter, I decided to write a reactionary piece here at my blog. There was a growing concern within the #ppdchat community regarding the approach used by BabyCenter in the giveaway post.

Within minutes of my post appearing, I was in touch with marketing from Bravado. She was concerned about the reaction the piece was receiving and interested in elevating the discussion to educate new moms, something to which Bravado is very dedicated.

By the end of the day, after a few edits, the piece at BabyCenter moved well away from claiming to “cure PPD.” The piece is now titled “Can color help the baby blahs” and an italicized paragraph in the beginning of the post states the following:

Special Note: While color therapy can never cure anything as serious as PPD, which is a very serious condition best left to a doctor’s treatments, there is something to be said of boosting your mood through color therapy. There have been many studies that have shown an improvement of mood due to exposure to certain “happy” colors.

BabyCenter also publicly tweeted an apology regarding the article.

But the real gem in all of this is the apology note at Bravado’s website from their CEO. It’s respectful, engaging, and acknowledges the struggles moms with Postpartum Depression face, stating they should never be taken lightly.

If you’ve not read it, you really should. Go here to do so. 

Thank you, Bravado, for diving in and taking a stand in a situation gone wrong. We, mothers who have fought and are fighting Postpartum Depression, deeply appreciate your willingness to listen and react to our concerns.

Huge thanks too, to all of the #ppdchat community who raised your voices as the awareness of this grew. Many of you were fearless in speaking out against this. Don’t ever stop speaking up. It makes a difference.

Postpartum Voice of the Week: @ewokmama’s journey with jack

Not too long ago, I was featured over in Band Back Together’s “Go to 11″ series. I was honoured to be given the opportunity to share my story with the Band readers and community. It’s my turn to share Crystal’s story of PPD with her son Jack with you here at My Postpartum Voice. Crystal is an editor and board member over at the Band.

It takes courage to share your Postpartum story but as more and more of us refuse to be silenced by the stigma surrounding our journeys, the less hold stigma has on us. Thank you, Crystal, for sharing your story with us here.

I was terrified of my brand new baby.

 

I was working hard to try to breastfeed.  I had read all the books, visited with the lactation consultant, and I still couldn’t figure out how to get him latched properly.  My nipples were raw and bleeding.  I quickly decided I hated breastfeeding, but I was stubborn and refused to admit defeat.  I WOULD be the perfect mother and I would NOT fail.

 

As I latched Jack onto my breast again and gritted my teeth in pain, fear snuck into my brain.  I suddenly feared my baby was evil and that he was hurting me on purpose.  I resisted the urge to throw him from me, to shrink from his presence.  I looked away from his eyes and tears ran down my face.  I felt ridiculous – this was my baby, my son, not some gollum!  How in the world could I fear my own child, an infant only a few days old?

 

I admit, I wasn’t sleeping well at night.  My son would sleep for three hours at a time, which was pretty amazing for a newborn, but I had trouble nodding off because I worried I wouldn’t wake up if he cried.  I needed to get to him the moment he stirred, or the crying would rip me apart – I would be cowing in a corner and crying myself.  His crying was pure torture and if I couldn’t stop it, I would have to kill myself.  I just COULD NOT handle it.

 

I had read about post-partum depression.  In fact, I had had it after a miscarriage the prior year.  My husband and I had talked about how I could avoid falling into that hole again.  Knowing is half the battle, right?

 

Unfortunately, he went back to work a week after Jack was born and all our family members went back home.  I was alone.  I spent hours in our apartment by myself; we lived in a town far from family and the friends there were my husband’s.  I didn’t know what to do with my kid.  I was anxious when he was awake and I spent his naps worrying about when he would wake up.

 

Things improved when I joined a mother’s group, when I was able to get out of the house and hear about other mothers’ struggles.  Still, I was too embarrassed, too ashamed to talk about my feelings toward my baby.  I worried that if I admitted to feeling afraid of Jack, admitted to feeling like I needed to get away from him, someone would call Child Protective Services and my child would be taken away.  Surely they would think I was too crazy and incompetent to be left in charge of a baby.

 

I wish I had reached out earlier.  I wish I had contacted my OB much sooner, rather than waiting and living with these feelings.  My early days with my son are a blur of fear, stress, and exhaustion; PPD overshadowed all the good moments.  I did not enjoy my baby for nearly two years of his life and I regret that to this day.

 

If you struggle with these feelings, please reach out to someone.  The community at Band Back Together can help – we have a wide variety of individuals who have survived PPD (and everything else on the mental illness spectrum).  There are people who will understand what you are dealing with, who won’t judge you, and who can give you the support and kick in the pants to take control of your situation.  You do not have to be alone.

 

 

Crystal, aka Ewokmama, is a re-married mother to one alien/superhero/transformer boy named Jack. She is an obsessive multi-tasker, making her the perfect Executive Assistant at a software firm in San Francisco. When not parenting her fierce and fuzzy ewok-child, Crystal can often be found tending to her Facebook game crops on the laptop while simultaneously dominating Words With Friends on her iPhone and explaining the family’s finances to her devastatingly handsome and uproariously funny husband (who didn’t help write this bio at all). Not to mention that she will be taste-testing cupcakes and sipping wine, as well.

 

As a trauma survivor learning to live a normalish life with Chronic Depression, PPD and PTSD, Crystal feels very strongly about the need to connect with others when experiencing difficulties in life. For this reason she has dedicated time to mentoring new mothers who are learning to breastfeed, sharing her own parenting struggles and triumphs on her own blog, Ewokmama.com, and becoming a member of Band Back Together.

My breasts, my sanity, MY CHOICE

Yesterday afternoon, the tweet you see to your left was sent out by a friend of mine. Of course I clicked. Then I waited for my phone to fully load the page. Once it loaded, I scrolled through the article. With each new point, my rage increased. Not until the end of the article did the author even begin to show a shred of compassion for mothers who rely upon formula in medically necessary situations. Even then her compassion was thin and failed to mention mothers struggling with postpartum depression. A few back and forths about the article then Karen Kleiman posted a rebuttal. So did Ivy Shih Leung over at Ivy’s PPD Blog.

And now? I give you mine.

My mother nursed my brothers and I for 18 months each. Or that’s what I’ve been told. I’m sticking to it. I grew up thinking breastfeeding was normal. I grew up used to seeing my mother nurse my brothers. It was how they were fed. It wasn’t weird. Or strange. I wasn’t scarred by the experience. I was six years old when my youngest brother stopped nursing. Closer to seven, actually.

When pregnant with my first child, I knew I would nurse. Because breastfeeding is how babies eat. She, however, had other plans that first day. Not interested in the boob. Didn’t eat at all in the hospital. We were sent home with barely any instruction but by god, they sent a bag with free formula samples. Which I used when she was screaming at 10pm that night and I couldn’t get her to latch. We used three of those samples the first night. I woke up the following morning determined to make breastfeeding work. For us, it did. She latched and we didn’t look back for 16 months when she finally weaned. Breastfeeding was the ONLY thing I did right with her in those early days. I failed at everything else. I couldn’t handle her screaming. She nursed for an hour every two hours so I stayed on the couch. No outside support. I was modest, didn’t want to nurse in public, etc. Quick trips in between nursings became the norm for us. At three months postpartum, my doctor asked me how important breastfeeding was to me as my daughter screamed in her carseat next to me. Seriously? I left his office even more defeated than when I walked in. I left with no help. Clearly I had to do this on my own. She thrived, I broke down.

My breakdown continued into my second pregnancy, leading to an early delivery. Our second daughter was born with a cleft palate. Once again, I expected to give birth, nurse, and go home. I had higher hopes for starting nursing this time. Instead, later that evening, I was trained in how to use a Medela Symphony and clutched cold hard horns to my poor not yet full breasts. No one explained colostrum’s small production to me and the nurse even laughed at what I got that first try. Again, I was defeated. My biggest moment of defeat? When the nurse asked me what kind of formula I wanted our daughter to have.

“But, but.. I’m going to nurse her. She’s getting breastmilk.” I stammered.

“Honey, until your milk comes in completely, she needs to eat. What kind of formula? We have Enfamil or Similac.” the nurse stated.

“Enfamil.” I sighed and cried when she left.

And that was just the first day.

Let’s visit the day I was in the pumping room at the NICU and my daughter’s nurse started a feed with FORMULA just minutes before I exited with well over 8 ounces of fresh Mama milk. I made her stop the feed, dump the formula, and start a new one with my milk. Oh hell yes I did. Or what about the day of her G-tube and ear tube surgery when the nurses spilled 5 oz of her milk as they tried to get the Kangaroo pump to work? I was not nice.

At the same time though, I had to be okay with my daughter getting formula in those early days. Yes, I thought formula was evil. But when I couldn’t be there or have enough stored breastmilk at the NICU, if my daughter didn’t receive formula, she would have DIED. We had a toddler at home. The NICU was over an hour away. I couldn’t be there 24/7. So formula had to be okay. It wasn’t evil. It wasn’t non-nutritious. It was saving my daughter’s life. I needed to not feel guilty about what my daughter received. I needed to not think about how it was changing her gut flora. I needed to not be judged because damn it, I was trying as hard as I could but the pump only removes so much milk. I pumped around the clock – every three hours except for a luxurious 5 hour stretch in the wee hours of the morning when I let myself SLEEP. Sure, I could have stayed awake around the clock and made more to avoid the evil formula but again, I had a toddler. One needs sleep when attempting to care for a toddler. Or they win. Everything. And that, people, can get ugly fast.

I pumped exclusively for our second daughter for seven long months. During those seven months, I was hospitalized in an Acute Flight risk Mixed-Gender ward. I pumped every three hours there too. Pumping fed into my OCD. Clean, sanitize, run the kangaroo pump, pump, repeat. Every three hours. On top of caring for a toddler. On top of a husband working 70+ hours in the restaurant industry. On top of two dogs who ALWAYS waited to need to go outside until right after my let down whilst pumping and usually had an accident in the house. I made peace with a lot of things – lowered my standards for a lot of stuff. Because my daughter needed my breastmilk. I threw myself down the rabbit hole and wallowed there. I resented her. I hated her for what I had to do.

At seven months, I stopped. For my sanity, for my relationship with my family, for my daughter. We weren’t bonding. I was going crazy. When it’s a question of my sanity vs. breastmilk? My sanity will ALWAYS win. I cried when I bought formula. Expected to be judged and would have had a serious conversation with the person judging me. Possibly would have offered to invite them to my home to see just what it was I dealt with on a daily basis.

As I stated in Don’t Judge me, the manner in which baby is fed doesn’t matter. As long as everyone is thriving, that’s all that matters. Yes, we should be educated. But education does not have to come in a harsh form as it does in the “Pushing Formula is EVIL” article. State the facts. Be honest. Forthright. Respectful. Don’t make me feel guilty for my choices. If you have to preface an article with the following:

NOTE TO MOMS: Don’t read this if you are feeling vulnerable, guilty or overstressed. NOTE TO ALL: I’m not a therapist but a researcher in child development.”

Chances are you shouldn’t be writing it. I preface things with “vulnerable” here. But never with guilty or overstressed. And based on the article, it’s clear the author isn’t a therapist. If she were a therapist, she would have been far more compassionate and understanding. If she had read recent research stating “Postpartum Depression and difficulty Breastfeeding often go hand in hand” she may have been more compassionate.

Depressed moms may use formula more often than other moms. Breastfeeding is tough for us. We struggle with touch. We struggle with throwing ourselves under the bus because quite frankly, we already feel run over by the damn bus.

Motherhood is about making the right choice for our family. Not making the right choice for someone else’s family. Not about judging others for their decisions. Not about filling people’s heads with unresearched facts in a demeaning manner.

For the record? My daughter is extremely bright. She tested almost off the charts in verbal comprehension at four. So did her sister.

When their brother was born, he nursed like a champ. But then I had emotional crisis at 3 months. My medication combined with my stress killed my supply. He was diagnosed as failure to thrive at six months having gained only four pounds since birth. The pediatrician suggested I pump. I knew where that road led. I closed the milk factory and he switched to formula in just two days. He gained weight, I was less stressed, and we thrived.

Formula worked for my family. It wasn’t evil. No one pushed it on us. I made educated decisions to use it. It saved my second daughter’s life. It saved my son’s life. It saved MY life. The author states that if one cannot breastfeed, a wet-nurse or milk from a milk bank is an acceptable substitute. I agree. But at the time, I couldn’t even get my insurance company to pay for what I felt was a “medically necessary” hospital grade pump. How on EARTH would I get coverage for milk-bank breastmilk?

Don’t ever tell me Formula is evil. It saves lives. The end.

My breasts, my sanity, MY CHOICE.

BOOM.

KevinMD guest post misses the mark about Mothers

This evening I happened upon a guest post over at KevinMD by Dr. Srini Pillay, MD, an author and an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School. KevinMD has been a site I read more and more these days. I enjoy the insight offered by his knowledgeable guests. Today’s post, however, has me shaking in anger.

Dr. Sirini Pillay’s post is entitled “What a psychiatrist learned in therapy sessions with mothers.” It’s also posted at Pillay’s other blog, Debunking Myths of the Mind under the title “I love my children but hate my life: Solutions to Dilemmas Mothers Face” with the subtitle of “A balm for all guilty mothers.”

(Please note: All text below in italics and bold is directly from Dr. Pillay’s article)

 

Dr. Pillay pontificates a few reasons for the psychological issues/stress mothers experience during their lives. With every one of them, his explanation (in my opinion) places even more guilt upon the already exhausted and stressed out mother rather than offer true solutions for her success as a mother. Perhaps most glaring  in his examination of the trials and tribulations of motherhood is the omission of any mention of a Postpartum Mood Disorder as the source for the points upon which he offers his expert insight. I find it impossible to believe, given the statistics of Postpartum Mood Disorders (1 in 8 new mothers), Dr. Pillay has never seen a mother with a Postpartum Mood Disorder or is unaware of the additional issues a Postpartum Mood Disorder brings to the dynamic of Motherhood, especially if said Postpartum Mood Disorder goes untreated. It is both appalling and irresponsible to me for a Psychiatrist to fail to mention such a glaring issue in the face of addressing issues faced by Mothers.

First up, Dr. Pillay mentions Perfectionism. “New mothers often expect to be perfect rather than the best that they can be,” Why does the mother expect to be perfect, Dr. Pillay? Is it because SHE has placed those ideals in her head? No. It is because society has placed these ideals in her head. We are absolutely expected to be pristinely Stepford in our execution in the assigned task of Motherhood while Fathers are expected (also unfairly) to be aloof idiots. What Dr. Pillay fails to mention is that those of us who are obsessive perfectionists are at a higher risk for developing a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder. What he fails to mention is that, in order to overcome this “Peril of Perfection” society must also change their view of Motherhood. Instead, Dr. Pillay perpetuates the stigma and tells Mothers “you can always strive to be better by making small changes. Holding yourself to a standard of perfection can lead to burnout in all areas of life, because you are constantly striving for something that does not exist.” I agree, Dr. Pillay. But the same society fails us when they perpetually hold us to a standard of perfection, for which when not reached, we are then automatically judged and crucified.

Next up, burnout. Burnout is a direct result of perfectionism. It’s also the direct relation of attempting to care for an infant while struggling with the depths of a Mood Disorder. Study after study has proven the adverse effect of Postpartum Mood Disorders on sleep. Have a Postpartum Mood Disorder? You won’t sleep as well when you do sleep. Sleeping less and lower quality of sleep are both symptoms of a Postpartum Mood Disorder. Yes, everyone knows new mothers don’t sleep much. But moms with a Postpartum Mood Disorder sleep even less and achieve a lower quality of sleep when we DO sleep. Another kicker? Our children sleep less and at a lower quality as well. So now you have an exhausted dyad attempting to live up to an impossibly high societal standard which is now even further out of our grasp. Need more ammunition here? We’re also told to snap out of it if we seek help. Stigmatized. Made to feel guilty. Not allowed to have the “time” to be depressed because by God we have an infant to raise which is what we were bred to do. Failure is not an option. So we stay silent, we suffer, we weep, we wail, we dry our eyes in the face of the public realm because we’re not allowed to have emotions other than those seen in Johnson & Johnson or Pamper’s commercials. Everything is to be picture perfect. If it’s not, we’ve failed. Dr. Pillay’s suggestion here? “So rather than force themselves to think and feel differently, addressing the burnout can help many problems all at once.” I would have loved to have addressed the issue of burnout. I attempted to address the issue of burnout with each one of my children. I asked for help. I begged for a night nurse from the pediatrician once our second daughter came home after nearly a month in the NICU after being born with a cleft palate. His response? “Why do you need a night nurse?” I had a toddler. Two dogs. A husband who worked 70+ hours a week. I was exclusively pumping every three hours and running a Kangaroo pump on the same schedule. I had to clean my daughter’s PEG site and jaw distraction sites a total of 4-6 times a day on TOP of everything else. Sleeping would have been a gift from the Gods. Yet I was denied and landed in a Psych Ward less than two months after my daughter’s birth through no fault of my own. No amount of forcing myself to think and feel differently would have helped. But I tried to address the burnout. That too, failed.

Now we move into “The best balance.” This paragraph’s opening sentence really captures judgment of mothers across the world: “When women feel overwhelmed, they essentially need to ask themselves why they expect something impossible from themselves.” Again, he’s absolutely right. Yet again, it’s society which has trained us to expect the impossible from ourselves. Dr. Pillay goes on to suggest “The reality is that if a woman has a need to work and have a baby, she needs to find a best balance that is right for her and her family.” Again, I agree. But if a woman has a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety disorder, she is already wracked with guilt. Attempting to find balance in her life is not achievable until she has begun to heal from her fragile mental state. A woman with a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety disorder can barely survive her day let alone find balance in her life until her mental health issues are addressed. Any health professional or anyone I knew mentioning to me all I needed to do to improve was to “find a best balance” in my life when I was in my darkest days would have heard an earful. We’re barely able to keep our own heads above the fray – how are we expected to balance too?

“There is no one-size-fits-all type of mother, and different types of mothering produce different positive and negative outcomes.” Amen. And yet, society expects Sally to parent like Suzie and Suzie to parent like Bethany and Bethany to parent like Rebecca and Rebecca to parent like Jody and Jody to parent like.. well.. you get my drift. It’s the whole Stepford thing. Again, society does not allow for this sort of flexibility. Mothers with Postpartum Mood Disorders parent far differently than any other mother on the planet. We realize the value of self-care because it’s necessary for our survival. For some of us, it’s necessary for our children’s survival. We are judged for how we parent. How we HAVE to parent. We are judged for expressing our frustrations, for choosing to formula feed, for choosing not to go the attachment parenting route, for letting our little ones watch TV because we’ve had a tough day. Yes, we heal from a Postpartum Mood Disorder but when you’re in the thick of it and family members or random people in public are judging us, we have a harder time letting it go and then BAM. Hello guilt. Hello Xanax. I love the idea, I love the theory of “no one -size-fits-all type of mother,” I do. But it doesn’t work in the real world and certainly doesn’t work when the public thinks of mothers with Postpartum Mood Disorders. A mother with a Postpartum Mood Disorder is a horrible mother to most – we’re stigmatized and in addition to overcoming the every day normal judgmental issues which accompany motherhood – we must also overcome the additional perception of our “bad mother” rep.

The final paragraph recognizes that “It’s not all you.” It’s not. It’s genes. It’s how our child is wired to react. But guess what? Kids of depressed parents are more at risk for issues like ADHD. They sleep less. Their quality of sleep is less. Dr. Pillay says, “Parents who take on all the responsibility of this often distort this, feeling as though they are fully responsible for how a child turns out.” Wait a second. Aren’t we? What about Parents who are arrested for the behavior of their children? Parents who are judged because their child isn’t yet sleeping through the night or wets the bed or isn’t getting good grades in school? Or Parents who have infants who are not yet eating solid foods even though they keep trying? Yet, Dr. Pillay’s solution is for PARENTS not to blame themselves when their child doesn’t “lean on their own sense of responsibility.” He also goes on to add this gem: “Also, mothers who are alarmed by their own mistakes set a challenging standard for their children who may grow up to learn that mistakes are “bad” rather than inevitable but not a reason to give up.” Let’s say a mother has a doctor for her Postpartum Mood Disorder who keeps telling her she’ll get better with every therapy they try. Instead, she continues to worsen. Eventually she’s convinced the fault lies within her. That SHE is the problem. Some of these mothers may even give up and just live out the rest of their lives without trying any more therapy because they are the issue, not the therapy. So of course she will raise a child to believe mistakes are bad as opposed to inevitable. Of course she will raise her child to believe once a mistake is made more than once that giving up is the proper course of action. Or even worse yet, let’s say mom doesn’t get treatment at all (which is the case with most mothers struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder, by the way), this issue will spill over into how she raises her child and no amount of pulling herself up by the boot straps will change her thinking. She’s leaned on her own distorted sense of responsibility and it didn’t work for her. Why should she then expect it to work for her child? Why would she not consider herself fully responsible for her child’s behavior when society does just that on a daily basis?

My absolute favorite part of Dr. Pillay’s piece is the closing paragraph:

“Thus, when mothers find their relationships thrown into disarray, they may want to re-examine their own standards and relax their judgments toward themselves as they allow themselves to be more human and the very best that they can be without needing to be perfect.”

Sighs.

If only society would let us, Dr. Pillay. If only society would let us.

I’d like to add though should a mother finds her relationships thrown into disarray, she should not immediately blame herself for the fault of the disarray. Yes, she may truly be at fault but the other party may be at fault. She may be struggling with a Perinatal Mood Disorder or another type of mental illness. There are many additional reasons for the fault of relationships to be at fault other than the internal (yet societal driven) standards imposed on Mothers today. Perfectionism is imposed, not perceived. Failure to achieve perfection is perceived yes, but the standards we fail to reach were, at some point, imposed upon us by society. If we truly want to help mothers overcome the perception of succeeding by not being perfect, we need to first change society’s view of mothers, not mother’s view of themselves. The standards we try to reach our not our own… they are the fences between which we are forced to live. Until these barriers are removed, we will never succeed.

Can Kangaroo Care prevent Postpartum Depression?

I’m sharing today’s blog post with you as part of Science & Sensibility and Giving Birth with Confidence’s Blogging Carnival. This year’s theme focuses on “Keeping Mothers and babies together after birth.” In keeping with this theme, I want to focus on the influence Kangaroo Care can have on the prevention/relief of Postpartum Depression. If you’re here from the Carnival, welcome. If you’re a regular reader – enjoy! Either way, thrilled to have you here.

When I first became a mother, I had  never heard about Kangaroo Care. My daughter, however, liked to be held next to my chest, resting her head on my bare skin as she slept when she was not nursing. Not officially Kangaroo Care but we made do with what worked. To this day, she still likes to snuggle with me.

Kangaroo Mother Care is when a human mother and her infant snuggle skin to skin with the infant lying prone on mom’s chest. It’s a term coined after the Kangaroo’s close relationship with her little joey who doesn’t come out of mom’s pouch for four months after birth. Instead, joey relies on mom’s warmth, nutrition, and support for his “fourth” trimester. More often than not by those in the birthing realm, the first few months of a human’s life are now called the “fourth” trimester as well. Research has concluded over and over again that Kangaroo Care is invaluable for both human moms and babies as well.

In 2007 a study published in the Oxford Tropical Pediatrics from researchers at the Instituto Materno Infantil in Brazil concluded Kangaroo Mother Care may prove helpful in warding off postpartum depression. Researchers evaluated mothers at the beginning of NICU care and at the end of their Kangaroo Mother Care. NO mother developed depression during their Kangaroo stay. Let me say that again. NO MOTHER developed depression during their Kangaroo stay.

WHO, the World Health Organization, also offers an article regarding Kangaroo Care in the early months of infancy. Their article focuses on the bonding and encouragement of breastfeeding that Kangaroo Care provides. Many of the after-birth procedures and examinations can take place while baby is on Mom’s stomach in the prone position thereby improving chances of maternal and infant bonding.

A new Mother-to-Infant Bonding Scale included in a 2006 study compared the score of the Mother-to-Infant Bonding Scale to Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Women who scored lower on the MIB Scale scored higher on the EPDS and vice versa.

One of the perks of Kangaroo Care is the increased production of Oxytocin initiated through skin-to-skin contact with an infant. Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle” or “love hormone and may help new mothers ward off severe episodes of Postpartum Depression. This is an extremely compelling reason to encourage hospitals to encourage the practices of rooming in and immediate after birth examinations while baby is on Mom’s tummy or chest. The first few hours of life are extremely important to successful bonding and nursing. If mother and child are separated, the risk of failure for bonding and successful breastfeeding may decrease.

There’s also another personal story proving the very value of Kangaroo Mother Care. Carolyn Isbister, a mom out of Edinburgh, saved her infant’s life with a Kangaroo Cuddle. Her little one had been given up on by doctors. Carolyn cuddled with her infant to say goodbye. She and her husband watched as their daughter’s breathing and heart beats regulated. They watched as she went from grey to pink. Carolyn’s little girl is now healthy and home, thanks to Kangaroo Mother Care.

One of the calmest moments I had in the midst of my own downward spiral was as I sat with Charlotte snuggled up on my chest. We were in the middle of the NICU, beeps and boops all around us. The fragility of life hung heavy in the air. Her many wires, tubes, and other non-baby items draped across me as well. But all that mattered was her soft warm head resting peacefully under my chin, her breath caressing my chest. I wrapped my arms as tightly as I dared around her tiny body and closed my eyes. This was a moment in which I wanted to get lost. I wasn’t experiencing many of those at the time. Time stopped as we stepped out of the NICU and into our own little world for a bit. Even as I type this I can still smell her fresh baby scent and feel the weight of her little body curled up on my chest. It is a moment I will always cherish and never forget. My eye in the midst of a hurricane from hell.

I also felt soothed when I held our first daughter skin-to-skin even though I did not know the  technical term for our action at the time. Our son was a natural snuggler as well. With him, I did not experience Postpartum Depression. Our skin to skin contact was not much higher than with the other two but it was much higher than my skin to skin contact with Charlotte. After I had Charlotte I was hospitalized for severe PPD & PP OCD, a very scary time in my life.

If you’re a new mom struggling with bonding with your new infant, please try Kangaroo Mother Care. It’s free, it’s easy (mostly naked baby, mostly topless parent) and it does wonders.

Looking back, I wish I had insisted my children stay with me instead of letting them be sent away. Our second daughter’s absence was a medical necessity but with the other two it was not. Keeping your infant with you, on your skin, and allowing your relationship to develop naturally may just be the ticket you need to help ward off a severe case of Postpartum Depression. Some women may do Kangaroo Care and develop Postpartum Depression despite their dedication to skin to skin contact. If this happens, please know you are not alone. Be sure to ask for a thyroid and anemia levels test when talking with your doctor or midwife. And be sure to reach out for help from a mental health professional if you need it. There’s no shame in going to therapy. None.

Even if you are not feeling up to it now, one day, you will mother with confidence, you may even birth with confidence again. But know there are mothers who have been where you are right now and are willing to hold their hands back for you to cling on to – with confidence they will carry you out of the deep dark place you are now trapped within.

Want to read more about the Lamaze International View on Keeping Mother & Baby together? You’re in luck. You can do so right here.