Tag Archives: breastmilk

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.


Sharing the Journey with Tonya Rosenberg

I’ve been waiting on pins and needles to share this interview! Tonya is the founder of the Online PPD Support Page and has built quite the support system over there. The typical population these days is in the low single digit thousands but that’s vastly more than the 50 women Tonya initially imagined gaining support from the dying site she took over quite some time ago. Now, there’s an amazing team of moderators (hey ladies!) who work very smoothly together to help keep the flow going without deterring the recovery of the women who visit the board. While I haven’t been active there for some time now, I am on the moderator team and am honored to be part of the group.

I am also honored to share Tonya’s interview with you – it’s worth it’s weight in gold, every single word is so intense, transparent, and informative. I read her interview on a rough morning with the kids and boy did it put things into perspective for me. I am always amazed at how that happens!

Enjoy the read and if you or someone you love are in need of some support and there’s nothing nearby or you just need to type some thoughts to get them off your chest, pop on over to the forums at the Online PPD Support Page. It’s like having your own best friend on-line! (Plus, don’t forget that recent study about peer support cutting the PPD risk in HALF – that’s right, HALF!)

Thanks, Tonya, for saving this invaluable resource from an early Internet grave. It’s meant so much to so many families and I know it will continue to do so for years to come. You my friend, ROCK.

Tell us a little about yourself – just who is Tonya as a woman?

Sometimes that’s a very difficult question to answer! I’m a woman who enjoys being 38 years old, as I’ve found some things have gotten better with age. I’m a wife, a mother, a friend, a sister, a daughter, and an individual. I have days in which I feel proud of things I’ve done, and other days when I feel I’ve not done enough – just like everyone probably feels from time to time.

Just like me, you are a two time survivor of Postpartum Mood Disorders. Share with us what your first path down this road looked (and felt) like.

It’s hard to believe that my first child is now 14 years old, and the journey I started on began so long ago!

I was, in hindsight, ripe for developing a postpartum mood disorder. I was a young woman who’d rushed into a marriage with an older man, who himself had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at the time. My pregnancy was incredibly difficult – I dealt with hyperemesis (and the accompanying weight loss of 40 pounds in the first trimester alone, the multiple ER visits and hospital stays, the visits from home health care providers). I developed gestational diabetes.

During my pregnancy my husband at the time injured himself and was out of work, bringing our usual paycheck-to-paycheck life down to approximately half that income for a couple of months. We racked up a good deal of credit card debt during that time, compounded by the extra medical expenses incurred by my pregnancy and his injury. Near the end of my pregnancy, my paternal grandfather died from prostate cancer.

I was induced, because on top of everything else I started having some blood pressure problems. The birth itself probably wasn’t much different from many birth experiences – I had an epidural and an uneventful vaginal birth.

I remember being alone in the hospital room the first time, exhausted, and thinking that everyone was focused on the new baby – but I felt like the discarded packaging the baby came in. I felt oddly incomplete without the baby still in my now squishy belly, yet also strangely free at the same time.

Breastfeeding didn’t come naturally for me, and neither did motherhood in general. I felt overwhelmed, wrung out, guilty for not feeling the constant glowing love I “should” feel, and irritable. I was grateful when my (wonderful, amazing, fantastic) mother came over to take the baby for a bit so I could rest, yet it also compounded my feeling of being a horrible mother because I seemed to make the baby cry while my mom could calm and sooth and quiet her.

At just a few days old, I was hyper-vigilant about my baby. If she cried, I held her. If she was quiet, I was convinced she’d stopped breathing and would panic. One night in that first week I was sure she was breathing funny, and we wound up at the ER. I still remember the ER doctor laughing at me and chastising me by saying “ALL babies breathe funny.” But then he gave her a closer look and said he’d be back. I found out they were going to take her blood, and I was in charge of holding her steady while they poked her little foot and made her scream. I vividly remember crying along with her, apologizing for letting anyone hurt her. Results came back declaring she’d developed jaundice, and they wanted to keep her in the hospital. (I should mention the hospital I gave birth in was fantastic, but this hospital was the one closest to my house at the time and one I’d never go to again if I had any choice whatsoever!) They wanted to put her in the nursery and send me home, and I remember going into a total angry panic. I insisted they find a room with a bed, because I would not leave her alone in the hospital.

Being in the hospital with her was painful for me on so many levels. I was made to feel that my breast-milk actually caused the jaundice, and was instructed I would have to “pump and dump”, and that she’d be on a bottle of formula until she was well. I couldn’t hold her because she had to spend so much time in the clear plastic bassinet under the Bili-light. When it came time to feed her those bottles, I’d wind up in tears and hand her to a nurse to feed. Holding her with a bottle just made me feel like even MORE of a failure as a mother.

I struggled through, getting her back on breast-milk exclusively a few weeks after her hospitalization. I’m glad of that, because I truly believe (for me) breastfeeding saved my life. I had become more and more miserable to the point of being suicidal. The only things that stayed my hand in those low moments was the realization that she could only be fed by me (she never took a bottle or pacifier), and I couldn’t leave her behind to starve.

One day I got scared enough to call my doctor. She’d been crying and crying for hours, and I was about to lose my mind. I took her into her room and put her (probably not as gently as I could have) into the crib. I walked out, closed the door, and leaned against the wall just outside her door as she screamed. I closed my eyes, and the best way I can describe it is that I saw a movie play out in my mind. In my mind I could vividly see me walking back into her room, grabbing her tiny ankles, and slamming her head against the pristine white walls of her room. The graphic images of her in my hands, of red coating the walls, terrified me. I knew in that moment I couldn’t go another second alone – I was terrified of hurting her and would have very possibly hurt myself if I hadn’t picked up the phone instead.

I called my doctor, who got on the line immediately. I asked her if she could help me, and told her I was terrified of my thoughts. She soothed me and told me she had faith that I wouldn’t hurt my baby, that by knowing those thoughts were WRONG and was reaching out for help, that I wasn’t going to do anything bad. She told me to call my mom over, put the baby in the car-seat, and have my mom drive me to the office. The doctor said she’d make time for me whenever I got there.

Just saying out loud all the things I’d been feeling and thinking and fearing to my supportive and wonderful doctor helped to ease the weight I’d been feeling crushed under. With her help I began a treatment that involved an antidepressant and talk therapy.

It was a turning point in my life as a mother, and as a person.

Did you feel any more prepared the second time around? My second pregnancy was planned but my third was not. I was also still depressed during the second pregnancy which is what I ultimately felt led to my break a month after my daughter came home from the NICU. Was there a difference for you between your two experiences?

There were a lot of differences between my first and second postpartum experience. With my second child I still had challenges, of course. I had a new husband, a five year old daughter to care for, and I had moved across the country (and away from the loving support of my family and my doctor). On the other hand, finances weren’t a constant worry, my second husband is mentally much more healthy, and I only lost 14 pounds in the first trimester.

I knew that breast-milk does not cause jaundice, so I was ready to fight for the right to keep nursing if he developed it. I had educated myself quite a bit about postpartum mood disorders and knew I was at a higher risk, so I talked about that a lot with my new OBGYN. I also knew I was at risk for gestational diabetes again, so I worked harder to care for my health in that regard. (I still developed it, but I think it wasn’t as severe and that I managed it better.)

My second child was a very different baby than my first, too. He was quick to catch on with breastfeeding, he slept easily, and was just a more relaxed and happy baby. (I’ve since learned that my firstborn inherited bipolar disorder and a few other issues from my ex-husband, which actually goes a long way in explaining some of her behaviors even in infancy.) And my new husband was excited to be a new father, and did what he could to ease my burdens which made a huge difference as well.

I still wound up having postpartum depression, some anxiety, and intrusive thoughts, but I’d also opted to start back on antidepressants during the last bit of my pregnancy. I think, for me, it helped act as a bit of a cushion to soften the transitions my hormones went through.

As with any stresses that come towards us in life, one can choose to run or stand and fight. We’re both fighters dedicated to reaching behind us to help other struggling moms finding themselves where we used to be. At what point did you decide to become an advocate and get involved in supporting other moms?

It was rather by accident, truth be told! With my second pregnancy, I was away from all things familiar. So I turned to the Internet to search for resources for postpartum mood disorders. While there were a handful of sites that offered a bit of general information, there wasn’t much “out there” in terms of person-to-person support. I stumbled onto a website that had a very small email group, in which the babies were older and the mothers had left the PPMD world behind. The person who ran the place informed me within a few weeks of finding her that she was going to close the doors, so to speak.

I begged her to let it stay up, and asked if I could take up the reins. That was the beginning of my role as an advocate and supporter. None of the old site I took over remains today, but it was an important starting point and one I’m very grateful to have found when I found it.

I’d already been active on other on-line communities – even met my current husband on-line in a community for a couple of our favorite television shows at the time – and had seen how valuable and wonderful it could be to have this worldwide community of people from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. It seemed a natural thing to take that concept and apply it to the postpartum site.

I started updating information, rebuilding the site bit by bit, adding things here and there, deleting outdated or irrelevant things, and playing with my image program to figure out how I wanted the site to look. I went through a few different designs before I struck on the current theme, but pink always seemed to factor into the mix. What can I say, it’s one of my favorite colors!

In essence, I went looking for people to support me. Somehow it became helpful for me to extend MY help to OTHERS – my support of fellow struggling moms seemed to put my own struggles in perspective, gave me a chance to focus outside of myself, enabled me to gain more education on the subject, and let me redefine who I was and who I wanted to become.

What are some of the things you do to take care of YOU?

I go to therapy at least once a week – except my therapy is called live comedy! Laughter is really good medicine, and I find that I get rather antsy if I miss a week or two of going out to see comedy. It’s also important for me, as a stay-at-home-mom, to get out around other adults. Going to comedy helps in that regard, too.
Reading is something I enjoy, so I often keep my eyes open for books to devour.

It’s been a struggle, but I try to make myself a priority. If I need sleep, I go to bed. If I feel restless, I take the dog for a walk or to the dog park. If I am hurting, I’ll allow myself to spend some time and money for a massage.

The hardest thing – the thing I still struggle with the most – is being gentle with myself. I have had to work on retraining my brain to stop the negative self-talk, to forgive myself if I mess up, and so on. I’m a work in progress. :)

Name three things that made you smile or laugh today.

Watching Nickelodeon with my kids made me laugh.

My dog Blackberry made me smile when she gave me lots of doggie kisses.

The crew of one of my favorite local radio shows were hilarious today.

As you navigate motherhood, what do you find the most challenging? The least?

The things I view as challenging can change from day to day! Some days I feel challenged by things like my kids purposely annoying each other, but then I’ll catch them being sweet and thoughtful. Sometimes my teenager presses my buttons by saying everything AS IF SHE IS YELLING AND ANGRY, but then she’ll say something really funny or profound. Sometimes my son will drive me up the wall because he seems incapable of being quiet for five minutes straight, but when he’s not feeling well he becomes quiet and just wants to curl up at my side.

I guess the biggest challenge I face as a mother is myself, to be honest. I challenge myself when I play the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” game, when I second guess myself, when I take ultimately unimportant things far too seriously. Alternately, I feel least challenged when I am able to adopt an attitude of letting go and having faith that things will be okay even if I’m not micromanaging every second of every day.

How did your husband handle your experiences with Postpartum? What effect did your struggle have on your marriage (if any?)

My first husband had his own issues with mental health, and did not handle things well. He did the best he could, I believe, but his own illness really limited how much he could handle. There were things that happened during and after the pregnancy that I think were harmful to the marriage, things for which I don’t think I ever really forgave. I needed support, and ultimately felt that I had an infant and an adult child to care for instead.

My second husband was a champ overall, but I definitely think it was difficult for him. I think even almost a decade later, there’s a part of him that probably hangs on to some of the things I did and said during the darker moments. I know from my viewpoint it gave me some perspective on the differences of a supportive, helpful partner versus a partner who doesn’t know how to be supportive or helpful – it’s made me appreciate him more, perhaps, that I would have without the postpartum issues.

Tell us a bit about the Online Postpartum Support Page. Has it exceeded even your wildest dreams in terms of sheer number of women who have found support there?

When I started out, I figured I’d consider myself lucky if over an extended period of time there were 50 or so moms who’d used the site and the on-line communication tools. I just wanted to talk to a few other moms who understood what I was going through, and to let them know they weren’t alone in their struggles. I never foresaw the website growing to the extent that it has over the years, and still often feel a little in awe of it. I often feel guilty about the site because I’m not very involved in it and haven’t been for a while, yet I’m also incredibly proud of the fact that I got this ball rolling and incredibly grateful for the women over the years who’ve recovered and decided to “pay it forward” by helping moms.

And last but not least, what advice would you give to an expectant mother (new or experienced) about Postpartum Mood Disorders?

I’d like all new and expectant mothers to be educated on all the facets of postpartum mood disorders (and all doctors, for that matter!) – awareness of potential vulnerabilities, the various ways a PPMD can express itself, knowledge that having a PPMD does NOT mean you are a bad mother, and so on.
I’d like these women to know that media lies to us! Babies don’t come out with perfectly shaped heads and evenly toned skin. Mothers don’t always instantly have a magical moment as soon as the baby is born where they are madly, deeply in love. Birth plans don’t always go as planned, and that’s okay.
I’d like moms to know, ultimately, that no matter what thought they have or what feeling they experience (positive and negative), they are not alone. There’s been another mother, many other mothers, who’ve thought or felt the same thing. There’s a certain power in the knowledge that you are not alone, I think.

Philippians 3:13

This morning we had a pediatrician visit for both Cameron and Allison. Cameron’s appointment was his six month check-up and Alli’s was related to her continued rash behaviour.

Alli is being referred to a child psychologist for further testing/evaluation and I am very relieved. Perhaps this will finally shed some light on the underlying cause of her behaviour and lack of discipline acceptance.

Cameron, on the other hand, is suspected of Failure to Thrive. The pediatrician suggested I pump exclusively for a couple of days, giving him my breastmilk via bottle. I have a few reservations regarding that plan of action. First, exclusively bottlefeed and pump for TWO WHOLE DAYS? Pumping is not a good indicator of supply, bottlefeeding may confuse him, and frankly, after exclusively pumping for Charlotte for seven long months, I’m not so sure that I’m up for a second time around that block. I am also scared to start EP’ing as I fear I may end up doing that until he’s a year old, continuing to struggle to pump as well as get his weight gain in order. And what if I start and then try to go back to the breast and he refuses to go back? I can’t handle that all over again.

And so it is with a heavy heart filled with experience, fact, and love, I have decided to switch over to formula. A gradual transition to be sure but a difficult decision nonetheless. I know I will miss our nursing relationship but his health and growth as well as my mental stability are vastly more important than any potential benefit of breastmilk at this point. I fully anticipate a mourning period and will be keeping an eye on my mood as the prolactin production decreases as we wean. Deep in my heart I know this is the right decision for our family in order for us all to be happy and healthy.

It is at this time I am reminded of a wonderful bible verse –

Forgetting things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, this is wisdom. Philippians 3:13

This verse has become a constant reminder not to over-analyze every minute detail of what could have been done differently or where the train began to run off the tracks. To do this would be assigning ourselves to a dark pit of despair and that is not where we need to be now. We need to be front and center, in the light with the Lord so that we continue to shine and guide our children toward His glory. We will accept (once again) our new normal and adjust our lives accordingly so we may move forward full of prayer, wisdom, love, and strength. For at this time, there is nothing more we can do beyond this but wait on the Lord and trust in His infinite power and wisdom.

Breastmilk is amazing stuff

Just bagged up the breastmilk I pumped this morning (nearly 9oz! thanks to engorgement!) and as I was holding the bag in my hands it hit me just how amazing breastmilk is and even more amazing is the miracle that not only can a female body sustain life during pregnancy, it is designed to sustain once baby is born. What a true miracle!

Click here for amazing facts about breastmilk.