When I Felt Like I Failed as a Mother, Donating Breast Milk Made Me Feel Strong Again

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Chasity Boatman, who blogs at Every Child is a Blessing. She writes about exclusively pumping, and how it healed her.  


By Chasity Boatman

When I brought my newborn son to my breast to nurse for the first time, I wanted to cry. Not because the moment was so beautiful, but because the pain was excruciating. The experience was nothing like I had read about in breastfeeding books, nursing blogs, or heard about from Le Leche League meetings. Breastfeeding is nature’s way of feeding a child, but I quickly learned that natural didn’t mean easy.

For the next month, I dreaded my son’s hunger. He would cry and reach for me, and I would want to turn away from him. I wanted to hand him off to someone else and leave. I felt guilty for my mental anguish over a beautiful act between mother and child. How wretched of a mother was I for dreading feeding my son from my breasts?

I was certain that I wasn’t doing something right. So I called lactation consultants. I asked questions online. I did as much research as I could. I couldn’t find anything to explain the burning pain and negative feelings I was having while nursing.

It wasn’t until a meeting with my third lactation consultant that I learned I had an unusual hormone imbalance that caused pain when my milk let down. My heart shattered. I felt like my body had failed me in every way imaginable as a mother.

During this time, I was also experiencing panic attacks and flashbacks to my emergency C-section. I dealt with spiritual anger, hatred toward my body, depression, anxiety, and OCD. I felt like I was falling apart at the worst time. I wondered if I should have become a mother. I worried that my son would hate me for being unable to care for him in the ways that I wanted to. I wouldn’t leave my house. I didn’t sleep properly. I had constant, irrational thoughts. I began to have suicidal idealizations. I simply couldn’t mentally handle my traumatic birth, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and failing at breastfeeding. It was all too much.

I still had a desperate need to nurse. When others recommended formula, it only made me more determined to breastfeed. I knew that those people were trying to ease my mental burden, but they just didn’t understand.

One day, I found on a thread online about exclusively pumping. At the time, four years ago, the topic wasn’t widely discussed or supported in the breastfeeding community. I didn’t have a plethora of information to work with, but for the first time since my son was born, I felt encouraged. I decided to try it.

For the next three months, I pumped every two hours. The nights were hard and sleepless. Everything I did revolved around my pumping schedule. I pumped in the car, in my college classes, and anywhere else that I needed to. I didn’t care what anyone else around me thought of me pumping, because I was so proud of my body.

Producing 50 ounces a day while pumping was the most healing experience for me. I felt an intense amount of relief and pride in my body. I no longer felt as broken as I once had. Not only did I produce enough milk to feed my son in a way that no longer physically pained me, but I produced enough to donate to others.

Over my year and a half of exclusively pumping, I donated more than 2,000 ounces to other babies through Human Milk 4 Human Babies. I was blessed to meet five incredible mothers who all had their own struggles. One mother couldn’t produce breast milk because she had a double mastectomy. Another mother was feeding an adopted child. Two mothers simply couldn’t produce enough breast milk to keep up with their child’s needs. The last mother had inverted nipples and her child could never latch properly to breastfeed. Being able to help other mothers and babies with my breastmilk was something I deeply cherished. Even at a year and a half, I was pumping every four hours simply to keep my supply up so I could keep donating milk to others. That is, until the day came that my son weaned himself from my milk.

My own struggles as a mother made me passionate about educating other women.

Despite what others told me, exclusively pumping can be an alternative to nursing. I helped mothers learn how to increase their supplies. How to use their pumps properly. Tips and tricks on how to practice self-care while pumping so they didn’t feel distant from their families. I started speaking at motherhood conventions about it and blogging about it regularly. When I was exclusively pumping, most mothers I talked to believed that you either nursed your child or gave them formula. So I was able to give mothers another option that many of them had never considered before or even knew about.

I look back at the time that I exclusively pumped with such fondness. It was the first time in my motherhood journey that I felt strong and accomplished. It was the first time in my motherhood journey that I felt joy. Exclusively pumping is not an easy path, and it’s not for everyone, but for me it was a healing and loving path, especially during a time when I was dealing with the demons of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD. Every mother’s story is different, and there’s a power in each one.

As A Psychiatrist, I Thought I’d Be Immune To Postpartum Depression. I Was Wrong.

Today’s post comes from Dr. Aparna Iyer, a board-certified psychiatrist and assistant professor at UT Southwestern in Dallas, Texas. She also has a private practice in Frisco, Texas.



By Aparna Iyer

I am a psychiatrist who treats mental health issues during pregnancy and the postpartum period. I had thought that this would somehow make me immune to postpartum depression, as though I could have seen it coming from a mile away and warded it off. But I was wrong. Quite frankly, I never thought it would happen to me.

After nine months of a blissful, uneventful pregnancy, I had an emergency c-section when the baby’s heart rate dropped. Although I imagine I could have been thrilled with the prospect of simply having a healthy baby, I instead found myself in a fog afterwards. People kept gushing over the baby, saying how beautiful he was, but the reality is that I couldn’t see anything past that fog.

My family and friends started to notice as I became progressively more detached and dysphoric. Many friends wondered why I kept dodging their calls or avoiding their requests to come over to see the baby. It just seemed like such a unsurmountable chore to even get dressed in the morning and to put on a smile to meet people, to give off the semblance of the romanticized mother-baby experience that we are all so convinced we will have.

A rock amidst the choppy waters — it’s what we psychiatrists aim to be. We strive to be the calm that our patients need during their darkest times. But in those moments, I found myself immersed in the deepest of those water, grasping for anything that would give me a moment of relief. I was shocked that I, someone who works to give her patients relief from such struggles, could be experiencing it myself.

The reality is that postpartum depression does not discriminate. Although it can impact certain groups of people more than others, it really can happen to anyone. It doesn’t care whether you’re younger or older, rich or poor, healthy or medically complicated. Frankly, it didn’t give a hoot that I was a psychiatrist either. It arrives, often unannounced, angry and ready to plunge us into a vortex of sadness and irrationality. It drives a wedge between us and our friends, family, partners. It leads some of us to act dangerously, towards ourselves and our newborns. In fact, around 80 percent of women report mood changes in the postpartum period, and about 15 percent go on to experience postpartum depression.

And yet, we cannot talk about it. The reality is that we’ve spent the better part of the last nine months preparing for this beautiful experience. We’ve had the baby showers, sifting through countless names to find the perfect one, reading numerous books on parenting philosophies to find the one that fits you best, wondering how you’re going to do anything productive on your maternity leave when all you want to do is stare into those gorgeous little eyes. And now this — is this the ultimate failure, many of us wonder? It’s hard not to believe that it is, although thankfully the world and the medical community have slowly started to truly understand postpartum depression for what it is: an unfortunate but common medical phenomena, one of the most common side effects of pregnancy.

The author and her newborn son.

Oftentimes women come into my office seeking help for postpartum depression and various other postpartum ailments. Many describe the struggle to keep their symptoms a secret, trying so desperately to maintain the image of that idyllic beginning of motherhood. Those of us who have experienced postpartum depression know that can be a strong sense of shame and stigma surrounding postpartum mental illness; likely some of this stigma is perpetuated by the pressure placed on mothers to do it all in a seemingly effortless, fashionable way in a society that sneers at the very concept of depression.

Depression and anxiety during the postpartum period need to be taken seriously, by the postpartum mother, her partner, her family and her physician. It is everybody’s job to compassionately support the mental health and wellbeing of the mother and her baby. Untreated postpartum depression can have terrible consequences. These mothers are less likely to get postnatal care, more likely to self medicate with drugs and alcohol, and ultimately this may all result in their babies experiencing worsening outcomes.

Luckily, postpartum depression is very treatable. In many cases, these women can opt for talk therapy, which is often sufficient and a great source of relief and support. In some cases, we might have to also add an antidepressant. While this can make a patient nervous, especially if that patient is breastfeeding, many of my patients feel more confident with this decision once I present the data regarding the risk profile of antidepressants versus the risks of uncontrolled depression or anxiety.

Depression at any stage of life can be a debilitating experience, and I am not glad to have had it, especially during a time I would have wished to have enjoyed bonding with my baby. However, I suppose that this could be viewed as an extension of my training, an opportunity to have experienced what many of my patients experience. Sometimes when my patients are in their darkest times, I express to them that I can see the light, the relief, at the end of this tunnel, and that they have to trust me that we can get there. As I write this and pause frequently due to my now three-year-old rambunctious toddler smiling up at me and vying for my attention, I smile back and am grateful that I reached the light at the end of my mine.

After Postpartum Depression, The Decision To Have Another Child Is Fraught With Anxiety

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from S. Prescott.


By S. Prescott

Sometimes, I’ll see babies in the store or at the kid gym, and my ovaries will scream. I’ll want to sniff their sweet heads, and enjoy their quiet cuddles. The perfect little cries, and gentle hands. Then, I’ll snap out of my daydream to ask myself:

Do I really want to do that again?

My mind suddenly shifts to the scary reality that was my postpartum mental illness two years ago. I’ll be taken back to the days when I just wanted to lay in bed and cry, but I still got up, and pretended I was fine. I’ll remember how I lost my spirit in the cloudy whirlwind. I’ll remember how I felt completely detached from the light that was my life.

The decision to grow one’s family is never a simple one, but for those who’ve had postpartum depression before, it comes with an extra layer of emotional distress. Those who’ve had postpartum depression or anxiety or psychosis before have a 50 percent higher risk than the average mom of experiencing one of these illnesses again.

Could I handle it again?

I’ll ask myself this as I see a tired, new mom shuffling through Target.

Could I handle a toddler, a newborn, and postpartum depression?

I can hardly handle one tantrum, let alone a tantrum from two kids. Would it make my depression worse? Would I become unattached to either child?

Will it affect my relationship with my son, and my husband?

My husband adapted so well to having a newborn — would he be able to do that again? My son gets so jealous. He might hate me.

My whole adult life, I was told kids would not be in my future. My husband and I accepted that, and enjoyed our life. We didn’t plan to try meds, or to adopt. We were content living our lives, just the two of us. Then, when we found out that what I thought was a kidney infection was actually a baby, we were horrified — and elated.

The typical fear-driven questions filled my head. Will I be a good mother? What if it hates me? The pregnancy was rough on my body, but I had no idea what was the storm getting ready to take over my mind and soul.

Our son was born at 42 weeks gestation, and sent to the NICU three hours after a 20 hour labor. I had a failed induction under my belt, a past term baby, an infection, and a sick baby. I spent the next nine days crying. At one point I couldn’t even hold our sweet boy. Going home to an empty nursery was crushing. However, I powered through. When we finally got discharged I felt a light in my heart, and clear air in my mind. The NICU had him on a perfect schedule, and he was an amazing eater. Life was great. Then the storm hit.

We were back in the NICU with RSV. I was sad, but this was different.

Having postpartum depression is like being in one of those dreams where you are running, but going nowhere. There is this fear and isolation, but you aren’t 100 percent what sure is causing it. In my case, I was surrounded by wonderful people, yet I still felt completely alone. Looking back at it now, I knew what was going on with my mind, but I was scared to admit it. I already felt like a total failure. I couldn’t even keep my baby from getting sick for a week. I blamed myself for both of his NICU trips, and for every problem around the sun. My fuse was short, that even the smallest thing would make me cry, or explode.

My best friend took me to lunch, and told me she thought I wasn’t okay. I didn’t deny it. I was not okay. I sat in the parking lot of our favorite diner and called my OB. My best friend sat in the passenger seat of my car, and told me it was all going to be okay. She assured me that I wasn’t a bad mom, and no one thought I was a failure. I still don’t think she understands how much I appreciate her for saving me.

I spoke with my doctor. I worked up the strength to say, “I think I have postpartum depression.”

He prescribed medication, and on Day One, I felt a change. I wasn’t better, but I wasn’t sliding into a hole of darkness. Within the week, I noticed I was someone different. I wasn’t quite my old self, but I wasn’t the “damaged” hot mess that I was before. I was handling my emotions better, and my fuse grew. I wasn’t flying off the handle, and I was no longer numb. I found Postpartum Progress, and for the first time, I didn’t feel alone, crazy, or like a failure. I felt empowered.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my struggles with postpartum depression. The ups, the downs, the tears, and the true breakdowns fueled by mental illness, stigmas and self doubt.

My husband and I have reached a point in our lives where we are discussing having more babies. We both have incredible siblings that have greatly impacted our lives. We don’t want our son to miss out on that incredible bond.

I’ve come to a point where I no longer cower in fear at thought of having PPD once more. There are so many things that I know now that I didn’t know then. I know more about caring for a newborn baby, handling lady-part goo, and I know more about my mind. I can tell when something isn’t quite right, and I’m no longer afraid to get help. I don’t see postpartum depression as a shameful thing anymore. I know about all the amazing references, organizations, and helpers there are out there. The more I think about, and look into having more babies, the less fearful I become. I know that I can make it through.

We haven’t started trying for number two just yet. But I know when I do, I’ll have a world of strength behind me.

P.S. More on the question: Should you stop having children if you’ve had postpartum depression? 

What Do Postpartum Anxiety ‘Aftershocks’ Feel Like? This Mother Explains.

Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Jen Bullett, who lives in Chicago.


By Jen Bullett

Hours, days or weeks after a major earthquake hits, the world braces itself for the impending lesser shock known as the aftershock. The tragic nature of the earthquake is drawn out. We wait to see if the aftershock is truly destructive or more of an inconvenience.

If you have experienced any number of challenges with trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, dealing with loss or postpartum issues, you probably know a thing or two about aftershocks. They come in so many different forms and appear at the most unlikely of times.

Like when you are filling out a form at a new doctor’s office and it asks you how many pregnancies you’ve had, followed by how many of those pregnancies resulted in live births. Then there’s the one that asks whether or not you’ve been hospitalized or had procedures. I don’t know whether a D & C is considered a noteworthy procedure. I put it down, just in case, and then cringe a little while a doctor glosses over it. “I see you had a D & C after a miscarriage.” Aftershock.

And then there are the times when marketers, having purchased your name from one of the many pregnancy apps, decide to send you formula in celebration of your soon-to-be-delivered baby. I guess their database didn’t inform them that there was no baby. I remember having to log into the pregnancy tracking site, and choose the setting that noted that my pregnancy was not successful. It was the only way I could stop receiving notices saying my baby was the size of a grape or a nectarine. Aftershock.

If you’ve experienced loss or complications with pregnancies, you may also be hyperaware of other people’s situations. Your heart aches when a friend, colleague or acquaintance has a loss, or complication, or postpartum struggle. When this happens, I remember exactly how I felt in those moments in my own life. I would give anything for this person not to have to feel this pain or sadness. Aftershock.

The author and her son.

Finally, there is the question, “Did you just love your maternity leave?” When someone asks that, the blood drains from my head to my toes. If by “love” you mean I felt like Sisyphus most days and I often felt so anxious I wanted to claw my way out of my own body, then yes. I love my son. He is literally the sweetest little boy ever and he makes me smile pretty much every second I am around him. It was all worth it and yet, I will never forget my lonely and scary maternity leave. Aftershock.

Over a year after the birth of my son, with the accumulation of aftershocks, combined with the normal stresses of life, I got hit with a real whammy. Turns out my postpartum anxiety decided it needed a sequel. In May, I found myself in the familiar spot of feeling panicked, struggling with insomnia, battling a racing mind, and coping with a constant physical buzzing through my body. How did I get back here? Only months earlier, I had cavalierly transitioned off medications. I was cured. But bad habits creep in when you are living your life. I forgot to take care of myself. I forgot to take time to be healthy. I tried to be tough through every aftershock and I never asked for help.

The thing about most aftershocks is that they aren’t as strong as the first shock. Yet it’s a double edged sword — you’ve already pulled yourself out of it once, so you know how to do it, but you also know how bad things can be. When you know what hell feels like, you are petrified of finding yourself back there. You will do anything to prevent that. You might be like me and begin a quest to find a quick fix.

But there isn’t a quick fix. The only path is to start again from the beginning. You make goals. You celebrate small accomplishments. You give yourself a break. You ask for help. You put yourself first. You climb up. You rebuild. You construct an even stronger foundation and reinforce supporting structures so you’ll be ready for the next aftershock.

Aftershocks are going to happen. This is a reality of life. Nobody means for them to happen. If you do find yourself in the middle of an aftershock, I hope that you have the good fortune, as I did, of being surrounded by a spouse or partner, family, colleagues, bosses and experts who are compassionate and supportive. And don’t forget: There is an end. As noted by Winston Churchill, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”