A Long History of Breastfeeding, Anxiety, and Forgiveness

I’ve never shared my entire journey with breastfeeding in one place, at one time. It’s a topic that makes my heart race a little, catches my breath in six different ways. It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and it feels like the right time to share how breastfeeding contributed to my postpartum depression and anxiety and, eventually, healed it.

A Long History of Breastfeeding, Anxiety, and Forgiveness
My mother did not breastfeed me. As I like to arrive early to events even now as an adult, I arrived nearly a month early. Preemies often have latch issues, and my mother also hemorrhaged after birth. In addition to our rocky start together, the year was 1981. Enough said.

To this day, my mother blames my immune deficiencies and even our struggle to bond and relate on her inability to breastfeed me. I tend to lean more toward a kidney birth defect no one knew about and strong personalities. However, when she apologized to me for not breastfeeding and how it might have related to our bond, something inside me stirred.

The nurses instructed me not to breastfeed my firstborn.

“It might create a bond.”

As if bonding was a bad thing. But it was if you were on the earlier fringes of the open adoption movement. Due to my kidney disorder, I’d been placed on Level III bed rest at 18 weeks. I experienced severe depression during that pregnancy and as a result, combined with a billion other reasons, chose to place my daughter for adoption at birth.

I wanted to breastfeed. I felt like because I failed her in so many ways, at least I could offer her the Liquid Gold of colostrum. I could offer her something. Anything.

Instead the nurses brought me a bottle, and I fed her quietly in the dim light of my empty hospital room.

A few years later, when my husband and I welcomed our first son into the world, I wrote breastfeeding in big bold letters in my birth plan. My kidney got the best of us again, and my doctor induced my labor when pre-ecclampsia reared its ugly head. In the last few minutes with fevers spiking and heart rates dropping, I consented to an episiotomy to get my son out safely.

The nurses whisked him away to make sure he could breathe okay. They tended to me to help get my blood pressure and temperature back in normal ranges.

There was no immediate baby-on-the-chest, searching and rooting, latch and wait moment for us like I planned. Immediately, the feelings of not being “enough,” the ones I experienced in that empty hospital room with my daughter, began to bubble to the surface. My postpartum depression and anxiety began before they even wheeled me to my room, my thoughts already racing and dodging into darker territory.

By the time everything seemed under control for both me and my son, I sat in the chair to feed him and experienced the worst panic attack of my life up until that point.

I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t bring him to my breast.

I couldn’t do it with his sister. I failed her in so many ways. Who was I to think I wasn’t going to fail this child in many more ways? I sobbed silently over his little burrito wrapped body, accepted the bottle the nurse brought in, and started therapy approximately two months later.

When we decided to have one last child—approved by my team of doctors, but just one last one due to that kidney of mine—I resolved myself to breastfeed that baby. At that time, I didn’t know if I’d have a girl or a boy or twins or a litter of puppies. From the moment I saw that positive result, I steeled myself.

No one was going to take breastfeeding from us this time.

Our youngest son arrived without much fanfare. Two quick pushes and he slipped into the world with ease. He latched quickly.

But not very efficiently.

Two weeks later, we discovered our little dude rocked a pretty severe tongue tie. I literally went outside after we got home from that appointment and yelled at the sky. “Are you freaking kidding me?!”

Thankfully, we received quick referrals to Children’s Hospital. The procedure went quickly and without issue. He nursed immediately after, and it felt like I always dreamed it might: It felt like coming home.

I still experienced postpartum depression and anxiety with our youngest son. I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, so I possess that risk factor going into any postpartum period. But breastfeeding our youngest son saved me.

I would sit in the rocking chair as the evening sun poured in through the slats in his blinds and nurse him to sleep. I’d trace the outline of his little feet, his little toes. I’d run my finger down the side of his cheek. And despite everything that went wrong that day, whether real or just in my mind, I’d give thanks for that tiny little moment.

I remained in therapy during the postpartum period with our youngest son, but breastfeeding wasn’t a topic of discussion for us. I often nursed him during sessions. Instead we talked about learning to forgive myself for my perceived failures with my older children.

Perceived, because all three of my children, those under my roof and those not, are alive, healthy, fed, and well cared for; they are loved beyond comprehension.

I’m still getting there, that forgiveness thing. Maybe someday, like my mom, I’ll have a conversation with each of my older children about my inabilities to breastfeed. Maybe I’ll have already forgiven myself—wholly, completely—by then.

But I know this: I did the best I could for each of those babies, and I am proud of myself. I hope you are, too, dear mama.

Fighting PPD After Weaning

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from a Warrior Mom who found hope here on the site and wants to share her story to offer struggling moms the same thing. We love our Warrior Moms who give back in this way! -Jenna]

Fighting PPD After Weaning

Hello ladies. My name is Jen, I’m 30 and from Ohio and I have recently experienced postpartum depression after weaning my son after one year of breastfeeding.

I hope my story gives hope to all my sisters who feel like they are barely holding on. I do want you to know that it does get better and you will feel like yourself again. I promise. Postpartum Progress helped me a lot. I would read and reread the stories of all the women who posted their stories. It helped me so much to know that I was not alone.

Here’s my story:

I noticed that I didn’t feel quite right when I was in labor and delivery before I had our son. I had my epidural and all of a sudden my mood dropped off. I told the nurse and my mom looked at her and asked if that normal. The nurse shook her head no.

I brushed it off thinking it was the drugs. I had Lucas. We spent two nights in the hospital, and by the second day, I thought I was going to lose it. I was anxious; I needed out of the hospital. I felt this way until my milk came in. When it did, I was calm.

I stopped breastfeeding in August 2015. In July, I noticed that I didn’t feel quite myself. I felt aggravated, on the brink of having a panic attack many times. By November I started to spiral into what seemed like a deep dark hole that I felt bound and determined to get out of by myself.

I do want to mention that I developed OCD when I was about 12. I had controlled it well up until this point in my life with prayer, exercise, and staying very active.

By December, I knew that I could not do it on my own. I experienced panic attacks that seemed to last all day. I couldn’t concentrate. I wasn’t sleeping very well, and I was barely eating. My husband was worried about me, but did not understand depression/anxiety/OCD. He felt that it was all in my head and that I needed to snap out of it.

I had to go to the doctor; just knew I had to. So I went.

I wrote my whole story down so I wouldn’t forget anything (because my short-term memory was horrible) and just sobbed in his office. I felt like a failure. Here I was in a doctor’s office telling him my deepest. darkest. thoughts. The thoughts that I was sure he was going call child protective services over as soon as I left his office. He didn’t. Thank the good Lord.

He gave me a prescription an SSRI. My husband and I talked about the appointment, and he saw the prescription. We had one of the biggest fights that we had ever had. He felt like anti-depressants should be the last resort. I decided not to take the meds and try counseling, a natural doctor with supplements and calming oils instead. The counseling seriously helped. I strongly recommend it, especially if you do not have someone at home who can listen and tell you that you’re not crazy.

By January, I was down 15 pounds. I was thinking about hurting myself, hurting others; I didn’t want to do this, but I could not stop thinking about it. My brain would not shut off. I had racing thoughts that would not quit. I thought I was seeing things. I thought I was hearing things. My mind would go from memory to memory, on things I haven’t thought of in years. I felt like I was in a dream.

I thought for sure I was going insane and at any moment I was going to lose it. I could not get my thoughts in a positive place; I could not snap out of it. I was not sleeping and if I could fall asleep I was up four or five times a night. I would wake up shaking with anxiety. The lack of sleep exacerbated the anxiety.

At this point, I had the blessing of my husband to start taking the anti-depressants. Of course, it was not a quick fix, it took five to kick in to where I felt a little better. I am thankful that the SSRI the doctor first prescribed worked because sometimes you have to try many medications to get the right fit. I seriously did not have time for that. I was at the point where I wanted to die.

I did go back to the doctor when I started taking the anti-depressant because I had to get something to sleep. My husband went to the doctor with me. He had to; I couldn’t drive. That was the turning point for him. The doctor was very calm and answered all of my husband’s questions. From that day forward, he was so supportive. We actually grew closer through the storm.

So, let’s talk about the anti-depressant: Yes, I had side effects at first. Dull headaches, dry mouth, nauseated. I would wake up in the morning drenched with sweat. In February, I started reading more about the gut/brain connection and decided to give up gluten and dairy; that helped a lot. I am still on the anti-depressant, but I have absolutely no side effects.

When I eat gluten or dairy I can tell, my anxiety does escalate and I have night sweats. I would like to start weaning myself from the meds because my husband and I would like to have another baby, but at this point I’m too scared to be in the dark place I once was. I’m loving life again and I do not want to compromise that.

Ladies, there is hope. Please hold on and reach out for help.

~Jennifer Reed

The Perfect Storm: PPD, PPA, Breast Reduction Surgery, and Breastfeeding Stuggles

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Samantha Konikoff. Her unique experience might help you feel less guilt about your unique experience. -Jenna]

The Perfect Storm: PPD, PPA, Breast Reduction Surgery, and Breastfeeding Struggles -postpartumprogress.com

From the time I was a kid, I always remember just thinking having a baby was “easy.” Breastfeeding was natural and what your body was made to do. So when that wasn’t the case for me, it was heartbreaking.

What made it more heartbreaking? Because of my postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety (PPD/PPA), I thought I was a failure as a mom because breastfeeding just was not working. My mind lied to me and told me that I was selfish and hurting my child just because I didn’t want to breastfeed.

This, as I would learn after a few months, was a lie. I am not a failure and I made the best choice for me and my son. I needed to stop listening to everyone around me, the depression and anxiety in my head, and the world I thought was judging me.

I already had some challenges before I even had my son with the possibility of breastfeeding. I was 31 when I had my son, but at 18, I had a breast reduction. I remember asking the plastic surgeon if I would be able to breastfeed and him saying that I should be able to. Sadly, I gained all my breasts back plus some a few years after surgery and they stayed big. So between being very large breasted AND not sure if everything would work anyway, I wasn’t too hopeful. I don’t know if it was naivety or being hopeful, but I really thought I could do this natural thing of feeding my child.

My son was born and it was clear that breastfeeding wasn’t going to be this wonderful, easy, and bonding experience I expected. From the get go I needed a nipple shield. Whenever I needed to feed him while we were in the hospital, I would call a nurse to help me figure it out. Looking back, I can see my anxiety creeping in. I was getting nervous and constant worry that I wasn’t doing it correctly and I was hurting my son.

Add to this how large chested I was and I was so so scared that I was going to smoosh or suffocate my newborn baby.

These fears continued and got worse when we got home. My PPD/PPA had pretty much started soon after my son was born, and I was not doing so well mentally three days later when we were in our own home. I had to set up all the “pieces” I needed to feed him, and it had to be set up correctly so I could reach what I had to. I would get ready to have my son latch and I would start getting nervous and why wasn’t he latching and did I get the shield on right and was he getting enough? What if he didn’t get any milk? Was I just making this worse for him since I couldn’t tell if I was feeding him or not? Could he breathe with this HUGE breast in his face?

As the days went on, my thoughts were not much better. Again, those images I had in my head of this easy way to feed and bond with my child was the way to go. This was not the reality. My son always seemed to have his eyes closed and I didn’t see how this could be a bonding experience. I caught up on my reading. I never really looked at my son’s face, just a 200-300 page book would have majority of my attention.

I remember one of my first doctor appointments for my son. They asked how I was doing and I broke down. Everything was so hard and I thought I was failing at it all, especially giving my son the most natural thing of all, my milk.

“Just try it for six months” they told me. I started to not say much at follow up appointments with the doctor and nurse because it was always the same feedback. “We know it’s tough, but just try to keep with it for six months.”

Thinking of doing this for six months?! I would just get worked up and anxious about how it was going to work out. I didn’t like feeding anywhere but home and I couldn’t figure out when to pump in between feedings. I never produced much when I pumped anyway. My anxiety took over this and I would just go into question mode. “When can I go out and make sure to be home to feed him?” “What if we are in public and he is hungry?” “Am, I ever going to be able to leave him if I can’t pump?”

My son was about four or five weeks old when I got help and put on Zoloft for my PPD/PPA. I still kept trying to breastfeed and it still was a trigger for me. I just felt all this pressure. From mom groups that would stress breast is best and that anyone can find a way to breastfeed. From medical professionals that kept telling me to keep with it and it’s what’s the best for the baby.

Then it happened, one night I wasn’t producing enough to fully fill my son. My husband had to run out and get formula. I cried. I cried because I felt like I was a total failure to my kid. I cried because I felt like not trying anymore made me very selfish and that I was just doing this for myself and not putting my child and his health before mine. I cried because I just wasn’t enough. I cried because I worried of what everyone would think of me. I cried because he was crying and I couldn’t just make it stop.

I can’t tell you how long that guilt lasted because I think there will always be a little part of me that still thinks I should have tried more. But the further away from it I get and the talk therapy I have been in since my now six year old was two, helps the guilt lessen and let’s me see it was not selfish and I was helping us both by making a choice.

Sadly, I don’t have any moments of breastfeeding my son that are what I always wanted and thought I would have. BUT, I have memories of sitting with a bottle and feeding my son and looking at him and singing and connecting, because I wasn’t stressing out and my anxiety wasn’t taking over me.

When we had our daughter three years later. I again gave breastfeeding a try. I lasted five days. The nurse who came to our house the day after we got home and wanted me to take supplements to up my supply and then wanted me to pump and then breastfeed and then feed what I pumped. All of this overwhelmed me and I felt that anxiety and stress rising, this time though, I chose to switch to formula. I didn’t sleep the night before I knew I would have to tell the nurse and I was so nervous to tell the pediatrician, but to my surprise, they were both supportive of my decision. They both knew of my history with PPD/PPA and both said that my health had to come first and that was just as important.

Today I have healthy and happy and normal kids who are six and three. No one can point them out and tell if they had formula or breast milk. And they have a healthy mom. That matters.

~Samantha Konikoff

The Joy of Breastfeeding the Second Time Around

The Joy of Breastfeeding the Second Time Around

My daughter’s name is Eleanor, but no one really calls her that. Her big brother calls her “baby seeter” and melts my heart with his constant excitement to see her and his toddler accent. Her dad and I call her Rory (yes, I love Gilmore Girls that much). When she’s yelling about something, I call her Roary because I love a (bad) pun. Depending on who you ask—grandfathers, great-grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins—she is Rory, Grace, Gracie, Nell, Ellie or Princess. My mom calls her Miss Piggy though, and of course my mom is right.

This little girl LOVES to eat. She eats like it’s her job. And maybe it is. It seems to be her job to help me heal from the postpartum depression and anxiety I had with her brother and to help me learn to live with the PTSD.

I couldn’t breastfeed my son.

Technically that’s not true. I had milk, an overabundance actually. I could do it. Yet every time I tried, it hurt worse than I can even begin to describe. There was physical pain that radiated from his mouth up through my breast.

There was also wave after wave of anxiety, fear, and panic that gripped me each time. This thing that was supposed to be so natural and bonding was brutal and brought me to tears multiple times a day. I saw lactation consultants and went to support groups. I talked to my pediatrician and tried a nipple shield, every hold imaginable, and everyone’s grandmother’s advice. It always ended in excruciating pain, panic, confusion, and tears.

Eventually I stopped breastfeeding and began pumping. I called this my Bessie period.

I do that a lot; turn things into a joke that actually really hurt me. I felt like a failure, like a wimp, like I didn’t deserve to be called his mother. I did a great job of beating myself up.

Before our Little Miss Piggy was born, I didn’t really have a lot of hope that I would be able to breastfeed her. I knew that I wanted to try, but I also wanted to avoid having expectations of myself that could be crushed like they had been the first time.

I had a scheduled c-section that went like clockwork. We were in the recovery room in no time and my baby was on my chest. My doula told me to just keep breathing and just see what she did.

What she did was start healing me.

My tiny little person did the funniest crablike shuffle you’ve ever seen while making the first of the little snuffle-snorts that would come to be her signature. She found the breast. She latched on. All I did was support her.

And that’s our relationship today. I breastfeed on demand and she demands. That is what works for us. After everything I went through, it amazes me each time I click open the catch on my nursing bra. Each pound that she gains feels like a victory. Those rolls on her thighs? I did that.

Am I staring into her eyes lovingly as she nurses every single time? Nope. But in the middle of the night when I’m nursing and watching Netflix, or scrolling through blogs on my phone, and she does that snuffle-snort or she stops and burps only to start again, in those moments I stop and laugh and breastfeed at the same time. That feels like magic.