[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]
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.