My mother has always been militant about breastfeeding. She raised me to believe that there was no excuse for a woman not to breastfeed her baby until at least teeth. So I always knew I was going to exclusively breastfeed and would silently judge women who didn't.
Then a year and a half before my son was born, I learned what Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex was after reading a post on Writing Chapter Three. I began to acknowledge that maybe there were women who really wanted to breastfeed but genuinely struggled.
6 months later, a close friend gave birth to her 4th child and chose to exclusively formula feed because as it turns out she suffered from emotions similar to PTSD whenever she tried to breastfeed going all the way back to her first child. Talking with her and listening to her experiences further highlighted to me that maybe we don’t always have all the facts when it comes to someone else’s breastfeeding relationship.
Barely 2 weeks after my sons birth, while I was still in the thick of being determined to make breastfeeding work for us, I came across the xoJane article Not Only Did I Not Breastfeed, I Didn’t Even Try. As a militant breastfeeder in training, I scoffed at the headline wondering how someone could not even try to breastfeed their baby at least for a little while. Don’t they know that every ounce counts?
"If I had decided to breastfeed, it would have only been to try to make myself look good."
And then I read it. “Antenatal depression.” There was a word for it. A word for exactly how I felt for the previous 9 months of my life. Pregnancy had not been kind to my emotional state and that probably had a huge effect on my frame of mind as we approached breastfeeding in the coming months.
I couldn’t help but rejoice when I read Emily’s loving reasoning for not even trying: "Taking that medication meant that I had to give up the option of breastfeeding. But I was someone’s mom now and I couldn’t risk falling back as far as I had been. For me, breastfeeding would have been a stupid and selfish decision. If I had decided to breastfeed, it would have only been to try to make myself look good. After all, countless obstetricians and pediatricians had assured me that Sawyer would be happy and healthy on formula. No, I had to be present and capable of taking care of Sawyer, even if that meant I couldn’t follow every single American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to a T."
For the first time in my life I felt empathy towards the women who didn’t breastfeed. But I was still going to keep trying. I’ve shared with you how our breastfeeding sessions went in the past. The good times were amazing, but the bad times added up to the worst emotional experience of my life. But I still couldn’t bear to give my son formula.
After weeks of leaning on all my family for emotional support, I finally listened to my father. You see my dad was hospitalized shortly after birth due to an adverse reaction to breastmilk. It was the 1960’s and the environment wasn’t breastfeeding friendly, instead of encouraging an elimination diet or removal of dairy, they simply gave him soy formula. And that’s what worked. Mind you I hadn’t been eating well for over a month since my own allergies and food aversions combined with our son’s allergies and intolerances left little on the menu. I was miserable and my dad smiled at me and said, “Honey, don’t kill yourself. He’ll still turn out ok.”
I think it’s true that many women might not even try because they have access to free formula. In our case the organic soy formula that was the only thing my son would accept beside breastmilk cost us $25 every week.
I know now there were other things I could have tried before giving up but looking back at the time I don’t know if I was in the emotional place to do so. There were many dark days then and that’s not always something that other people see.
I whole-heartedly plan to try again with subsequent children especially since we learned the cause of all our trials was really an anatomical issue on both our parts after it was already too late.