Why I chose to formula feed

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I recently read a story about a mother who lost her battle with postpartum depression. In the article her husband mentions the intense pressure she felt to breastfeed. My reaction to this was a mix of sadness and anger. This should be a wake up call to all of us about the amount of pressure placed on new mothers. We need to do better.

During my pregnancy with my daughter, I experienced crippling prenatal depression and anxiety. This was not out of the blue considering I have dealt with depression and anxiety in waves throughout my life. I decided to go off all medication before getting pregnant to avoid exposing my baby. I THOUGHT I had everything under control; and then the hormones came in full force. I spent nine months feeling claustrophobic in my own skin.

Throughout my pregnancy, my doctors, husband, and family all agreed that it was important for me to be proactive when it came to postpartum depression. Instead of a birth plan, I created an “after birth” plan. One of the biggest decisions I made was to forego breast feeding. This was a difficult decision for me. Like every pregnant woman in today’s society I read dozens of books, articles, and blogs about parenting. Although I knew formula feeding was the best option for my family, I was worried about not bonding with my daughter and denying her the nutritional benefits of breast milk. What if I regretted my decision? What if the hospital staff pressured me to breast feed? What if people judged me on this decision?

This is where the disconnect lies for mothers and maternal mental health. While dealing with severe depression I was stressing over how I would justify my feeding choice to those around me. At the time of my daughter’s birth our hospital was working to become “baby friendly”. I was warned by well-meaning friends that the hospital staff would pressure me; that they would send in a lactation consultant even if I declined their services. The problem with the baby friendly initiative is that it leaves out a crucial part of the baby’s wellbeing; maternal mental health. I truly believe that a healthy, happy mother is one of the most important factors for infant health.

For many women my feelings and viewpoints may be difficult to understand. AND THAT IS OKAY. We can have differing opinions and still respect one another. Although I have not had the experience of breastfeeding, I have tried to educate myself so that I can support my friends that do choose to breastfeed. I do my best to cheer them on and celebrate their successes with them. I do this because if it is important to them, it is important to me. In addition, I also have friends who chose to formula feed simply because they did not want to breastfeed. ALL mothers deserve support. It takes a village to raise a child but it also takes a village to support a mother.

I do want to state that the benefits of breastfeeding cannot be denied. However, there are many other factors that contribute to a child’s emotional and physical wellbeing. A mother making a decision for the health and wellbeing of their family should not be judged or shamed. I would also like to add that while I have been vocal about my journey with mental health, many women are not. It is a good reminder to us all to treat everyone with kindness; we don’t know what battles they may be facing.

**Although I chose to forego medication while pregnant with my daughter, that is not the answer for everyone. If you are dealing with depression during pregnancy it is important to be honest with your medical provider. And always remember, you are not alone.

What No One Expects When They’re Expecting

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This is likely to be my most personal and emotional post. I am telling my story in hopes that it will help other women in similar situations. My goal is to create something positive out of a difficult time in my life. I am asking that readers proceed with kindness.
Prenatal depression. Yes, this is a thing. Most people have heard personal accounts and information on postpartum depression but prenatal depression is rarely, if ever, talked about. This post chronicles my experience.

Here is a bit of back story. I have dealt with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. It began to spiral out of control in my early 20s. I started having panic attacks and the periods of sadness were more frequent. I was 26 when I sought professional help and began taking medication.When my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family I was determined to have a med-free pregnancy. I became pregnant about 2 months after I stopped my medication. I felt good for the first month that I was off the meds. I was surprised but extremely encouraged. Unfortunately, my anxiety returned shortly after I found out that I was expecting. Even though I wanted a child more than anything I did not feel joy, only fear.

Right from the beginning I began to obsess over childbirth. Along with the anxiety that I was feeling, I was convinced that my body was not capable of birthing my baby. These thoughts consumed the 9 months of my pregnancy. During my first prenatal appointment it was suggested that I resume my medication. I refused. Looking back I probably should have considered this option but I did what I felt was right at the time.

My first trimester is a blur. I was living in a haze of depression. Thankfully I recognized that I needed help. Around 13 weeks, at the suggestion of my doctor, I began seeing a therapist specializing in expectant and postpartum mothers experiencing anxiety and depression. I have to admit that it was helpful to have someone that I could be totally honest with; a neutral party that was not emotionally invested in my situation. I also took prenatal yoga classes and did simple workouts which gave me time to focus on myself. I was desperate to find something that would help me. These things helped in the moment but I still could not calm myself when panic would set in.

As my pregnancy went on I began to feel more and more isolated. I felt like no one understood what I was going through. I had never met anyone that had admitted to feeling this way during pregnancy.  People began asking my husband what was wrong with me; “But this is what she wanted” or “I thought she would be happier”. I hated going to parties or gatherings because I was afraid of saying or doing the wrong things. It is only now looking back that I realize that I did not give most people a chance to understand what I was going through. There were so many times that I wanted to make the people in my life understand how sick I was, but it was just too hard. It was all too hard.

Even now it is difficult to articulate how I felt. I remember the feeling so vividly and I desperately want to put it into words. However, not all feelings can be expressed linguistically, and many times they are not meant to be. The best that I can do is to compare it to claustrophobia, except there was no escape. I felt trapped physically and mentally.

I would have panic attacks that resulted in pure hysteria. I was angry and violent towards my husband. He began to fear for the safety of our baby. It was suggested several more times that I go back on medication but I still refused. I was convinced that it would harm my baby. In hindsight I think the choice of whether or not to take medication was one of the few things that was in my control during a time when I felt incredibly out of control.

This is my first time truly admitting this; there was a point that I was suicidal. I did not think that I would ever feel like myself again. My family urged me to focus on the end result but I could not even picture it. As I stated previously I was convinced that I would not be able to endure child birth. This made it hard for me to see my life with my daughter. I already felt like I had failed at being a mother. I knew my stress levels could not be good for the baby. If I couldn’t keep her safe while she was inside me, how could I ever protect her when she was out in the world? (I now jokingly consider this my per-requisite in “mom guilt”…it’s ok..you can laugh).

As my pregnancy went on my fear of childbirth consumed me. I read articles and books to prepare myself but most of them just added to my anxiety. There is an incredible culture of fear surrounding child birth in our society. I encountered many women that went into great detail about the pain and other not-so-pretty parts of childbirth without considering how they might affect an expecting mother. I do not believe this was done in malice. I truly believe that they just wanted to share their experiences. I do think that women should be free to share their birth stories. Mothers bond over their birth experiences. I just think that we should also be providing encouragement and positivity as well. Yes, childbirth is difficult but when you strip away the pain and exhaustion it is a beautiful, trans-formative experience. Expectant mothers need to hear that. Reassurance is crucial.

By the last month of my pregnancy I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I literally had nothing left. Two days before my daughter was born I spent the day with my mom. I sobbed asking her to take the baby after she was born. I insisted that I was too sick to care for her. I told my mom that I wanted to give her away to another family; to a better mother. I ACTUALLY SAID THOSE WORDS. My baby girl. The baby that I dreamed about for years. Of course I did not really mean it but at the time I thought I did.

My daughter came into this crazy world at 4:02 am on October 17, 2013. I am happy to say that I did not experience any postpartum depression. In fact, it seemed to be the opposite. My maternity leave was the happiest time of my life. I cannot explain the feeling of relief that washed over me. My daughter and I had made it through; together. And she is happy, healthy, incredibly feisty, and full of life. I truly believe that it was her spirit that kept me going and got me through the difficult times. God blessed me with my spirited girl for reason.

I had decided early on in my pregnancy that I would resume my medication after the baby was born. My therapist felt it would be best to be proactive when it came to postpartum depression. I also made the decision to forgo breastfeeding. The reason for this was two-fold. I did not want to expose my daughter to the medication and I also knew that I needed some time to mentally recuperate. This added another layer of guilt but I was fortunate to have support from my family and the medical community. I was encouraged to look at the big picture and to base my decision on what would make me the best mother that I could be (This part of my journey will likely be its own blog post someday).

It has taken me almost 2 years to tell my story in its entirety. Even now, as I type this, I am shaking. There is a part of me that wanted to bury this experience; to keep it hidden in the past. But there is a bigger picture. If I leave this experience behind me than all it becomes is a memory of a difficult time in my life. I have made the choice to share my journey in the hopes that it may help other women. While it likely would not have changed things, it would have been so comforting to know that I was not alone; that there were other women like me. It would not have cured the anxiety but it would have helped with the shame and guilt. One of the many things I love about being a mother is the sisterhood that comes along with the role. We are truly all in this together. I do not have all the answers but my hope is that I can provide support to other women dealing with depression during pregnancy.

As for me, I do plan to have more children. I am hopeful that my next pregnancy will be different. I am now more prepared to deal with any feelings of anxiety and depression. I know how important it is to reach out to others for help and support. I know to be proactive and not wait until things get out of control. Despite my experience, I still feel incredibly blessed to have had a physically healthy pregnancy and a thriving baby girl with whom I share an incredible bond. My story is to be continued…

Mental health is an important topic and should be talked about more in our society. If you know someone who seems like they are having a rough time, reach out to them. You could be the only one who does. And in case of an emergency call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-88255.

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