Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Other Option

This post is probably the most painful, and the hardest one, I will have to write. I know at points through this I will cry. I’ve debated for many, many months about whether to write this up – I fear more than anything that I will be judged for what I write and had hoped things would be different after Pia's birth so I could wash some of this away. I will be judged for the decision I made, not once, but twice. And the fact those decisions were extremely hard and emotional for me, makes the judgements even more cruel. I think though, that this is such an integral part of who I am, and the person I have become, that it needs to be said. And if, like Pia’s Story, I can give one other woman some comfort in them having to make the same decision, it will have been worth it.

I had to give up breastfeeding with both Max and with Pia.

In a country which has become fanatical about breastfeeding to the point of extremism, there are only two possible choices a mother could make. You either choose to breastfeed, or you choose to bottle feed. There is no middle ground, no safe haven for those who actually really, really wanted to breastfeed and couldn’t for whatever reason. In the socio-economic circles I live in, I do not know one person who bottle feeds. I am an isolated person within my peer group, and that isolation hurts.

I stopped breastfeeding with Max after 8 days. We had great latch on, position, etc for the first few days. Then a feeding frenzy where we must have had a not so good latch on. And then a terrible few days on the ward with psychotic patients, nurses and midwives through the night who cut their toe nails at the nurses station and bitched about patients for all to hear. Throw in engorgement, and over zealous day time midwives who thought it might be psychologically better for me to be at home rather than on the wards with all the drama, and my confidence was crushed, my nipples cracked, and high levels of anxiety set in. Once home I couldn’t get a good latch on. The nipples deteriorated. My anxiety increased. Max’s anxiety increased. Hysteria set in along with the trauma of the past week. Pain, bloodied feeds, lack of any sleep for 9 days straight and a distressed mother and baby. I withdrew from Max. I actually couldn’t bare to touch him or have him near me. I now know it is possible for someone to cry hysterically for an entire day. Days even. My husband made the call to stop. For our family. For me. For him. For Max.

There has not been one single day since that I haven’t regretted that decision, haven’t felt intense guilt and grief at what I did and what Max has missed out on. I have walked through the years of Max’s life with this burden of my own creation, and have gone out of my way to be a more than perfect mother to make up for it. The pressure and guilt I placed on myself was one of the major contributing factors in PND. I never, ever thought I would not breastfeed. It was never an option in my thinking. So to have to make that call, devastated me. I learnt very quickly, that motherhood is about compromises. Some of them are small concessions, some of them are huge. I got to make all the huge ones within the first two weeks. I had to come to terms with a birth which went totally against my beliefs, and feeding which was against my beliefs. Max though, was happier, less stressed, settled quickly, and is one of the healthiest, most alert, imaginative, intelligent children I know.

I honestly thought the feeding issue with Max was due to circumstance, and the situation I was in. I really did believe that Pia’s feeding would be different. I had a better frame of mind, I knew what was in store. I could do it this time.

The first feed my nipples shredded. Both sides. I had lactation consultants coming out of my ears in hospital. Not one of them/us could get a good latch on. We were constantly making do with nearly good latching. We stopped breastfeeding, and expressed to give the nipples a break. Every feed a midwife would come in and maul my breasts to get colostrum out while we chatted jovially about things. Every visitor I had copped an eyeful of fairly brutal breast manipulation, and a harsh lesson in motherhood difficulties. I shut them out. I decided to feed again with the help of a further lactation consultant. Again, we suffered with nearly good latchings. The nipples got even more shredded through the night. In the quiet isolation of the early hours of the morning, the anxiety settles in, building in intensity with each minute ticking closer to the next feed. The next stage was to express once the milk came in. Add engorgement again – I have no problem producing good milk – and we were on a path to destruction. With the electric pump on the lowest, mildest settings, my nipples still got further damaged. I could have persevered and used a nipple shield – but if the electric pump was causing damage, I really couldn’t see the shields doing much good. I cried long and silently with each feed, trying hard not to focus on the blood mixing with the milk. That is such a horrible, distressing thing to see. I talked to a number of people at the hospital, and decided to stop. Too many tears, too much anxiety. It just isn’t worth it.

I started panicking – a panic attack within 3 days of being a new mother is not a good sign really for someone on PND/depression watch. I really didn’t want to do this again. To open up old raw wounds and repeat past mistakes is just too much – I wanted to enjoy my first weeks with my new baby, not feel anxious and pressured, and panicked about each feed. I didn’t want Pia to know her mother in those weeks as someone who cries whenever they see her. I am so conscious of maternal depression and it’s affects on children – none of which can be accounted for till much later, but how much sorrow has Max seen that could have been avoided? I made my decisions for my family – my bond with Max and Pia is worth far more. My mental sanity is worth more.

Yet still I dread every feed in public where I am judged by other mothers who have no understanding of my situation. I dread answering the questions about feeding. I dread the smugness of mothers who find it easy, who assume everyone can do it. I dread the judgements. I now have twice the guilt – even though I made this decision much better informed, and with the total support of everyone at the hospital and I am ok about that decision. I understand now why it isn’t working: I have very small nipples, and they’re very sensitive. Pia and Max were never able to get them up far enough into the mouth to suck properly, hence their ability to shred instantly. Past damage hasn’t helped their cause. I know I tried everything I could to make it work this time.

But still, the pain will be mine forever.

This same post appears at 6.5st as well. For Pia's birth story, read here.


Anonymous Bronwen said...

I decided to comment here.
I have had 4 daughters, and only one was breast fed.... and that was with the use of a pump in a bottle. Please do not and I know how hard it is, dump the guilt of this on yourself. People tend to forget that at one stage people who couldn't breastfeed or wouldn't breast feed used wet nurses. In this day and age the bottle allows us to still bond with our babies as we hold them close and smell them and touch them.
I hope this thought helps you through the guilt and the looks you will get. I would rather bottle feed my baby and give them the best I can then continue to breast feed that would drive a wedge larger then the grand canyon between myself and my baby.

8:54 am  
Blogger sooz said...

The enormity of this burden just overwhelms me, and I really feel for how overwhelming it has been for you too.

For me I think pretty much the opposite story is true. Many women I knew had great difficulty with breastfeeding, many had chosen bottle feeding, I even knew someone who elected to have her milk production chemically suppressed immediately after birth becuase she was convinced breast feeding wouldn't work fer her. I expected it to be a very challenging thing and I was prepared for the possibility that it might not work for me.

I can't tell you the increadible surprise I had when it turned out that it was no problem at all. I am one of the very very lucky ones. I had one inverted nipple prior to birth, but it seemed to right itself almost immediately, and though I leaked and had pains (still do), Amy was born knowing what to do adn I had great midwives who got the whole process working.

There are no guarantees that my second child will be the same, and I don't make any assumptions. I don't make asumptions about myself, or anyone else and the choices they make. I hope you are able to walk past those judgements you feel from others, knowing you've made the choice that's right for you and Pia and Max and A. In the end these are the people who count. Like your friends and the rest of the mothers who have open minds and empathy and compassion, they will never judge you.

9:56 am  
Anonymous joanne said...

I too suffered greatly trying to breastfeed my first child - the agony of bleeding nipples,starving baby and an anxious mother (me!!)led me to bottlefeed.The best decision for myself and my baby.Pnd probably played a part but who really knows.The looks from people are a little confronting and hurtful( I remember them clearly) and I don't understand where all that judgement comes from??.My second child latched on correctly and was a good feeder although it did take a while to get it all happening in a nice routine. My haunting memories of my inability to breastfeed with my first interfered with my breastfeeding this time.I stopped at three and a half months because old feelings of anxiety were creeping in and I was desperate to have some space from my baby.It was blissfull to give her a botttle and it wasn't just I that could feed her.I felt more in control and began to get my life back.Strangely enough the looks this time washed over me ever so lightly that I barley noticed them.I am a big supporter of the bottle if it works for you and your child. I really hate all the breast is best literature etc that is shoved in your face constantly,everywhere you go,because just sometimes breast isn't best.

1:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alison, of all the gifts you give your children, the time, patience, love, teaching, understanding please do not allow yourself to feel guilty over the one you were not able to give.

How many twenty-somethings are aware of whether they were breast or bottle fed? But they all have very valid opinions on how they were parented, and loved and that is what counts.

Be strong and never be ashamed of that bottle.

5:45 pm  
Blogger Village Mama said...

I'm very sorry to read about your anguish.

In Spanish there's an expression which translates into English as 'every home is its own world/planet', thus, every home has its reasons for running the way it does. If your home is going to be saner, happier, more peaceful with bottles, then do all you can to work on not feeling guilt.

You need to nourish yourself right now, so make sure to seek out mamas who will make you laugh, cry and feel like you're a great bottle feeding mama.

1:35 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You did the right thing. You have to believe that and know it. A baby who sees pain and fear every time it feeds is not a contented baby. It can't relax and bond with it's parent. A baby that is held while being fed from a bottle by a parent who can smile and give caresses, is going to be happier. I believe in breastfeeding wholeheartedly, but sometimes it just doesn't work. I know that this is a very painful thing for you to share. Thank you for putting this out there. It will give others the chance to walk in your shoes and some confidence to people who are already in your position.

Take care.

1:53 am  
Anonymous Allison said...

Hi Alison,

First of all, let me say how much I admire you for getting this all out there. It gives us all a chance to stop and think about the situation, and perhaps our own anxieties as well.
It sounds to me like you are judging yourself too much. I know there are situations when some ignorant people can make careless comments about supposed "choices" to breastfeed, but from my experience of motherhood I think we are all just in awe of each other managing to get out of bed in the morning - it really doesn't matter so much what we have to do to get to the end of the day and back into that bed. I know there are physical issues with breastfeeding, but it almost echoes the whole working vs non-working mothers debate. Each side seems to feel the need to defend their own decisions so much that it alienates the others. God, we've got to get the terms "breastfeeding" and "bottle feeding" mothers out of our heads and all just be mothers.

I think you are aware of all these things and that a happy baby is the best thing. We can tell you again until we are blue in the face. It may not get through. You still know you are doing the right thing, though the doubts still linger. You may need to turn this around a little and really seek to discover the reasons why you wanted this so much in the first place. Now I know that might seem obvious, but if you are on PND watch, perhaps there is someone who you can talk to who can help you get to the bottom of it. I'm not trying to sound melodramatic and that there is some sinister underlying reason. Not at all. I'm just thinking about my own situation for a moment. For example, I'm desperate to have a VBAC - and I'm starting to think it's making me a little neurotic. I really think I have to calm down about it otherwise my chances of having one are going to be drastically reduced. As you well know, you can't just say "calm down!" and then you are. I really think I need to work out why it is so important to me. Why is it that other women who have had C-sections turn around say, "oh yeah, I'm going straight for another one". And they do, quite happily. Yet for me, that thought is just hideous. I know that a healthy baby is the most important outcome - no matter how it arrives. I'm an intelligent, rational woman. Why does this one aspect of motherhood catch me up? Why? When there are so many other things to be concentrating on?
I think if we could understand why it bothers us so much, we could go on to better deal with the situation when it doesn't go according to plan.

I must stop now - as this is going for too long. I hope you get some answers and some relief for your guilt. Don't judge yourself, try to make yourself happy, as well as your children.

All the best to you,


9:07 am  
Blogger Village Mama said...

hi again Alison, I've just finished browsing some of your photos on flickr, and so, I wanted to say/had to write that your intimate and beautiful pictures show a world full of love, sunlight, children surrounded by adoring adults, creativity, homemade sweaters, good food and abundance of all things a child needs. You have two gorgeous children, they may not be getting/have gotten breast milk but with the wondrous world you and your husband are giving them it seems apparent to me (on the other side of the planet) that they are going to be MORE than just fine.
Your touching and honest post has inspired me to write my second poem in two days (see one on my post yesterday).
Thank you dearly.
Sincerely, Village Mama AKA Susana

8:26 am  
Blogger mrspilkington said...

I do hope the pain subsides. You are nourishing your children with love, and that truly is best. Take care.

11:00 am  
Anonymous carolyn said...

i know you cannot help but feel their condemnatory looks or hear it in their voice when they say "what, youre not breast feeding?"

but frankly i think they should all just mind their own fucking business.

what works for mother & child is what works for mother & child = no one else's concern.

it's not like you've replaced breast milk with say...NOTHING. the kid is getting fed. that's all that matters.

7:38 am  

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