I wrote this post a few weeks ago but didn’t feel ready to share it until now. It’s still hard to find the courage to press the ‘publish’ button but I think it’s important. Be gentle.
When I had Ted I was totally unprepared for breastfeeding. I thought it was something that just happened and that if it didn’t it wouldn’t really matter.
Ted was a fairly big baby and I struggled to satisfy him. He also reacted badly to my epilepsy medication and once I started combination feeding and saw the difference in him depending on the kind of milk he was given I knew stopping breastfeeding was the right thing to do.
That doesn’t mean it was easy. I felt guilty and disappointed and, frankly, disgusted with myself for failing and, worse, for being relieved that I didn’t have to do it anymore.
When I was pregnant with Ben I was determined that it would be different this time. I did more research and I spoke to the epilepsy nurses at QMC (who are amazing, by the way) and I put together a plan to help me achieve my goal of safely feeding my new baby. The idea was that if I had these strategies and supports in place then I wouldn’t put so much pressure on myself. I’d have people to ask for help and advice and I’d finally be able to call myself a proper woman.
It didn’t work. I’m not breastfeeding Ben.
There are a lot of contributing factors and it would be so easy for me to say it was just because of my medication, but I’m writing this because I’ve always spoken honestly about my experiences of trying (and failing) to breastfeed and I don’t intend to be anything less than honest this time.
As I said, there were a lot of different reasons for my decision and none of them meant that the strategies I had put in place failed. They didn’t. They just didn’t work alongside all of the other things I hadn’t planned for.
The main reason I decided to stop feeding Ben was my mental health. After he spent eighteen hours attached to me and I felt like my breasts might actually fall off – and that it would be a relief if they did – the moment that I tearfully pressed my buzzer and told the midwife that I wanted to give him a bottle was one of utter relief.
I had spent the whole night awake and the whole day crying. The other women on my ward were bottle feeding – one through choice, one through necessity – and they couldn’t understand why I was putting so much pressure on myself. They were lovely and listened while I poured my heart out, but neither of them told me what to do and I appreciated it. I was still working everything through in my head and I needed to do it for myself.
Similarly, when BabyDaddy arrived he talked me through my options and my fears and asked me what it was that I wanted and how I could achieve it. He got a midwife to come and help me with my latch and talk to me about why certain things were happening, and then he held me when I sobbed and admitted that I couldn’t do it.
I could have persevered through the pain and discomfort until my milk came in a few days later in order to see whether he would finally be satisfied and give me a break. You could argue that not giving him that chance was selfish, and I have absolutely no doubt that there are people who think that of me.
Or you could accept that when I tell you I was so close to depression I could feel its icy fingers on my neck I’m being completely honest. It’s harder to admit that the one thing I should be able to do for my baby made me wretchedly miserable than to make excuses about my medication or even just to say I chose to stop, because now in my head I’ve not only failed to breastfeed but I’ve failed because I’m not strong enough.
A very wise and patient friend counselled me through the worst of this time and helped me to see that feeling so full of despair could never be a good thing for Ben and that I couldn’t make him happy if I was so far from it myself. I realised that I would be failing to nurture him emotionally as well as physically and I couldn’t bear to put him through more than I had to.
Ben spent eighteen hours alternating feeding with crying before falling asleep after his first bottle and staying that way for three hours. I have never felt such a bittersweet combination of guilt and relief as I did when I laid him in his crib peacefully for the first time that day.
I sobbed for the majority of the time he slept but when he woke up happy and contented I knew I had done the right thing.
It’s been hard to cope with leaking boobs when I know they could be feeding my son, but my mental health wasn’t worth compromising for the sake of not being judged. I couldn’t have done a good enough job of caring for my two boys in the state I was in to justify pushing on with something that was making me ill.
I desperately wanted to breastfeed Ben after not being able to feed Ted but in the end I managed even less this time. I was devastated but I didn’t just have Ben to consider, and pushing myself through the psychological pain wouldn’t have allowed me to be a good mum to either him or his big brother.
I did feel guilty when I decided to stop and I have struggled with the decision since, but I know I made the right choice for my family. I had four people to consider and all four of us are happier this way.
That’s how I can share this post despite knowing I’ll be judged. I’m not the only one who has had to make this decision and I don’t want anyone else going through it to think it’s not okay. It is.