Shortly after I became pregnant with my daughter, I started nesting. I was washing onesies and folding socks well before our 20-week ultrasound. I cleaned out our office and converted it to a nursery long before we even had a name picked out. I bought furniture, built it, and read all the reviews for things like laundry detergent and dish soap. I knew to ask everyone I knew about the difference between diaper brands. But one thing I never questioned — the one thing I always knew for sure — was that I was going to breastfeed. Not only did I want to breastfeed, I felt I needed to breastfeed because breast milk would keep my daughter healthy. After all, “breast is best,” right? As it turns out, breastfeeding isn’t always best for everyone. Breastfeeding my daughter made me feel trapped. Breastfeeding made me angry, and that anger only exacerbated my depression.
When I breastfed, I felt distant and cold. I was resentful, angry, and in many ways, breastfeeding made me hate my daughter. But no one warned me that could happen. Not my therapists or my doctors. It didn't even come up in the breastfeeding class I took before my daughter's birth. At the hospital, all through labor and delivery and in the hours afterward, nobody mentioned that breastfeeding my baby could put my mental health at risk — not even the lactation consultant who came to my room to help my daughter latch.
I was embarrassed to say I hated breastfeeding.
I’m not saying others didn’t feel the same, but I know no one around me ever spoke about it. Feeling that I was alone in this — that breastfeeding made me angry and I felt like no one else could relate — well, that anger only made me more angry. I felt like I was supposed to be loving every moment with my daughter, not dreading it. I felt guilty that I felt this way, and because no one else was talking about it — no one else mentioned how breastfeeding might actually suck — I felt like these thoughts in my head only confirmed my worst fears: I was a bad mom.
When I gave way to that guilt, it only fueled my depression. And my depression fed my rage. And while I knew I had to make a choice — do I take antidepressants and risk exposing my daughter to synthetic chemicals, do I refuse my medication and risk exposing my daughter to an unstable mother, or do I stop breastfeeding? — I was still to afraid to speak up. I was still to ashamed speak up.
All because I was embarrassed to say I hated breastfeeding.
I quit breastfeeding, talked to my therapists and my doctors, and decided, finally, to do what was best for me. I stopped holding myself to some unattainable ideal. I realized I didn't have to be a martyr for motherhood. I just had to be me.
I eventually did opt to take meds while breastfeeding my daughter — a decision both my OB-GYN and my pediatrician agreed was safe — but eventually, I began to question the decision. I worried that the medication could be dangerous, that I was jeopardizing her health, and before long, the fear that I may be doing her harm took hold. The thought that medication may be doing physical damage consumed me. The guilt caught up with me, and I stopped filling my prescription.
I quit my medication cold turkey.
Unfortunately, that only made matters worse and my postpartum depression spiraled out of control. Apathy consumed me, and my anger amplified. Rage became a real problem. Though everyone knows the benefits of breastfeeding, few talk about the downsides: breastfeeding can be painful. Physically painful. However, in my experience, the greatest problem I had while breastfeeding was that it was hurting both of us. Breastfeeding made bonding with my daughter impossible. It took away my desire to hold her, because holding her felt forced. I held her because I had to and not because I wanted to, and it reduced our relationship to nothing more than a chore. But I kept going because "breast is best," or so I'd been told. I kept going because I felt like I had to. I kept going until I made a plan to kill myself.
I no longer felt angry. I got back on my medication. I cared myself first, and then I took care of my daughter.
In my most desperate moment, and at my most desperate hour, I knew something had to change. I knew I needed help. I couldn't go on feeling this way. I knew it was time to give up breastfeeding for good. So I quit breastfeeding, talked to my therapists and my doctors, and decided, finally, to do what was best for me. I stopped holding myself to some unattainable ideal. I realized I didn't have to be a martyr for motherhood. I just had to be me.
The decision to stop breastfeeding was one of best I've ever made. Sure, I had formula guilt for a bit, but once I realized she was doing just fine with the bottle, I felt better. When I quit breastfeeding, I returned to my medication. I didn't feel any regrets or concerns, and I was able to finally treat my sadness, the apathy, the anger, and the rage. What's more, when I quit breastfeeding, there was finally a "distance" between us — my baby had her own space and I had mine‚ and that distance helped us connect. I no longer felt like it was a chore to take care of my baby, and I didn't feel tied to a task I dreaded doing. I realized that the "breast is best" logic wasn't working for me. After after I got over the guilt I felt for doing it, I realized formula was best for us, too. I no longer felt angry. I got back on my medication. I cared myself first, and then I took care of my daughter. Having that distance — that freedom — helped us forge a bond we didn't build through breastfeeding.