Writing this feels like I’ve been chosen from the audience at a carnival. An unwilling volunteer. The performer? A knife-thrower. Me? The girl who stands in front of the target and hopes I don’t get hit. That’s what anyone who writes about feeding their baby feels like – no matter how you feed it. There are people standing on the sidelines ready to throw knives at you – each one a piercing judgment about your ethics, morals, and ability to raise a happy healthy child.
Howie is one year old now. As a parent, I’m prone to hear many “stream of consciousness” type thoughts from all manner of folk at any time, day or night. If there is one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that if you have a child everyone invites themselves to provide commentary and judgment on your child, you, your life, your job, your body and just about anything else they’d like. Recently one of these strangers asked me, “Now that he’s a year, aren’t you happy you can celebrate breastfeeding this long?!”
Here’s where I become that unwilling volunteer for the previously mentioned knife-thrower at a carnival show. My response to the stranger? “I can’t celebrate breastfeeding for this long, because I chose not to.” That’s right, I chose not to. I can feel the eyes of the “breast is best” team burning me with their judgment through the depths of the internet right now.
Regardless, I think most of the world is now coming to the conclusion that feeding your child is best, but there is still a stigma that one should at least try to breastfeed – because it’s the best thing, right? Those of us who don’t even try, well we might as well be the bottom of the food chain of judgemental motherhood.
The truth is, I’ve worked in labor and delivery before. I’ve worked closely with lactation consultants. I don’t deny the amazing benefits of breastfeeding. I admire the women committed to it. I also admire the women who want to, spend many hours trying and cannot for whatever reason. I admire adoptive parents who chose formula. I admire those who use breastmilk banks. Honestly, I admire any mother who is doing the best they can with what they have available.
For me, I knew my mental health would be the weighing factor in my choice to breastfeed, pump, or simply go the route of formula. I hope that this short story can allow for those who may also struggle with mental health to feel less guilt when weighing it as part of a decision to feed your baby. As many of you know, I have autism. Yes, women can have it too! Autism means I struggle with sensory input and processing. I’m extra sensitive to touch, sound, and visual stimuli. I have a hard time regulating those systems and can find myself spiraling when I’m overstimulated with sensory processing and input. Autism also makes me more susceptible to mental illness. Regular blog readers will remember and know that I talk a lot about having pretty awful pre-partum depression. Autism also means I struggle with OCD and perfectionism. While pregnant and dealing with pre-partum depression I was very nervous about what things would look like on the other side. What would happen after I had the baby? I had talked to my doctor about how this all makes me more susceptible for post-partum depression. After many conversations around my autism and making allowances for my accommodations throughout the birthing process, we came down to the whole newborn and feeding conversation. I had to admit I was uncomfortable with the idea of breastfeeding through depression, doing it alone, struggling with doing it perfectly, and all the other feelings and sensory processing I’d be going through on top of what a neurotypical person may experience. Honestly, at the time I wasn’t sure I could handle it. I was already in a bad mental state and I couldn’t wait to give birth and move on to the next step.
Every step of pregnancy for me was thinking things like, “When he’s six months old I’ll look back on this and feel so much better.” I just wanted to feel some amount of normalcy. I wanted to stop feeling so alone in my own head, stuck with all kinds of thoughts I wasn’t familiar with. So, I made the decision to not breastfeed. I decided with the help of a doctor that it would be better for my mental health to be able to rely on the help of friends and family, to focus on building a community for my child, and to take steps that will help me feel more like myself again. I don’t regret it. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself. Had I struggled through breastfeeding on top of autism, mental illness, and all of the other feelings that come along with being a first-time parent, I don’t know what I would have looked like coming out on the other side. Formula allowed me the time and mental space to heal from a pretty dark place. It also offered other amazing benefits like the ability for my partner to form a tight bond with our child.
I don’t write this to advocate for formula above anything else. I advocate for feeding and raising your child or children in a way that keeps both you AND them as healthy as possible both mentally and physically. I’m grateful we live in a world where I’m able to make these kinds of choices. I know there are more of us hiding out behind the scenes staying away from the judgment for choosing what was best for us and that’s okay. I get it. Sometimes I feel like I want to stay there too! I’m writing this so you know that we aren’t alone and to shout out something I read on social media the other day that really feels like where I’m at today after a grueling couple years…”get in loser we’re healing and falling in love with life again.”