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First guest post of the new "season" of Beyond Postpartum: The Fearless Formula Feeder!

Posted Feb 04 2010 2:18pm
I can't tell you how thrilled I am to share Suzanne's story with you.  Her blog was a big part in the healing that has taken place over my failed breastfeeding attempts and eventual switch to exclusively formula feeding.  I still grieve the loss of a breastfeeding experience and what might have been both in terms of bonding for me and in ppd prevention, though I might have gotten benefits from those early weeks of nursing and then pumping.

She truly is fearless--supporting formula feeding mothers and standing up to those who attack moms, even accusing her of promoting formula companies.  I promise you, her only goal is to help take the stigma currently associated out of formula feeding and raising awareness about all the very valid reasons (including mom's mental health) that women may choose not to breastfeed.  She also makes sure that people realize that not everyone is able to breastfeed...a common accusation from self-proclaimed "lactivists" is that ALL women should be able to successfully breastfeed if they choose, which is not (and never has been-see the days of wet nurses) true.

Below is my "interview" with Suzanne.  I hope you will read and be inspired by her story.  A big hug and thanks to my new virtual friend, Suzanne.  I look forward to continuing to work with you to help moms everywhere however we can!

1) Tell us about you- catch us up on what your adult life was like prior to having a baby...
If you’d asked me ten years ago to predict what my life would be like at 32, I would have given you some schpiel about being an actress in New York, probably single, and definitely not a mom. I spent my twenties fighting against my maternal and domestic urges, until I finally realized that being a mostly out-of-work actor and freelance writer wasn’t cutting it. I think meeting my husband had a lot to do with that – he was truly my soul mate and things just started making sense once I was with him. He’d always wanted kids, but funnily enough, it was me who woke up at 29 and decided it was time to start trying. We’d been living in Los Angeles for about three years at the time, and had more financial stability than we’d had in years past; still, the thought of having a child was daunting. We were both creatives, so our schedules were crazy – some days we wouldn’t get out of bed before noon, but then we’d be up until 3 or 4 working… it was a very flexible, free lifestyle. We knew having kids would change that immensely, but we were more than willing to sacrifice for the joy that having a family would bring us. I’d stopped pursuing acting in favor of my writing career at this point; being an actress had been holding me back from getting pregnant due to concerns about appearance and “castablity” ; once that was no longer a concern, I was raring to go.

2) You have a blog... The Fearless Formula Feeder . Where did the name come from and what inspired you to begin writing?
I actually started writing another blog while I was pregnant, mostly for my own benefit (to keep a record of my thoughts and experiences during the pregnancy). So I was already hooked on the blogosphere. I went through a real struggle with breastfeeding – which was more than partly tied to my postpartum depression – and I decided I didn’t want any other woman feeling as alone as I did when I was going through that experience. I wanted a safe place for formula feeders to come and vent about their feelings, and to find the support I so needed when I was struggling – a place where someone would tell them it was okay to formula feed, if that was the best choice for their families – so I started the Fearless Formula Feeder blog. I was trying my best to be fearless myself, about all things having to do with parenting, so the name was a constant reminder for me to stay strong and do what I felt was right.

3) Tell us about your pregnancy...was it planned?
The minute we decided to start trying, we got pregnant. Unfortunately, we ended up miscarrying. And then we got pregnant again, and lost that baby, too. The third time was the charm, but my two prior losses put me in a horrible mindset. I could not believe that there would be a healthy baby at the end of the nine months. I lived in constant fear up until about 30 weeks, when I finally started feeling confident about things. Ironically, that is when the pregnancy got complicated: I ended up having contractions from about 33 weeks on; my son stopped moving in utero; and it was later discovered that I had a growth restriction, so he stopped growing around 33 weeks as well. No one caught this until I was 39 weeks along, so it was a bloody miracle that he came out alive and okay.

4) You've mentioned dealing with postpartum depression on your blog. When did you first feel that something was not "right" with you?
I’d struggled with depression before, but strangely enough, despite my fear concerning the pregnancy, I felt pretty stable emotionally during the pregnancy itself. Which, incidentally, is why I am such a strong believer that real depression is chemical and not just situational – I had every reason to slip into a depression during the miscarriages and tough pregnancy, but I was fine. It wasn’t until I gave birth that things went dark. And I mean the second I gave birth. I remember feeling like someone had drowned me from the inside in cold water. I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t look at my beautiful, desperately wanted child and feel anything but fear and ambivalence. It was awful. I knew I loved him, but it was like this weird echo of love… like I would be doing him more harm than good to love him. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes I think I emotionally detached from him early on in the pregnancy because I was so afraid of losing him; so that when he finally came out, he was a stranger. This will sound awful, but it was like someone had given me a puppy – something that I would love, I knew I would take of, but that I had no physical or inherent bond with…it was very strange.

5) What symptoms did you experience and how did you deal with them?
From the moment of delivery on, I felt that emptiness I just described… and then I started having all these breastfeeding problems, and it just exacerbated the problem. My son couldn’t latch and so we were constantly trying to feed him, as recommended by the numerous lactation consultants we saw, which meant that he was screaming every time I got near him, out of frustration and hunger, I imagine. I felt like he hated me; that I couldn’t even do this fundamental part of motherhood correctly; that I was just a failure in every way. 

Luckily – weird to say this was lucky, but still – I had been through depression before and knew I was at high risk for PMD, so I immediately sought help. I got on the lowest dose possible of antidepressants (because I was afraid it could go through my breastmilk, even in miniscule amounts) and started feeling a bit better. My depression didn’t totally clear until I weaned completely and switched to formula, however. There was just so much stress and pain surrounding nursing and pumping, that once I was free from that, I was free to heal.

6) How has your husband/partner been through the postpartum period and what role has he had in dealing with your PMD?
I don’t think my husband really knew what to do for me. He was handling all the parenting in those early days – I am so grateful that he is such an incredible father, because it was just second nature for him to nurture and care for our son when I wasn’t able to. I think he was frustrated with me, though… he has never dealt with depression or any type of mental illness, so he can’t quite understand it. He just wanted me to be happy and normal. I also think there was an understandable element of denial – to this day he says I “wasn’t that bad”, but I don’t think I put on much of an act, so I’m not sure I believe him. I was a mess.

7) After suffering from a PMD, how will you think differently about future pregnancies (including whether to have more children)?
I know I want a second child, but the thought of a PMD haunts me. I never want to feel that way again – I’m not sure I believe in hell, but if there is one, that must be what it feels like. But I do feel like I am prepared this time. I know what to do to give myself the best possible shot at a healthy postpartum period. I will get on antidepressants right away, and make other choices that will rule out some of the situational factors that contributed last time.

8) Is faith a part of your life? If so, how has that been impacted by a PMD and how did it impact how you dealt with your depression?
I definitely believe that there is something out there, but I wouldn’t call myself religious at all. I believe in some sort of higher power or purpose to everything – on the most basic level, that things will work out in the end. My husband has taught me that – he is very positive and eventually that rubs off, even on someone as fatalistic as I can be. And in some weird way, having a PMD made me more optimistic – because I got through it, and came out on the other side so much stronger. The thing I feared most happened, but I overcame it, and know that I can beat it again, if I have to. There’s a lot of power in that.

9) What do you do to keep yourself happy?
Yoga was my saving grace during my pregnancy, and it helped me in the postpartum period too… there was just something about being alone with my body and my thoughts, feeling my heart beating and my limbs moving, that kept me connected to the world when I was feeling so terribly disconnected. Taking long walks with my dog had the same effect – I am such a strong believer in exercise. And music. Listening to my iPod, choosing songs that spoke to me at the time – it allowed me to work through my emotions and reconnect to who I used to be. Because I think, independent of any PMD or anything like that, becoming a parent can be a difficult transition. It’s so easy to lose yourself, to forget who you were before this amazing creature came into your life and changed everything. I think it is so important to remember that the core of who you are remains constant; motherhood just adds another element. It can be hard to remember this in those early days, and taking a half hour to listen to my favorite songs and process everything did wonders.

10) What's the funniest/silliest thing that you've done or that's happened to you since you became a mom?
When Leo was a few weeks old, we had a bunch of out-of-town family visiting. My husband went upstairs to change my son’s diaper, when suddenly I heard this shout of horror. I ran up to the nursery and there was my poor husband, literally covered head to toe in our son’s pee – he’d been right in the line of fire during the diaper change. I laughed for the first time since giving birth. But when I went to help remedy the situation and put a new diaper on my baby, the floodgates opened again – but this time, it wasn’t just pee.  My son pooped all over me, the changing table, the curtains…everything. We had a living room full of guests, but we had to leave them unattended for about an hour as we scrubbed down the entire nursery, and then ourselves. You’d think we would have learned a lesson, but that was just the first of many diaper disasters. The kid has aim, I will tell you that.

11) What do you wish you had known about Perinatal Mood Disorders before you experienced one?
How quickly it can attack. I was forewarned and forearmed, but it didn’t help. It was instant. I wasn’t prepared for that; I figured it would be a slower progression, like other depressions… this was more like someone hit a switch and my world went dark.

12) If you could only share one message with a pregnant or new mom, what would it be?

I wish new moms wouldn’t put as much pressure on themselves as they do. We live in a world with too much information and not enough support. Before a woman even gives birth, she feels she has to make decisions on what kind of parent she will be – attached, permissive, cloth diapering, breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, working, stay-at-home – there are just so many labels. We’d be so much better off if we allowed for some flexibility, and an understanding that there is no “right” way to parent. You take it as it comes. You have no idea how motherhood will affect you, or what kind of personality or needs your child will have… it’s setting yourself up for failure to put all these restrictions on yourself.
I also think women need to know that it’s okay to not like the infant stage. Motherhood is the coolest thing ever – I love it now, in an indescribable way – but I was not into the newborn thing. I couldn’t wait for my child to “wake up” to the world – and once he did, everything changed. This made me feel inadequate or flawed in some way, until I started talking to other women… it seems there are some moms who loved the first few months and mourn the loss of their babyhood; others do better with toddlers; others shine as their kids reach school age…Of course you will love your child every step of the way, but it’s okay to admit that you aren’t crazy about a certain stage. The newborn part was really tough for me, and I needed to hear that it would pass; that I would sleep again, and leave the house, wear something other than sweatpants, go to a movie…I can’t tell you how much I love the age my son is at now; I would never have known that a mere year from my darkest point, I’d be the happiest I’ve ever been. It really does get better. And better, and better.
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