On Postnatal Depression, Combination Feeding and Guilt.

This is a post I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while. It’s about something that I don’t often talk about – the reason why my first son was supplemented with formula from the age of 4 months old. My milk supply was plentiful, we had overcome the initial sore nipples and learning to latch and everything was going well.

So why did I choose to start giving a daily bottle?

My problems with bonding with my son started before he was even born. The pregnancy, although planned, terrified me. When we decided to start trying, there was always a little voice in my head that screamed “You’re not ready for this!” but I shushed it and carried on regardless. Don’t get me wrong, my son was very much wanted, but I was essentially just a frightened 19-year-old girl searching for something to make her feel whole. For me, a baby meant stability, direction and something to make my life meaningful.

Our nursing relationship started much the same as many others. Our birth was stressful and nothing like I had planned thanks to his arriving at 36+5 (therefore risking me out of the birth centre), although to be honest I wasn’t really sure what I wanted aside from a quick labour with as little pain as possible. I nursed him for the first time within an hour. Thanks to the pethidine I took during the birth, he was very sleepy and didn’t feed after that until we were transferred from the Big Scary Hospital back to the birth centre, where we stayed for 4 nights.

If I couldn’t love him like he deserved to be loved, the least I could do was give him the best nutritional start that I could.

I will never be able to fully express my gratitude for that birth centre, and for the wonderful people who work there. If it wasn’t for their support, kindness and understanding, I would never have breastfed my son for more than a few days, let alone 26 months. I distinctly remember on the first night after he was born swearing blind that I would discharge myself the following morning and go straight to Boots for bottles and formula. By the time morning came, though, the wonderful staff had strengthened my resolve and each night following was just that little bit easier.

During my stay, I was low. I felt battered, shaken, very unsteady on my feet and incredibly tearful. The baby blues kicked in full force at around day four. I remember lying on the bed alone after my husband had popped home for a couple of hours to do some laundry, and crying. I stared at my beautiful newborn baby and bawled my eyes out because I felt so empty and sad. The maternity assistant on duty assured me that my feelings were normal and that I would feel better soon. She also tactfully added that if I still felt that way by 6 weeks postpartum, I should speak to my doctor.

And speak to my doctor I did, after 6 weeks of constant feelings of regret. I desperately wanted medication (I had been medicated for depression in the past and knew I would respond well to the drugs) but she wouldn’t give them to me because I was exclusively breastfeeding. I left feeling deflated. I know I wasn’t forthcoming enough about my feelings, but I was scared that someone would take him from me. I cared for my little baby – I didn’t want him to be cold, or hungry, or sad. I loved him. But I wasn’t in love with him. If someone had said to me that they could make him disappear like he had never existed, like I had never been pregnant, I would have considered it.

Every night I shouted at him – he was a very frequent night waker and I was finding it hard to cope. Every morning I cried and apologised to him for not being the mother he deserved. I spent my time longing for the days when my biggest responsibility was my full time job. My lowest point came when he was about three weeks old – I tucked him in to his moses basket and then tucked myself into bed. I briefly worried whether he was too hot, because I’d heard that was a contributing factor of cot death. I got up and checked him, whilst pondering the feeling that if he died of cot death it would be a relief as well as a tragedy. Then, I got back into bed, sobbing, and wished with all my might that I wouldn’t wake up the following morning because my beautiful son didn’t deserve a mother as terrible as me.

All I can do now is continue to try to be the best mother I can be, and every night I pray to God that my little boy may know now just how much I love him, how special he is to me and how meaningless my life would be without him.

Through all of this, I continued to breastfeed my son. I didn’t enjoy it most of the time; I continued to do it simply because I felt guilty. I’d heard a thousand times that the way you feed your baby doesn’t matter, it’s the love you have for them that counts. If I couldn’t love him like he deserved to be loved, the least I could do was give him the best nutritional start that I could.

When I look back over those first few months, I don’t feel the fuzzy warmth of a blissful babymoon – I just feel cold.

Things improved over time. Three months postpartum I was diagnosed with anaemia, and the iron tablets I was prescribed improved my mood somewhat. Monkey’s sleep improved a bit, and as I got more rest things started look a little brighter. My feelings towards him deepened, but as of yet I still hadn’t experienced that ‘falling in love’ that so many mums describe. Everything else was overshadowed with the sensation of being well and truly trapped.

The turning point came when Monkey was about three months old. He went from feeding for 40 minutes at a time to a quick 5 minutes, and overnight my pump output dwindled to almost nothing. After an email exchange with a La Leche League leader, I felt better, knowing that my milk supply wasn’t disappearing – it was simply a case of my body adjusting to Monkey’s needs, and of Monkey becoming more efficient at removing milk from my breasts. However, the seed of doubt had been planted, and a few days later I found myself buying a can of SMA and a bottle, just in case.

They sat in the cupboard for a couple of weeks until one day when Monkey was 4 months old. It was 6am, and I had been trying to resettle him after a feed for two hours. He would only sleep on my chest at that time in the morning; the minute I put him down he would wake up. I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks (nothing new there), wishing that I could just disappear. The only thing that stopped me from emptying the bank accounts, boarding a bus and escaping from my life once and for all was the fact that Monkey would wake up as soon as I put him down, and I couldn’t bear to hear him cry. Would I really have gone? I don’t know, but I sure as hell wanted to.

That night, the hubby gave him his first bottle. I nervously handed it to him, expecting him to refuse it and hoping to God that he would take it. However, he greedily gulped it down without batting an eye, and I actually felt jealous.

It was then that I decided to start giving him bottles of formula alongside breastfeeding. The responsibility of motherhood was overwhelming, and I guess I felt like I needed ALL baby care to be share-able between my husband and I.

That night, the hubby gave him his first bottle. I nervously handed it to him, expecting him to refuse it and hoping to God that he would take it. However, he greedily gulped it down without batting an eye, and I actually felt jealous.

We started giving him a bottle of milk after his bedtime breastfeed. Predictably, Monkey phased out the bedtime breastfeed as he learnt that milk came faster from the bottle. I was happy with this, because it meant that my husband could completely take over bedtime if necessary. Suddenly, I was able to go out in the evenings. Also, because he took a bottle without issue, I was able to go out alone in the day for longer than an hour or so. The hubby even took him to his parents house one Sunday afternoon, and I actually missed him terribly.

All of a sudden, I no longer felt trapped. I knew that I could escape if I had to. I knew that he would be okay, even if something unthinkable happened and I was no longer there. All of a sudden, I could relax into motherhood. And better yet, I was really enjoying nursing him. Finally.

I distinctly remember the day I fell in love with my son. He was ill with a fever, and I was worried. I decided to take him to the emergency surgery at the medical centre. It was chucking it down with rain so I bundled him up warm and put him in the sling, zipping my coat over him to keep him dry. I suddenly felt overwhelmed with a protective urge – this wasn’t new, I had felt protective over him since he was born, but this time it felt different. It’s like, all of a sudden, he was part of me. And I was part of him. I was going to make sure he was ok, no matter what. Suddenly I didn’t care about anything except for this tiny, helpless little person who I had continually pushed away until this very moment. It was at that moment that I finally allowed him into my heart, where he had belonged all along.

Do I feel that giving my son formula fixed things? Probably not. I’m sure things would have got better on their own eventually, but I have no idea how long that would have taken. The doctor finally prescribed me the antidepressants I so desperately needed when Monkey was 8 months old, and within two weeks I felt 100% better.

Do I regret giving him formula? I did, for a long time. However, now I can see that it was the right choice for us. He has grown up into a happy, incredibly healthy 3 year old boy who catches about one cold a year (and hardly notices it). I successfully breastfed him for 26 months, and he gradually (and happily) self-weaned.

I still feel racked with guilt for the way his little life started out. He deserved so much better, and I would give anything to go back in time and do it all over again, knowing what I know now. The arrival of his little brother showed me what having a baby is supposed to be like, and the joy of Squish’s baby days was tinged with sadness that we didn’t get to enjoy Monkey like he deserved to be enjoyed, and remorse that he wasn’t rejoiced in like his little brother was. All I can do now is continue to try to be the best mother I can be, and every night I pray to God that my little boy may know now just how much I love him, how special he is to me and how meaningless my life would be without him.

I had to stop writing this several times. It felt at points like my throat was going to close up. This is the most I have allowed myself to delve into these feelings since. It’s been painful and cathartic, and I hope that it helps somebody. Thank you for reading; I know it’s been long.


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Comments

  1. Thank you. Your open, honest account of your journey with PND is brave and hopeful, and shares many parallels with my own experiences of PND. If only there were more avenues and opportunities for sufferers to make contact and share their experiences together, particularly during those first few weeks of diagnosis when your world is falling apart. Being able to read this post 6-8 months ago would have given me some hope when I most needed it. Your closing image is beautiful; you have to trust that your son loves you unconditionally, no matter what x

  2. Thank you for sharing your story! It took a lot of strength just even to think about it, I’m sure! But to share it with the parenting community is an even greater leap of faith! Kudos! It’s great that you were able to continue to breastfeed even despite the introduction of a bottle at night. Thy was due I’m sure to a lot of diligence on mommy’s part. I applaud you for your determination to overcome all those post partum issues and to continue to do what was best for your baby.

    • Thank you so much. Thankfully I had a good knowledge of breastfeeding (I did the LLL Peer Supporter course shortly after the bottle was introduced) so I knew how to make sure my supply was okay and what signs of trouble to look out for.

  3. I’ve had the feeling for a while now that you are very hard on yourself. Please know you are a very loving, dedicated and wonderful mother — the best sort a child could hope for. You didn’t just become that, it is clear you always have been. I think most women have those occasional dark thoughts in the throes of hormonal swings, sleep deprivation, and the complete change of putting another’s needs entirely ahead of one’s own.

    Not to mention you were very, very, very young! My god. I think 25 is too young for almost all to have a baby. But 19?! You hardly got to experience any sort of life, in my opinion 19 is still a child.

    • Thank you, that’s so kind of you to say. Yes, I was 19 when I got pregnant and 20 by the time I gave birth. I had been living independently since the age of 16 (after my mum died I kind of had to) so I guess I didn’t feel all that young – I look at others of the same age and they seem sooooo young in comparison.

      Thankyou for commenting hon x

      • We have something major in common! I’ve been on my own since 16 too, since after my father died. It was tough being that young on my own, I’m guessing it was hard for you too? And then to jump into parenthood? I wasn’t ready at all back then, I look back and see myself as a child. I went to college, built up a career, got married (twice!). .and only around 30 did I feel ready enough to bring a human being into this world. I’ll be 34 this year.

        Please give yourself more credit. No need to feel remorse over Monkey’s newborn months. You’ve done wonderfully. I hope you tell yourself that if you ever feel remorse over Monkey’s newborn years. And it sounds as if formula was your saving grace and so good that you were able to use it! Plenty of children do just fine with it!!!

        • Thank you so much. Wow, I didn’t realise that you and I had that in common! No, it’s not easy to be alone at such a young age. Thankfully for me I had my brother and his partner at the time; they took me in for a while afterwards. And after that, my dad found himself homeless and so stayed with me for a while, and we really bonded over that time. So it’s not all bad :) Every cloud and all that.

          As a passionate proponent of breastfeeding I hate to admit it, but for us the formula really was a blessing. I’m not saying that it would help everybody in my situation but it really, really helped me. Thankfully I had a good knowledge of breastfeeding so I knew the things I could do to ensure the continuation of it, despite supplementing. And he really has done just fine; I’ve read things that would have you believe that supplementing at a young age is a sure fire way to grow a sickly child but he really is in fantastic health. He’s hardly ever ill.

  4. Thank you for posting this. I am having my first baby in September and worry about many of these exact same things. I cherish that you have chosen to share this and I know it will help me immensely when I am holding my little one for the first time. I appreciate the honesty.

    • Thank you so much for commenting, and congratulations on your pregnancy :) I’m so glad that this has been useful; if it helps just one person I’ll be overjoyed :)

  5. omg did I write this??! this is a total recap of my life in 2007 – Im with ya girl! total props for writing it out and sharing <3

  6. i just totally sobbed reading this. well done for writing it hun, i love the honesty you’ve brought on the blog, it’s so refreshing after the wealth of rose tinted articles available out there on the web.
    xxx

  7. You know me Imms, I’m not a mother. But I think you’re so brave for talking about all you went through – although I’m not in a mum’s position and can’t imagine it, I’m sure that a lot of what you talked about must be very hard to put into words (never mind publish) – mothers are a very easy target for judgement, everyone thinks it’s OK to have an opinion on motherhood, what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s ‘weird’ what’s damaging, what’s selfish, what’s neglectful etc etc, whether they are a mother themselves or not, and so it can’t be easy at all to open up and say ‘I found it so hard, I wanted to leave, I was scared’. For the record, I think you’re an amazing mother, I think you have absolutely beautiful children, and I think they are very lucky to have such an intelligent, erudite, kind, brave and wonderful mother. Love you x

  8. i found myself bursting in tears as i was reading your blog.. my baby has just turned 14 months but sad to say i’m still under this horrifying deppression. my experience is not exactly the same as yours. i could say mine is worst. there were times when i feel ok and times when i just felt so down- like today. i was so afraid that i’ve hurt her that much..

    • I’m so sorry to hear that you are still in the thick of it, Lorinda. I remember just how awful it is. Are you receiving any help at present? I know many people (myself included) don’t like meds but for me they made all the difference.

  9. OMW Thats like so nearly exactly what I went through!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don’t have a 2nd yet but still feel guilty and bad for how I’ve been cold to him, almost rejected him, ignored him in my tummy, cared for him when he was born but didn’t LOVE him like I do now. Feel so so so so so bad about it!

  10. Dear Imogen,
    I was trully amazed with your bravery and wisdom.
    I have been a practicing pediatrician for nearly 16 years and can only admire your attitude and ability to overcome the difficulties with PND and potential but unnwcessary guilt of bottle feeding your baby. I learned a lot from you, as well as, that, we as medical professionals, may sometimes exacerbate maternal guilt by pressing women too much towards exclusive breasfeeding, forgetting about normality around other feeding practices. Your letter has indeed an eye opener for me and hopefully for many women around the globe.
    Thank you.

  11. You are an inspiration.

  12. Hello, I stumbled upon your blog while researching why I’m so scared to have a second child. Over the last few days im finally getting it. I had/have ppd and I had no idea until my son turned two! It got so bad that I almost killed myself and the whole time I was struggling I just couldn’t understand why I couldnt just feel so happy and lucky. For me it was a combination of a surprise pregnancy, traumatic birth, and a child that was extremely needy. No one understood and I was scarily honest with anyone who asked. A friend would say “how are you?” and I would say something along the lines of “sometimes I wish I could put a sign on the baby that says ‘free to a good home’ and put him outside.” I was in bad shape and I thought it was always going to be that way. I’m in love with him now I’m so happy to say and I have the same awful guilt about all the time I should have been enraptured and I just wanted to run away. I’m terrified to get pregnant again. Terrified. But now that I know what was happening I’m ready to do whatever it takes to make it a postive and thrilling experience! Thank you for sharing your story. It’s scary to be so honest but you really are helping people!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] no secret that I suffered from Post Partum Depression (PPD) after the birth of my first baby. It was a dark, regretful time of my life and one that I [...]

  2. [...] you know what? I used to feel ashamed when buying formula, too (my oldest son was combination fed). At the checkout I would have to suppress the rising urge to inform the shop assistant, and [...]

  3. [...] experiences. Monkey, my oldest son, nursed until he self-weaned at 26 months (albeit with a daily bottle of formula from the age of about 4 months), and my youngest is 10 months old and still going strong. We did, of course, encounter some issues [...]

  4. [...] it’s nowhere near as bad as the last time. And, it feels different in many ways, too – part of the reason why it’s taken me so long [...]

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